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Architecture in Rotterdam: 10 must-see buildings

Rotterdam’s skyline is iconic in the world of architecture. Here are 10 of the city’s must-see buildings you simply don’t want to miss on your next visit.

Rotterdam architecture
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By Laura van der Most

Updated 8-1-2024

Rotterdam is famous for its modern urban center, innovative skyscrapers, and high-rises. Every year, visitors and expats flock to the city to enjoy art and gourmet food, and marvel at its architectural wonders. Kayak’s City Index for Mindful Travellers has even named the city the leading global destination of 2023.

So which of Roffa’s many must-see buildings deserves a visit on your next trip? Here are some of the highlights:

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1. Kubuswoningen (Cube Houses)

Arguably the most famous of Rotterdam’s architectural wonders, the Kubuswoningen are a beautiful symbol of the city’s early strive for innovation and regeneration.

The yellow Cube Houses in Rotterdam, Netherlands
Kubuswoningen (Photo: Masci Giuseppe/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

These unconventional cubed houses were designed in the mid-1970s by architect Piet Blom to give the city a bit more character after it was largely destroyed by World War II bombings. Located in the Old Harbor (Oude Haven), the cubicles are tilted at 45 degrees atop hexagon-shaped bases.

Metaphorically, each house represents a tree and makes it collectively appear as a forest. That’s also why they are more commonly known as Het Blaakse Bos (The Blaak Forest). On a functional level, the houses are elevated on trunks to maximize the space below. Underneath sits a museum of chess pieces (schaakstukkenmuseum), shops, and waterfront cafes.

One resident opened his house as a show cube (Kijk Kubus) so you can see what it’s like inside. There is also an Airbnb for those who want to experience an overnight stay.

Adress: Overblaak, Rotterdam

2. Het Witte Huis (White House)

Meanwhile, in the old part of town, you should absolutely check out the Witte Huis. In 1898, this was the Dutch answer to America’s radical architecture. The innovative 10-story building was Europe’s first high-rise office and is also one of the few buildings to remain intact during the World War II (WWII) bombings.

The building’s design came from architects Gerrit van der Schuijt, Herman van der Schuijt, and Willem Molenbroek, and has hints of Jugendstil and Art Nouveau styles. However, it retains a traditional 19th-century touch by using stone – instead of steel – as its main building material.

At the time, the White House had an unprecedented height in Europe (around 45 meters). Visitors could take the elevator to the viewing platform on top of the building, which is another first in Europe.

Today you can pop in for a drink and a bite at the Grand Café inside the White House. However, due to its popularity, it’s best to make a reservation first.

Address: Geldersekade 1C, Rotterdam

3. Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen

The ultra-modern Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen (2021) is another valuable addition to Rotterdam’s cityscape. Its 1600+ mirrors reflect the surrounding Museum Park, and on top of the bowl-shaped structure, you’ll have a panoramic view of the city.

Man walking past the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen that is shimmering in the morning light.
Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen (Photo: Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

But the gorgeous architecture isn’t the only reason why you should pay a visit to this building by Winy Maas of architectural firm MVRDV. The depot is the world’s first art storage facility that offers access to a museum’s complete collection. There are no exhibitions; instead, you can wander through the building to see over 150,000 artworks. Visitors can also take a behind-the-scenes look at conservators and restorators working their magic.

Markedly, the depot won a Special Prize of Commendation at the 2023 European Museum of the Year Awards (EMYA).

Address: Museumpark 24, Rotterdam

4. Markthal (Market Hall)

Speaking of drinks and bites, the Markthal in Rotterdam should be on everyone’s list of things to see. But the building known as De Koopboog of De Vreetkeet is more than just a shopping and dining market; its towering curvaceous design by MVRDV is gracefully out-of-place, compared with the rising vertical lines of the city’s urban center.

This building from 2014 stands out with its colorful 11,000 square meters ceiling that has been coined the Dutch version of the Sistine Chapel. The market is covered by a horseshoe-like structure that also functions as residential apartment buildings. The glass panels allow residents to view the restaurants and bars below.

If you do visit the Markthal, make sure to stop by the Tijdtrap. This is a free exhibition displaying the archaeological finds of medieval Rotterdam excavated during the building’s construction.

Address: Verlengde Nieuwstraat, Rotterdam

5. Timmerhuis

Rarely is a mix of new and old done so well. The Timmerhuis in the Stadsdriehoek-area combines post-WWII reconstruction design with contemporary architecture and is truly a sight to behold. The structure is also nicknamed the ‘cloud of glass and steel’.

Rather than standing tall on its own, this complex beautifully complements the existing buildings surrounding it. It merges with the Stadtimmerhuis by maintaining the same floor heights, while the units on top conform with the other buildings in the Laurenskwartier.

Timmerhuis, Rotterdam
Timmerhuis (Photo: Fred Romero/Wiki Commons)

The historic part of the building (Stadstimmerhuis) was designed by architect J.R.A. Koops in the 1950s. In 2015, the building was renovated and extended by architectural firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). This made Timmerhuis one of the most sustainable buildings in the Netherlands at that time.

Timmerhuis currently houses offices and residential apartments, as well as Museum Rotterdam.

Address: Halvemaanpassage 1, 3011 AH Rotterdam

6. Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge)

The 802-meter-long bridge Erasmusbrug is arguably the best-known icon of Rotterdam’s skyline. Connecting the northern and southern banks of the river Maas, this bridge has been the backdrop of many spectacles, such as the start of the 2010 Tour de France, Red Bull Air races, and even a DJ Tiësto concert.

Inspired by the asymmetrical 139-meter-high pylon fastened by cables, the bridge has had many nicknames, among which De Zwaan (The Swan) and Wipkip (non-translateable). It was designed by Dutch architect Ben van Berkel, and officially opened by Queen Beatrix in 1996.

The Erasmus Bridge links the city center to the Kop van Zuid, a trendy location with hip restaurants and bars.

Adress: Erasmusbrug, Rotterdam

7. De Link

Located right next to the bridge is the Toren op Zuid (Tower on South). This gorgeous leaning tower in Rotterdam has had many names; the Belvedère, Tower on South, the KPN building… But the official name for this design by Italian architect Renzo Piano is De Link.

The building was first built in 2000. But when the KPN moved its headquarters to Rotterdam in 2018, it underwent major renovations. The expansion design by V8 architects made sure the building had enough space for a meeting center, restaurant, conference rooms, and auditorium.

What makes the structure so fascinating is that it leans 5.9 degrees over the area. It is supported by a 50 meters pillar of steel, thus creating a perfect balance (or perhaps imbalance). Another neat feature is the lights on the front of this high-rise, which can turn the building into a giant 90-by-40-meter billboard.

Address: Wilhelminakade 123, Rotterdam

8. Rotterdam Centraal (Rotterdam Central Station)

If you go to Rotterdam by train, the futuristic main train station will be the first experience you’ll have with the city’s daring architecture.

Rotterdam Central station pointing at the urban center of the city.
Rotterdam Centraal (Photo: BrasilNut1/Getty Images)

Designed by three architectural firms – Benthem Crouwel Architects, MVSA Architects, and West 8 – the Central Station (Centraal Station) is a gorgeous example of new contemporary architecture done right.

The station’s spacious entrance hall still features a few of the original features, such as the giant old clock. Daylight pours in through transparent walls and roof over the train tracks, allowing for an exceptionally beautiful experience.

In other places, the station features a metal roof that is covered with solar cells. These make Rotterdam Centraal one of the largest rooftop solar projects in Europe. Funnily enough, this prominent roof is also why the station is endearingly nicknamed Station Kapsalon (after the popular dish invented in Rotterdam).

If you walk outside the station, be sure to marvel at the statue “Moments Contained” by Thomas J. Price. This gorgeous 4-meter-high bronze statue of a young woman in contemporary clothing was revealed in honor of International Women’s Day 2023 (8 March).

Address: Stationsplein 1, Rotterdam

9. Fabriek Delfshaven (Factory of Delfshaven)

Most other lists will urge you to visit the Van Nellefabriek. Sure, it’s very pretty and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the factory you should really see is the Fabriek Delfshaven.

Located on the river Schie, this hidden architectural gem started out as Roeloffs’ factory for textile dry cleaning and dyeing. It was long destined for demolition. However, after nearly 30 years of neglect, the complex was renovated by architectural firm Mei Architects and Planners and reopened in 2013.

The beautiful building retained its former look, with most of the changes happening inside. It now contains office spaces, a wide atrium, and a coffee bar to get those creative juices flowing. Again, another beautiful example of Rotterdam’s modernist architecture complimenting the old styles.

Address: Mathenesserdijk 410c, Rotterdam

10. Pauluskerk (Paul’s Church)

And finally, you must absolutely walk by the iconic Paulus Kerk, a futuristic building with triangular facade elements in red copper and triangular windows. Or, according to the architect’s philosophy: a structure that ‘has fallen like a crystal from the rock.’

In the 1980s, the church gained fame as it acted as a shelter for the bottom of society – including drug addicts, houseless people, and refugees. Since then, the municipality has taken over the shelter for drug addicts.

The inside of the building doesn’t look like one of those old medieval churches. Instead, it embraces functionality with the grace of a kaleidoscope. No matter how the church is used, something beautiful will surely come from it.

Paul's Church in Rotterdam
Paulus Kerk (Photo: AgainErick/Wiki Commons)

How much people value Paul’s Church can be summed up by this news from June 2023. After burglars vandalized the building, causing tens of thousands of euros worth of damage, the church’s crowdfunding campaign reached its goal of €15,000 within just one day.

Address: Mauritsweg 20, Rotterdam

Honorable mention: de Luchtsingel (Air Singel)

For the perfect Instagrammable photo, you should stop by the Luchtsingel in Rotterdam North. Designed by architectural firm ZUS, this gorgeous 390-meter-long bridge is a vision in yellow and reminds you of the Japanese Shinto shrines.

Besides getting you clout, the Air Singel functions as a bridgeway from Schieblock (with its biergarten, arcade hall, and rooftop farm) to Pompenburg Park and rooftop park Hofboven (home to various restaurants, shops, and a jazz club).

It’s important to note that part of the bridge has been closed to the public since May 2022.

Address: Schiekade 1, Rotterdam

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