Rotterdam is a booming city in the Netherlands undergoing continual development, with a growing expat population, multicultural vibe and and a strong city identity of progress.
Rotterdam is one of the most dynamic cities in the Netherlands, with a large international community and a refreshing lack of tourists. Most of the city was destroyed by WWII bombs and, rather than rebuilding in traditional style like many Dutch cities, Rotterdam has been radically modernised. Impressive modern architecture, a rising gastronomic scene and a vibrant cultural scene are just some factors that influenced Rotterdam’s place on the New York Times and Rough Guide’s must-see city lists of 2014, and Lonely Planet’s ‘Best Travel’ list of cities to visit in 2016.
Wrecking balls and scaffolding are as much a part of this city as the kinked pylon of the Erasmus Bridge, which towers over the River Maas, and the water taxis and freight barges that ply its waters. The mix of buildings that survived the bombing, and modern residential and office blocks like Renzo Piano’s ‘leaning’ KPN tower, combine to make Rotterdam a magnet for building buffs. (Read about the rise of Rotterdam’s architecture.)
The city’s extensive urban development is now focused on adding more housing and child-friendly areas around Rotterdam’s city centre. Rotterdam is also upgrading city centre facilities to stimulate a new vitality in entertainment, culture and shopping, for example, the Binnenrotte around the Market Hall, Grote Kerkplein, and Coolsingel.
Expats tend to settle around the city centre or in one of Rotterdam’s scenic green suburbs. The municipality’s expat desk (www.rotterdam.nl/expatdesk) offers newcomers advice for moving to Rotterdam.
Rotterdam’s metroplis sits on the river Maas
Where to live in Rotterdam
The city centre offers characteristic buildings dating back to about 1900 alongside minimalist newbuild in various guises: simple buildings with shared staircases, spacious villas and modern apartments, some with water views. Residents enjoy close proximity to a range of museums, shops and restaurants, although parking is less abundant. Parking supply, however, is being increased by new developments and residential complexes, such as Calypso, Karel Doorman and the B-tower. The area around Central Station is also a hotspot, and close to the Rotterdam International School.
If you’re young, single or ‘dinky’ (two incomes, no children), the neighbourhood of Kralingen is likely to appeal. Fifteen minutes east of the centre, Kralingen’s multi-million-euro mansions stand cheek by jowl with student digs and council housing. Near a lake and woods, the area has a very international feel and a huge variety of affordable to upmarket housing.
Kop van Zuid/Nieuwewerk
Also favoured by young expats, Kop van Zuid (‘Head of South’) is the trendy extension of the city centre on the southern bank of the Nieuw Maas; great for executives wanting to get to work quickly in the mornings. Like London’s Docklands, it’s a mix of renovated old warehouses and smaller, newer housing and apartments. Upmarket urban prices apply. The De Rotterdam development completed in 2013 has added a huge supply of residences (more than 200 apartments) and offices to the mix. Similar luxury and renovated housing can be found on the opposite bank in NieuweWerk and the Maritime Quarter (Scheepvaartkwartier).
One of Rotterdam’s jewels is Hillegersberg, a leafy suburb on the northeast of the city. The area escaped wartime bombing, leaving the old village centre and elegant residential streets intact. Homes in Hillegersberg are expensive but enduringly popular, sought after by the Dutch and expats alike. It is home to several of the international schools. Hillegersberg is only 10 minutes from the city centre, thanks to the excellent bus and tram network, or 20 minutes by car. Conversely, a few minutes on your bike brings you out of the city to meadows or the river Rotte. Hillegersberg is located around two fair-sized lakes, where there is endless boating and sailing in the summer, and skating in the winter.
Schiebroek (west of Hillegersberg) and the newer, up-and-coming Prinsenland are becoming favoured expat sites. Prinsenland is more affordable than downtown living and close to international schools, but still a bustling area, as is multicultural Oude Westen, a lively and bohemian neighbourhood near Central Station. It is relatively easy to find family accommodation at reasonable prices in child-friendly Ommoord (in the northeast), with a peaceful atmosphere and green spaces.
Markthal, completed 2014, adds a vibrant mix of market stalls, international restaurants and bars to Rotterdam’s city centre.
Rotterdam facts and links
- Population: 624,799 (www.rotterdamincijfers.nl)
- International residents: 49.1 percent
- International schools:
- Expat desk: www.rotterdam.nl
- Event guide: weownrotterdam.nl
- Online property portals: Expatica housing, Nestpick.
Get an overview of Rotterdam with this video from the city tourist office.