Rotterdammers will tell you, “Money is earned in Rotterdam, distributed in The Hague and spent in Amsterdam.” Attempting to compete with the Dutch capital, widely viewed as the Netherlands’ cultural hub, they also may insist, “Amsterdam has it, Rotterdam doesn’t need it.”
Despite its image as a no-nonsense workers’ town, Rotterdam has evolved from a major port into a world-class city. Obliterated by the Germans during World War II, it’s now home to both global giant Unilever and Erasmus MC, one of Europe’s largest university medical centers. Acclaimed designer Richard Hutten, lingerie maven Marlies Dekkers and architect Rem Koolhaas make it their home base. International Film Festival Rotterdam is an annual highlight.
Today’s Rotterdam is an ode to modern architecture, encompassing both domestic and foreign designs. The Erasmus Bridge, named after native Desiderius Erasmus, a philosopher and humanist, spans the Maas River, connecting Rotterdam South with city center, north of the river. Port areas in inner harbors have been rezoned as residential and entertainment districts. Urban renewal is evident in spectacular high-rises and revamped port warehouses.
In late October, the city hosts Jazz International Rotterdam, showcasing a wide range of musical talent. In November, North Sea Jazz Festival comes to town, bringing three days of water-related films aimed at nature, sports, cinematography and art lovers.
Kinderdijk: Holland’s Most Impressive Collection of Windmills
According to an old saying, “God made the world but the Dutch created the Netherlands.” Kinderdijk delivers proof—19 spinning windmills in a natural landscape that would be underwater were it not for Dutch ingenuity. Built in the mid-18th century, the collection pumped excess water from the low-lying Alblasserwaard polder and discharged it to the Lek River until the 1950s. Today it’s the only place in the world with so many windmills so close together in an authentic polder landscape with pastoral views and stunning cloud formations.
Kinderdijk’s mills, pumping stations, storage basins, ditches and sluices form an ingenious water management system. Their job gets ample support from modern pumping stations, but the iconic windmills are a constant reminder of the Netherlands’ 1,000-year battle against water, as well as an emergency flood system.
The UNESCO World Heritage sight draws thousands of annual visitors, who come to experience what’s involved in building and maintaining an authentic windmill. Throughout the polder, a landscape laced with dikes and canals provides an intricate water management system that’s tangible evidence of Dutchies’ ongoing battle against the encroaching sea.
With grazing cows, flying birds, scampering weasels and crawling amphibians, the bucolic setting is part traditional Dutch, part prehistoric. An 18th-century footbridge takes you back in time to a working windmill, preserved in its original state. After touring the authentic structure and meeting the miller, venture farther afield by foot or bike.
Numerous walking and cycling tours stretch from Alblasserdam to tiny villages and farms along the Lek and Alblas Rivers. Cyclists following the Molenroute (Windmill Route) will pass through Oud-Alblas. Pedestrians can walk along the Oud-Alblas path or along walking routes in the nearby Alblasserbos forest.
Kinderdijk is accessible from Amsterdam via intercity train to Rotterdam. From Rotterdam Central Station, take the metro to Rotterdam Zuidplein, then bus 154 to Kinderdijk.