Rotterdam, City of Innovation and Experimentation

Cities all over the world have the same, difficult issues to address, like climate change and energy transition, but also social issues such as inequality, housing shortage and loneliness. Anyone wanting to see a city that meets all of these challenges head-on should come to Rotterdam. This fascinating port city has a tremendous appeal to visitors. There is plenty of experimentation with new concepts. Solutions are found and tested on the spot.

The largest rooftop farm in the Netherlands is in the heart of Rotterdam. The Dakakker grows vegetables, edible flowers and fruit on top of the Schieblock, developed by ZUS Architects, which was once an office building and is now a vibrant hub for creatives. It also has bees and a smart roof for intelligent water storage. If you are hungry, join us at Teds Rotterdam for brunch with views over the green rooftop farm and the gleaming facades of the surrounding high-rise buildings. It is just one of the many remarkable experiences visitors can enjoy in Rotterdam.

From the DakAkker, you can see how Hofbogenpark is taking shape in the distance. This climate-adaptive park, designed by DE URBANISTEN, is being built on top of a former train track. It will be a lush, two-kilometre-long green oasis, accommodating people and animals and collecting excess rainwater.

Aiming for resilience

Hofbogenpark is one of seven urban projects Rotterdam is implementing to rigorously transform its outdoor space. Besides being green and pleasant to live in, it has to become climate-adaptive: resistant to heat, drought and heavy rainfall. Rotterdam is investing generously in innovation and is among the frontrunners in the field of climate adaptation. The seven urban projects stem from the resilience strategy Rotterdam introduced in 2016, aimed at making the city strong and resilient.

The focus on experimentation and innovation makes Rotterdam a wonderful destination for travellers looking for a city break with substance; who want to see something that inspires. Anticipating the challenges it faces, the city is constantly evolving and permanently transforming. The spectacular skyline full of innovative architecture is a testament to this. But there is much more to be discovered. A port which runs on innovation. Former port sites transformed into creative makers’ districts. Festivals in unexpected or undeveloped places. And the hospitality industry doing things in a radically different way. Like Stadbrouwerij Rotterdam, where they brew beers that are as tasty as they are sustainable.

The icons of tomorrow arise today

Rotterdam was bombed in 1940. The historic heart of the city was completely destroyed in just 15 minutes. But this did not stop the people of Rotterdam from making plans for reconstruction soon after. They decided not to restore their city to its former glory but to completely renew it. Since then, construction, experimentation and development have continued relentlessly. The first gallery flat, Europe’s first skyscraper and the Cube Houses were all built in Rotterdam. Just like De Rotterdam, the Markthal and the brand new Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, which today attracts architecture lovers from all over the world. And new icons are in the making. Like residential building SAWA, rising on the Lloydpier, in which Mei Architects combines numerous ambitions: it will be constructed entirely of wood and store CO2 instead of emitting it. It will be circular, modular, energy-neutral and, thanks to a cleverly devised green concept, a valuable addition for people, animals and nature.

Zuid, a burgeoning city district

Rotterdam Architecture Month, which takes place annually in June, is a great occasion to visit Rotterdam. In 2023, this festival turns the spotlight on the potential of Rotterdam-Zuid: an emerging district and breeding ground for experimental ideas and initiatives. The Rotterdam Street Culture Week, dedicated to street art, hip-hop, skate, BMX and street football, is one of the highlights in September.

Another highlight is the Rotterdam Rooftop Days: a festival that draws attention to the potential of Rotterdam’s flat rooftop landscape. With a ticket, visitors can visit numerous rooftops and see the city from a different perspective. They are challenged to help think about the scarce space in the city and the potential of the as-yet untapped rooftop landscape.

Some rooftops can be visited all year round, such as the famous landmark the Euromast, an observation tower offering phenomenal views over the city. And restaurant Fontein on the tenth floor of a former office building.

Tour the city with a guide

Rotterdam is easy to explore on your own: distances are short and you can rent (electric) bikes, scooters and steps (soon) in many places. To find out more, we recommend booking a guide. Organisations such as De Rotterdam Tours and Urban Guides offer customised (themed) tours. Guides lead visitors on foot or by bike past hidden gems and tell the stories behind them. The Bike & Bite food tours are also fun, taking visitors to local entrepreneurs and culinary highlights.

Port Pavilion is the place where visitors will find information and inspiration to explore the port and really get to know it. But a tour on the water is also not to be missed. Book a Splashtour: a city tour with an amphibious bus that can both drive and sail. Explore the port from the water on a Spido Harbour Tour or tour the Maasvlakte with the FutureLand Express.

One of Rotterdam’s most impressive innovations is the Maeslantkering storm surge barrier, part of the Dutch Delta Works. This structure was built in the Nieuwe Waterweg, near Hoek van Holland, to take the first hits during high water from the sea. Visitors can take a guided tour through the exhibition at the Keringhuis and the Maeslantkering site. When it comes to water management, the iconic windmills at UNESCO World Heritage Site Kinderdijk are also a must-see. Kinderdijk can be reached by water with a Blue Amigo water bus. Bicycles can be rented on-site.

Rotterdam’s drive for experimentation and innovation, exciting architecture, rich creative industries and bold festivals make it an irresistible destination for city trippers. Festivals, tours and guided visits help to reveal the city’s many stories.

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