Art & Culture

Rotterdam’s cultural giants in five categories

From museums to festivals and from heritage to street art

Robin Utrecht

Art & Culture

With over 170 different cultures, finding diversity in Rotterdam is not an art but more of a given. New cultural and creative initiatives are welcomed with awe and enthusiasm. From a reflective art depot open to the public to a festival held exclusively on the roofs of the city. Rotterdam is fertile ground for innovation but let us not forget Rotterdam’s heritage. After all, it’s Rotterdam’s unique history that has made the city the platform for progress that it is today. From museums to festivals and from heritage to street art: you shouldn’t miss these cultural giants in Rotterdam!

Rotterdam’s cultural overview is a symbolic skyline of highlights in the city. We have divided it into five categories: Museums, Culture & Heritage, Street Art & Outdoor Art, Festivals & Events, Theatres & Stages and Architecture. The last one – architecture – deserves its own category in a city like Rotterdam but at the same time cannot be viewed in isolation. Everything here seems to breathe architecture!

10 x Museums and Art Institutions

10 x Museums and Art Institutions

Rotterdam is a bubbly mix of innovative architecture, lively festivals and challenging art and culture. The many exhibitions in top museums such as the Kunsthal Rotterdam and the Nederlands Fotomuseum are well worth a visit. For those that love art, don’t miss this top ten of museums and art institutions in Rotterdam.

Get inspired!

Museums, Culture & Heritage

All the good stuff, from modern art to our urban roots

The fire has been burning even brighter in the cultural heart of the city since the arrival of Depot Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. This is where museums and institutions meet, bordering Museum Park. The public and iconic Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is a valuable addition now that Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is closed for renovation. Discover the ‘treasures’ that used to be stored behind closed doors but, above all, enjoy the building itself, the view from the roof and the culinary art at Restaurant Renilde. Directly opposite, you can visit Het Nieuwe Instituut, the museum for architecture, design and digital culture. This is also home to the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning. HNI also manages Huis Sonneveld across the street; a villa dating from 1933 and the best-preserved house in the Nieuwe Bouwen style. A little further on, another beautiful villa, the Chabot Museum, shows the highlights of International Expressionism. The Kunsthal is worth a visit both for its building and its interesting, topical exhibitions. And with children you should, of course, go to the Natural History Museum next door, which is a dead ringer in every respect.

Not far from the Museum Park, in the city centre, you can visit The Schielandshuis. This ‘house of the city’ was built in 1665 and is one of the oldest buildings in Rotterdam. This is especially noticeable in the stately period rooms of the national monument. The ’40-’45 NU museum at Coolhaven is also linked to the history of the city; the Experience includes an impression of the devastating bombing of the city on 14 May 1940. This exhibition is part of the Rotterdam Collection and the Ook van Jou (Yours Too) campaign, which connects the past and present of the city through collection pieces, places, stories and Rotterdammers themselves. On the south side of the city, just across the Erasmus Bridge, turn left towards Noordereiland. There you can visit the Rotterdam children’s museum Villa Zebra. Or turn right after the bridge to visit the Nederlands Fotomuseum and discover the best of Dutch photography. A little further on, in Katendrecht, you can learn more about Rotterdammers and their history and see changing exhibitions at Verhalenhuis Belvédère. FENIX is under construction across the street. The Fenixloods II warehouse is being transformed into a museum with stories that transcend borders. Stories about, for example, the emigrants who used to arrive or depart from this place, starting their search for happiness either way.

Art in public spaces: street art & sculptures

Art in public spaces: street art & sculptures

The public spaces in Rotterdam are filled with art. While you’re out for a walk, you could come across sculptures of Rodin, Henry Moore and Picasso. These are interspersed with contemporary art by national and international artists and street art from the hip hop scene. Get inspired and discover the many works of art!

Get inspired!

Street Art & Outdoor Art

In Rotterdam, beauty can be found everywhere

Before street art got its current name and reputation, it could be seen in the streets (and metro stations) of Rotterdam. Nowadays, this art form is increasingly curated and offered through tours, but that doesn’t make it any less special, significant or beautiful! Festival ALL CAPS (formerly PowWow) put Rotterdam on the map as a street art city. During this event every year in September, various (inter)national street artists work at transforming Rotterdam walls, buildings and objects, mainly in Rotterdam Zuid. The festival contributes to the open-air museum that Rotterdam is: accessible free of charge at any time of the day. The goal? To make the living environment of the ‘ordinary Rotterdammer’ a little more beautiful. That is exactly what the impressive sculpture collection of Sculpture International Rotterdam does with various Rotterdam artworks – De Verwoeste Stad by Ossip Zadkine at the Leuvehaven, Naum Gabo’s artwork outside De Bijenkorf, Henry Moore’s Wall Relief No. 1 in the former Bouwcentrum and, of course, Santa Claus by Paul McCarthy at the Eendrachtsplein. And oh so many more beautiful sculptures that can be admired free of charge every day. This international collection, some of which can be seen on Westersingel, is part of the Rotterdam City Collection and is managed by Visual Art and Public Space Rotterdam (BKOR).

You can pick up a walking route with a map that guides you past the 65 unique works of art of Sculpture International Rotterdam at Rotterdam Tourist Information (Coolsingel). There you will also find the Rotterdam Light Route, which takes you past strikingly lit works of art, illuminated architectural city icons and poetry. Be sure to download the Rotterdam Routes app for countless routes divided into different categories. Choose the Street Art Route “Make it Happen” or Street Art Route 2.

Festivals & Events

In Rotterdam, events get the opportunity to grow

Rotterdam is a festival city. Events such as the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), Rotterdam Art Week and the North Sea Jazz festival turn the city upside down every year! The IFFR is one of the largest audience film festivals in the world and it shows: the whole world seems to travel to Rotterdam during this week. For a short while, Rotterdam is the global film capital with the latest feature films, documentaries, short films, exhibitions, performances, talk shows and all sorts of lively parties that give the city a fantastic vibe. The same goes for the North Sea Jazz Festival, in combination with the fringe festival North Sea Round Town: for two and a half weeks, jazz takes over the city, and you can enjoy the music in every spot of Rotterdam. An entirely different vibe can be felt – and seen – during Rotterdam Art Week when major art and design fairs such as Art Rotterdam (Van Nelle Fabriek) and Object Rotterdam (HAKA building) attract countless art lovers to the city. Many exhibitions, pop-ups, and galleries also open their doors during this week. Too much to go into here, so please read this article and this one. Other events that leave their mark on the city are Motel Mozaique (alternative music, art and performances), the Rotterdam Rooftop Days (a festival up high), the World Port Days (discover the ports of Rotterdam) and, last but not least, the Summer Carnaval, without a doubt the most cheerful and swinging festival of the city! But there is so much more to see, do and hear. Check here for a current overview of all festivals, events and excursions.

Theatres & Stages

A stage for every audience

For young and old, for a laugh or a cry, for a sit-down or a sultry dance, for singing, dancing and the spoken word: Rotterdam’s theatres and stages have it all! For musicals, cabaret, spectacular shows and compelling opera, both the Oude Luxor (centre) and the Nieuwe Luxor Theater (Kop van Zuid) are the ideal venues. A few minutes away, you can go to LantarenVenster for quality (arthouse) movies and good jazz. And a little further from that ‘op Zuid’ – in Katendrecht of course – you’ll find the intimate theatre of Harry-Jan Bus and Rachèl van Olm. Together they run the charming Theater Walhalla with verve. Close by at Zuidplein, you can visit the Kunstenpand, which opened in 2021 and houses Theater Zuidplein. You can watch good movies – from blockbusters to classics – across the river in an atmospheric setting at Cinerama Cinema or Kino. At Stadhuisplein, go to Theater Rotterdam for a good mix of theatre and dance performances (some of them from their own production house) or to De Doelen, across the square, for classical, world music, jazz, pop and, of course, to see and hear the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra live. For live music and dancing, we recommend Rotown (bands, singer-songwriters) or pop venue Annabel. There is plenty more theatre to see and music to hear, from intimate living room concerts to pop-up stages. Look here for an up-to-date overview.

Architecture

Rotterdam’s omnipresent architecture

Architecture is everywhere, especially in Rotterdam. For decades, this has been the city with room for innovation, the home base for architectural experimentation. The Justus van Effen complex in Spangen (1922) has been Rotterdam’s icon for innovative design, building and living for a century. The Cube Houses (1982) are another good example. And there are also new icons such as the Market Hall, Rotterdam Central Station, De Rotterdam and the Boijmans Van Beuningen Depot. But it’s not all new and experimental: we also cherish our monuments, during Open Monumentendag Rotterdam (Heritage Day), for example. Other annual events celebrating Rotterdam’s architecture are the Rotterdam Architecture Month, the Stadmakerscongres (City Makers’ Congress) and the Day of Architecture.

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