Harbour, nature & beach
Rotterdam is a lovely green city and has the largest city park in the Netherlands, the Zuiderpark (430 football fields)! Nature and city meet regularly in Rotterdam as they get along well. So there’s no need to choose. We help city slickers looking for tranquillity, urban nature lovers and adventurous explorers on their way with some tips for the perfect outdoor day in this green and innovative port city. Venture into Rotterdam’s nature! Expect a heavy dose of water, harbours, parks and beaches, all easy to reach by Waterbus, water taxi or Metro Rotterdam.
1. Hoek van Holland (Rotterdam Beach)
It is common knowledge that Rotterdam is a port city. Sunbathing and swimming on the beach are less obvious choices. But Hoek van Holland Strand – also known as Rotterdam Beach – is a beautiful beach where there is plenty to do. Get on the metro at Rotterdam Beurs and it will take you to the beach in half an hour. Besides harbours, the beach and the sea, there is a lot more on offer. A rich history, for instance, reflected in statues, monuments and the many bunkers along the coast. You can even sleep in a bunker! The Maeslantkering is also impressive – and the largest ‘work of art’ in Hoek van Holland. No other flood barrier in the world has larger movable parts. This sturdy piece of innovation can even withstand a tidal wave five metres above NAP. Most of the amenities, shops and several beach cafés can be found at Badweg and Zeekant. These beach bars are a great place to relax after a long walk, a visit to a museum (Museum Icoon), a bike ride or a stroll on the beach. Sit back, relax and enjoy the moment.
2. Trompenburg Gardens & Arboretum
Have you heard of Trompenburg? This garden extraordinaire is a unique and significant addition to Rotterdam’s parks. It may also be Rotterdam’s best-kept ‘green secret’. Trompenburg Gardens & Arboretum is a botanical garden where construction started around 1820. It now houses an impressive collection of trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs and tubers. The monumental garden is in Kralingen, on the edge of the city centre, and is comprised of different types of gardens. These include traditional English-style gardens, a food forest and a desert greenhouse. With no less than eight hectares, peace-seekers, nature lovers, other explorers and the curious alike are bound to be amazed by ‘The Greenest Museum of Rotterdam’. Words don’t do justice to the lushness of this place, so be sure to pop in for a visit. Tip: for coffee and cake, visit De Uithoek, Trompenburg’s teahouse, or book a guided tour or themed walk.
3. Het Park and the Schoonoord Gardens
Ask Rotterdammers about their favourite place in the city and you will often hear ‘Het Park’. This park near the Euromast is one of Rotterdam’s loveliest spots. The winding paths entice many to take a leisurely morning or evening stroll. The lawns invite you to have fun, play football, picnic and barbecue. The monumental Heerenhuys now houses Dudok, where you can have breakfast, lunch and drinks and listen to a Heerenhuys chamber concert every Sunday morning. The old coach house is very romantic, and where Parqiet is located. Here, in a deckchair on the grass, you can enjoy the relaxed park atmosphere and good menu. Besides residents and visitors, the place is a Walhalla for birds, bats and insects. Tawny owls nest in the hollows of the trees and you can hear the spotted woodpecker pecking. Did you know that many of these trees are more than a hundred years old?
Then, when you think it can’t get any greener and lusher in the city, there’s also Schoonoord Historic Gardens, a green gem on the edge of Het Park, where ornamental chickens scrounge and you can hear the woodpeckers pecking and, if you’re lucky, see the kingfisher pass by. Around every bend in this garden lies another beautiful scene.
4. Het Dakpark
Rotterdam’s rooftops have a special status. Mainly because progressive architects and entrepreneurs see the potential of all those square metres up high. The Dakpark is an example of the thinking in terms of possibilities that Rotterdam locals are so good at. In fact, this park is the result of a residents’ initiative! It’s a green oasis in the middle of the city at a height of nine metres. At 1,200 metres long and 85 metres wide, it’s the largest public rooftop park in Europe. It offers a spectacular view of the harbours while you enjoy the grass under your feet, sports, games, a picnic or a barbecue. There is a playground and water stairs for the children to enjoy. You will also find several (vegetable) gardens, grazing sheep (the park’s natural lawnmowers) and a walled garden with Mediterranean plants (the ‘heat room’), for when you need some shelter. In summer, get homemade goodies at the kiosk and join a yoga class or boot camp with a view.
Besides Dakpark, Rotterdam has more green roofs to enjoy. The DakAkker, for example: a 1000 m2 rooftop farm on top of the Schieblock. Or the Hofbogenpark: a two-kilometre-long park on top of an old railway viaduct in Rotterdam Noord. Can’t get enough of Rotterdam up high? Every year, Rotterdam also turns the focus to its roofs during the Rotterdam Rooftop Days.
5. The Kralingse Lake and Forest
There is something magical about seeing the Rotterdam skyline sparkling in the distance while surrounded by water and greenery. It is, therefore, perhaps one of the best tips for visitors who want to experience ‘the Rotterdam of the Rotterdammers’. Here you will find the locals running, cycling, walking, paddling, enjoying a drink on a terrace with friends or with the family at the playground or deer. The cycling and walking paths also lead through fascinating pieces of nature. On hot days, the beach pool is a godsend, and you can swim and barbecue or picnic on the sunbathing lawns around it. Or seek respite from the heat in a sailboat, canoe or on a sup. A visit to this green oasis on the edge of the city need never be the same. Take your children to the De Kraal petting zoo (also accessible by log raft) on a Sunday morning, followed by a pancake at Boshut de Big or De Nachtegaal. Go running with your partner on a weekday or dine at restaurant De Tuin on a Friday night.
Tip: make it extra romantic with a twilight walk across the bridges towards the monumental windmills De Lelie and De Ster. These are the only working snuff and spice mills in the Netherlands! Go on an adventure with friends in the Fun Forest, and then recover on the terrace of De Schone Lei. Don’t want to leave? We understand. Stay overnight in the monumental Miller’s House.
6. Nieuwe Maas River
The Nieuwe Maas could be considered the life force of Rotterdam. The river was decisive for the development of Rotterdam, which grew from a small town into a world port city. The Nieuwe Maas invites you to exercise and do sports, like the Bridges running circuit (Rondje Bruggen) or the New Maas River Trail. And nothing is more spectacular than a ride on a fast Watertaxi: you bounce across the water! With around 50 moorings scattered through and around the city, it is also an efficient way to travel. Tip: explore the city and its historic and modern harbours on a watertaxi tour. Combine a boat trip with a visit to the Kinderdijk Unesco World Heritage Site by taking Waterbus 21 from the Erasmus Bridge. The nineteen windmills at Kinderdijk are world-famous: nowhere else in the world has so many historic windmills in one place. The water of the Nieuwe Maas is of great importance to the city in many ways. The river also has the role of linking city and nature and contributes to more biodiversity with several tidal parks. If you prefer to stay on shore, you can still enjoy the river. Take a walk from the Boompjes along Westerkade and Parkkade, for example, and relax on a bench when you need a break, gaze over the water and see the dynamics of the city reflected in it. Soothing, isn’t it?
7. The Port
We mentioned it above: Rotterdam has the largest port in Europe. That is something we are justifiably proud of. This beautiful mix of breeding grounds for tradition, labour, sustainability, innovation and dynamism benefit the city a lot. And it’s definitely something you should see for yourself. A boat tour is the ideal way. Visit the Port Pavilion, the starting point for discovering and experiencing the port. Most tours leave from the Maaskade, but there is also a tour from the Futureland information centre on Maasvlakte 2, where you discover the port of the future. If you would rather see the port from dry land, why not take a discovery tour by bike with Inside Rotterdam? If you gaze at the water of the Nieuwe Maas for more than five minutes, you’re sure to see the Spido: one of Rotterdam’s best-known attractions for more than half a century. The Spido’s harbour tour gives you a short, powerful impression of Rotterdam’s pride in 75 minutes, including the Euromast and the ss Rotterdam.
After being immersed in Rotterdam’s harbours, it’s time for a mouth-watering meal! Eat meatballs at the original Rotterdam Ballentent, with stunning views of the water and Rotterdam Zuid. Or order a plateau of fruits de mer at Hotel New York, with a legendary view from the spot where thousands of people left for North America. Although, we wonder why anyone would want to leave such a green, sustainable and innovative city.