Popular Rotterdam Shore Excursions
Four of Rotterdam's most intriguing museums are clustered within a few blocks of each other amid the gardens of Museum Park. The Boijmans van Beuningen Museum (Museumpark 18-20; open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; +31 10-441-9475) has an eclectic collection of art from the Middle Ages to the present day, with an emphasis on the Old Masters. The Kunsthal (Museumpark; open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays and public holidays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; +31 10-440-0300) hosts about 25 visiting exhibitions a year on everything from Leonardo da Vinci to lingerie.
The most impressive sight at the small Natural History Museum (Westzeedijk 345; open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; +31 10-436-4222) is a 49-foot skeleton of a sperm whale, which sits on display among a wide-ranging collection of fossils, butterflies and other wonders of the natural world. The Het Nieuwe Instituut (Museumpark 25; open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays and public holidays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; +31 10-440-1200) offers information and visiting exhibitions on Dutch design and architecture in a striking contemporary building.
For a dizzying bird's-eye view of the city and its harbor, head to one of Rotterdam's tallest buildings: the 607-foot Euromast. An elevator whisks you up to a windy outdoor viewing platform, from which you can see as far as Antwerp and The Hague on a clear day. Thrill-seekers can go abseiling (rappelling) down the side of the tower, while the less adventurous can sit back and watch their efforts through the windows of the tower's restaurant. (Parkhaven 20; open daily April to September, 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., daily October to March, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; +31 10-436-4811)
The 15th-century Sint Laurenskirk is the only building from the Middle Ages left in Rotterdam, though it had to be partially rebuilt after the World War II bombing. Its relatively plain interior is distinguished by one of Europe's largest organs. Don't miss the 400-year-old statue of Erasmus on the square in front of the church. (Grotekerkplein 27; open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 10-411-6494)
Tucked away into the southwestern corner of Rotterdam is a tiny slice of old Holland, where you can get a glimpse of what the city would have looked like before it was leveled in World War II. Guarding the entrance to this little area, known as Delfshaven, is a traditional wooden windmill; beyond it runs a narrow canal lined with antique shops and cafes that have been reconstructed to look like the historic buildings that once stood here. Pay a visit to the Pelgrimvaderskerk (Pilgrim's Father Church, open Friday and Saturday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.), which is said to have sheltered the English pilgrims before they departed for Southampton to board the Mayflower.
Note: Delfshaven is a 30- to 40-minute walk from the city center along rather rundown streets. A quicker and more pleasant option is to take the #4 tram.
As the birthplace of the modern mall, Rotterdam offers a wealth of opportunities for shoppers. Bibliophiles should make a beeline for Polare (Lijnbaan 150; +31 10-413-2070) with its 10 floors of books, CDs, DVDs and sheet music. (There are plenty of English-language options.) The city's most famous department store is De Bijenkorf (Coolsingel 105), a beehive-shaped building offering designer clothing and upscale household goods. You'll find Dutch and international chain stores in the pedestrian-only shopping areas along the Lijnbaan and the Beurstraverse, while the best antique stores are along the waterfront in Delfshaven.
Many visitors do a double take at their first sight of the Blaaske Bos (Blaaske forest), a row of colorful, cube-shaped houses tilted precariously on their sides and supported by concrete pillars. Designed in 1984 by architect Piet Bloom, the houses are meant to represent trees. Most of the houses are currently inhabited, but curious visitors can tour the Kijk-Kubus (Overblaak 70; open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; +31 10-414-2285), or Show Cube, to see what life is like inside.
Rotterdam's zoo, known as Diergaarde Blijdorp, sees 1.5 million visitors a year. In addition to the usual animal suspects like lions, zebras, giraffes, rhinos and snakes, the zoo also boasts a large aquarium. (Blijdorplaan 8, 3041; open daily in summer, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily in winter, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; +31 900-1857)
From stark landscapes to intimate portraits, the collection at the Nederlands Fotomuseum showcases a century of unique Dutch photography. The museum is located in the Las Palmas building near the main cruise terminal on Wilhelminakade. (Wilhelminakade; open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; +31 10-203-0405)
Leave modernity behind with a daytrip to Delft, just a 15-minute train ride away. With its scenic canals and row houses, Old Delft looks almost like a miniature Amsterdam. The painter Johannes Vermeer lived and worked here in the 1600s, and today you can stand in the same place (at the south end of Oude Delft canal) where he painted his famous "View of Delft." The city's other claim to fame is Delftware, delicate blue and white porcelain dishes that are still made in De Porceleyn Fles, a factory south of the city center.