Amsterdam has become so synonymous with the Netherlands that an unknowing tourist would be forgiven to think that its capital is the only city worth visiting in the tiny country. Less is true: This writer has grown up in the second-biggest city in the Netherlands, Rotterdam, and it’s probably very telling that, despite residing in New York City now, I still find my hometown one of the most exciting places on earth.
Like many smaller cities, Rotterdam could be described through comparisons to other metropoles. The port city is often called the Dutch Berlin because of its thriving underground club culture, though it’s also nicknamed New York on the Maas (the river that runs through the city) for its wealth of modern architecture. Much of the city was wiped out during the Second World War, and the city’s characteristic resilient spirit has spurred its reconstruction as an architectural treasure. (The city’s skyline includes De Rotterdam, the largest building in the country, which was designed by Rotterdam-based Prada collaborator OMA, led by Rem Koolhaas.)
Lately, the city has been called the Dutch Brooklyn, too, as tourists and locals alike get squeezed out of overpriced and overcrowded Amsterdam. “Rotterdam can be a gray and dark place if you don’t know where to go,” Nina Eva Davies, beauty editor at Glamour Netherlands, warns, which is why an insider’s guide like this one is essential. Where to start? “Cycle through the Maastunnel,” one of the many architectural marvels of the city, Davies says.
Dutch Vogue shopping editor Gijsje Ribbens, who, like Davies, grew up in the city, agrees that the best way to describe Rotterdam is in contrast. “Amsterdam is like Venice: There are tourists everywhere, it is very gentrified, and it’s so expensive that the center is mainly rich and white,” she tells me. “The people in Rotterdam are much more sober, more distant, but more real too.” You should…