They’re neighbouring cities with distinctly different appeals. But that hasn’t diminished Amsterdam and Rotterdam’s friendly rivalry, which spans food, architecture and hipster ’hoods.
So near yet so far. Amsterdam (above), revelling in the geometry of its precise canals and bell-shaped merchant houses, is a city that honours the golden-age zeitgeist of the 16th century. It’s a place more recently reinvented as a creative hub for the eat-sleep-rave generation. Rotterdam, about 75km to the south-west, is an intriguing blend of super Dutch architecture and Tetris-shaped buildings set on the Maas River. It’s a transient place without a historic core because of World War II, but one, locals will tell you, they didn’t like much anyway.
Visit both Amsterdam and Rotterdam and you’ll feel the difference in atmosphere. It takes just 40 minutes to travel between the two, a journey from toe-to-toe canals to Europe’s largest port, yet it’s like travelling to different time zones. Arriving in Amsterdam – a place where the most famous diary of all time was written by Anne Frank, and where Rene Descartes first declared “I think, therefore I am” – you’ll see a bounce in people’s steps as they walk along the cobbles. Rotterdammers, by contrast, admit they suffer from “second-city syndrome”, but secretly acknowledge they dream bigger than their northerly rivals do. To them, their golden age is happening right now. Visit the warehouse district Wilhelminapier, they’ll insist, and you’ll see what they have done is build Manhattan on the Maas.
Naturally, both cities share a passion for food, art and contemporary design. Here’s how to enjoy the best of both worlds right now.
“Cooks who have guts choose Rotterdam.” So says chef Francois Geurds, a firebrand culinary talent, taking a good-natured swipe at the city’s northerly neighbour. “Five years ago, the food scene was just okay. But in recent years, there has been a considerable rise in great restaurants – and we’re competing. Rotterdam’s become the cool city.”
The former sous chef at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in England could have chosen to relocate to Amsterdam, but he didn’t. Instead, he decided to open FG Food Labs (above) under a renovated railway arch in one of the city’s gentrifying neighbourhoods, and it now seems like a stroke of genius. New restaurants are copying his Michelin-star style – best described as tapas-speakeasy – and he has put the area around Station Hofplein on the map. Not to mention Geurds uses liquid nitrogen at your table.