Six Art Highlights in Rotterdam
While Rotterdam, the second largest city of The Netherlands, is mostly known for its abundance of modern architectural buildings, the city also has a vast offer of excellent museums, which can easily compete with the ones in Amsterdam, the Dutch capital. Both cities are around an hour’s distance from each other, so if you are around, venture outside the capital too and visit this city with a huge maritime history.
A couple of Rotterdam’s best museums are concentrated around the Museumpark area, which makes it very easy to fit them in on a day’s visit to the city. But there’s much more and we assure you, you’ll not have to get bored when spending some more days in the city. Have a look at our list of art highlights to get inspired and, of course, don’t miss the architectural wonders around the city itself.
1. Boijmans Van Beuningen
The Boijmans Van Beuningen is one of the oldest museums in The Netherlands and easily the best museum in Rotterdam for art from the medieval period until the 21st century. The museum gives an excellent and very balanced overview of the arts through these centuries, with a slight focus on Dutch and European art. Of the permanent collection many works have been donated by private collectors, already as from its foundation by the lawyer Boijmans back in 1849. In 1935 the museum moved to its current venue, built in the charming architectural style that was typical for the 30s with red bricks, cosy rooms and corners to truly relax and enjoy the space.
Although it has expanded through the decades, this style is still well visible and mixed in with contemporary elements. This is why we like the museum so much: the mix of all elements, both in its arts as in its construction and decoration.
Make sure to check out and use the merry-go-round coat-rack designed by Studio Wieki Somers, as well as the ‘Infinity Mirrored Room’ of Yayoi Kusama. This last one is a bit hidden, but ask at the entrance where it is, the friendly staff will gladly point you the way.
2. Nederlands Fotomuseum
Since we’re big fans of photography, the Nederlands Fotomuseum (Dutch Photo Museum) is one of the museums that’s high on our list of art venues to visit every time we come to Rotterdam. You’ll have to cross the Erasmus bridge for it, which will give you some great photo opportunities across the river Maas and its surroundings. Since 2007 the museum is housed in the former Las Palmas warehouse next to the river, giving the museum double the space it had before and be assured that the institution can use this.
The museum administers one of the largest collections of Dutch photography in The Netherlands and has a permanent exhibition on the history of Dutch photography on display. The temporary exhibitions are varying greatly in theme, and somehow always make us curious to come back. Every Sunday you can join a free tour at 2pm.
3. Kunsthal Rotterdam
After a seven-months closure the Kunsthal Rotterdam, one of the larger art institutions in the city, recently opened its doors again. The closing-period has been used to renovate the institution thoroughly and apart from relocating the entrance, some of the technical and security installations have been improved. The institution – which officially can’t be referred to as a museum since it has no collection of its own – is housed in a building designed by the famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and all in all has 3300 square meters at its disposition for exhibitions.
Kunsthal Rotterdam has a wide scope and aims to attract a broad audience with its exhibitions. Of the around 25 yearly exhibitions – mostly 5 at the same time – are organised around a broad range of topics, from populist to elite ones: let’s say from the football team Feyenoord to Leonardo da Vinci, so yes, that broad. We’d almost say that there is always something for everyone.
4. Het Nieuwe Instituut / The New Institute
If you’re into modern architecture than Rotterdam is the place to be. Due to the bombings during the second world war the city doesn’t have that much historical buildings left, some exceptions set aside. This is, however, fully compensated by the abundance of modern architectural buildings and the presence of the museum for architecture: The New Institute (or Het Nieuwe Instituut in Dutch), which is a recent merger of the NAI, Premsela and Virtual Platform.
The institute is located in an impressive architectural building designed by the architect Jo Coenen and is located at the rim of the Museumpark. It has an enormous architectural archive, likely one of the largest in the world, and aims to bring architecture, design and media together. With your ticket you can also enter House Sonneveld, one of the best-preserved houses built in the style of the Nieuwe Bouwen, the Dutch version of the modern architecture, also referred to as Dutch functionalism. The house was built in the 30s of the 20th century and was considered supermodern at the time. Go and have a look for yourself to see how it compares to buildings of this era!
5. Cube Houses
If you’ve made it to Rotterdam, the Dutch city of modern architecture, make sure to visit the area near the Blaak station, for its Cube Houses or ‘kubuswoning‘ in Dutch. The architectural phenomenon dates back to the seventies and was one of the first projects created to revitalise the city-scape, that was until that moment pretty boring as a result of the hasty re-building of the city after the bombings in the second world war. It’s quite fascinating and fun to wander around the complex consisting of 38 cube houses in total, and most likely you start wondering how people actually live in them.
To see this you can visit the Show Cube, one of the cube houses that has been converted into a museum. You’ll be able to see the interior of these houses, the furniture people use and also get some extra background information on the whole complex. If you still haven’t had enough of the cube houses after a visit to the museumhouse, there’s an option to stay in one of them, which is transformed into a hostel of the Dutch hostel chain Stayokay.
6. Witte De With
For the art enthusiasts who’d like to see something different from the large museums and who’d fancy visiting some smaller art venues with a different caliber of artists, we’d recommend to head to the Witte De With straat. When you’re walking to Museumpark this street is likely one of the streets you’ll pass anyways.
Apart from being a popular area to go out for dinner and drinks, it’s also the street where you’ll find the newly renovated Witte De With Center for Contemporary Art and numerous well-established art galleries, such as TENT and Showroom Mama.
TIP 1 – Museums in Rotterdam generally close at 5 pm, so take this into account when planning your day. Some galleries and also the Witte De With Center for Contemporary Art close in between 5.30 pm and 6 pm, so you might save those for the end of the afternoon.
TIP 2 – If you’re planning to visit more than three museums in The Netherlands it may pay off to buy the national Museum Card. With this card you’ll be able to enter the participating museums for free (or for a reduced fare, there is the rare exception) and as it stays valid for a year, if you’re returning within said period you’re still able to use it. In case you’re only visiting Rotterdam, you may also consider buying the Rotterdam Welcome Card, which gives you discount at museums and more.
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