Things to Do in South Holland
Rotterdam’s brand new market hall is more than just a place to shop for produce and grab a bite; it’s an attraction in its own right. It features over 100 food stalls, eight restaurants and 15 shops, all located underneath an imposing horseshoe-shaped structure with glass facades consisting of 4,000 small windows hanged by steel cables – it is, in fact, the largest glass-window cable structure in Europe, and as such, is considered an architectural masterpiece by many experts.
Additionally, the inside of the market is covered by more than 4,000 colorful tiles that give the horseshoe-shaped arch a boost of color, making it the largest artwork in the Netherlands. A 10th-century farm was uncovered seven meters underground during construction of the market, and several foundations and artifacts are now on exhibit throughout the market hall in homage to Rotterdam’s agricultural past.
This Rem Koolhaas-designed art museum houses about half a dozen exhibits at a time in its sleek, low-slung stone and glass exhibition hall. Exhibits in the museum’s spacious white galleries have included the works of Andy Warhol, an extensive collection of objects from World War II and the avant-garde fashions of Jean Paul Gaultier. Kunsthal Rotterdam made headlines in 2012 when seven important works by the likes of Monet, Gaugin, Matisse and Picasso were stolen in a daring late-night raid of the museum.
Rotterdam Zoo (Diergaarde Blijdorp) is known for its successful conservation and breeding programs. Visit the zoo for the chance to see creatures from all around the globe, from African pygmy hippos to Asiatic lions, North American polar bears to Australian swamp wallabies. There’s even an on-site aquarium and butterfly garden.
Better known by its affectionate local nickname of “the Swan,” Erasmus Bridge crosses the River Nieuwe Maas with its elegant white spines, constructed in 1996 to link north and south Rotterdam across the harbor. Designed by Ben van Berkel, the bridge is an iconic landmark in Rotterdam, and its 456-foot (139-meter) single pylon supports 32 steel cables from which the half-mile (800 m) roadway is suspended. The southern side of the bridge includes Europe’s heaviest bascule, which lifts in order to let shipping transport through. It’s best seen at close quarters from the water on a harbor tour, from above on the viewing platform of Euromast or from the walking and cycling trails around the Port of Rotterdam.
The Swan is beautifully illuminated at night and often provides an eerie backdrop for Rotterdam’s festivals and fireworks displays. In 2005, several planes flew beneath the bridge as part of the daring “Red Bull Air Race.”
Designed by Dutch architect Hugh Maaskant for the 1960 Floriade flower festival, Euromast dominates the Rotterdam skyline with its futuristic shape, serving as a much-loved city landmark. Now standing 606 feet (185 meters) tall, Euromast was originally only 328 feet tall before its extra height was added in the 1970s to counter its lost title as Holland’s tallest structure. Originally built as an observation tower, Euromast is better known today as a center for fine dining and adrenaline-pumping extreme sports.
From the bottom to the top, a visit to Euromast tests bravery. Speedboats depart from the foot of the tower for high-speed tours of the port of Rotterdam, getting up close to Erasmus Bridge, as well as the wharves and ships of one of the world’s largest commercial ports. Up at Euromast’s viewing platforms, which are accessible by elevator, visitors can rappel down the tower (summer only, check dates) or zip-line to the ground on the last Sunday of every month.
The revolving Euroscoop elevator corkscrews its way up from the viewing platform and takes those unafraid of heights to the very top, while a brasserie serving snacks such asbitterballen (spicy Dutch meat balls) can be found perched up at 314 feet (96 meters). If you can’t bear to leave, the tower houses two hotels rooms with stupendous views from their private balconies.
With 7 million flower bulbs planted every year across 79 acres (32 hectares), Keukenhof Gardens is a colorful sea of 800 varieties of tulips and other spring flowers, attracting visitors from around the globe who want to see the Netherlands' iconic tulip fields. More than 9 miles (15 kilometers) of footpaths provide space to stroll around the park, take photos of flowers in bloom, and enjoy this Holland tradition.
Built using funds donated by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Peace Palace (Vredespaleis) is one of The Hague’s best-known landmarks. The grand neo-Renaissance building is home to the UN’s International Court of Justice, which hears legal disputes between states.
Mauritshuis is home to one of the best collections of Dutch and Flemish paintings in the world. Often referred to as "the jewel box," the ornately elegant 17th-century mansion is a textbook example of Dutch classical architecture, built as the private residence of John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen.
The building that houses Den Haag’s premier fine-art museum is almost as important as its collections. Built the 1930s by HP Berlage, Holland’s leading exponent of Art Deco, the structure is of honey-colored brick, while the inside is all yellow-and-white tiles and straight, harmonious lines. Nowadays, the building forms part of a complex that includes the science-themed Museon, the Den Haag Museum of Photography, the Omniversum 3D movie theater and the Museum of Contemporary Art. However, there is so much to see in the world-class Gemeentemuseum Den Haag alone that several hours are required to do the vast displays justice. There are even two onsite restaurants to choose from so you don’t have to leave once you get hungry.
Top billing has to go to the world’s largest collection of abstract paintings by Piet Mondriaan; 50 of his works hang in the tranquil white galleries of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, including his last, the unfinished Victory Boogie Woogie of 1944. Other permanent exhibitions are equally strong: “Discover the Modern” covers the very best of 20th-century art with artists ranging from Kandinsky and Schiele to Kirchner, Monet and Picasso.
There is also a sublime collection of decorative arts that showcases tulip vases from Delft, intricate doll houses, an enormous display of antique musical instruments and a horde of some 50,000 prints by illustrious artists of the last two centuries. A new innovation is the wonderfully child-friendly interactive exhibition called Wonderkamers, in which kids effectively become part of a space-age computer game as they explore the gallery.
The Netherlands is famous for its windmills, and the most charming place to admire the traditional Dutch landmarks is at Kinderdijk. Just outside of Rotterdam, Kinderdijk’s 19 windmills date back to the 17th century and are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
More Things to Do in South Holland
Revolutionary architect Piet Blom designed and developed Rotterdam’s collection of 40 innovative cube houses in 1984, each of which has a giant yellow and gray tilted, wooden cube balancing on top of the ground level. The houses were built to resemble trees in a forest and to present an alternative to high-density urban living. Blom took the Ponte Vecchio in Florence as his inspiration for the structures and included public areas below and private living spaces above in the cubes. These bizarre apartments are centered around a courtyard playground and lean at an angle of 45 degrees over the buzzy waterfront bars and restaurants of Oude Haven. The whole complex sits on top of a pedestrian bridge over a busy road.
Inside, the houses have three stories and myriad angled walls with plenty of light pouring in from the sloping, triangular, plate-glass windows. The rooms are also triangular, which makes furniture design especially tricky. Each unit consists of a living space on the first floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second and a workspace or sun lounge on the top floor.
Two of the larger cube houses have been transformed into a funky hostel for tourists, but the three-floor Show Cube (KijkKubus) is a fully furnished pod open to impress visitors with the crazy planes and slopes of its interior.
Leiden's Museum De Lakenhal and the building it is housed in (the Laecken-Halle) are considered to be one of the best examples of Dutch Golden Age architecture in the Netherlands. For centuries, the building served as the inspection hall and the bustling center for Leiden's famous fabric trade, the products of which were exported to all corners of the world. The original façade of the 17th-century palace remains intact, although the interior has undergone quite a few changes over the centuries.
The site welcomed the Museum De Lakenhal in 1874, bringing in a diverse collection of works by Leiden-born master painters including Rembrandt van Rijn, Lucas van Leyden and Theo van Doesburg. With a focus on fine arts and Leiden history, the museum hosts visiting exhibitions in addition to its permanent collection. A mix of armaments, old tile, fabric, paintings and even an altarpiece from a 'hidden church' are tied together by the history of Leiden, allowing visitors to easily imagine what life in this historic city may have once been like.
What was once an abandoned port area has now been redeveloped into an urban, metropolitan neighborhood. Many of the disused buildings in Kop van Zuid – shipyards, headquarters, and plants – have remained and were recently given a second life, not without thanks to the completion of the now-iconic Erasmus Bridge that finally united the north and the south sides of the mighty Nieuwe Maas River. Along with new infrastructure and award-winning architecture (throughout their modernization, most buildings kept a lot of their original features to keep history alive), this duality and eclectic feel have helped Kop van Zuid reached an international reputation, and its business model has since been copied several times in other naval cities facing similar issues. If Kop van Zuid used to be exclusively for dockworkers and sailors, it is now filled with fashionable youngsters and local families wanting to experience a new side of their city. Visitors will now find a contemporary and inviting entertainment district that features hotels, cafés, restaurants, a theater, and many businesses – even an international cruise ship port, the Wilhelmina Pier.
As the main railway station of the city of Rotterdam and one of the most important transportation hubs in all of the Netherlands with over 110,000 daily passengers in 2007 (as many as Amsterdam Schipol airport), Rotterdam Centraal was just recently renovated and reopened in March 2014. Because it is
now connected to several high-speed networks in Europe and because of its proximity to Schipol airport, it is expected that the numbers of daily passengers will increase to 323,000 by the year 2025.
In terms of architecture, the station has already received the acclaim of the industry thanks to its bold yet efficient design – a nod to the city’s architectural heritage, which is famous for being edgy and resolutely non-traditional. One of the main changes from the recent renovations works is the difference
between the north and south entrances; one faces the residential Provenierswijk neighborhood and the other, a futuristic, skyscraper-ridden commercial district. The station was designed so that commuters feel the gradual evolution from a more modest northern entrance with plenty of natural light and green
spaces merging into a metropolitan, dramatic allure to the south as the stations opens up onto a large and lively public square and a 5000-bike parking.
Transformed from a farmhouse into a stately home in 1533, Noordeinde Palace (Paleis Noordeinde) in The Hague was presented to William of Orange’s widow in recognition of her husband’s service to the Netherlands. Noordeinde Palace is one of four palaces across the country owned by the Dutch royal family and serves as the office of King Willem-Alexander.
The Church of St. Lawrence (Sint Laurenskerk) is the primary landmark of Rotterdam, and the only remaining building of medieval times in the city. The late-Gothic structure was built between 1449 and 1525, originally consecrated as a Catholic cathedral before being converted to a Protestant place of worship following the Reformation in 1572. Much of the ornate decoration from the interior was removed at this time.
For a time, from 1619 to 1642, the church was topped with a wooden spire designed by architect Hendrick de Keyser, but this was demolished due to rot. The next idea was to top the tower with a stone pinnacle, but this caused the tower to tilt, requiring new piles to be added under the foundation. Much of the remaining interior decoration was removed during the Batavian Revolution of 1795.
Sint Laurenskerk was heavily damaged in the German bombing of May 14, 1940, the images of which still symbolize the hardship the city endured during this period. After the bombing, there was controversy over whether to keep or demolish the church, and in the end, a restoration was agreed upon.
One of the main attractions of the Sint Laurenskerk is the Carillon of bells, which were originally installed in 1661 as a set of 36 designed by F. Hemony. More were later added during the post-war renovation, and there are now 49.
The Old Harbor, or Oude Haven, of Rotterdam is the city’s first port, dating back to 1350. Today, the Old Harbor is an entertainment center of Rotterdam, with a unique mix of old and new structures and a collection of terraces and restaurants to enjoy some time to relax in the bustling city.
Rotterdam’s Old Harbor is home to a number of old sailing ships that harken back to the heyday of the city as a trading port. Alongside the harbor stands Het Witte Huis (The White House), recognized as the first skyscraper of Europe. Standing 45 meters, the White House was built in 1898, and was not only the first, but also the highest skyscraper in Europe.
The ten-story, art nouveau-style building was designed by Dutch architect Willem Molenbroek, and stands on 1,000 piles that keep it from sinking into the soft soil. It is one of the few buildings in Rotterdam to have survived the German bombing campaign of May 14, 1940.
The Old Harbor used to be the home of the Plan C business complex, built in 1880. This complex combined shops, offices and homes around central arcades, allowing shoppers to remain dry even during the rain. This complex was, in fact, one of the first shopping malls similar to the malls of today. Unfortunately, most of Plan C was destroyed in the bombing, and only the railing and some underpasses of the complex remain today.
Taking its place around the Old Harbor are the restaurants and modern apartments that the Old Harbor is known for today. Chief among these are Rotterdam’s Cube Houses, built in 1984. These houses, designed by Piet Blom, look like giant yellow blocks, tilted on their side and raised up on poles. The cube house complex is known as the Blaakse Bos, or Blaakse Forest, as each of the houses can be seen to look like a tree. One of the cube houses is open to the public, or you can spend the night at the Stayokay hostel, which is located within one of the cubes.
The area around the harbor has now been transformed into a center for dining and nightlife in Rotterdam. There are thirteen restaurant and cafes that surround the harbor, along with a CitizenM hotel.
A historic quarter of Rotterdam, Delfshaven is on the River Nieuwe Maas and managed to withstand the worst of the nearby bombings that took place during World War II. The town first grew in importance as part of the trading port of Delft and began to thrive in the 14th century as the base of the Dutch East India Company. The area grew rich through fishing, shipbuilding and the trading of jenever (Dutch gin) before being subsumed into Rotterdam in 1886.
Delfshaven is an appealing district of photogenic gabled buildings that formerly served as warehouses, with yachts and barges moored up along the quaysides. The area is chiefly notable for including the original point of departure for the Pilgrims in 1620. The Speedwell left Delfshaven for the new world on August 1, stopped over at Plymouth in the United Kingdom to pick up the Mayflower and then went on to establish an English colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Delfshaven is dedicated to the Pilgrim Fathers, while Rotterdam’s only brewery, Brewery de Pelgrim, is appropriately named as well.
Delfshaven is also known as the birthplace of Piet Hein, a naval officer who captured a Spanish treasure fleet in 1628 during the Eighty Years’ War and brought great riches back to the Netherlands. His monument stands on the waterfront, and today the district’s waterfront is lined with cafes, shops and bars, including a lovely old jenever-tasting proeflokaal on Havenstraat.
The Museum Gouda specializes in religious art from the 16th century, paintings from the 'Haagse School' of the 19th century and 20th-century Dutch pottery. Visitors will get to know the classical scholar Erasmus, who grew up in Gouda and played on the street where the museum is now located, and Dirck Crabeth, the master artist who created eight of the stained-glass windows in the nearby St John Church (leading to the church being placed on the UNESCO list of monuments).
The museum has a large collection of smoking pipes, tiles, antique apothecary jars and a solid selection of works from artists such as Toorop and Redon. If this sounds like an eclectic mix, it is! But hundreds of years ago, beer, cheese, pipes and pottery were cornerstones of Gouda's economy, and the museum does a wonderful job of showcasing how the town developed over the years.
The Hague’s 13th-century Binnenhof (Inner Court) complex encompasses several landmarks, including the Gothic Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights)—a state building characterized by medieval-style turrets. Now home to the Dutch Parliament, the heritage site attracts visitors with a blend of courtly features and political significance.
The Prison Gate Museum (Gevangenpoort) is the former prison of the Court of Holland. Beginning in 1428, and continuing throughout its 400 year history, it housed famous and not so famous criminals. It had a reputation as a place of misery, where prisoners were regularly punished in the torture chamber and locked up in dreary dark and frigid cells, awaiting questioning and trial.
Visitors to the medieval building can see the Museum’s collection of punishment and torture devices. Some rooms can be visited independently when visiting the Prison Gate Museum, but others, such as the cell complex, can only be seen when on a guided tour. During the tour, visitors learn about life in prison, escapes, more famous residents and the brutal punishments. Because of the gruesome nature of the history, the Prison Gate Museum is not recommended for children under the age of 9.
Rotterdam is famous around the world for its modern architecture, but this quirky feature came about by obligation rather than by imagination. The vast majority of the city was turned to ashes during the destructive Rotterdam Blitz by the German Air Force of 14 May 1940, but one building miraculously survived: the City Hall. Built between 1914 and 1940 as per Queen Wilhelmina’s request, it has a symmetrical design and a sober Renaissance style that is not without resemblance to other Dutch city halls. It features and four wings and a small interior courtyard, as well as two statues on either side of the main entrance: the ‘Portier’ (doorman) and the ‘Fiscus’ (tax collector); there are ten other statues scattered around the city hall’s gardens, each representing Rotterdam’s values and virtues. The most striking part of the building, however, is the 70-meter high tower featuring a clock, a bell, and an angel of peace. During the holiday season, Rotterdam's biggest Christmas tree is set up in front of the City Hall.
Famous for its Delft Blue pottery and as the birthplace of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, the quaint town of Delft is ringed by scenic canals and located in the western Netherlands between Rotterdam and The Hague. Delft is also notable for its striking medieval buildings, lively market, and connections with the Dutch Royal Family.
Dating back to 1653, Royal Delft (Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles) is the world’s best-known manufacturer of the Netherlands’ iconic blue-and-white porcelain goods. The factory—the only such manufactory that remains from the 17th century—is open to travelers looking to learn about this one-of-a-kind hand-painted stoneware.
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