Terry Boyd: A harbor tour is the best way to see (and appreciate) mighty, modern Rotterdam

It feels like summer already through a big swath of Europe. Yesterday, it hit about 23 degrees (75 Fahrenheit) in Dispatches’ headquarters of Eindhoven, so we headed north to escape the sultry tropical heat … the Port of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest and busiest.

The captain’s view from the bridge (All photos by Terry Boyd for Dispatches)

I’ve wanted to do one of the boat tours of the port since we moved to the Netherlands in 2016. Finally, we made the 1-hour train trip to Rotterdam on the first really warm day of 2024. And it was perfect for a mini-cruise.

Rotterdam is the bomb for so many reasons, including the sea, the futuristic architecture and the bizarre amenities no other city has, such as the Markthal. This giant upside-down U-shaped building designed by Winy Maas is a mega-food market, restaurant hub, office building and living quarters all in one.

Unfortunately, the port, along with Antwerp, Rotterdam is a main entry point for drugs. But that’s a story for another time. We did not see any Colombian cartels unloading cocaine submarines, but we saw every other kind of ship ranging from behemoth oil tankers to a vintage cruise liner, the S.S. Rotterdam, from the 1950s that is now a hotel.

More than anything, my wife/co-CEO Cheryl and I just wanted to get out on the water and relax, drink a brew and marvel at this pivot point for the global economy.

Along the way, we discovered one of the loveliest parks in the Netherlands and that you can rappel off the Euromast. (Note to self: Don’t even think about it.)

How this works:

We took the train into Rotterdam Centraal. From there it was super easy to get to the port – just walk out the front entrance, cross the street and there you are at the tram stop. Tram 8 took us to the Euromast stop.

From there, you have to cross the street to Parkhaven at the Euromast. Since you have the one of the tallest towers in Europe as your marker, you can’t miss it.

We pre-booked our tickets at River Cruise Rotterdam on the Liza, a 60-foot-long excursion boat. Tickets for the 75-minute tour were 15 euros each, which I thought was the bargain of the century. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. The top deck of the boat was pretty full … I counted 40 people. We booked our tickets here in advance, which I highly recommend.

Food offerings include snacks, pie, ice cream and 3.75 euro beers (Hertog Jan and Jupiler).

The cruise stays around the center of Rotterdam and you don’t get to go all the way to the sea, which would take way more than 75 minutes. (There are longer tours available.) But you do get a feel for the scale of the slice of the world economy that flows through this port. This hits home when you pull up next to the 840-foot-long, 116 thousand ton Iasonas oil tanker and think that dozens of tankers this size pass through the port each week.

Interesting facts:

The Port of Rotterdam processes about 28,000 seagoing vessels and 90,000 inland vessels annually, accounting for 30.6 billion euros, or 3.2 percent of the Netherlands GDP, not counting the cocaine and pot. And remember, the Netherlands has another major port in Amsterdam. This is an ultra-wealthy country built on trade and commerce, and nowhere is that more evident than Rotterdam.


Honestly, we went on this port tour just to get a different perspective on Rotterdam, and that we did. On the way back from the industrial area, the tour goes right through the main part of the city. You pass under the Erasmusbrug bridge next to De Rotterdam, the cantilever structure by Rem Koolhaas, arguably the most influential living architect along with Frank Gehry.

Rotterdam from any perspective never gets old.

Het Park (The Park)

After the cruise, on the way back into town, we cut through Het Park right next to the Euromast. This serene 19th century English-style park has lakes and giant oaks on 28 hectacres (70 acres). Everything was just blooming and leafing out. There are two restaurants in historic mansions that somehow survived the bombings that obliterated Rotterdam during World War II. You could make it a day just coming here.

Up close and personal with the S.S. Rotterdam, which is now permanently moored as a hotel.

Stay on the water

There are several options for staying on or near the water. The S.S. Rotterdam, built in 1955 and retired, is now a hotel.

You can also stay at the art deco former Holland America shipping headquarters, which is now Hotel New York.

• The rest of the day

All that sea and sun had us starving, so we stopped at Ajisan Restaurant on the major shopping street of Coolsingel for some Japanese noodle soup and snacks. The whole tab for lunch came to something like 35 euros.

Since we were there, we had to go shopping along Coolsingel promenade and I found a cigar shop, Creemers, where I got cheap yet great Cubans. Finally, we wandered over to the Markthal for a cocktail before heading back.

We tried to get served at one of the Markthal outdoor seating areas, but that was kinda crazy. So, we walked a bit over to 1898 café in the Witte Huis, the oldest skyscraper in Europe. Two limoncello cocktails for 10 euros each, 20 euros total.

Quite an affordable day out.

Here’s the thing about Rotterdam – it’s never, ever boring. There are virtually no tourists. The culture is authentically local, but people are here from the four corners of the earth. It’s physically huge, but with metros and trams, fairly easy to negotiate. Prices aren’t jacked up for tourists and locals are welcoming.

All the expats we know tend to head to Amsterdam first. But I’d encourage you to keep a weekend open for Rotterdam.


Read more about Rotterdam here in Dispatches’ archives.

Read more from Terry here.

Website | + posts

Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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