There are two types of people in the world: Eurovision fanatics... and everyone else. When Dutch singer-songwriter Duncan Laurence won the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, many expected Amsterdam would host the upcoming 65th edition. But 2020 marks Rotterdam’s turn to shine in the spotlight. Far beyond its maritime heritage, this dynamic city is a spirited hub of hospitality with a panorama of skyscrapers, a pioneering food scene, and an impressive cultural agenda.

Winner of Eurovision 2019, Duncan Laurence holds up the glass microphone trophy in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other, as his entourage smile and laugh behind.
Duncan Laurence secured a win for the Netherlands in 2019 © JACK GUEZ / Getty Images

Thousands of enthusiastic fans, decked out in flashy costumes with flags in hand, will join the festivities taking place 12–16 May at Ahoy Rotterdam. Inside, 15,000 lucky ticket-holders will watch performers sing their hearts out in hopes of taking home the coveted-yet-camp glass microphone trophy, while others will attend flamboyant viewing parties in local bars and living rooms across the city. Evening broadcasts leave plenty of time to explore or, at the very least, nurse last night's hangover. 

Where to stay

Hotel rooms average €200 per night during Eurovision week – choose wisely and book early as prices will soar as availability dwindles. At the time of publication, many hotels near the venue have already sold out. Think outside the box – try a houseboat in the historic Delfshaven or embrace the nautical theme and book a bedroom on the SS Rotterdam

If centrally-located accommodation isn't available, Rotterdam's well-organised public transport system makes it easy to stay on the outskirts of town and commute into the city centre. It's just 17 minutes from Centraal Station to Ahoy on the metro. Hotels are sparse in this residential neighbourhood, though, so renting a flat is ideal for groups of travellers or those who value proximity. Plus, this option makes a Eurovision house party possible, a time-honoured tradition for those who don't have coveted tickets to the main show.  

The sun is low over Delfshaven, a pretty harbour in Rotterdam. Old houses line the harbour and many quaint boats are moored.
You could stay on a houseboat moored on pretty Delfshaven © R.A.R. de Bruijn Holding BV / Shutterstock

Eat, drink and shop

Rotterdam has its fill of designer brands and high-street shops – the chic Van Oldenbarneveltstraat and beloved Witte de Withstraat both feature a mix of cafes, bars, boutiques, and galleries. Rotterdam embraces a future of sustainability, and local entrepreneurs have artistically improved neglected buildings, creating top-notch retail spaces and culinary hotspots. 

Near Centraal Station, revamped office space Groot Handelsgebouw is a cultural centre referred to as "a city within a city". Peruse shops, sip a latte, browse the free bookstore or follow hip, creative folk to Altijd in De Buurt for brunch or lunch. Another impressive renovation saw Het Industriegebouw repurposed into a creative area with ample green space, boutiques and eateries like Alfredo's Taqueria and By Jarmush. Nearby, De Groene Passage stocks ecofriendly, sustainable products and unique designs, while cocktail bar Aloha took over an abandoned water park with a wonderful riverside view.  

Rotterdam's Cube Houses, yellow and white homes that resemble cubes tiled at 45 degrees above the ground.
Rotterdam's Cube Houses are one of the city's iconic structures © Hit1912 / Shutterstock

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Given the volume of drinking games associated with Eurovision parties, at least one hangover is on the menu. Recover with a hearty brunch at Lot&Daan, eat pancakes at Lilith, or bite into chicken and waffles at Freddy's. Eating clean? Hit up Sappi for fresh juice and sandwiches, munch vegan bites at Backyard or visit fresh air cafe Parqiet in Het Park.  

If you oversleep, opt for a leisurely afternoon stroll along the waterfront in the ever-evolving Katendrecht neighbourhood. Former warehouse Fenix Food Factory features a brewpub, diverse cuisine and a huge waterfront terrace. Bite into international flavours at Foodhallen or visit Sate-Man for Indonesian chicken skewers with peanut sauce. Before a big night out, upscale snack bar Tante Nel is perfect to fill up on all types of Dutch fried delicacies like bitterballen (deep-fried ragout) paired with craft beers and cocktails. For a luxurious cocktail, make an appointment at Dr Rotterdam, the mysterious speakeasy near Oudehaven. 

Many people are sitting on makeshift wooden-pallet furniture outside converted warehouse Fenix Food Factory in Rotterdam on a sunny day.
Stop in at converted warehouse Fenix Food Factory whether you're hungry or thirsty © Iris van den Broek / Shutterstock

Wild nights

After the eccentric spectacle of Eurovision, it's time to reapply glitter before hitting the dance floor. With a vibrant nightlife scene and progressive culture, Rotterdam is one of the most LGBT+ friendly cities in the world. Check out Regenboog Bar for Eurovision afterparties, including an epic karaoke contest. Home to the local jazz scene, Bird also hosts popular LGBT+ club nights. Across the water, multipurpose venue Maassilo and artistic nhow are both set to entertain after hours with a variety of Eurovision-themed parties. 

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Experimental architecture

Spring is a perfect time to explore all that Rotterdam has to offer, and there are plenty of sights to keep you occupied during Eurovision downtime.

Devastating WWII bombing turned this industrial port city into a heap of rubble. This blank canvas paved the way for avant-guard creativity, inspiring the shimmering, futuristic landscape Rotterdam is known for today. Supporting Rotterdam's esteemed reputation for innovative construction, Centraal Station welcomes travellers with a dramatic, geometric silhouette.

Nearby, the bright yellow Luchtsingel Bridge is not only an Instagram favourite, it also represents Rotterdam's forward-thinking mentality. Instead of waiting for city officials to implement improvements, locals took matters into their own hands to crowdfund a 360m-long pedestrian bridge, breathing new life into a formerly neglected area, with a park, Op Het Dak cafe, and DakAkker, Europe's largest rooftop farm. 

The huge arched ceiling of the Rotterdam Markthal; it's entirely covered with a projection of a colourful artwork.
Rotterdam's Markthal is famous for the colourful art projection on the ceiling © Ankor Light / Shutterstock

In the historic Laurenskwartier, the massive, horseshoe-shaped Markthal is a famed indoor food hall (and unique residence) also known for its vaulted ceiling with a colourful art projection. Exit this tasty market heading towards the yellow Overblaak Development (Cube Houses), stacked apartments designed to encourage communal urban living, a theme that’s repeated throughout this inventive city.  

Built in 1889 as the first high-rise in Europe, Het Witte Huis was, fortunately, one of the few survivors of the bombing. This art nouveau delight offers a view of historical ships moored in the nearby Oudehaven. Further along the water, the iconic Euromast has offered a bird’s eye view all the way to Antwerp since 1960. Visitors zoom 165m to the top in just 30 seconds, while thrill-seekers can opt to rappel back down. Stretching across the river, the asymmetrical Erasmusbrug connects Rotterdam’s north with Kop van Zuid, where a plethora of treasured skyscrapers dwarf those down below.

Venture through the steel forest towards Hotel New York, an art nouveau charmer and former farewell point for passengers embarking on ships to the Big Apple. There’s more than sky-high beams to discover – explore the Oude Westen neighbourhood where bright murals liven up outdoor scenery leading to the Street Art Museum

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Get more Rotterdam inspiration and tips with our Pocket Rotterdam guidebook.

This article was first published Nov 28, 2019 and updated Jan 22, 2020.

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