Lonely Planet Local Paul Fitzpatrick is a second generation Irish immigrant who was born and raised in Rotterdam. Although the city is constantly evolving, he believes that his home of 40 years is now livelier and more happening than ever before.

The old skyline at Rotterdam
Rotterdam is defined by modern architecture, but it has some beautiful old buildings too © Victor Maschek / Shutterstock

When friends visit Rotterdam for the first time… I take them over the Nieuwe Maas distributary to Kop van Zuid and Katendrecht by water taxi. From the water, Rotterdam’s architecture really has the wow factor and the neighbourhood’s relaxed drinks and great food are the perfect introduction to the city.

If I have a day off with the kids… I take them to the Kralingse Bos park for a walk and then to the Keilewerf, a creative hub of artists, designers and craftsmen where we can build whatever we like from the available wood. When they’re hungry, we head to the food stalls of West-Kruiskade for their favourite food: noodles.

When it's time to party… our first call is usually Witte de Withstraat where we duck into Café LaBru, Ballroom or Stirr for some cocktails, before heading onto De Witte Aap for some DJ action. If I'm in more of a clubbing mood I head to Club Transport, or Factory 010 which overlooks the Maashaven port. Breweries are great for a Sunday afternoon—De Kaapse Brouwers, Brouwerij Noordt and the Pelgrim Brouwerij are among my favourites.

A barman pouring a cocktail
Cocktails are having a real moment in Rotterdam © Helen Yin / Getty Images

When I turned 40… I held a kick-ass party at Mono, right in the middle of the Hofbogen district. This converted train line now buzzes with life. It's where the infamous jazz club Bird sits alongside design shop North Sea and record store Clone. It's also home to the excellent Eurotrash beer bar.

When I want to see live music I go to… the intimate jazz joint Dizzy or to Rotown, a staple stop for any indie music lover. The Roodkapje art centre and cavernous Annabel also add to the excellent pop, rock, funk and hip hop offering already in the city, leaving music lovers spoilt for choice.

The most underrated place in Rotterdam is… the parks. Most people don't ever get around to visiting the landscaped grounds of Het Park, the quaint lakes and trees of Vroesenpark or the wonderful rooftop gardens of the Dakpark, but they should all be on everyone’s itineraries.

View of Rotterdam city and park from Euromast tower
Despite being famed for its architecture, Rotterdam has plenty of green space © Pablo Debat / Shutterstock

The one spot in Rotterdam that always wows people is… Op het Dak. It was one of the very first rooftop farms in Europe and it still effortlessly combines a modern, sustainable approach to city farming with a super cool lunch room. As a result, the food is always fresh and in season, and the views are unbeatable.

The coolest area in Rotterdam at the moment is… the West. Places like Soundport, Studio Roosegaarde and Atelier van Lieshout are giving the district a progressive, creative edge, while the Uit Je Eigen Stad farm (which translates to 'From Your Own City') is forming the neighbourhood’s sustainable identity. Everything on the menu is grown in the city.

For cheap eats I always head to… the Nieuwemarkt. From rijsttafel (a banquet of tiny Indonesian dishes) to street food from Italy’s Apulia region, this tiny square has it all. But if I still can't find what I fancy, then I head to nearby Pannekoekstraat which has a whole range of budget restaurants to choose from. Most places on the square don’t have alcohol licenses, but you're able to bring your own booze.

The former Van Nelle Factory in the sunshine
The former Van Nelle Factory is a designated Unessco World Heritage Site © TTStock / Shutterstock

Rotterdam is known for its architecture, but my favourite building is… the Van Nelle Fabriek. A leading light of the modern age, this Leendert van der Vlugt-designed factory never ceases to amaze me, no matter how often I visit. Take a guided tour to get the full impact of what you're looking at, it's an amazing story.

My least favourite thing about Rotterdam is… the air quality. It’s not a problem if you're only visiting for a while, but for those living here it can become a health issue. The council is taking measures to improve the situation by introducing an 80km limit on the motorway, banning old diesel cars, and actively encouraging the use of bikes.

Lonely Planet Local Paul Fitzpatrick driving a boat beneath a bridge in Rotterdam
Lonely Planet Local Paul Fitzpatrick takes to Rotterdam from the water © Paul Fitzpatrick / Lonely Planet

Currently, the most exciting thing about Rotterdam is… the prestigious new buildings being constructed.  The depot for the Boijmans art collection is among my favourite new designs, as well as the Fenix Lofts and the truly impressive Zalmhaventoren, which will have a 215m-high panorama terrace with spectacular views.

Need more city travel inspiration? Check out The Cities Book, a celebration of 200 of the world’s great cities, beautifully photographed and packed with trip advice and recommendations.

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