Life moves at a fast pace in the Netherlands' second city. Locals joke that the city slogan should be 'no talk, just action', and there sure is plenty of the latter. With the country's largest multicultural population, a fast-growing tourism sector and an ongoing building boom, this is a city that adapts to change and challenge with real panache.


Rotterdam has the highest unemployment rate among major Dutch cities, at 8.5%. A number of factors have contributed to this, chief among them the reality that many new migrants to the country have chosen to live here, attracted by the city's reputation as a cultural melting pot and by the employment possibilities provided in the shipping industry and with the big corporations – Unilever, Eneco and Roboco – that are based here. The simple truth is that despite these opportunities, there aren't enough jobs to go around. This is particularly true in the port, where jobs are under threat from automation and international competition. Sadly, this has led to disenchantment among locals, and some resentment towards new arrivals.

The Multicultural City

Half of Rotterdam's residents are foreign born. The city has a high population of Muslims, who make up about 13% of the total population. Turkish- and Surinamese-born residents make up 16% of the local population, and other well-represented nationalities include Dutch Antillean, Moroccan and Indonesian. This gives the city a wonderfully multicultural flavour, evidenced in the languages spoken, cuisines represented and cultures practised. It also leads to occasional tensions that manifest themselves verbally when political campaigns are being fought.

Unpredictable Politics

Rotterdam's current mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb was the first Muslim mayor of a major European city and the first immigrant mayor in the Netherlands when he took office in 2008. Moroccan born, Aboutaleb is widely acknowledged to be doing a good job in the role and was appointed for a second six-year term starting in 2015. His appointment to the position and his ongoing popularity have been a surprise to some political commentators, who point out that Rotterdam was the home of the late far-right leader Pim Fortuyn’s anti-Islam movement, and that the right-leaning Leefbaar Rotterdam (Livable Rotterdam), Pim Fortuyn’s party, has the largest block within the current municipal government. But then again, who ever said that politics was logical...

A Youthful City

Visitors to the city are often struck by how youthful the city's population is. They're correct in their impression, too. Singles between the ages of 20 and 40 account for 70% of the population. This could explain why 80% of homes within the city are rented as opposed to being owned, leading to high rents and a shortage of rental accommodation. The municipality has been attempting to address this for many years by opening up parts of the city for residential redevelopment; Katendrecht is a good example of one such initiative.

Tourism Boom

Rotterdam received a record number of tourists in 2017, and numbers continue to rise. The reasons for this seem to be twofold. Hotels here are much more affordable and less heavily booked than in Amsterdam, which is an easy day-trip away. But more importantly, Rotterdam's growing reputation as one of the world's centres of excellence for architecture and design is drawing aficionados from across the country and the globe, including plenty of design-related conference and tour groups. A 10% rise on 2016's tourist arrivals figures prompted much discussion about the adequacy of the city's tourist infrastructure – especially the number of hotel beds available – and this is being addressed by the local authorities and business groups in a proactive way.

On the Horizon

Rotterdam's city skyline is a work in progress, with a number of additions due in the near future. Some are majestic, some are models of sustainability and some seem quite crazy. But that's the thing about architecture in Rotterdam – it includes both masterpieces and magnificent failures. Projects currently in construction include a new open-access storage facility for the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen designed by MVRDV and due to open in 2019; a futuristic windmill featuring a hotel, housing and restaurants designed by Doepelstrijkers and due to open in 2025; a new stadium for the Feyenoord City football club designed by Rem Koolhaas' firm OMA (due to open in 2023); and De Zalmhaven Toren by Dam & Partners, slated to be the highest tower in the Netherlands when it opens in 2021.