Van Nelle Fabriek

Top choice in Rotterdam

Designed and built between 1925 and 1931, this modernist World Heritage–listed factory northwest of the city centre is an icon of 20th-century industrial architecture. Often described as a 'glass palace' (it's largely constructed of steel and glass), it functioned as a state-of-the-art coffee, tea and tobacco factory until the 1990s and now houses creative industries. Though closed to the public, the factory sometimes offers guided tours on weekends at 1pm (adult/child under 13 years €8.50/5); check the factory website for details. Urban Guides also runs one-hour guided tours (€15 per person) at noon on most Saturdays and Sundays (book ahead).

The Urban Guides tours have access to some, but not all, parts of the factory, peeking into the management building and then crossing to the factory's electricity plant (the second built in Rotterdam) on one of the building's distinctive diagonal bridges. The tour ends in the tobacco factory, which has light-drenched spaces where workers toiled, twin stairways (one each for male and female workers, so as to prevent fraternisation) and a large cafeteria.

At the time of research, architecture-focused De Rotterdam Tours was considering adding a dedicated tour of the factory to its program. An on-site information centre at the factory is scheduled to open in November 2018.

The orange-and-blue low bunker to the east of the factory is the De Schie Penitentiary, designed by CJM Weeber and constructed between 1985 and 1989. Its startlingly vivid colour scheme is in stark contrast to its dark function.