From the rubble of the WWII, Rotterdam built itself into the city of the future. Its initial surge of modernist architecture established Rotterdam as the premiere European showcase. As successive generations fought for the right to add to Rotterdam’s skyline, the city invested in innovations and sustainable engineering. Here are seven architectural marvels that make Rotterdam an architectural crown jewel.



Maeslantkering, storm barrier and protector of Rotterdam. Quite the title!

The first wonder on this list is keeping all the others safe. The designers of the Maeslantkering storm surge barrier had to find a way to protect Rotterdam from flooding while leaving Europe’s largest port accessible to ocean-going traffic. The two halves of the barrier rest on the sides of the waterway that connects Rotterdam to the North Sea. When needed, the world’s largest ball joints move the floating halves together. Water is then allowed into the hollow channels of the gates, weighing them down to the bottom of the channel.  With no underwater maintenance needed and a design to withstand a once in 10,000 years storm, the Maeslantkering is truly a modern wonder of the world.

Erasmus Bridge

Rotterdam Erasmus Bridge

Photo by Shea Elmore,

If the Maeslantkering protects Rotterdam, the Erasmus Bridge defines it. Named after famous Renaissance philosopher and native son Desiderius Erasmus, the pale blue cable and pylon bridge is Rotterdam’s most iconic sight. Connecting the older north to the developing South, it is as vital to locals as it is beautiful to tourists. It also includes Europe’s largest drawbridge. Take a boat tour of the port to get the best snapshots.

Cube Houses

Cube houses Rotterdam

Efficient is not the first thing people think when they first see the Cube Houses

Dutch architect Piet Blom designed the cube houses to make the most of a space often ignored by planners: the air above our heads. With diamond-shaped boxes wood and concrete pillars, the Cube Houses look like the trees that inspired them. Beneath the houses is a wide shady plaza, with a café and chess shop on the ground level. The houses above are built for efficiency, with slanting windows that fill each room with natural light. Don’t miss the chance to tour one for a shift in perspective!

Centraal Station

Rotterdam Centraal

Connecting Rotterdam to the world one late train at a time

The Centraal Station doesn’t just connect Rotterdam to the world. It’s a statement of Rotterdam’s architectural ambitions. With a roof nearly 45 degrees, the front view holds up to the modernist skyscrapers surrounding it. The back façade is more sedate, in tune with the 19th century neighborhood beyond the station. The station is built not only to accommodate more traffic than Schipol Airport, but to make maximum use of natural resources. The transparent roof and wall panels send natural light throughout the station. 130,000 solar panels constitute on the largest project of this kind in Europe and generate 320 megawatts per annum. Centraal Station is truly a gateway to and of the future.


markthal rotterdam

Foodwise, “The Sistine Chapel of Rotterdam” beats the real one

Built in response to increased regulation of open-air markets, the Markthal is an international food market on the spot where Rotterdam was founded in 1270. The horseshoe arch enclosing the market holds apartments, offices, and retail space. The 3-D digital artwork printed on 4,000 aluminum panels on the arch’s underside has earned the nickname “The Sistine Chapel of Rotterdam.”

De Rotterdam

De Rotterdam

A real life Jenga tower

With 160,000 square meters of floor space, De Rotterdam is the largest building in the Netherlands. Intended for a combination of hotel, living space, and office space, the building is comprised of three towers with a shared base. The towers are offset not just to allow for light and terraces, but to allow the building to appear to shift when viewed by a moving car. Its floor space index makes De Rotterdam the most densely built part of the Netherlands.

Het Witte Huis

het witte huis rotterdam

Rotterdam nailed high-rises far before the rest of us

Built in 1898, Het Witte Huis (the White House) is proof that Rotterdam has a long history of innovation. The ten story building was Europe’s first high-rise. Many thought the boggy ground around Wijnhaven would not support a building of its size, but architect Willem Molenbroek distributed the weight over 1,000 piles. One of the few central buildings to escape the war intact, today its Art Noveau façade lends old-world class to its modernist surroundings.

Planning on spending a day in Rotterdam?

Once you’re done gawking at these amazing masterpieces, read up on how to make the most of your Rotterdam visit.



Elyzabeth is a history buff who moved from working in professional theater in New York to writing and touring in Amsterdam - while traveling as much as possible!

Latest posts by Elyzabeth (see all)