What’s It Like to Live in Rotterdam, the Netherlands?

It’s no secret that I want to live in Europe again at some point, and the Netherlands is on my short list of places I’d like to live. One city that has caught my attention is Rotterdam. With innovations in architecture and sustainability plus a thriving arts scene, Rotterdam seems to embrace being a progressive city of the future. I’m excited that today Liesbeth shares what it’s like to live and raise kids in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, including why people are moving there, what makes it a haven for young creatives, and her tips for raising strong, confident girls. 

My name is Liesbeth, and I live in Rotterdam with my husband and our two teenage daughters (12-14 years). I am an entrepreneur and owner of Merken aan de Maas (an online PR consultancy firm) and Talks & Treasures, which is a lifestyle blog. I started blogging for Talks & Treasures two years ago. It’s about my local perspective of Rotterdam. Besides my hometown I really love Paris, the Dutch coast and the south of Holland. I explore good places to eat, drink and inspiring cultural events or hotspots. Plus where to go to for some urban green.

I’ve now lived in Rotterdam for a longer period of time than in the south of the Netherlands, where I was born. My roots are in a small town in the south of the province of Limburg. Growing up there for some reason made me feel like I missed out on all the new and fun things, which (well, so it felt that way to me) were happening in the west of the Netherlands.

So, when I finished high school, I couldn’t wait to move to Rotterdam for my studies. Here I went to law school at Erasmus University and got my first serious job as a lawyer. Since then I have switched careers and houses but I never left this great and vibrant city.

Kijk Kubus - Piet Blom's ‎Cube Houses

Rotterdam is mostly known for the special architecture (for example the cubic houses). Skyscrapers like the Rotterdam from Rem Koolhaas and the Erasmus bridge have provided Rotterdam with a beautiful metropolitan skyline, which is unique for the Netherlands. There’s a saying here, that after the bombing during World War II they’ve never stopped rebuilding the city.

At the moment Rotterdam is leading almost every international travel list in the world and even people from the capital are moving to live here. Why? I think this is because for the last ten years you can feel the change and creative vibe that attracts young people and creatives.

New buildings like the Markthal (market hall) draw international media attention, while locals meet each other in old places that turned into hotspots or live in neighbourhoods where you didn’t want to be seen ten years ago. When you’re here check out Aloha. They transformed a former subtropical swimming pool into a bar/ restaurant with a great terrace along the river Maas and with romantic view on the city.

rooftop bars restaurants Rotterdam

Designers, artists and young chef cooks have transformed the grey and boring buildings (where Rotterdam used to be known for) into places where hipsters, foodies and the locals like to hang out. Op Het Dak is one of the magic places in a former grey building area with a unique rooftop farm and a bistro.

What it's like to live in Rotterdam: urban farms

And of course Rotterdam has one of the biggest harbours in the world. Massive cruise ships dock at every week at Wilhelminapier, which is in the centre of the city and next to Hotel New York, the place where people used to leave to emigrate to the United States of America. How special is that?!

What a typical day looks like:

My husband leaves the house first and takes the tram to the city centre. He’s a intellectual property lawyer and owner of a trade mark firm by the name of BrandMerk! Second, my oldest takes her bike and leaves for a 20 minute ride to her high school in the centre of Rotterdam. I bike with our youngest daughter to her Montessori elementary school in the neighbourhood.

She can go by herself but our little conversations on the way over are always fun and bright, so I treasure these moments. Next year she will also enter high school and I’ll just wave her goodbye from the house. When everybody is gone I work from home or from my office in the centre of Rotterdam.

On making friends with the Dutch:

Dutch people in general are pretty frankly or straight forward and citizens of Rotterdam are known as slightly bold. This characteristic probably has it’s origin from the worker’s mentality of this city. In Dutch this Rotterdam vibe called ‘niet lullen, maar poetsen’ which you can translate as “don’t talk about it, but go for it”.

So don’t be scared if someone asks you a direct question or gives you a personal or honest reply you would never expect. They mean no harm, they just want to cut the crap immediately. If you level with them, you will make friends for life.

I come from the southern part of the most southern province (Limburg) where people like good food and friends are welcome for drinks or dinner anytime.

On the other hand, people there hold back more and what you see is not always what you get. I’m more straight forward so I fit right in when I went to law school in Rotterdam. But the first time my husband (then boyfriend) cooked me dinner and used sauce from a prepared package, I really didn’t understand why he didn’t make pasta sauce from scratch!

On what makes the Netherlands special:

I think it’s special that within an area of around 50 kilometers you can experience different Dutch cultures as in accent, food and behavior. Our country is so small, you wouldn’t expect something like that. You drive in four hours from north to south and in two and a half hours from east to west. The Netherlands are divided into 12 provinces (or counties), which all have their own mini-cultures. When you live here and want to do business or make friends, that’s a good thing to know. 

The best things about living in Rotterdam:

I love the fact that all the new, fun, creative, cultural and food things happen in the city I live in. Growing up in the south always felt like missing out on these things. It seemed like forever before you could see new movies there. I like to have all the options and then choose my own. I move around the crowd and look for upcoming places, new events, art expositions or outdoor green space.

I can’t name any challenges of living here. The parking costs maybe? Or finding a (detached) home for a good price? But that just keeps me dreaming of a cottage by the sea.

Something really funny about Rotterdam citizens is that they change the names of almost all new architecture buildings in their city. Even before the construction has finished. It’s difficult to translate but Rotterdam inhabitants talk about The Swan if they mean the Erasmus bridge.

Rotterdam at Dusk

What it’s like to raise kids in the Netherlands:

I recently read a book about Dutch children being the happiest kids in the world. I don’t know if that’s really true but it sounds good! Parents in the Netherlands seem to have found the perfect balance in giving their children attention and neglecting them with love. It’s about teaching our kids (literally and figuratively) how to swim (at a very young age) instead of building fences around the water.

What's it like to raise kids in Rotterdam

I think that raising kids in Rotterdam is probably just like raising kids anywhere in the Netherlands. The challenges here are just different. The same goes for living downtown or in a suburb. We give our daughters the space and confidence to explore: first the street, than the neigbourhood and at this moment they are finding their way into the city centre.

Our daughters have chosen their high school themselves after visiting a few of their favourite schools with us. Our oldest switched at the last moment to another school just because it felt better than the other one. And she was right, she loves it over there.

raising kids in Rotterdam

At home we talk about all things in life and are very open about sexuality, drugs and other temptations. We love music, going out to concerts and visiting festivals. Even at a young age we have brought our girls along to concerts and festivals with ear safety plugs and letting them explore how it works in places like that. When they are old enough to go out, they know what it’s like and make their own choices. I think that’s all it’s about in parenting.

We like our kids to explore and use their talents but we are not specifically ambitious about the highest outcome. They both do very well in school, but that’s just because they want that for themselves. For now at least, but maybe that will change when puberty hits.

Liesbeth’s tips for visiting Rotterdam:

What it's like to live in Rotterdam

Go out and explore instead of hanging around the well known tourist places. Look up and visit the city’s best rooftop bars or stroll along the water to find a nice terrace for drinks or dinner. Or go for green places and find out that we have an urban farm close to the harbour and a rooftop farm in the centre!

This month one of my articles about Rotterdam is published in a magazine for railway travelers. Because it’s in print and only for subscription holders I also wrote a blog post about it. It’s a local guide to Rotterdam with a great walk through the city and about 25 hotspots — a mix of places I love to go to for food, drinks, shopping or cultural inspiration.

I don’t think I’ll ever leave this city because here I have the best of both worlds: green space in one corner, city vibes on the other side and the Norrh Sea close-by.

Maybe, just maybe, I would leave for a great rooftop apartment in Paris. Or a house by the sea in California…

Thanks, Liesbeth! I just loved what she says about raising kids in Rotterdam…so different from the fears I have raising two boys in a big city in California. And doesn’t that walk with 25 hotspots in Rotterdam sound fun? 

Photo credits: Talks & Treasures except Rotterdam skyline: Romanboed on Flickr, houses: comunicati on Flickr

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