Rotterdam bubbles with energy and character, though it makes no claim to be the prettiest city in the Netherlands. Visitors come to Rotterdam for something grittier. It’s a big, industrial city, handling more cargo than any other European port – though nowadays many of the more important wharves and quays are well downstream from the city centre in the Europoort area.

But visitors flock to Rotterdam for more than merely to watch the boats. The city is a premier-league destination for culture and nightlife, and it also makes an excellent base for exploring the Netherlands. And Rotterdam even boasts a few canals and a windmill. Definitely make time to visit Delfshaven, once a run-down harbour area which has been magnificently restored to create a wonderful cityscape. It’s a great area to wander and relax in waterside cafés.

The main railway station lies at the northern edge of the city’s central area. It is called Rotterdam Centraal. The station is served by direct Thalys trains to Lille and Paris. Thalys also operates from Rotterdam to Antwerp and Brussels, although for these Belgian destinations your better bet might be the more flexible hourly Intercity train. Eurostar is planning to launch a direct London to Rotterdam service in 2017.

Fast trains from Rotterdam to Amsterdam use Holland’s only high-speed line to reach Amsterdam in just 44 minutes. Unless you are really pushed for time, opt for the regular Intercity service which runs twice-hourly and takes 70 minutes. You’ll see more along the way. Most other major Dutch cities have an hourly service from Rotterdam. For a glimpse into more watery rural landscapes, we recommend the rail route from Rotterdam to Middelburg.

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