An Expert's Guide to the Best Cafés in Rotterdam

Rotterdam has a thriving café scene
Rotterdam has a thriving café scene | © Marlissa_Hilkmann
Phil Lee

One of the largest ports in the world, Rotterdam is a sprawling metropolis that lies at the heart of a labyrinth of Dutch rivers and artificial waterways. It’s also an energetic, boisterous city and a richly cosmopolitan place with a thriving café scene, where every local seems to have their favourite spot, either in the ultra-modern centre – rebuilt after extensive bombing in World War II – or in the suburbs.

Rotterdam’s cafés range from deluxe coffee spots to traditional brown cafés

Rotterdam divides up into a number of distinct and very different neighbourhoods, which can be a tad confusing, so Culture Trip tracked down local resident Brenda Altorf to guide us through the maze. Altorf certainly knows her gastronomic onions: she has explored every part of Rotterdam on her trusty bike and previously ran food and drink festivals on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao. As she points out, the café scene in Rotterdam is varied, from battered old cafés to the smart and the deluxe, but certain themes emerge – and the places with “sunny terraces, unique locations and vegan dishes often come out top of the bill,” she says.

1. Breakfast in Rotterdam HQ

Cafe, European

In 2018, two young women in Rotterdam – Ilse and Phuong – had a great idea: they already had a vintage furniture and clothing shop and decided there was enough spare room to add a breakfast bar, which they promptly decorated in a pleasantly light and folksy style. It has been a great success – Altorf swears it is her “favourite breakfast and lunch café in the whole of the city and a home-away-from-home.” Ilse and Phuong use local suppliers wherever possible for their imaginative, wholesome menu, which includes such delights as ‘The Platter’, which consists of mashed avocado, croissant with jam and butter and a bowl of yoghurt with seasonal fruit – all for just €9.50 (£8).

2. Hopper Coffee

Cafe, Bakery, Coffee, Pastries

Bright, breezy and very modern, this split-level café serves what surely must be the best coffee in Rotterdam, which is extracted from aromatic coffee beans which they roast themselves in a Giesen roaster, a brand that coffee aficionados may recognise. Hopper has only been in business since 2010, but it has rapidly garnered a city-wide reputation – hence the youthful throng that congregate inside. There are other pluses, too: they bake their own bread, with sourdough being their speciality, and turn their hand to cakes and pastries, with delicious croissants stealing the show. Hopper is on a somewhat nondescript side-street, but it is handy for the city centre and the old harbour.

3. Wester Paviljoen

Cafe, Coffee, Beer, European

Perhaps not an obvious choice for one of the best cafés in the city – and certainly not hip or fancy – but this long-established place is Rotterdam at its most neighbourly, attracting, as Altorf says, “all kinds of people, from students through to the elderly, from the well-heeled artist to the hipster.” The exterior is an unusual affair, and looks something like a garage, but it does come complete with a sun-trap pavement terrace. Inside, the atmosphere is all traditional brown café – dimly lit and infinitely cosy. As ever in the Netherlands, the distinction between café and café-bar is blurred, so there’s a good range of bottled beers and draft ales as well as excellent coffee and an enterprising, competitively priced menu – try the fried squid with parsley, onion and garlic for just €13.50 (£11).

4. Café De Bel

Cafe, Coffee, Beer

In Rotterdam, just like the rest of The Netherlands, it’s often hard to know where a bar ends and a café begins – and indeed the Café de Bel manages to cover both bases. The epitome of a classic neighbourhood joint, it’s one of Brenda’s favourite spots, which she describes as an “easy-going, simple café-bar, where you can sit on the pavement terrace and in no time you’ll be chatting with a local.” The interior, with its old wooden tables and benches, is every inch a traditional brown café, heart-warmingly cosy and offering snacks and light bites. There’s blues, jazz and classic rock in the background and occasional live music at night. The café occupies a corner premises on a pleasant old street to the north of the city centre, just over one kilometre (0.6 miles) from the main train station.

5. Op Het Dak

Cafe, Restaurant, European

Op Het Dak
© Marlissa Hilkmann

Full marks here to the creative folk who have set up what must be one of the most distinctive cafés in Rotterdam, a combination of rooftop farm, urban garden and terrace café that’s perched high up in the city centre with wide views of the buildings that march off into the distance. Op Het Dak grows their own organic vegetables and edible flowers here, and there is even a bee farm, while the café itself has both outdoor and indoor seating, though the place is at its best when it’s sunny. An enjoyable menu focusses on the freshest of vegetables and fruit, with one firm favourite being tabbouleh.

6. Croos

Cafe, Coffee, European

With its bare-brick walls, contemporary art hangings and boho furnishings, Croos is one of the coolest cafés in town, its laid-back clientele sipping its tip-top coffee, which is sourced from local coffee roastery Man Met Bril, while the kids play in the children’s corner. The food is tip-top too, with lots of healthy options plus a particularly delicious roast beef with horseradish sauce and roasted carrots for just €10 (£8.30). Croos is located to the north of the city centre, in what was once one of the grittier parts of Rotterdam, but the district is being revamped and rejuvenated at a rate of knots.

7. Daily Rotterdam

Cafe, Coffee, European

This bright and light coffee bar makes for a pleasant interlude if you are exploring the south side of Rotterdam, one of the most interesting parts of the city, where the old quays and jetties, which had fallen into disuse, have been revitalised and refashioned. Sitting on the ground floor of a modern block on Wilhelminakade, the Daily Rotterdam sells an excellent range of coffee made from top-quality beans, as well as freshly baked bread, tasty croissants and, for breakfast, an excellent granola. A stone’s throw away, spanning the River Maas, is Rotterdam’s proudest new structure, the stunning Erasmus Bridge.

8. Parqiet

Cafe, Coffee

On the southwest edge of the city centre, down near the River Maas, the rolling lawns, sticky marshes and mature trees of Het Park provide a charming setting for Parqiet, an appealing café in a bright-white 1920s villa. The café interior, with its chequerboard floor, has a folksy air and, if the weather is good, you can sit outside and admire the surrounding parkland – no wonder Altorf swears that she can “sit here all afternoon, just enjoying the quiet peacefulness.” The menu is very tempting and is strong on local suppliers with pies from Rotterdam’s Sprinkles Bakery, cakes from Pâtisserie Sue and coffee from Man Met Bril. For breakfast, try the delicious Greek yoghurt with home-made granola and warm stewed pear.

9. Markthal – and Obba's Food Bar

Market, Restaurant, Cafe, European, Mediterranean

The Markthal is a large and distinctive, ultra-modern building in the heart of the city. Here, on the ground floor, beneath thrillingly vibrant murals of enlarged fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, flowers and insects, there is a range of busy and bustling informal cafés and restaurants, including the likes of Fellini (Italian cuisine), BasQ Kitchen (Basque) and Die Bierstube (German), but one of the best is Obba’s Foodbar, a cheerfully decorated, informal sort of place specialising in Mediterranean cuisine – from Turkey in the east to Morocco in the west via Greece, Spain and Italy.

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