The Dutch city has garnered a reputation as a place that doesn’t stop. It’s already a hotspot for many big-name DJs thanks to its buzzing clubbing scene, but if you want to change the pace a little head there during the three-day North Sea Jazz Festival. The old shipping town becomes overrun with bebop junkies who jet in from all over the world to get their fix. The city comes alive for two weeks either side of the festival, with art exhibitions, live music and film screenings celebrating – yes, you guessed it – jazz.

Rotterdam has its similarities to Amsterdam with its trams, bike lanes and special cafés, but the difference is it isn’t overrun with tourists and stoners. It manages to feel both grungy and cosmopolitan, with an alternative streak that runs through the food, drink and music.

It’s a working city and flourished as a trade and shipping port in the 19th century, remaining the world’s busiest port until the ’90s (when it was overtaken by Singapore). A local joke that the money is earned in Rotterdam, distributed in the Hague and spent in Amsterdam says a lot about this work-hard, play-hard city.

Heading into the city, I got a taster of the fun-loving vibe as funky tunes wafted from buzzy cafés lined up along the pavement. As I get nearer to the festival, walk of fame-style stars line the pavement telling punters who’s on the bill. Last year, most of the names were unknown to this jazz virgin apart from Amy Winehouse (in true rock meltdown form, she pulled out at the last minute).

Even if you’re not a jazz nutter you’ll recognise a lot of the greats that have played this festival since 1976 – Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gilespie, Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino, to name just a few. But it’s only in the past two years that Rotterdam has hosted the event, taking over from the Hague as it struggled to accommodate the growing numbers of fans and newcomers.

Ahoy! The stadium is up ahead. No really, that is the name of the largest indoor stadium that will host more than 70,000 revellers on festival weekend – a nod to the city’s shipping heritage perhaps. Buskers warm up the crowds heading into the venue, looking slick and sharp playing soulful saxophone tunes.

By 9pm the place is alive, 15 stages fill the arena making room for every type of jazz under the sun – New Orleans, swing, bop, free jazz, fusion, avant-garde and electronic. If it fits into the jazz stable, it’s here. But the festival isn’t elitist – blues, gospel, funk, soul, hip-hop, R’n’B and world music all play a part too, the sassy, sexy and uplifting sounds all washed down with some great Dutch beer and a huge selection of world food.

There’s so much choice its hard to stay in one place, and you’ll find yourself constantly moving around wanting to hear new sounds on every stage. In what seems like no time at all, it’s 2am and time to move the party into town for a dose of Rotterdam’s thriving clubbing culture.

The next day we’re back again for another round and the music seems to get better and better as I start to learn a bit more about what I’m listening to. By the end of the festival I find myself nursing a hangover in legendary jazz club Dizzy’s. I slowly sip a glass of wine as sounds of familiar tunes play in the background. A jazz old-timer rests in the corner and the sun trickles through his cloud of smoke. I think I’ve completed my Jazz 101.

Rotterdam’s eye candy

If jazz isn’t your thing, then hop on a bike and do a tour around Rotterdam, ‘the architectural city of Europe’. Here are a few places to stop off and admire:

Erasmus Bridge
The Erasmum Bridge is a 139m-high and 80m-long pylon bent over the Nieuwe Maas river, linking the northern and southern halves of the city. Nicknamed ‘the Swan’, it was designed by Ben van Berkel and completed in 1996.


The 101m tower – Rotterdam’s tallest – was built as an attraction for the 1960 Floriade. It was designed by HA Maaskant and constructed between 1958 and 1960. Euromast is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers.

Cube Houses
To give the city a quirky edge, Amsterdam architect Piet Blom was commissioned to create this masterpiece in 1984. There are 32 houses that have been tilted on a 45-degree angle.