Sexy Dutch Design and Architecture

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Whenever I visit a new country, a few things initially jump out at me — whether it’s the flat toilet bowls of Austria or the fact that you’ll be charged if you don’t turn away the bread that arrives on your table in Portugal.

I made my long-overdue first visit to the land of windmills and wooden clogs this past May for the TBU conference in Rotterdam, where I was making my second appearance as a speaker.

The first thing that struck me about the Netherlands?  The Dutch drink a lot of milk.  There were milk dispensers at buffets and a jug of milk was served on the table at almost every meal.  And no Oreos were present!  So subtle, but surprising.

The second?  The Dutch speak amazing English — and English is far more prevalent in the Netherlands than, say, Germany or France.  Lots of stores have their signs in English only.  The hilarious Boom Chicago comedy show in Amsterdam had a lot of jokes about how the “third class” of Dutch are those who don’t speak English.

But most notably, the Dutch are amazing when it comes to design and architecture.  This is what captivated me and really gave me an appreciation for the Netherlands.

I didn’t have the greatest weather on this visit.  It absolutely poured for all but one day in Rotterdam, and Amsterdam was even worse — but these trips allowed me to take in some of their finest design and architecture.



Rotterdam is known for not looking like any other city in the Netherlands.  While lots of Dutch cities have a very traditional look to them, especially in the old areas, Rotterdam is all modern architecture and skyscrapers and geometry.

Just look all the shapes you can spot in this station alone!

Rotterdam Metro Station

I was supposed to go on a photo tour around the city — but it was raining solid sheets.  Instead,  our tour went to the Hotel New York, which was filled with lots of cool design!

Wrought Iron Balcony, Hotel New York

I loved the wrought iron railings.

Hotel New York Wallpaper

All of the rooms had unusual wallpaper.  This one reminds me of paper dolls.

Most bizarrely — Nadine found a family reunion for Sir Paul!

Sir Paul Family Reunion!

Nadine has taken her Sir Paul around the world with her (he even posed with Ronnie from Ronnie’s Sex Shop in South Africa!).  She found him when looking for a unique vintage wind-up toy she could take around the world with her and use as a recurring motif in her videos.

Never had Nadine ever seen another Sir Paul.  At Hotel New York, there was a whole army of them in the bar!

Bazar Restaurant

If you ever visit Rotterdam, a great place to go is Bazar, a delicious and well-priced Turkish restaurant.  I ended up eating there three times over the five days I was in Rotterdam!  They also have a great assortment of lamps.

Mainport Hotel Chandelier

The Mainport Hotel, where the conference took place (and where speakers, myself included, were offered complimentary lodging), had lots of cool design details.  This is a close-up of the chandelier in the lobby.

I found Rotterdam overall to be a small but fun, low-key city.  It’s not a city that you go to visit the sights — it’s a place to relax, hang out, and experience on a local level.

Quintessential Amsterdam


How perfect is that image above?  Tulips on a bike set against a canal — it’s the ultimate Amsterdam picture!

I listed Amsterdam as one of my most egregious travel oversights in October 2012.  Somehow, it took more than two collective years of living in Europe before I got to this quintessential city.  Several different post-conference tours were available throughout Holland, and I decided to take the Amsterdam trip.

I soon discovered that Amsterdam was filled with just as much amazing design and architecture as Rotterdam.

Amsterdam Library

Amsterdam is home to one of the coolest libraries I’ve ever seen — it’s clean, modern, artistic, absolutely enormous, and as conducive to work or studying as it is to just walking around and gaping at it.  If I lived here, this is where I would work.

EYE Film Institute Amsterdam

The EYE is another cool place — it’s a film institute with a rotating exhibit of cool reels.

EYE Film Institute Amsterdam

If you’re not interested in the exhibits, it’s also a very cool place to have a drink or coffee.  Perched on the northern shore of the city, you get great views across the water.

But the coolest design place was this:


A shipping container?

Oh, yes.  Because this is Pllek — a chic restaurant in disguise.

Inside PLLEK

You’d never guess that was on the inside of the container, would you?

Pllek was also where I had my best meal in Amsterdam.  The food here is amazing — especially the strawberries macerated with balsamic vinegar, served with lime-infused whipped cream.

Macerated strawberries with balsamic and lime cream


And then there was the architecture along the canals — just as I’d always imagined Amsterdam.  Even with the rain, the greatest pleasure for me was walking the canals.

Red Light District, Amsterdam

This is the Red Light District during the day!  I wandered there by accident.  (Seriously.)

Locks on the bridge

You’ll find locks of love on the bridges.


It’s not often that a city reminds me of Boston — but Amsterdam did.  That picture above could have easily been taken in the South End.

Amsterdam Canals

An hour before I was supposed to get on a train to the airport, the slightest bit of blue sky began to poke through the clouds.  And with it I got one canal shot with blue sky!


This year, I visited two iconic European cities, Amsterdam and Berlin, for the first time.  Overall, I liked Berlin much better.  Then again, I spent my time in Berlin living in a cool neighborhood, hanging out with my friends who live there, and exploring at my own pace.  Amsterdam was a group press trip, and a large one — 20 attendees.

To be completely honest, this trip was one of the factors that led me to my decision to alter my site focus and cut down on certain kinds of press trips.  Press trips that are tailored to me (and therefore to you!) are great.  Enormous one-size-fits-all group trips are not.

But — I did get a lot of great photos and discover some cool places.  I liked Amsterdam enough that I know I need to return and do it my own way — book a room in a luxury hostel in a cool neighborhood (Cocomama looks awesome!), stay for longer, dive into cheap eats, and connect with the local scene. Hopefully the sun will be shining then!

My visit to Rotterdam and Amsterdam were made possible by TBU Rotterdam and Holland Tourism.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

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28 thoughts on “Sexy Dutch Design and Architecture”

  1. I’ve always really liked libraries, I swear I get more articles completed in them than anywhere else. I’ll go during my third Amsterdam trip.

    Both Berlin and Amsterdam have an insane amount of history to explore. For me, its too hard to pick one.

    Pllek looks stellar!

  2. Can’t wait to explore Amsterdam for a few days this summer. Here’s hoping that it’s not rainy the whole time I’m there! (Though you still managed to get some very cool shots.)

  3. It’s a shame you got rubbish weather in Amsterdam, it really is one of my favourite cities in Europe. If you do go back The Flying Pig hostel is great and a lot of fun (and very central)

    Love the tulip and bike basket picture

      1. It was pretty crazy! The owner is an absolute darling. He gave us a heap of free drinks during our stay – always a bonus when alcohol in Amsterdam is so expensive.
        Think you’ll go back anytime soon?

  4. Excellent post! I loved all your photos. I completely forgot about paper dolls until reading this. Oh the memories of playing with them. Amsterdam is on my list of places to go. However, now I might just have to add Rotterdam!


  5. The Netherlands have always seemed like one of those countries that will “always be there,” so I’ve never felt a huge pull to visit. It actually looks like a ridiculously charming place, though. Plus, those strawberries look SO. GOOD.

  6. I’ve been saying the same (Boston) thing about Brussels! I’m so surprised at how familiar it felt, almost immediately. Rotterdam and Amsterdam this weekend

  7. Loved your post! I’m a big fan of Dutch architecture as well. I’ve never made it to Rotterdam though. Hope this will change sometime soon!:-)

  8. I love exploring architecture while I travel. I think it’s the best way to get to know a city. That shipping container restaurant looks pretty cool!

  9. Rockin’ photos Kate! Seems like you are putting the new camera to great use, love the close-ups like the one of the locks or the perspective from the bike. Awesome architecture too!

  10. I was so pleased that they served milk! Am I the only person who drinks it on its own as a calcium fix on a regular basis. I have to stock up with UHT or I wouldn’t have enough!

  11. I actually like the Netherlands. Dutch people are so open-minded. Not sure about some of the fast food though. Have you tried a frikandel (a skinless minced meat sausage)? That’s just wrong! 🙂

  12. Amsterdam is a city that you really can’t get a good feel for within a long weekend. You’ll end up with a tourist view of the city. Most of the best parts of the true feel of the city are on the outer parts of the canal rings and places you’d only discover via bike. It is truly a gem of a city- laid back, and I’ve always said it feels like a rainy Sunday… relaxed, peaceful, blissful. You should go to relax, enjoy the amazing food around the city over candlelight, and linger over the coffees and the cats that curl up in your lap in some of the shops. Hit up the open air markets, people watch, and you simply must must rent a bike and force yourself to experience life there. I had the pleasure of living there 2 yrs as an expat and it changed my life. I try to get back once a year and miss it every day of my life! The party scene competes well with the ‘peaceful’ side as well… a handful of great clubs and it hosts some really fantastic music and arts festivals… and don’t forget a visit to Westerpark. Pick up some cheese, a blanket, and go touring around all of the park’s secrets… such a treasure trove of wonderful things it is.


  13. I am in Canada for 6 months (on my 5th month now) but starting to miss Amsterdam after seeing your lovely pictures, specifically the tulip bike 😉

  14. Hi Kate, It is amazing how the city of Rotterdam has been remodeled after the war
    The Dutch are masters in architecture and in winning land from the sea.
    Best regards, Angela.

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