Delfshaven - the old, historic part of Rotterdam

Delfshaven - the old, historic part of Rotterdam

Don't be fooled by the fancy modern architecture and by catchy nicknames like “Manhattan on the Meuse.” Rotterdam has an old and stunningly beautiful part of town. Only it is not in the city centre as you might expect – for grim reasons.

Delfshaven: The old part of town

When in Rotterdam, you never ask about the old part of town. Especially not if you are German. Rotterdam’s city centre was nearly levelled in May 1940, killing almost 900 people and making 85,000 homeless in the German bombing of Rotterdam, also known as the Rotterdam Blitz. After hardly any buildings were left in the historic centre and most of the canals were filled with rubble from the demolished houses, the city started to reinvent itself.
The city inhabitants filled up the remaining canals with rubble too and built their metropolis on the resulting plain. The phoenix-like rise from the ashes gave way to more creativity and exciting architecture than visible in many other cities in the Netherlands.

However, should you still wonder about what the old historic centre might have looked like, there is one street that has survived the attacks and gives a good impression. It’s in Delfshaven. You can get there by Metro or tram from the central station, and, of course, you can just bike there. The street you want to start on is Albrechtskolk, later turning into Voorhaven.

Main attractions in Delfshaven

The main attractions in Delfshaven include: 

Historic Streets

Delfshaven is one of the few areas in Rotterdam that wasn't bombed during World War II, so it retains its old-style architecture. Walking through its quaint streets, you'll find numerous beautiful houses, many of which now hold little art shops.

Old drawing bridge leading up to Pilgrims church 📷 Anna SoetensOld drawing bridge leading up to Pilgrims church 📷 Anna Soetens

Pilgrim Fathers Church (Pelgrimvaderskerk)

The Pilgrim Fathers Church, also known as the Old Church, is a historic Protestant church located in the Delfshaven district of Rotterdam, Netherlands. Its history dates back to 1417 when it was consecrated as the Roman Catholic church of St. Anthony. The church underwent significant changes during the Reformation in 1574 and was later associated with the English Dissenters, who became known as the Pilgrim Fathers. These Pilgrims, after living in Leiden for eleven years, set sail from Delfshaven to America in 1620, praying on the quay near the church before their departure. This event led to the church's third name, the Pilgrim Fathers' Church.

The church's architecture features a bell-shaped gable, a result of a major rebuilding in 1761. Inside, the church has a spacious and light interior with white, plastered arches dividing the nave from the aisles. It also houses a richly carved pulpit from the eighteenth century and stained-glass windows representing the six days of Creation. Today, the church is primarily used by the Reformed Church Delfshaven and serves as a venue for concerts, lectures, weddings, and exhibitions..

Carilion tower of Pilgrims church 📷 Anna SoetensCarilion tower of Pilgrims church 📷 Anna Soetens

De Distillerketel

This is an 18th-century windmill right on the water in Delfshaven. It's an active grain mill used to grind barley, wheat, corn, and teff with traditional processes.

Windmill at the end of Delfshaven 📷 Anna SoetensWindmill at the end of Delfshaven 📷 Anna Soetens

De Pelgrim Brewery

This is Rotterdam’s only brewery, located in one of the historic buildings in Delfshaven. They brew specialty beer using Rotterdam’s water, and several of the dishes they offer are prepared with beer.

Brewery next to Pilgrims church 📷 Anna SoetensBrewery next to Pilgrims church 📷 Anna Soetens

Museum De Delft

This museum provides a window into Delfshaven’s shipbuilding and maritime heritage.

Antique Shops, Galleries, and Gin Bars

Delfshaven is home to a variety of antique shops, art galleries, and gin bars that you can explore.

Knight's armour in the shop window of an antiquarian 📷 Anna SoetensKnight's armour in the shop window of an antiquarian 📷 Anna Soetens

A secret park: De Schat van Schoonderloo

De Schat van Schoonderloo (The Treasure of Schoonderloo) is a charming neighborhood park located in the middle of Schoonderloostraat in Rotterdam. It is open daily until sunset and is managed by local volunteers. Over the years, a group of enthusiastic residents has worked on the realization of De Schat van Schoonderloo, turning it into a gem of a neighborhood park.

De Schat van Schoonderloo is a park maintained by volunteersDe Schat van Schoonderloo is a park maintained by volunteers

The park consists of four gardens: 'by the water', 'near the forest', 'along the street', and 'around the roses'. It was built on the site of the former Petrus Church, which was a sailors' church built in 1928 for the children of the sailors' internment camp in Havenstraat. However, the church was demolished in 1975 and 1976, leaving a large gaping hole known as the “Gap of Schoonderloo”.

In 1997, the municipality wanted to fill the gap with houses, but some residents fought to retain the green designation for the area. In 1999, the Delfshaven District chose to side with the residents and decided to maintain the green designation instead of building houses.

Remember to check the opening hours of these attractions before visiting, as some of them have specific visiting times or days.

Entrance view of Albrechtskolk 📷 Anna SoetensEntrance view of Albrechtskolk 📷 Anna Soetens
One of many inhabited ships on the banks of Delfshaven 📷 Anna SoetensOne of many inhabited ships on the banks of Delfshaven 📷 Anna Soetens
Detail of Number 33 📷 Anna SoetensDetail of Number 33 📷 Anna Soetens

Visit the past

The entrance is framed by somewhat Shakespearean looking houses, seemingly a lot taller and tougher on the canal side than on the street side and the street is still paved with old cobblestones. There are also old bridges left, a windmill and a pilgrim’s church that all go way back. There are small shops and galleries, a few pubs, a brewery, restaurants and cafés.
Restaurant ‘t Ouwe Bruggetje 📷 Anna SoetensRestaurant ‘t Ouwe Bruggetje 📷 Anna Soetens

Take your time

It is worth a visit just for the impression it gives you, but there are certainly a few places that will help lengthen your stay if you’re in it for a half-day trip. Get a tour at the windmill, sample the brews from the brewery in their adjunct bar, have a look at the Pelgrimsvaderskerk (Pilgrims Fathers Church) and its cute carillon tower, see De Delft – a replica of an 18th-century warship - lying among the other ships in the canal. And finish by a fancy meal paired with wine at ‘t Ouwe Bruggetje or a coffee and cake at Bij Loes. But most off all, get some inspiration. And take some time to explore the nearby streets, some of which are also (partly) ancient.
Side street leading behind the church view 📷 Anna SoetensSide street leading behind the church view 📷 Anna Soetens

More historic places

If you are looking for more official and historic houses that have survived the war or have been rebuilt, visit the Sint-Laurenskerk in the city centre, the Schielandshuis Museum, the Wereld Museum Rotterdam or Rotterdam’s City Hall (also with an impressive carillon tower).

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