For a majority of my life I’ve lived in a town next to Rotterdam and spent most of my time in the city centre of Rotterdam. I also studied at the university of Rotterdam for one year before coming to Utrecht. During the three years I’ve been in Utrecht, I’ve noticed quite a lot of differences between the two cities and today I want to share some of them with you.
- Student Housing
Although there are a lot of universities and colleges in Rotterdam, there isn’t as much of a student vibe as there is in Utrecht. A huge percentage of the people who go to Rotterdam are from the Rotterdam area and the subway system makes it easier for them to travel to their university. This means that students often stay at home instead of moving out. It is a lot more common for students who study in Utrecht to live in student houses located in and around the city centre. When students do decide to move to Rotterdam, they often end up living in normal apartments or rented houses. In Utrecht, on the other hand, a lot of students live in houses specifically for students with student prices.
Perhaps you’ve already heard of the term gezellig, but in case you haven’t gezellig is a Dutch word that describes the atmosphere of a place/party or someone’s personality and it’s sort of a combination of being cozy, fun and pleasurable. When I tell people about Utrecht I always tell them that it’s a gezellige city. Rotterdam is not gezellig. It is far from gezellig. It is cold, grey and dull, and the people are often pretty rude. Rotterdam got bombarded during WW2 and as a result the traditional Dutch architecture got replaced by modern architecture without character. Here and there you might find a building that survived the bombardment, but overall Rotterdam is nothing but blocks. Aside from architecture, Rotterdam also doesn’t know the terrace culture Utrecht has. Rotterdam doesn’t have a lot of gezellige cafes and especially not in the city centre, although recently a lot more places are opening up. There is only one street that I know of that is considered gezellig and that is Witte de Withstraat. This is also the street where you’ll find most students.
One of the key differences I noticed between Rotterdam and Utrecht is safety. Utrecht is a lot safer than Rotterdam. I would never consider going back home alone at midnight after a party in Rotterdam, whereas in Utrecht I wouldn’t mind. Of course, this also depends on where in the city you live as I feel a lot safer living at the Uithof than for example Overvecht. The fact that Utrecht is a student city, however, means that the people you’ll meet at midnight are also students who are enjoying a night out. In Rotterdam, it’s usually (wannabe) thugs and drug sellers who hang out on the street. A final thing is catcalling. Ever since I moved to Utrecht I’ve been catcalled maybe five times. In Rotterdam it’s very difficult to walk down the city centre without getting catcalled. Seriously, if you made it from Eendrachtsplein to Blaak without a single stare or comment from a creepy dude you’ve had a successful day.
One thing that I miss about Rotterdam is the fact that it is a lot more multicultural than Utrecht. If you leave out the international students, you will notice that a vast majority of the students in Utrecht is of white Dutch descent. Where I used to have classmates from all kinds of cultures, I’m now often the only Dutch person with a non-Dutch background. This lack of multiculturalism is also noticeable in the type of restaurants we have in Utrecht. Foreign cuisine is often limited to the popular cuisines we find everywhere in the Netherlands such as Chinese-Indonesian, Japanese, Turkish and Italian. In Rotterdam you can find a lot more diverse and authentic restaurants including Korean, Caribbean, Ethiopian and Portuguese.
Food isn’t the only thing that is a lot more diverse in Rotterdam. Rotterdam also has a wider range of shops, especially clothing stores, than Utrecht. For some of my favourite shops such as Topshop and Forever 21, I have to go to Rotterdam (or Amsterdam) as they’re not located in Utrecht. I rarely go shopping in Utrecht unless I know that I need to get something from H&M or Bershka, because shopping in Utrecht isn’t as much fun and the stores and collections are often a lot smaller than the ones in Rotterdam.