The Rotterdam Ringroad Hiking Trail
Where other cities have a ringroad, Rotterdam has the Ruit, which literally means the Diamond. The A20, A16, A15 and A4 together form a diamond-shaped road network that has led car traffic around the city since the 1960s. But would it also be a nice route to walk? No, not over the hard shoulder of course, but over hiking trails in the immediate vicinity of the highways?
Believe it or not, the idea for the Rotterdam Ringroad Hike came to me in a dream. I dreamed that there was a long-distance hiking trail that followed the Ruit.
It seemed like an absurd idea, but when I looked at the map the next day, I quickly became enthusiastic. This Ringroad actually strings together the most diverse environments, so a varied route is guaranteed. One seldom walks more than a few hundred meters without being taken by a new surprise. High tech and history. Ancient dikes and new housing estates. Villas and working-class neighborhoods. Harbors and canals. High profile locations and urban margins. Churches, windmills and even castles.
And there are also surprisingly many parks, eco-zones and even forests along the Ruit. Sometimes deliberately planned as a buffer zone between residential areas and noisy traffic, sometimes simply forgotten by the city planners, but no less charming.
Together with travel companion A. I explored the route I had set out. That happened this winter on days when the weather was not so photogenic. The photos in this blog post were therefore taken during an epic bike ride on a beautiful spring day, when I covered the entire route in one day.
The length of the Rotterdam Ringroad is almost exactly 42 kilometers. You could organize a marathon on it. But the walking route, which explores the beautiful paths within about a kilometer of the Ruit, is of course a lot longer: 56 kilometers and 500 meters to be precise. That is too much for most people, including travel companion A. and me, to walk in one day. We have therefore divided our research over three stages, with starts and arrivals in Rotterdam Noord, Pernis and Lombardijen.
But there are plenty of options to divide the route into 4, 5, 6, 7 or even 8 sections. Rotterdam Noord, Schiedam Centrum and Rotterdam Lombardijen train stations are located near the trajectory. The same is true for the metro stations Marconiplein, Parkweg, Nieuwland, Vijfsluizen, Pernis, Rhoon, Slinge and Kralingse Zoom. And I’m not even talking about all the tram and bus stops that can serve as starting and ending points.
The starting point of the walk can therefore be anywhere along the route; I start this description at Rotterdam Noord railway station. And we have done our reconnaissance walks in a counterclockwise direction. But if you want to do it clockwise: be my guest!
Unfortunately, cafes, restaurants and terraces are somewhat scarce in these undiscovered, peripheral regions of Rotterdam National Park. Fortunately, the hospitality industry is not completely absent. On the map I have put a number of establishments that we encountered during our explorations. I welcome additional tips.
You can zoom in on the map. Click here for a full screen version.
The first kilometer certainly does not run through the poorest area of the city. Hillegersberg has a reputation to uphold and it definitely lives up to it in the Kleiweg Quarter: large houses from the 1930’s with spacious gardens. On the Kleiweg itself we find more modest architecture. Here is also an opportunity to boost the caffeine level.
Via the Rozenbrug (Bridge of the Roses) we cross the Ruit for the first time, and the railway line as well. The contrast that follows between the metropolitan infrastructure and the charming footpath along the Noorderkanaal (Northern Canal) could not be greater. The residents of the houseboats have built little paradises here, a stone’s throw from the highway.
We cross the canal and the Rotterdam Ringroad again near Vroesen Park. After an underpass under two railway lines, there is a beautiful green area next to an allotment complex. Then we get to a real frayed edge with an old factory and a field with goats and a donkey. Through a tunnel, completely covered with street art, we cross the Ruit again.
After we cross under Kleinpolderplein junction, we move a little further away from the highway. The real die-hards can walk one and a half kilometers along a straight stretch of highway between the industry of the Spaanse Polder, if they want. But we turn towards the city, past the new entrance of Blijdorp Zoo into the Roel Langerak Park.
We salute the Mevlana Mosque and World Heritage the Van Nelle Factory and cross the Delfshavense Schie canal via the Beukelsbridge. In the Spangen district, another Rotterdam icon crosses our path: the Sparta Stadium, nicknamed the Castle.
From the 1920s vibes in Spangen we walk into the 1950s, meandering between sports fields and a green strip under the metro track. We walk through the neighbourhood of Oud-Mathenesse, between red plastered apartment blocks and along a green canal. The transition between Rotterdam and Schiedam is almost imperceptible; only a place name sign on the municipal boundary indicate we’re entering another town. However, after this point, the neighbourhoods are gradually getting older again.
Via three green spaces, the Buys Ballotsingel, the Snelliussingel and the Land van Ris, we reach the center of Schiedam, starting with the basilica of Liduina, the saint who lived here seven centuries ago. Then we pass the Sint Jans Church, the triangular Grote Markt square with the old Town Hall, the Corn Exchange and the Bag Carriers House. And of course we also spot a few of the windmills for which Schiedam is famous.
Via a few recent urban renewal neighbourhoods, with architecture of varying quality, we come back within earshot of the Ruit. Between the highway and the metro line is a beautiful green and water-rich area that leads into Bijdorp, a “forgotten” neighborhood with hundred-year-old workers’ houses.
More or less parallel to the Poldervaart (Polder Canal) we walk across an allotment complex, past another mill and over an old sluice. Subsequently, once again we hit some large-scale developments: residential flats, office buildings, Wilton harbour, Vijfsluizen metro station.
We walk along a swampy area next to the highway to the entrance of the Benelux tunnel. In the tunnel we almost walk over the emergency lane, although fortunately there is a wall between us and the raging traffic.
Pernis, on the other side of the tunnel, is a wonderful enclave between the port areas. With remnants of the agricultural landscape that once covered this entire island of IJsselmonde. But also with the much more recent Pernisser Park, created as a buffer zone between the village and the industry. And with, of all districts, probably the best view of the Rotterdam skyline.
What follows is the most linear and industrial part of the entire hiking tour. On the left the Betuwe railway line with the container terminals of Willem-Alexander harbour behind it, on the right the busy Vondelingenweg and a few logistics “boxes” with behind them the Ringroad.
But when we cross that Ringroad once again, we very abruptly enter a completely different environment. The outskirts of the village of Rhoon, with farms along meandering dikes, meadows, woods, lakes and the inevitable Scottish Highland cows. All this culminating in Rhoon Castle with its moat, bridal house and castle garden.
We leave Rhoon via a cycle path along the metro tracks. We almost bump into the Ruit again, but just before that we cross the Groene Kruisweg. On both sides of the Rijsdijk is a piece of rural area: fields, meadows and orchards. A footpath between young plantings takes us to the banks of an old river, the Koedood (literal meaning: Dead Cow). On the path along the Ski Goggles lake (you only understand that name if you look at the map) we walk between two worlds: forest on one side, highway, noise barriers and power lines on the other.
Near the suburban district of Portland, we reach what is perhaps the most spectacular crossing of the entire hiking trail, via a bridge with an amazing space frame construction, nicknamed The Netstocking.
The next few kilometers run through the Zuidelijk Randpark; let’s translate that as the Southern Fringe Park. It’s a wide green buffer zone between the Pendrecht, Zuidwijk and Lombardijen districts and the highway. With groves, reed beds and ponds, interspersed with more functional green in the form of sports fields and a cemetery. All this intersected by a line of historic remnants along the Charloisse Lagedijk.
Around Vaanplein junction, the park is starting to look more and more like a forest. Then the route bends to the left, towards the city once again. Around Pascalweg we find another charming frayed edge, with old and new, large and small, homes and businesses jumbled together.
Through a tunnel we pass a bundle of railway lines and then we are in IJsselmonde. The neighborhood, not the island with the same name, because we’ve already been there for a while now. There’s a lot of housing from the 1960s, intersected by historic dikes such as the Hordijk. Parallel to the Zevenbergsedijkje, an informal walking path winds through bushes and past backyards.
A little further on, a grassy trail takes us between a pond and a large industrial estate. And at the Ridderster junction, everything comes together again: industry and farm houses, viaducts and allotments, a high-voltage line and an orchard.
On the east side of the IJsselmonde district, the green buffer zone is limited to a narrow strip with some reed beds, islands and boardwalks. A solid green wall blocks the noise from the Ringroad.
Via the little brother of Erasmus Bridge we cross the Ruit once again. We are now in the Beverwaard neighbourhood. There is a noise barrier on this side of the highway as well, but here it takes the shape of a hilly forest.
That forest turns into a park-like area, after which we walk past the farms on the Benedenrijweg into the village of Oud-IJsselmonde.
After a little detour around the church, the most challenging climb in this walking route awaits: Van Brienenoord Bridge. It remains a pity that the cycling and walking path is not on the west side of the bridge, where the Rotterdam skyline is impressive. But also on this side the view is supurb: rivers, shipyards and urban districts. Watch out though for the passing bikes and mopeds that we have to share this section of the route with.
Beyond the bridge, we enter the territory of the municipality of Capelle aan den IJssel: the Rivium office park that will be transformed into a more mixed urban district in the coming years. After the bridge, which we share with the slow moving automatic Parkshuttle, we enter an area called Fascinatio. Strange name, but the 300 meter long boardwalk is quite, well, fascinating.
After the Kralingse Zoom metro station, we cross a residential area with terraced houses from the 1970s and 2010s; notice the differences. Then we walk into the Kralingse Bos, of Kralingen Forest. This largest green area within the municipal boundaries was created in the 1930s as an unemployment relief project. So the forest is now almost a century old. Due to the weak soil, often trees go down during a storm, but that only contributes to the rewilding. And as befits a good nature reserve, there are also some cozy restaurants and pancake houses here.
After leaving the forest, another frayed edge awaits us, between the postal sorting center and the Terbregseplein junction. Here, another section of highway is being worked on diligently. We leave all that behind us when we turn left, into the Nieuw-Terbregge district. Here is a very solid noise barrier, which rises a whopping ten meters above the neighborhood. There is a walking path at the highest point of the barrier and even a viewpoint with a beautiful view of those famous Rotterdam Ringroad traffic jams. But on an adjacent winding path, a little lower on the barrier, the A20 seems much further away.
We descend to Nieuw-Terbregge itself. This district, built at the beginning of the century, should have the look and feel of a holiday park, according to the urban planners. And that has worked out quite nicely, for example with the Scandinavian-looking houses on the islands opposite the sports fields.
On the last part of the route we follow the river that gave Rotterdam its name: the Rotte. The atmosphere here is Arcadian: a windmill, reeds, bushes. View of a larger water feature: the Bergsche Voorplas. Modest dike houses transformed into small El Dorados. Speeding coxed-eight rowers and moored motor yachts.
Downstream, the buildings become more urban, after which we quite suddenly find ourselves back at Rotterdam North station, the starting point of the walk. We have covered almost sixty kilometers.