“What shall we do with the drunken sailor…?” Well you send him to Nacht van de Kaap of course!
Last weekend I returned to one of my all time favourite hostels (Hostel ROOM incase you’re wondering) for the World Port Days Festival, or Wereldhavendagen in Dutch. Held over three days, visitors are immersed in the history of the port and seas shanty choirs take over the city!
But the highlight is held on the port island of Katendracht on Saturday night: Nacht van de Kaap!
Katendrecht: Rotterdam’s Red Light Quarter
Nicknaming Katendrecht as Rotterdam’s red light quarter is a little deceiving. Much like the rest of Rotterdam, brothels and prostitution has been slowly edged out of the city in favour of boutique restaurants, high rise architecture and creative concept stores.
Yet once upon a time, Katendrecht was the land of easy virtue. Until recently, the Port of Rotterdam was the busiest port in the world and it is still the largest port in Europe. With all these sailors coming to port, you can imagine how local businesses capitalised on this opportunity during the 19th century!
Nacht van de Kaap: Reliving the Glory Days
As I mentioned, the district once renowned for it’s debauchery, Chinese restaurants, tattoo parlours and brothels is now very different.
Yet there are some that miss the old days. And that’s what Nacht van de Kaap is for!
Unlike the weekend of Werald Haven Dagen, most of which is free to enter, Nacht van de Kaap is closed off by two main entrances and costs €17.50 (or €15 for students).
But once inside, you get to see the ‘old days’ of Katendrecht in all its glory. Festival-goers (most of whom are definitely Dutch, if not almost entirely from Rotterdam) dress up as sailors, madames and pirates while belting out the words to sea shanties and Dutch songs that I wish I knew the words to!
The beginning of the night is fairly unassuming. Held at the rear of Fenix Food Factory (a great venue all year round!), Nacht van de Kaap provides an array of fantastic food trucks that symbolises the inherent multiculturalism of the area.
Of course, there is the true Dutch fritez stand… the Dutch love their fries and mayonnaise!
But there was also Surinamese, German Currywurst, Moroccan… everything but Chinese which I found strange given the significance of Chinese influence in the Katendrecht.
As a brief history lesson, Chinese sailors began landing and settling in the Rotterdam isle at the start of the 20th Century and populated Katendrecht with guesthouses and restaurants. Whilst their influence slowly dissipated after the Second World War, the Surinamese influence flourished with jazz bands and clubs across the district.
And for dessert? Poffertjes of course! My love for doughy Dutch desserts began with my first oliebollen in the winter of 2014 but unfortunately, they only seem available in the markets over Christmas and New Year.
Luckily, poffertjes are made of similar ingredients and the small fluffy pancakes are served all year round. So where best to taste them than at a local Dutch celebration such as Rotterdam festivals? Also, the guys who ran the stall were so much fun!
Ode aan Nacht: Ode to the Night!
But Nacht van de Kaap is about so much more than food. Once you’ve lined your stomach and the sun goes down it’s time for the music to take centre stage!
Dotted around the festival are a number of smaller stages, each offering their own worship to the city of Rotterdam.
Whether or not they are fuelled by the Heineken beer stalls or the Fenix Food Factory brewery, the Dutch take hands and spin each other around in front of the bands leading the Kaap festivities.
However, as we finished our poffertjes on the outskirts of Deliplein, Katendrecht main square, we noticed a shift in the crowd. Harmonies were radiating from the biggest centre stage; but the music wasn’t coming from the singers or guitarists on stage.
It was booming from the crowds who had gathered in the darkness to celebrate the official Ode to the Night, or Ode aan Nacht in Dutch.
Earlier that day I had spent hours watching the old sea shanty choirs who were performing around Rotterdam for the Wereldhavendagen, with a huge smile on my face.
Seeing the locals and Dutch tourists celebrate their Ode aan Nacht with as much enthusiasm and excitement as the seas shanty choirs, the smile returned and I spent most of my time with my arms in the air trying to capture as much of the energy on my Instagram Stories and Snapchat as possible!
Fireworks from Fenix Food Factory
And then, after a while I was surprised to find that the more energetic songs were making way for solemn ballads. I would have understood if they had also been national favourites, but even the locals began drifting away after 11pm.
So on the hunt for the next party scene in Nacht van de Kaap we accidentally stumbled on the best viewing platform for the main firework event of the weekend!
We sat with our legs hanging over the edge of the glistening waters of the Nieuwe Maas, our cameras in one hand and a cold beer in the other. I was in a short dress (with obligatory cycling shorts underneath of course!) and a bomber jacket but I didn’t feel the cold at all.
To be by the port, looking out over one of Europe’s greatest skylines and witnessing the best fireworks event of the weekend with a beer… I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else on that Saturday night.
Nacht van de Kaap: Things to Know
๏ The event runs every September during the Wereldhavendagen festival in the Port of Rotterdam
๏ Entrance to Nacht van de Kaap costs €17.50 or €15 for students and attendees over 65
๏ There is also a pre-party on the Friday night every year! It is called Voorspel and costs €10, or €12.50 on the door. If you want to attend both events, the combined ticket costs €25 in advance
๏ Dressing up is fun! At the very least, try and wear a black and white striped tee to fit in with the sailor theme! I wanted a Captain’s hat so I’ll be putting one aside for next year!
๏ For more info, visit the official website of Nacht van de Kaap
I was a guest of Rotterdam Partners at Nacht van de Kaap, and hosted by Hostel ROOM Rotterdam (yay!). My transport to Rotterdam and back was provided by FlixBus, and as always all opinions are honest and my own.
Lots of love,