Eurovision Rotterdam 2020: A Eurail Guide

In under 3 months’ time, singers, journalists and fans from across Europe will travel to Rotterdam in the Netherlands for a week of musical competition. The city will be hosting the annual Eurovision Song Contest from Tuesday May 12 – Saturday May 16, 2020. Rotterdam’s location and high-speed trains to the rest of Europe make it easy to include in a big European vacation. There has never been a better time to join the party and attend Eurovision by rail.

What even is Eurovision?

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Assorted Eurovision participants. Photo by Shutterstock.

Mention Eurovision to a group of Europeans and you will often get a divided response. Some nations take it very seriously, with popular televised competitions to choose the national entry. Others have less success and view the contest more as a joke. Outside of Europe, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. So here are the basics…

The Basics

Eurovision is a televised singing competition, which takes place annually for one week in May, with 2 semi-finals and a grand final. Almost every European country participates, each sending 1 singing act of any genre or size, from Portugal to Poland, Iceland to Israel. Even Australia has been included since 2015, but it’s best not to ask questions. Everyone then votes for their favorite entries, with results presented per country in a high-drama segment at the end of the Grand Final. The winner then hosts the contest in the following year.

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Spanish fans at the Eurovision Village, Lisbon 2018. Photo by Theo Stell.

On-stage, Eurovision is best-known for its glittery, camp performances, with plenty of wind machines, hair swishing, pyrotechnics and strobes. Song lyrics usually concern love, but singers may also use the platform for statements of peace and unity. Politics is officially off-limits, but Europe being Europe it sometimes pops up, most notably in the voting where ”love thy neighbor” is the norm.

The contest began in 1956 with just seven countries, but has since grown into Europe’s biggest TV show, encompassing all of Europe (remind you of anything 😉 ). Famous winners include ABBA, who launched their career at Eurovision 1973, with Waterloo, while Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988. Finland’s 2006 winner Lordi, divided audiences with their rock music and monster masks, while Israel’s Netta won in 2018 with a song featuring chicken noises.

Eurovision in the Netherlands

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Dutch support at Eurovision. Photo by Shutterstock.

Rotterdam is one of the most centrally located Eurovision hosts of recent years, after some situated in Europe’s far north (Stockholm 2016), west (Lisbon 2018) and east (Tel Aviv 2019). It should be much easier to attend this year’s Eurovision by rail. High-speed lines connect Rotterdam to Belgium, France, Germany, England, and beyond. From outside of Europe, you can catch many direct flights to Amsterdam Schipol Airport. It is then just a 25 minute direct train ride to Rotterdam Centraal. The main venue is the Ahoy arena, 20 minutes by metro to the south of Centraal station.

It is still possible to get yourself into Ahoy for the live performances. The third and final release of tickets will be in late March. It’s a bit of a lottery, so get yourself into the electronic line and cross your fingers. If you do make it to the sales page, you can select standing or seated tickets for all 3 live shows, plus selected dress rehearsals (Family Shows and Jury Shows). Even if you don’t get tickets, Rotterdam is sure to have a party atmosphere and large public screenings.

Exploring Rotterdam: The Interval Act
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Rotterdam Blaak. Photo by Theo Stell

If you catch a moment away from the party, try exploring the Netherlands’ second city. Rotterdam is not a typical Dutch city – it lost its historic center during WWII – so you should expect the unexpected with abstract modern architecture aplenty. Highlights include the Markthal food court and the Cube Houses, situated in the Blaak neighborhood. You can cross the Erasmus Bridge over the Nieuwe Maas river to visit the redeveloped Kop van Zuid docklands area, known as the ”Manhattan on the Maas”.

Take a land or water bus for half an hour and you will find the Kinderdijk windmills. Nothing could be more Dutch than this complex of historic mills and water channels.

Beyond Eurovision by Rail

Eurovision is sure to have given you some European travel inspiration, so take advantage of Rotterdam’s excellent connections to discover more of Europe by train. Within the Netherlands, you can use a Eurail Benelux Pass. Discover thriving cities like Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, or dive into nature in the Wadden Islands or the Hoge Veluwe.

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Lighthouse at Texel Island, one of the Netherlands’ Wadden Islands, accessible by ferry from Den Delder train station. Photo by Shutterstock.

Next, hop aboard a high-speed train with a Eurail Global Pass and let it whisk you away to another European country. Take your pick from (almost) any Eurovision participant – we don’t cover Azerbaijan or Australia (among others) just yet! These 3 popular trains will get you started…

  • Thalys – direct connections with Antwerp (32 mins), Brussels (1h 10m) and Paris (2h 42m) by riding the high-speed Thalys trains. Covered by Eurail Benelux Pass for Netherlands-Belgium, or Eurail Global Pass for trips to France.
  • Eurostar – a new direct high-speed Eurostar train to whisk you from Rotterdam to London in 3h 30m will run from 18 May onwards – perfect timing for a post-Eurovision trip.
  • ICE – you can ride Deutsche Bahn’s high-speed ICE trains to most German cities. Eurovision 2011 host Düsseldorf is the closest – just a 2h 26m trip via Utrecht. The German capital Berlin is 8 hours away via Amersfoort (the Netherlands) and Hannover (Germany), while Frankfurt is a 4h 41m ride via Utrecht.

Travel onwards by rail to cities like Prague (Czech Republic), Copenhagen (Denmark), Munich (Germany) and Marseille (France).


For more spring travel inspiration, check out these other posts:

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