Last Updated on 24th October 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
A vibrant city with incredible architecture and a fantastic foodie scene, Rotterdam is one of the largest cities in the Netherlands, second only to Amsterdam. Best explored over the course of several days (or even longer if you’re planning to explore the surrounding region), here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Rotterdam, as well as what to know before you go.
- A history of Rotterdam
- Why visit Rotterdam?
- Best things to do in Rotterdam
- Art, design & Museums in Rotterdam
- Visit the Rotterdam Cube House
- The architecture of Rotterdam is incredible
- Rotterdam is a great city to cycle (or walk) around
- Visit the Cool District of Rotterdam
- Enjoy the food scene of Rotterdam
- Visit the Markthal
- Explore the hidden gems of Rotterdam
- Go up the Euromast Tower
- Windmills of Kinderdijk
- Take a day trip from Rotterdam
- Where to stay in Rotterdam
- Practical advice and tips for planning your visit to Rotterdam
A history of Rotterdam
Though most of the city was flattened during the Blitzkrieg of WWII, leaving behind an empty space on which some of the most challenging architectural pieces of Europe have been built, some of the historic city centre of Rotterdam remains to this day.
For example, one of the first skyscrapers in Europe can be found near the Overblaak Development in the form of the Witte Huis. Nearby, the Oude Haven (old port) part of the Maritime district is filled with old boats and ships, and surrounded by the bars and cafés where all the locals hang out. Further into the city still, the
Why visit Rotterdam?
Rotterdam makes for a great alternative place to visit than Amsterdam. The second largest city in the Netherlands certainly packs a punch and its modern architecture and fast-paced vibe certainly feels worlds away from the charming Dutch capital.
Rather than quaint canals and canalside houses, Rotterdam is filled with futuristic architecture and an incredible foodie scene. What’s more is that the city has no shortage of hidden gems and quiet little cafés and parks where you can sit and watch the world go by. If you’ve only got a short time in the Dutch city, be sure to check out our suggestions for one day in Rotterdam.
Best things to do in Rotterdam
Art, design & Museums in Rotterdam
Throughout Rotterdam, there’s an abundance of plenty of beautiful art galleries and modern museums to explore. Some of the best Rotterdam museums include the Maritime Museum (which was founded in 1874 by Prince Henry of the Netherlands) and the Kunsthal (an art museum which opened in 1992).
Even if you’re ‘not a museum person’, the entire city is filled with works of street art. Around nearly every corner, a new mural can be found. For example, close to the train station, there’s a Picasso sculpture, while street art can be found around nearly every corner.
If you’re spending a considerable amount of time in the Netherlands, then you might consider investing in the Holland Pass which allows for free entry to up to six museums/ attractions. Included in the pass are a skip-the-line feature and a Holland Pass discount card.
Visit the Rotterdam Cube House
Even those who are unfamiliar with the Dutch city of Rotterdam will have likely seen those yellow cube houses posted somewhere on the interwebs. What many visitors don’t know is that you can actually stay in the yellow cube houses.
Stayokay Rotterdam is well-reviewed, is obviously home to incredible architecture, and is close to many of the city’s major attractions. Check prices and availability here.
The architecture of Rotterdam is incredible
Highlights of Rotterdam architecture include the Overblaak Development (i.e. those cube houses by Piet Blom), de Rotterdam (a uniquely shaped block of three connected towers), and the Centraal Station (make it your mission to at least arrive or depart Rotterdam via train).
Other architectural must-sees in the city include wandering across the Erasmus Bridge, which is known locally as ‘the swan’, the Van Nelle Factory (a former factory which is now a designated UNESCO world heritage site), and the beautiful historic old harbour. For more information on Rotterdam’s harbour, you might consider taking this Rotterdam Harbour Tour.
Rotterdam is a great city to cycle (or walk) around
One of the very best reasons to visit the Netherlands is that it’s pretty easy to cycle, pretty much anywhere. Due to the incredibly flat nature of the country, renting a bicycle and exploring another side of Rotterdam couldn’t be easier.
Alternatively, if you only have a limited time in the city, then I recommend taking yourself on this free and self-guided walking tour of Rotterdam. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be walking a fair bit over the course of the day!
Visit the Cool District of Rotterdam
And while we’re on the subject of nightlife, bars, and clubs, it’s worth talking about the hippest area of the city. There’s one word for a certain district in town, and that word is ‘cool’. Home to plenty of bars, restaurants, and clubs, this area is where all the best nightlife of Rotterdam can be found.
Enjoy the food scene of Rotterdam
Rotterdam is one of the top foodie destinations in the Netherlands. From cafés to fancy restaurants to lunch hotspots, this city truly has it all when it comes to culinary experiences.
For the quirkiest food encounter of all, however, be sure to head to Fenix Food Factory. This daily market can be found in the heart of a former warehouse and is open daily, with the exception of Monday.
Visit the Markthal
For one of the best lunch spots in town, visit the Markthal Rotterdam. Open every day of the year, once there, in the largest glass archway in Europe, you’ll find a plethora of restaurants, bars, cafés, and take away spots which will cater to any foodie whim. Housed within one of the trendiest buildings in town, head there to snap some photos, even if you’re not hungry!
Rotterdam may be fairly popular as a tourist destination but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of unusual gems and unique things to be uncovered. From a rather unusual statue of Santa Claus to an underground tunnel, here’s a guide to the best-kept secrets of Rotterdam.
Go up the Euromast Tower
One of the best views of Rotterdam can be found from above at the Euromast Tower. Constructed from 1958 to 1960, the tower offers particularly great views of the Erasmus Bridge. Check here to book your ticket in advance.
Windmills of Kinderdijk
Now a recognised UNESCO world heritage site and located just a short cycle ride away from the city centre, the Mills of Kinderdijk are easily one of the most ‘Instagrammable photo spots in Rotterdam’. Constructed in around 1740, these nineteen original windmills demonstrate how the Dutch dealt with the problem of water over the centuries.
Easily one of the best places to visit in the Netherlands, other examples of original mills include those at the pretty Dutch town of Zanse Schans. If you want to enjoy a less touristic example of windmills close to the Hague, then you might consider a trip to the Molendriegang close to Leidschendam.
Take a day trip from Rotterdam
Between beach escapes and city breaks, the little country of the Netherlands is home to more than its fair share of stunning attractions, cities, and scenery. And if you’re looking for a place in which to base yourself for exploring the wider region, the city is close to all the attractions and is much cheaper than Amsterdam. For more inspiration, check out our guide to the best day trips from Rotterdam.
Where to stay in Rotterdam
If you’re planning to stay overnight, then when planning your trip, you’ll want to book your accommodation well in advance (quite literally as soon as you’ve secured your transport). Check here for the best accommodation rates in Rotterdam.
Practical advice and tips for planning your visit to Rotterdam
If you’re looking for a great weekend escape in Europe, then you may well want to plan a visit to Rotterdam. Easy to cycle or walk around, much of the city’s major attractions can easily be explored over the course of a long weekend. If you’re short on time, then the Dutch city is also an easy day trip from Amsterdam or any easy day trip from The Hague.
I highly recommend at least arriving or leaving by train (the train station architecture is fantastic!) and Schipol airport is a short 25-minute ride away on the train!
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.