Rotterdam is our favorite city in the Netherlands! Yes, you got it right. As much as we love Amsterdam, our hearts belong to Rotterdam, a super cool city packed with history, art, good food and amazing architecture. Check our recommendations on what to do in Rotterdam, places to visit and delicious food to try, and we’re sure you gonna love it too.
When people talk about Rotterdam, the first two things that come to mind are the port – the largest one in Europe – and the iconic Cube Houses. But the second largest city in the Netherlands is way more than that: Rotterdam is home of many tourist attractions and also fascinating things to do and see. It took us two trips to really get to experience the city and be able to write this ultimate guide to Rotterdam.
Heads up, this post is gigantic and it goes beyond the famous tourist attractions and what to see in Rotterdam. Here you’re going to find tips to best places to stay in Rotterdam, how to get around the city saving money on transportations and attractions, plus some delicious food you must try and where to find them. Our list of things to do in Rotterdam is big, but if you plan your trip wisely you can pack most of it in 4 days or in a weekend break. Are you ready to discover the best of Rotterdam?
Best places to stay in Rotterdam
Rotterdam hotels cater for all types of travelers, from budget rooms to luxury suites. There are two things you should consider when booking your accommodation in Rotterdam: location and view!
My suggestion is to book a hotel in the city center or close to a metro/tram line so you can explore the city walking or using Rotterdam public transport. Rotterdam is all about visual experiences, the city breathes art and has some of the most interesting buildings in Europe, so your room must have a view. Nothing is better than going to bed under Rotterdam night skyline or waking up with its stunning sunrise.
If you think it’s the way to go, our recommendations to where to stay in Rotterdam are:
One of the best views of Erasmus Bridge and Maas River, Nhow Hotel combines modern decor and massive windows that make you feel like flying over the river. Sunset and sunrises are amazing from there, and if you manage to watch both of them you gonna love the city even more. The hotel is a few steps from the Netherlands Fotomuseum, the historical Hotel New York and the Fenix Factory. We stayed at the Nhow Premium room with skyline view and it was to die for. If you want an extra dose of glamour, book the Nhow Suite by Rem Koolhaas, the architect of the stunning De Rotterdam, which is where the hotel is located.
Inntel Hotels Rotterdam Center
Here is where location meets great views! Inntel Hotels Rotterdam Center is located at Leuvehaven, close to Erasmus Bridge, and it is the perfect location for travelers that want to get around Rotterdam on foot or by tram. From there you can reach all the tourist attractions within minutes and still admire the astonishing Erasmus Bridge and the river. If you are traveling to Rotterdam for the World Port Days, this is the hotel to stay. You’re gonna have a privileged view of the activities happening at the river and you will be one step to where the action happens. We stayed at the Panorama Top Room and the corner window gave us unique views of the city.
There are other good hotels in Rotterdam with gorgeous views or outstanding location, from cheap accommodation to 5 stars boutique hotels. For more hotel ideas check out booking.com or read our super guide:
What to do in Rotterdam and places to visit
Now comes the fun part: it’s time to list the top things to do in Rotterdam, places to visit, and also attractions that are not so common but that we love. Later on, you’re gonna find some of the best tours to do in Rotterdam and an exclusive chapter about food.
Our what to do in Rotterdam guide shall start with architecture, art and a little bit of history. Rotterdam was heavily bombed during World War II and the city got rebuilt in a very innovative way, merging urban spaces with art and a city that boosts creativity. There is no ordinary space in Rotterdam and everything is possible there. The best way to feel and understand Rotterdam’s unique spirit is walking around the city.
– Rotterdam architecture trail
Almost every building in Rotterdam is a tourist attraction and if I were to list all of them here this blog post would become a book. But there are some you really must visit, so we created a short list with our favorite ones. Be ready to blow your mind with shapes, colors and innovation.
It’s hard to believe that the Cube Houses were built in late 70’s. This architectural project by Piet Blom takes urban space and housing to a different level. You can walk among the houses, visit one of the Cubes and even spend the night in one of them [check out the hostel here]. The houses are built on a cube shape, placed on top of pylons and together they resemble trees, creating a concrete jungle.
Just beside the Cube Houses, there are other two amazing buildings that many travelers don’t take time to explore. One is The Pencil, also designed by Piet Blom, a tall building that looks exactly like a pencil pointing up to the sky, and the other one is the amazing Rotterdam Central Library. The square is an epicenter of incredible architecture, from where you can see the futuristic Blaak Station, some modern buildings and the iconic Market Hall, that deserves a special mention.
Rotterdam Central Station:
In 2014 the station went through a total makeover adding a wow factor to Rotterdam city center. The state of art diagonal roof is best welcome wish any traveler can receive. The station itself is huge, bright and plenty of shopping opportunities. The square around the station was also renovated, adding to the complex a gigantic underground bike parking and lots of green and resting areas.
Sitting by the Maas River, this three-tower building is an icon of Rotterdam’s skyline. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the building houses a hotel, as well as restaurants and offices, and it has one of the best views of Erasmus Bridge. You can admire it from outside, you can also go on a tour to learn more about the building and the architecture innovations used there. Or you can spend some awesome nights at the Nhow Hotel, just like we did.
Also known as the Swan, this elegant and modern bridge is one of the main Best of Rotterdam tourist attractions. The design is beautiful and the views you get from crossing the bridge are even breathtaking. Our list of suggestions on what to do in Rotterdam must have a visit to Erasmus Bridge during the day and in the evening, as it looks even more stunning when it’s lighted up.
The first Willemsbrug bridge was destroyed during WWII and a new one was built in 1981. The construction itself is impressive, but, more than that, the bridge connects the Oude Haven [old port] to Noordereiland, a super cute neighborhood located in the middle of Maas River.
Also designed by Rem Koolhaas, the Timmerhuis is an old building behind the city hall with new and modern architecture features added to it. It is a beautiful complex that was brought to life with apartments, bars, restaurants, and a museum, all under the same modern roof.
These are some of the city’s modern architecture wonders, but you also need to add to your list of places to visit in Rotterdam some old beauties, such as:
Built in 1898 and measuring 43 meters, this was Europe’s first skyscraper. The White House facade is decorated with Art Nouveau mosaics and statues making it one of the Rotterdam must see. Together with the City Hall, it’s one of a few buildings that wasn’t destroyed during the WWII.
The building was constructed with mixed styles, from Byzantine, Roman and Art Deco. Just beside it, there is another impressive building that used to be the Post Office, and both of them are located in front of the Timmerhuis.
Van Nelle Factory:
This former tobacco industry was renovated in 2000, being declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. It’s a fine example of Dutch modernist architecture and an amazing place to visit.
Hotel New York:
In 1917, this building was constructed to house the Holland America Line head office, and it used to be where Dutch immigrants sailed to North America from. In 1993, it became the glamorous Hotel New York, adding a nostalgic charm to a fast-growing area in the city. If you fancy staying at this beautiful Hotel New York, check the rates and book your room here.
– Market Hall: food and art in only one place
Located beside Blaak Station, in front of the Cube House, the central market is a must visit in Rotterdam. Go there for some good local food, like Dutch cheese and stroopwafels, or just to be mesmerized by its design and colorful ceiling. Rotterdam Market Hall is a combination of apartments, food stalls, shops, restaurants, parking, and museum. On the underground, you can see historical artifacts from different periods of the city’s history. On the ground level, the main attraction is the gigantic panel ‘Horny of Plenty’, by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam. As you go up, there are apartments overlooking the square in a prime location of the city.
– Laurenskerk, the medieval side of Rotterdam
St. Laurence Church is the only Gothic building remaining in Rotterdam, and that’s why it’s worth the visit. The church was reconstructed after being partially damaged by the World War II bombing. Nowadays, it’s one of the most interesting places to see in Rotterdam as you admire the old and new architectural features side by side.
– Euromast for a bird’s eye view
If you like dazzling views, you must visit Euromast. The observation tower is located beside the Het Park, another beautiful place to visit in Rotterdam, from where you can have a 360 view on the city. The Euromast was built in 1960 and in 1970 the space tower was added, making it the highest watchtower in the Netherlands measuring 185 meters.
The Euroscope is a revolving lift that takes the visitor to the top of the tower on a smooth and fun ride. And if you are in the mood for an adrenaline rush, you can even go down from the tower on an abseil line.
– Visit some of the best museums in Rotterdam
Rotterdam breathes art and everywhere you look you can see paintings, graffitis, sculptures and statues in public spaces. But if all that is still not enough to satisfy your desire for art, there are some great museums worth adding to your Rotterdam to do list. At Museumpark you can visit Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum and the Natural History Museum, which are among the best ones in the city. If you have any extra time, check out Kunsthal Museum with its temporary exhibitions and also the Rotterdam Museum at Timmerhuis. But if we had to choose only two or three museums to visit in Rotterdam, our picks would be the Maritime Museum, Netherlands Fotomuseum, and the Dutch Pinball Museum.
Travel back in time when Dutch sailors explored the far east on the glamorous cruises that sailed into the new world. The interactive expositions are great fun and also an easy way to learn about our oceans. Looking for things to do in Rotterdam with family and kids? A visit to the Maritime Museum must be on your list. Stroll around Leuvehaven to have a close look to old port machinery and an outdoor exhibition.
Dutch Pinball Museum:
We had a blast there! Pinball lovers, movie addicts and anyone who likes a good game should spend at least an hour there. Located on a former warehouse, the museum is filled with pinball machines from 1900 up until now, and you can actually play almost all pinball games there. That’s right, you pay to visit the museum and play, from one hour or for the whole day, you choose, fun is guaranteed!
– Old Port, floating houses, hotels and bars
Get lost while walking by Oude Haven. Rotterdam’s old port of is now home for bars, restaurants and some of the impressive buildings we already talked about in this article. The area is famous for the historical ships that turned into floating houses, which are open for the public to visit, eat or stay. Around Oude Haven and Leuvehaven there are few floating hotels and even floating houses to rent via Airbnb.
– Visit the SS Rotterdam
The SS Rotterdam is the biggest steamship ever built in the Netherlands. Constructed in 1959, the ship has sailed many seas and now it’s permanently moored in Maashaven and it is open to the public. The tours will take you to the staterooms, platform, and decks so you can have a glimpse of how luxurious this cruise ship used to be.
– Go for a ride on a Water Taxi
More than means of transportation, taxi boats are one of the top Rotterdam tourist attractions taking people from North to South, from one attraction to another, from home to work. It’s one of the best things to do in Rotterdam, so don’t miss it. Look for the yellow platform and follow instructions to call a Water Taxi.
– Shop till you drop at Cool District
Yep, Rotterdam has a district called Cool, and at this cool place, you can some cool things to do in Rotterdam, like finding shopping malls, international and local brands. If you are looking for different gifts to take home stop by Rotterdam Tourist Information Office at Coolsingle Street and you’ll find a plethora of unique and artistic products all made in Rotterdam.
– Discover Luchtsingel, the coolest pedestrian bridge you’ve ever seen
Searching for what to do in Rotterdam, you probably stumbled at some photos of a yellow wooden pedestrian bridge. Well, this is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Rotterdam and it is a place you must visit. Created in 2015, the Luchtsingel is an urban project that connects two areas of the city. But, more than that, it’s a place for art, music, food, culture, and fun. At one end of the bridge, there is the Hofplein Station, a former train station that became the address of restaurants and shops. At the other end, you can find a beer garden, and the Schieblock, an old building that was turned into a home of entrepreneurs, artists, and a rooftop garden. This is one of the best spots for photography in Rotterdam.
– Street Art, Bubble Tea and Noodles
This is not a common suggestion of what to do in Rotterdam, but it’s time to go local. One of our favorite things to do in Rotterdam is to explore the Chinatown area and witness the multicultural features of this incredible city. Leaving the Central Station towards the city center, on your right side, you will find Rotterdam’s Chinatown. The streets are packed with restaurants, shops, and stunning street art. My suggestion is to go there for a good meal or to explore the streets while drinking a traditional Taiwanese bubble tea [my addiction].
– Visit Delfshaven for the old Dutch charm
If you find yourself missing the old Dutch charm with canals, houses, and breweries you don’t need to leave Rotterdam. Take a tram to Delfshaven to travel back in time and see the old version of Rotterdam, a small part of the city that wasn’t destroyed by the bombing.
– Stroll around Kop van Zuid area
After crossing Erasmus Bridge, take time to explore Kop van Zuid area, which is packed with modern buildings [De Rotterdam, the new Luxor Theater and Wilhelminaplein Metro station] and old beauties as well, like the Hotel New York. Behind the Luxor Theater, you can find a Bombing Forest with floating trees, a floating pavilion for events, and a floating garden made of recycling collection from Rotterdam’s rivers. One the other end close to the Port Authority building, there is a bridge connecting Kop van Zuid to Katendrecht. There you can visit the Pinball Museum, SS Rotterdam and Fenix Factory, an old warehouse turned into a collective project with delicious food, arts, and craft beer.
– Enjoy a happy hour at Witte de Withstraat
This is the address for good food, coffee, drinks, and fun. Go there for lunch, happy hour or dinner, it will be crowded with locals and travelers. When you get there, open your eyes for some amazing street art, because you might find an installation or a graffiti art in every corner. Looking for things to do in Rotterdam at night? Try some of the bars at Witte de Withstraat street mingle with locals and see where the night can take you.
– Visit the windmills
A trip to the Netherlands is not complete without visiting a windmill, and guess what? You can do it on your trip to Rotterdam. Take a waterbus, or a regular a bus, or just go on a tour from Rotterdam city center to Kinderdijk, a world famous UNESCO Heritage Site where 19 windmills tell the Dutch history of handling water and wind.
Unmissable tours in Rotterdam
Now that you know what to do in Rotterdam, it’s time to talk about the best tours in the city. Some experiences and information you can only get from a local guide or when you have access to special places. So when planning your Rotterdam itinerary have a look on these tours:
– Rotterdam Harbour Tour
There are many boat tours you can choose to do. We boarded on the Spido Rotterdam Harbour Tour and we went for a nice ride along Maas River to Rotterdam Port. It was an amazing experience and an opportunity to learn about the connection Rotterdam has with the sea and with trading. My recommendation is to find a table at the middle deck in the stern of the boat, order some beer or a glass of wine and enjoy the trip.
The Spido Rotterdam Boat Tour takes 75 minutes and there are several departure times in the morning until afternoon. For those on a tight schedule I suggest to buy the Spido ticket in advance, so you don’t need to spend time queuing. And don’t forget to check out other water activities in Rotterdam and the World Port Days! We have a special guide talking about things to do in Rotterdam by water to make you Rotterdam itinerary even more unforgettable.
– Rotterdam Street Art Tour
Follow a 7-kilometer route to see some of the coolest street arts in Rotterdam. This is a self-guided tour and one of the coolest and free things to do in Rotterdam. Download the Rewriters-app and follow the tips to find the graffiti art and installations, and read information about the artists and their artwork. If you want to have a deeper look into Rotterdam’s street art scene, you can book a Street Art Tour at Hostel Room Rotterdam that happens every Saturday at 3 pm.
– Tour to Laurenskerk Tower
You must visit the St. Laurence Church and, if you’re traveling to Rotterdam between April and October, you must take your experience to a higher level. One of the coolest things to do in Rotterdam is to climb the St. Laurence Church tower and have an impressive view of the city. The tour happens every Wednesday and Saturday, but you can’t book it in advance. Our recommendation is to stop by the church reception and ask about the tour timetable and buy your ticket. While climbing the 300 steps, you can admire the church’s gothic architecture, see the biggest organ in the Netherland with 7600 pipes, and have a 360 view on the city center.
What and where to eat in Rotterdam
We are not food bloggers, but we simply can’t write a guide about what to do in Rotterdam without mentioning the local food, the restaurants and the gastronomic experiences we loved. So here are some of our favorite food and places to eat in Rotterdam.
– Try the finger licking Kapsalon
This might be the most local food in Rotterdam, and you’re gonna find it in every corner. Be ready for a huge plate full of chicken or beef shawarma, fries, salad, a lot of cheese and a spicy sauce on top. It’s juicy, greasy, and it’s delicious. It’s such a gigantic dish that Rob and I used to share one. Our favorite Kapsalon was at the De Cocosnoot restaurant, at Witte de Withstraat street.
– Discover the flavors of Surinamese and Indonesian food
You must try some dishes from Suriname and Indonesia, former Dutch colonies that lent some flavors and spices to its cuisine. The easiest place to find this type of restaurant is at Witte de Withstraat Street or around the Cool District.
– Go for lunch, brunch or dinner at Fenix Factory
When the weather is nice, this is the place to be. The former warehouse was turned into a food market with lots of cheese, Moroccan delights, a lovely bakery, craft beers and much more. There you can find many types of food to satisfy all your cravings. Grab a seat outside and enjoy your time with one of the best views on the Maas River.
– Jordy’s Bakery
Go for a cup of coffee, a sandwich or a croissant. Delicious food, lovely atmosphere, and nice crowd.
– Market Hall and Binnenrotte Street Market
Visiting and eating at Rotterdam Market Hall is a must do. But if you are in the city on a Tuesday or Saturday you simply must visit the Binnenrotte Market that happens right in front of The Market Hall and explore over 400 stalls selling from fruit & veggies to clothes and furniture. And, of course, they have awesome fries.
– Burgers, beers and a view
When visiting the Luchtsingel pedestrian bridge, stop by two great restaurants: Op Het Dak for freshly prepared seasonal dishes and Biergarten for a cold beer and burger. Op Het Dak is a rooftop bar on Schieblock building located at the end of the yellow bridge, and the Biergarten is on the ground floor, just beside the yellow stairs.
– Chocolate Extravaganza
We did a chocolate tasting at Chocolate Company Rotterdam that was to die for. Amazing bonbons, hot chocolate that melted like velvet in our mouths, delicious cakes and the list goes on. If you like chocolate [who doesn’t?] you must stop by their shop at Oude Binnenweg Street for a treat.
Rotterdam Welcome Card: how to get around and save money
To make the most of our visit to Rotterdam, we got the 3-day Rotterdam Welcome Card and it truly helped us getting around the city and saving money on attractions. The card is accepted on all Rotterdam public transport so you don’t need to worry about tickets. If you are planning to visit some museums, go on a boat tour or visit Euromast: the card gives you 25% discount on the entrance fee. The discount is valid for 50 attractions in Rotterdam, all you have to do is show the card when buying your ticket to get the discount.
You can buy the card at the Rotterdam Tourist Information Office or order it online. The Rotterdam Welcome Card is available for 1 day [€ 12], 2 days [€ 17], and 3 days [€ 21] – prices from 2018 – less than you would probably spend on taxis or metro to get around the city.
With your Rotterdam Welcome Card you can explore the whole city. From Central Station you can reach every corner of Rotterdam and even go on a 30-minute metro ride to The Hague, the neighbor beach city.
Getting to Rotterdam is easy: in several European cities you can get direct flights to Rotterdam The Hague Airport, and from there a quick taxi will ride you to the heart of the city. You can also arrive by boat on one of the many cruise ships that visit the city every year, and also by train. Many travelers fly to Amsterdam [read our guide to 3 days in Amsterdam here] or Eindhoven and take a 1h or 1h and half train to travel to Rotterdam. Trains are the easiest way to travel across the Netherlands, so I definitely recommend you to buy your train tickets in advance to enjoy a hassle-free holiday.
Traveling from London to Rotterdam? Take the Eurostar train! The direct train trip takes only 3 hours and 16 minutes to get to its destination! It’s fast, comfortable and, if you book your Eurostar ticket in advance, it’s also cheap.
Our travel tips and recommendations of what to do in Rotterdam end here. As I told you, it is a gigantic post, but a unique and cool city like Rotterdam deserves a comprehensive guide. Now you can explore the best of it and fall in love with Rotterdam just like we did. If you need any extra information or suggestion about things to do in Rotterdam, leave a comment below. Happy travels!
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