As your train rolls into Rotterdam, you’ll quickly notice that this city departs from the classic Dutch charm you might expect. Instead of quaint canal houses and cobblestone streets, you’re welcomed by a contemporary skyline that has won many architectural prizes.
In this post, I’m sharing my favorite things to do in Rotterdam. A city that may be a little unpolished around the edges, but this distinctive character sets it apart from other Dutch destinations.
Discover Rotterdam’s vibrant downtown and experience a different side of the Netherlands.
Table of Contents
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What makes Rotterdam different?
The city, as we know it today, got defined by an event lasting only 13 minutes on May 14th, 1940.
Up to that point, the Dutch defiantly resisted the German occupation of Holland. However, the Germans wanted to break this resistance once and for all and decided to flatten the city, and they did.
In less than 15 minutes, almost the entire historic city center was gone. About 1000 people died, as did almost all animals in the landmark Rotterdam Zoo (which today is one of the most well-known zoos in the Netherlands). Eighty thousand people lost their homes.
When the Germans threatened to do the same to Utrecht, the resistance broke, and the Netherlands became occupied by Germany.
However, Rotterdam rose from its ashes and built a new city with a unique identity. They deliberately choose not to rebuild the old but to look to the future instead.
Now you can almost say this city is very “Un-Dutch.” It became the capital of architecture, with daring structures and bridges around the city (more on that later).
It also built one of the most important harbors in the world, which made this city the economic engine of the country (and of Europe) ever since.
Rotterdam is now also a major tourist destination because it is that different. Not despite it being different. Architecture lovers from around the country and the world come to Rotterdam to marvel at its creations.
What To Do in Rotterdam in One Day
With so much to explore, it’s nearly impossible to experience all of Rotterdam’s attractions in a single day. This article serves as your gateway to the city, with ten hand-picked highlights that make for a great introduction to the city. These are the very activities I’d do with my friends visiting from abroad.
On this self-guided trip, I’ll explore various architectural highlights of Rotterdam. And, of course, you’ll also explore the classic must-see attractions.
Getting around in Rotterdam:
There are multiple ways to get around in Rotterdam. You can use public transport like buses, trams, and the metro.
However, you need to plan carefully because, in Rotterdam, you can lose quite some time getting from one sight to another, especially if you need to transfer from one line to another.
Another fun option is using the water taxi. These little speed boats will take you along the river and connect many attractions. They might look like they’ll make you seasick, but it looks worse from the outside then when you’re in them. It feels pretty smooth.
My preferred way of getting around is renting a bike and cycling everywhere. You can also go on this fun Rotterdam bike tour to learn more about the city from a guide.
The good thing about Holland is that there are specific bike lanes anywhere, and Rotterdam is no exception. Most often, you’re separated from motorized traffic.
Using your own two feet is another great way to get around. Dutch cities are very walkable, including Rotterdam! You can easily create your architecture walking tour this way 🙂
The Yellow Luchtsingel Bridge
Just a short 10-minute walk from Central Station is the Luchtsingel Pedestrian Bridge. It’s an architectural masterpiece.
The bright yellow walls are painted as book covers. It’s also unique because it’s the city’s first crowdfunded public infrastructural project.
Locals paid a small amount each to have their name painted on one of these book covers, which is how the project was built. It’s pretty cool.
Three neighborhoods of the city that were once not well connected due to busy roads and railway tracks are now easily accessible.
Cube houses Rotterdam
From the Luchtsingel Bridge, it’s a leisurely 15-minute stroll to the world-famous Cube Houses of Rotterdam designed by the Dutch architect Piet Blom.
These houses are tilted by 45 degrees. They look fun, but I wouldn’t want to decorate them. Not a single wall is straight inside 🙂
Did you know the cubical houses were built in the early 80s? Still, it’s one of the main reasons to visit Rotterdam for many. The courtyard is free to enter, but the houses are private. But there is one you can see.
Cube house museum Rotterdam
You can visit this museum if you’re curious and want to look inside one of them. The Cube House Museum is open daily. I was disappointed going into it. Being 6 foot 4 inches tall, the rooms are tiny, and the walls came at me. The decor is quite dated, but then again, it was the 80’s. They kept everything original. If you are an architect/80’s do go, it’s just a few euros to get in.
The Rotterdam Markthal (market hall)
Another recent new landmark in Rotterdam is the “Markthal” (market hall). It was built in anticipation of new European laws to outlaw outside food markets. Thankfully that legislation did not get passed, or much history would be lost.
But the Markthal was built in anticipation of this, and it’s an architectural highlight. The inside walls look like a massive painting. The structure itself consists of apartments. And in the basement, you’ll find a supermarket. On the ground floor, you’ll see the shops and stalls.
There are tourist shops in the market hall today and lots of fun options to eat. You can use it as a food hall and enjoy lunch or a break here.
If you are here on a Saturday, you’re in luck. Then there is an outdoor market outside. Much, much more authentic! Great for a snack. For example, I love the Turkish food place opposite the market hall.
You know you’ve found them when you see enormous Boreks (puff pastries with savory fillings).
Or if I’m in the mood for some fries with mayonnaise, I go to the Bram Ladage fries stall (look for the long lines). They’re famous in Rotterdam and the surroundings for their fries. For a fresh stroopwafel warm of the plate you need to go to the other side of the market, but once you get to the end, you’ll find it.
Maritime Museum Rotterdam
Another of my favorite things to do in Rotterdam is the Rotterdam Maritime Museum. Here you can discover the enormous effect that shipping had, and still has, on this city.
What makes the museum great is that the exhibitions are actual experiences. Kids and adults love this museum.
The outdoor part is free to visit for all. To see the excellent indoor exhibitions, you can buy tickets to the Maritime Museum Rotterdam here.
Erasmus Bridge Rotterdam
It’s just a leisurely 10-minute walk from the Maritime Museum to the iconic Erasmus Bridge. This remarkable structure is a true testament to engineering, drawing visitors from across the globe.
When you take in its design, watch container ships navigate beneath the bridge, carrying goods from the far reaches of the world to Rotterdam before journeying inland to Germany.
It’s a perfect spot to take pictures of the bridge itself and the modern Rotterdam skyline, for example, opposite the bridge of the very modern Nhow hotel.
PS: If you’ll stay here, pay for an upgrade to a waterside view room on a high floor, speaking of a room with a view!
You can also see the historic Holland America line terminal building from the bridge. One of the few historic buildings still standing. This is where regular ferry services departed to New York City in its day.
Harbor Sightseeing Tour in Rotterdam
The harbor boat tours in the port of Rotterdam are one of my first childhood memories of Rotterdam. I was raised in a small village about 30 minutes from Rotterdam along the coast. And my grandparents loved to take me on the boat tour.
And I loved going (still do). The boat tour leaves from the quay to the right of the Erasmusbrug (center side). It takes you on a 75-minute sailing through one of the largest harbors in the world.
You’ll see plenty of enormous cargo ships along the way. And experience the hustle and bustle you would expect from the largest harbor in Europe and the 3rd busiest in the world (after Singapore and Shanghai).
The Rotterdam Harbor is enormous, and it’s impossible to cover all of it in just 75 minutes
I’ve read a few complaints online that people don’t understand why the tour only shows you part of the port and why boats won’t continue to the sea. The reason is quite simple. The size of the port is immense. It’s so big it would take a whole day to visit the end of the port at the Maasvlakte and then come back.
Full-day trips are available to visit Europoort Rotterdam and the Maasvlakte. Those take 7 hours. If you’re really into it, this can be fun. But most people usually have seen enough ships long before the 7-hour tour ends.
I think 75 minutes is perfect so you can also explore other great city sites. You can buy your 75-minute Spido Harbor Tour Boat ticket here.
SS Rotterdam Cruise Ship
You’ve seen the SS Rotterdam on the boat tour just before. But did you know you can also visit this former cruise ship? It’s restored to its full glory from the 1950s.
The SS Rotterdam was once one of the main steamliners of the Holland America Line that connected Rotterdam with New York City. But the ship was deemed for demolition. Thankfully a group of investors and the government came together to save the ship as a national treasure to restore and repurpose it.
Today the SS Rotterdam is a hotel (book the SS Rotterdam Hotel), a museum, and a conference center, and it offers different restaurants inside. I first thought this could be a tourist trap before I visited it myself. But when I did, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the tour. I loved it.
The interior of the boat is just gorgeous. Art Deco style from the ’50s throughout. Go on a paid tour. The hosts (all volunteers) will enthusiastically bring the stories of the ship to life for you. Most have worked on the boat itself or had relatives who did. It’s so informative, and it won’t be long before you’re transported back in time and imagine yourself on a journey to New York City in the 50s.
The Euromast Rotterdam Tower
Once, the Euromast was the tallest building in the city. It opened in 1960 as part of a flower exhibition in Rotterdam. The Euromast is now an iconic landmark in Rotterdam.
You’ll have fantastic views of the harbor and city from the top. And whether you visit during the day or at night, the view is always just as impressive. I love coming up here.
On the main level, there is a restaurant for a drink or a meal. The view as your backdrop is quite something.
Did you know you can sleep on top of the tower?
You can buy a regular skip-the-line entrance ticket for the Euromast here.
Apple Pie at Cafe Dudok
At the foot of the Euromast is an English landscape–style park called “The Park.”
Inside it, you’ll find a restaurant called “Dudok in the Park.” This landmark country house is a great setting to enjoy the famous Dudok Apple Pie. It’s a classic.
PS This park is also home to a wooden Norwegian Church!
The Pancake Boat Rotterdam
The next tip might be a bit more touristy. Yet, I love ending my day in Rotterdam with a pancake dinner cruise.
The reason I like it is that one: I love Dutch pancakes. 2nd, it brings the kid out inside in me because you can decorate your pancakes freely. And third, the Rotterdam skyline as your background is just spectacular.
If you want to meet the Dutch, this is an excellent way of doing so since mainly Dutch tourists book this trip. It’s a great place to go with the whole family since it’s super kids friendly. They have an enormous indoor playground on the lower deck, opening twenty minutes into the cruise.
The cruise lasts 75 minutes. During this time, they prepare three different types of pancakes (plain, with bacon, and with apple) nonstop. Then there’s a buffet with different toppings from cheese to chocolate sprinkles.
This is not a fancy dinner; your clothes will smell terrible when you exit, but the quality is good, and you won’t leave hungry. Book your tickets for the Rotterdam Pancake Cruise here.
The Fenix Food Factory Rotterdam
If the Pancake boat doesn’t sound fun, or you’re in the city when they’re not sailing, the “Fenix Food Factory” is a fun alternative.
The Fenix Food Factory is much smaller today than it used to be. Still, it’s a nice place to visit because it has some hyper-local stores and a small cafe serving food from the stores. They have great sandwiches available and a large outside terrace. It’s also an excellent place for a drink with a full bar. For more food options in the neighborhood, you can also go to the Holland America Terminal or the food hall just down the street.
TIP: If you go to the Fenix Food Factory make sure to pick up a jar of “Ria’s Homemade Advocaat.” from the Booij’s cheese shop. It’s a very thick, creamy type of eggnog but then with alcohol, it’s soooo good!
Best served cold and with sweetened whipped cream (buy ready-made whipped cream in the cooling section of a supermarket if you want to devour it immediately).
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it easy to take a day trip from Amsterdam to Rotterdam?
Taking a Rotterdam day trip from Amsterdam is a breeze. The domestic high-speed rail link is your best option.
Other modes of transport include regular trains, long-distance buses, and the car.
I’ve written a complete post about getting from Amsterdam to Rotterdam for more in-depth information.
How long does it take to get from Amsterdam to Rotterdam?
By high-speed train, the journey only takes 40 minutes. It’s worth the small surcharge. By regular train your travel time increases to one hour. By car and bus, it depends on the traffic but account for 1.5 hours.
Do I need to buy a separate transportation ticket for Rotterdam, or can I use the same ticket from Amsterdam?
You’ll need a separate ticket for local transportation in Rotterdam.
Nowadays, you can pay directly with your debit or credit card, which works for buses, trams, and metros in the city. As long you have the contactless feature activated on your card. Just make sure to check in (tab) when you board and check out (tab again) when you exit to avoid unnecessary costs.
What is the best time of year to visit Rotterdam for a day trip
Rotterdam is a year-round destination. However, the best period to visit is April – October because the weather tends to be milder, and especially the outdoor attractions are more enjoyable.
Which Rotterdam Attraction Excites 🌟 You The Most?
I’d love to hear your thoughts: Which of the highlighted things to do in Rotterdam are you most excited to visit and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s start a conversation 💬.
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