The moment your train pulls into the station, there is no doubt you've reached Rotterdam. You will be greeted by a skyline that wouldn't look out of place in North America. Holland is known for its old architecture, right? Cute canal houses, cobbled streets... Not a city with modern architecture and high skyscrapers.
Well, Rotterdam is different, it's a bit rough around the edges, and its downtown area is full of tall buildings and modern architectural highlights.
Rotterdam is the anti-dote to Dutch canal houses.
What makes Rotterdam different from cities like Amsterdam?
The city, as we know it today got defined by an event lasting only 13 minutes on May 14th, 1940. The Dutch resisted the German occupation of Holland defiantly until that moment. The Germans wanted to break this resistance once and for all. They decided to bomb Rotterdam.
When they did, the city center was engulfed in flames, and in less than 15 minutes pretty much the entire historic city center was gone. About 1000 people died, as did almost all animals in the landmark Rotterdam Zoo and 80,000 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 its own 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 all 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 a major tourist destination BECAUSE it is that different not despite it being different. Architecture lovers from around the country and the world love to come to Rotterdam and marvel at its creations.
Attractions in Rotterdam to visit if you have one day to spend here:
There is a ton to do in this city. It's just impossible to see all the attractions in Rotterdam in just one day. This post is meant to give you a starting point. These 10 best things to do in Rotterdam are a curated list by us, that we believe gives you the best impression of the city. It's also a day we would do with our friends from overseas when they come to visit. Click on the links below to read about the specific individual attractions in Rotterdam or keep reading to discover them all:
Table of content:
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Getting around in Rotterdam:
There are multiple ways to get around in Rotterdam. You can use public transport like buses, trams, and the metro. Still, you'll find it's time-consuming traveling between attractions because most don't have a direct connection. Another fun option is using the water taxi. These little speed boats will take you along the river and connect many different attractions. We'll talk more about them later.
Our preferred way of getting around is renting a bike and cycle everywhere. You have to be comfortable though, doing this in a big city! Zwaan Bikes is a bike rental near Rotterdam central station.
Using your own two feet is another great way to get around. Dutch cities are very walkable, including Rotterdam! You can easily create your own architecture walking tour this way 🙂 Or do a combination of these methods, as we suggest below.
Money tip #1: the best way not to lose time while finding your way around Rotterdam is to have an affordable data bundle for Europe on your phone. That way you're able to use Google Maps on the go. Read our post about the best SIM card for Europe here to find the best deals!
What to see in Rotterdam in one day?
On this self-guided trip, we'll explore all kinds of different architectural highlights of Rotterdam. And of course, you'll explore the classic must-see attractions as well. We'll prove to you that Rotterdam in a day is certainly possible. It's impossible to see everything, but we think we have included most things that you must see in Rotterdam if you're here just for a day.
Our itinerary starts with the yellow Luchtsingel Bridge
Just a short 10-minute walk from Central Station is the Luchtsingel Pedestrian Bridge. It's an architectural masterpiece for sure. The bright yellow walls are painted as book covers. It's also special because it's the first crowdfunded public infrastructural project in the city. Locals paid a small amount each to have their name painted on one of these book covers, and this is how the project got build. 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 for sure, but we wouldn't want to decorate them, not a single wall is straight inside 🙂
Did you know the cubical houses were build in the early 80's? Still, to this day it's one of the main reasons to visit Rotterdam for many. The courtyard is free to enter. You'll have plenty of photo opportunities here for free.
Cube house museum Rotterdam
And if you're curious and want to have a look inside one, you absolutely can.
The Cube House Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The entrance fee is just a few euros per person.
If you're not comfortable walking from Central station, via the yellow Luchtsingel bridge, then you can also quickly get here by train or metro. The cube houses are right above Rotterdam Blaak station.
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, because we LOVE outdoor food markets and there is so much tradition about them.
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 large supermarket. On the ground floor are all the different shops and stalls.
Unfortunately, they are not as unique as they used to be when they just opened. So in that regard, it lost its appeal for visiting. Mainly due to high rent, many of the original quirky and fun occupants were forced out. They made room for more chain type styles of restaurants and/or tourist shops. Today, it’s very touristy.
Despite this, it's still worth a visit nonetheless. It's free to enter, and it's excellent to take a look at the inside mural paintings.
If you are here on a Saturday you're in luck, there is an actual market right outside. Much, much more authentic! Great for a snack. We love the Turkish food place for example, pretty much opposite the market hall, just a bit to the left. You know you've found them when you see enormous Boreks (puff pastries with savory fillings).
Or if we're in the mood for some fries with mayonnaise, we absolutely go to the Bram Ladage fries stall (just look for the long lines) (Read also 50+ Dutch foods to try).
The Markthal is opposite the Cube houses.
Maritime Museum Rotterdam
Just a few minutes by foot (on our way to the Erasmus Bridge) 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 will love this museum. The outdoor part is free to visit for all. To visit the excellent indoor exhibitions you can buy your tickets to the Maritime Museum Rotterdam here.
PS: In case a maritime museum is not your thing, we would say go directly towards the Erasmus Bridge. And visit the SS Rotterdam ship later in the day (as a replacement for the Maritime Museum). More details below.
Erasmus bridge Rotterdam
It's a 10-minute walk from the Maritime museum to the Erasmus Bridge (or 15-minutes directly from the Markhal). This bridge is an architectural feat. People come from all over the world to see it.
Large container ships pass underneath on their way inland to Germany to distribute the goods that came in on the giant cargo ships from around the world to Rotterdam.
It's a perfect spot to take pictures of the bridge (of course) but also of the modern Rotterdam skyline. For example, opposite the bridge, you'll see the very modern Nhow hotel. If you're going to stay here, make sure to 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. Back then the only way to travel to the US, before planes were invented.
Money tip #2: A low cost travel debit card is the best way to pay your purchases in the city. A card like this can hold different currencies, like euro. Our favorite is the Transferwise Bordeless Debit Card. We use it ourselves on every trip we take. Click here to learn more.
Spido Rotterdam - A sightseeing boat tour through the Port of Rotterdam
The harbor boat tours with Spido in the port of Rotterdam are one of my (Gerjo) 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 Spido boat tour. And I loved going (still do).
The Spido 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 huge, better call them mammoth, 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). Boats frequently depart year-round, you can buy your tickets here.
The Rotterdam harbor is enormous, and it's impossible to cover all of it in just 75 minutes
We'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 all the way to the sea . The reason is actually quite simple. The size of the port is just immense. It's so big it would take a full day to visit the end of the port at the Maasvlakte and then come back.
If you want to visit Europoort Rotterdam and the Maasvlakte, Spido does offer day trips as well. 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 comes to an end.
Personally, we think 75 minutes is just perfect. You have over an hour to sit down, have a drink and a snack and a lot to see. Then there is still plenty of time left to discover what the rest of this city has to offer.
You can buy your Spido boat ticket here in advance or buy a ticket at the ticket window. A special combination ticket is offered at the ticket window together with the Euromast viewing tower. That is a better choice to save money, if you want do multiple Rotterdam attractions. The online ticket is best if you're only going to do the Spido tour because you can skip the wait at the ticket window. There is a restaurant on board with some light snacks (including the famous Dutch kroket) and drinks for purchase.
SS Rotterdam cruise ship
If you skipped the Maritime museum earlier today then there will be time to visit the restored SS Rotterdam Cruiseliner. You've seen the SS Rotterdam from the Spido boat tour just before. It's a complete different experience when you visit this former cruise ship on the inside too. 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. After almost being demolished, a group of investors and the government came together. They saved the ship as a national treasure. With the aim to restore it and repurpose the vessel. That is precisely what happened. The SS Rotterdam is now a hotel (book the SS Rotterdam hotel here), a museum, a conference center, and offers different restaurants inside.
At first, we thought this might be a tourist trap before we visited it ourselves. When we did, we're actually quite surprised how much we actually enjoyed our tour. We loved it. The interior of the boat is just gorgeous. Art Deco style from the '50s throughout.
Definitely 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 ship itself or had relatives who did. It's so informative, and it won't be long before you're transported back in time. You're able to imagine yourself being on a journey on this ship to or from New York.
The SS Rotterdam is a bit difficult to reach by land. But it's a trip of just a few minutes on the small and fast Rotterdam Water Taxi boats. At a price of just a few euros per person, it's an experience we highly recommend. It will save you a lot of time for sure.
The Euromast Rotterdam Hotel and Tower
Once, the Euromast was the tallest building in the city. It opened in 1960 as part of a flower exhibition that took place in Rotterdam that year. The Euromast is now an iconic landmark in Rotterdam.
From the top, you'll have amazing views of both the harbor and the city. And whether you visit during the day or at night the view is always just as impressive. We 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 actually sleep on top of the tower to? Yes! The Euromast is now a small hotel as well. There are two suites available to rent at the main deck, with magnificent views over the city. When all visitors have left, you can have half of the tower to yourself. A truly unique experience.
Click here to check availability and prices if you're interested in this opportunity. Don't wait with booking, since these suites sell out really quickly!
You can buy a regular skip-the-line entrance ticket for the Euromast here. Or you can buy a combination ticket with other Rotterdam attractions like the Spido boat tour from the ticket window. PS note the Euromast accepts cards only. They don't take cash.
The fastest way to get to the Euromast from the Spido departure point and the SS Rotterdam is by water taxi again. When you're leaving from the Spido departure location you can also walk to the Euromast in 20 minutes or take tram 8.
At the foot of the Euromast is an English landscape–style park, called "The Park." Those city planners must have had such a brainwave of creativity coming up with a name like that.
Thankfully the park is a lot more beautiful. 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. PS this park is also home to a wooden Norwegian Church!
The Pancake boat Rotterdam
We hope you're enjoying your day in this inspiring city so far! The next tip might be a bit more touristy. Yet, we just love to end a day in Rotterdam with a pancake dinner cruise. And no we're not paid to say this. We really do like it (although, we do hope you'll book through our link below so we make a small commission at no cost to you) it's actually a personal favorite.
Tickets are affordable, and you get to see the Rotterdam skyline one more time. This time from the water while enjoying your own pancake creations. Depending on the time of year, you even get to see Rotterdam when it's dark outside. Giving it a whole new dimension.
It's touristy, but mainly with Dutch tourists. Making it extra fun. The cruise is 75-minutes. During this time, they prepare non stop three different types of pancakes (plain, with bacon, and with apple). Then there's a buffet with all these different toppings to choose from. From cheese to chocolate sprinkles. And pretty much everything in between. You can go wild here, and I (Gerjo) do :-).
The quality is good, you won't go hungry. We thought they might throttle the flow of Pancakes, but we usually get 5 (Gerjo) and 6 (Herman) pancakes in that 75-minutes. We are always full!
This is a fantastic activity to do with kids. They have a huge play area on the lower deck. Which opens after 20 minutes. Adults can continue their meal in peace while the kids have a blast. Win-Win right? But don't let this limit. It's just as much fun for adults and couples. Book your tickets for the Rotterdam Pancake Cruise here.
The Fenix Food Factory Rotterdam (An Alternative to the Pancake boat)
If the Pancake boat doesn't sound like fun to you, or you're in the city when they're not sailing the "Fenix Food Factory" is a great alternative.
We love food. If you do too, then this alternative suggestion will make you very happy. The Fenix Food Factory is a former factory building, now full of food truck style type of restaurants. Here you can sample the world. It's a place where food is made with honest local ingredients, sometimes even produced on the spot.
Quickly this place became so popular, it's nowadays a destination in itself. We love the Moroccan restaurant a lot, have a Tajine here. A personal tip: there is a cheese shop near the entrance. They produce those cheeses themselves. If you want to buy yourself an authentic traditional gift then this is the place. They can vacuum your purchase too, so it's safe to take home.
They also sell homemade "Advocaat" (read our 50+ must-try food post to learn more). But this is the way grandma made it. It's expensive but soooo good! It's a very thick, creamy type of eggnog but then with alcohol. Don't have too much if you still have to drive 🙂 Best served cold, and with sweetened whipped cream (buy ready-made in the cooling section of a supermarket if you want to devour it straight away).
A Day trip to Rotterdam from Amsterdam is easy to do.
Taking a Rotterdam day trip from Amsterdam is a breeze. You'll have quite a few options. Hint: the domestic high-speed rail link is your best option. How to get to Rotterdam is an easy question to answer. The city is well connected by rail, road, and water. We've actually written an entire post about getting from Amsterdam to Rotterdam. You can read it by clicking the link.
Did this post about Rotterdam help you?
If you enjoyed our travel tips in this post about Rotterdam then please join the conversation and let us know in the comments at the bottom of this page. We'd love to hear what you think. Have you been to any of these suggestions? Are you planning them for your next trip? We want to know.
Looking for more inspiration just like this post about Rotterdam?
We have written more one day itineraries for Holland. They're well worth a read.
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