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Rotterdam is a bustling port city that is quickly becoming the hip place to visit in the Netherlands. It’s the second largest city in the country and is set up in a similar way to its world-renowned neighbour, Amsterdam, with winding canals and bicycles everywhere!
But Rotterdam has more to offer than that. In amongst the historical landmarks are some amazing structures of architectural and engineering wonders, it also has some fascinating museums and a culinary scene that foodies will swoon over.
Needless to say, there are so many things to do in Rotterdam.
So much so, that knowing what to do in Rotterdam can be a challenge, so we’ve interviewed Tom Summerfield, an Aussie who has been living in Rotterdam since October 2011.
Tom shares with us his insider tips on the best attractions in Rotterdam, plus a few hidden gems, so you can plan your trip to Rotterdam with ease.
Take it away Tom…
- Is Rotterdam Worth Visiting?
- Things to Do in Rotterdam
- 1. Take a River Cruise
- 2. Marvel at the Incredible Modern Architecture
- 3. Have a Picnic at Het Park
- 4. Check out the Museums in Rotterdam
- 5. Explore The Neighborhoods in Rotterdam
- 6. Try Multi-Cultural Food in Rotterdam
- 7. Paint The Town Red at Rotterdam’s Bars
- 8. Watch a Feyenoord Football Game
- 9. Check out the Rotterdam Market Hall
- 10. Check out the Festivals in Rotterdam
- 11. Take a Day Trip to the Kinderdijk’s Windmills
- 12. See the Animals at Rotterdam Zoo (Diergaarde Blijdorp)
- 13. Check Out St. Lawrence Church (Grote of Sint-Laurenskert)
- 14. Escape the SS Rotterdam
- Best time to visit Rotterdam
- Popular Tours in Rotterdam
- Getting To and Around Rotterdam
- Where to stay in Rotterdam
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Rotterdam
Is Rotterdam Worth Visiting?
Rotterdam actually has a lot to offer visitors, but on first glance it’s not as ‘beautiful’ as its archrival Amsterdam.
There is a reason for that, the place got completely bombed in World War II and instead of rebuilding it in traditional Dutch style after the bombing, it became a place booming with modern architecture and funky buildings.
But that’s what makes it unique. There is no other city like it in The Netherlands and its ability to embrace the new with old is something that sets it apart, which is only one reason why Rotterdam is worth visiting.
You’ll enjoy Rotterdam a LOT more if you know where to go out and some interesting things to do off the bat.
Amsterdam can be great to simply wander and breathe in the sights without any real purpose, whereas in Rotterdam you’ll need a few tips on where to go.
But that’s where we come in!
Things to Do in Rotterdam
Now you know a little bit about why you should visit Rotterdam, it’s time to introduce you to the top attractions in the city!
1. Take a River Cruise
Rotterdam plays host to Europe’s largest port, so of course there are a number of boat tours you can do if checking out the port sounds like fun.
A river cruise is a great way to get to know the city, since it passes by some of the top landmarks in the city.
As well as sailing past landmarks such as the Erasmus Bridge, nicknamed The Swan, a huge cable bridge that was built in the late 1980s.
You also get to witness first-hand the busy sea traffic of one of the world’s busiest ports, whilst learning about its history from an expert commentary.
Sit back and relax as you wander down the Rhine River and take in the Rotterdam skyline from the Willemsplein. Don’t forget to look out for the steamship, Rotterdam, a former cruise ship from Holland America Line.
If you’re interested in maritime history, be sure to wander over to the Old Harbour (Oude Haven) and check out the maritime museums there.
2. Marvel at the Incredible Modern Architecture
While many tourists flock to Amsterdam to see the colourful and narrow Dutch houses, people flock to Rotterdam to see a somewhat newer construction.
Rotterdam is famous for not its historic architecture, but its modern architecture.
If you’re into architecture, the most famous buildings in Rotterdam are the myriads of buildings known as the Cube Houses, which were built near Station Blaak. There are also some quirky buildings located near Rotterdam Central Station.
The Cube Houses are the work of Dutch architect Piet Blom, who designed these clever tilting houses to optimize the space inside. From the outside, it looks as though the houses are bowing to visitors, since they tilt at a 45-degree angle.
Another work of incredible engineering is the Euromast “Space Tower” one of the biggest attractions in Rotterdam. There is a restaurant on top and it’s worth seeing just for the view.
You can even go abseiling off the side, but this is not something that’s available all the year round.
The Witte Huis (White House) is another architectural gem worth seeing. This 19th century building was built in an Art Nouveau style and was the first hoogbouw (apartment building) in Europe.
3. Have a Picnic at Het Park
As well as taking in the panoramic views from the top, my hot tip is to have a picnic in the Het Park nearby.
On a sunny day it’s a beautiful park full of shady trees, vibrant green grass and lazy Dutch streams.
The park was built in 1852 and has a lush English landscape garden design about it. You can laze on a large open lawn or try your luck at miniature golf.
4. Check out the Museums in Rotterdam
There’s more than a handful of amazing museums in Rotterdam, so if you’re fascinated by history and art, then be sure to spend a day hopping around the museums.
My personal favourite is the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, an art history museum containing artworks from the 14th- 16th centuries.
It’s actually considered to be one of the best museums in Western Europe and contains notable works by artists such as Van Gogh, Dali and Rembrandt.
It’s located in “Museumplein” which translates to “Museum Square” in English. As you can imagine, a place called Museumplein has lots of museums to explore. Some other great museums in the square are the Natural History Museum and the Kunsthal Rotterdam, a contemporary art exhibition space.
5. Explore The Neighborhoods in Rotterdam
One of the best ways to get to know a city is to wander around the neighbourhoods and take it all in.
The suburb of Kralingen is well worth a visit, as it still retains many of the traditional old Dutch buildings and is a merry mix of students and the wealthy.
Close by is the Kralingse Plas, a huge lake where people go ice skating in winter and relax on its banks and parks in the summer.
Another neighborhood worth checking out is the historic Delfshaven district, which is known for its old harbor, antique shops and gin bars. It’s one of the few places in the city that still retains its history.
Some other popular streets worth visiting are Binnenrotte on Tuesdays and Saturdays when the markte is open, and Coolsingel, which has more space for pedestrians and cyclists than cars, and Oude Binnenweg for shopping and dining.
6. Try Multi-Cultural Food in Rotterdam
Food in Holland is exceptionally multicultural, and considering their history as traders this is completely understandable. The Market Hall (Markthal) is a great place to find a bunch of international cuisine grouped together.
Most Dutch people find the traditional Dutch fare a bit boring and generally opt for Italian or Asian cuisines when dining out.
The Dutch are big on Italian food. Check out OPazzo on Mariniersweg (get a wood fired pizza) or Napoli on De Meent if you’re after some superb Italian.
For the best Korean I’ve ever had pop into the unassuming restaurant known as Gamasot on Pannekoekstraat.
Good budget takeaway Indonesian can be found at Papaya on Groenendaal, the Rotterdam markets also offer numerous delectable food treats.
Try a Turkse Pizza, or some more traditional fish snacks like Kibbeling or Herring (if they’re in season you MUST try one).
If you’re looking for quaint coffee shops and cafes in Rotterdam, try the breakfast at De Bazar on Witte de Withstraat, which has scrumptious meals (especially if sporting a hangover).
Cafe Van Zanten on De Meent is a good spot for a drink in the sun or in cosy (gezellig) cafes.
The Belgium Beer Cafe in Boudewijn is also a lovely spot to sample the smorgasbord of tasty beers on offer.
7. Paint The Town Red at Rotterdam’s Bars
If you’re looking for things to do in Rotterdam at night, then you’ll be pleased to know it has a thriving nightlife scene.
For some cracking live music and nightlife check out Rotown on Nieuwe Binnenweg.
Paddy Murphy’s Irish pub is also fun for expats and locals alike – but you need to like Irish pubs (it has a sports bar too if you want to see the game).
The three main streets for nightlife, in my opinion, are Witte de Withstraat, Nieuwe Binnenweg and De Meent.
There are lots of great cafes and pubs around these areas, try the Zwarte Schaap or the Witte de Aap on Witte de Withstraat for two funky and lively cafes.
8. Watch a Feyenoord Football Game
If you”re looking for some unique things to do in Rotterdam, then something fun might be to go see a Feyenoord football game in De Kuip (a stadium with a rich history and the home ground for the Dutch team Feyenoord).
There are only two football teams in Rotterdam, Sparta Rotterdam and Elite, but it’s not easy to get tickets so book in advance if you want to catch a game.
9. Check out the Rotterdam Market Hall
The Rotterdam Market Hall in the city (behind the Church and near Blaak station) is AWESOME. It’s an excellent market to grab fruit and vegetables, flowers, antiques and loads more.
Try a fresh turkse pizza, kibbeling (deep fried fish pieces with delectable sauce) or even herring with onions on a bread roll (haring broodje) at one of the food stalls, if they’re in season (June/July).
The main strip that runs through the centre of the city (Beursplein) is where all the clothes and shoes action is to be found.
Rotterdam is known throughout The Netherlands for its abundance of shoe stores, so if you need some new footwear, Rotterdam is the place to go!
10. Check out the Festivals in Rotterdam
It’s fun to be in any of the major cities on Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day). Rotterdam (and Amsterdam too of course) is exploding with orange and merriment.
Rotterdam has festivals throughout the year, and especially over the summer months. Wednesday Skate Night is a bit of fun and normally runs every Wednesday from the end of July into August for about 6 weeks.
Museumnacht (Museum Night), a night where all the museums open up and you can get in with one pass!
De Wereld van Witte de With (artist and cultural festival), and the Romantic Music Festival in Euromast park are other notable inclusions too.
11. Take a Day Trip to the Kinderdijk’s Windmills
When you think of The Netherlands your mind conjures up images of tulips and windmills. Just a short ride outside of the city of Rotterdam is the Kinderdijk’s windmills, a collection of 19 windmills that were built in 18th century and are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can learn about the fascinating history of milling and how they are designed. They are just one example of how the Dutch were far ahead when it comes to engineering in the 18th century.
The windmills were created as a way to get rid of the excess water in the polders and pump water into the rivers.
Because The Netherlands is so flat, this genius feat of engineering meant that agriculture was not damaged, even during the rainy season.
12. See the Animals at Rotterdam Zoo (Diergaarde Blijdorp)
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Rotterdam with kids, then the Rotterdam Zoo (Blijdorp) is a must-see attraction.
The Rotterdam Zoo is often regarded as one of the most beautiful zoos in Europe and is dedicated to nature conservation.
The zoo is one of the top zoos in the world that participates in breeding programmes for endangered species, and in 2023, they welcomed the birth of a new baby elephant!
Visitors can also watch animal feedings and talks about wildlife conservation, as well as meet over 18,000 animals in the zoo.
13. Check Out St. Lawrence Church (Grote of Sint-Laurenskert)
Another must-see attraction in Rotterdam is the St Lawrence Church, which is one of the few buildings left in the city from the medieval period.
It was built between 1449 and 1525 but has been renovated many times. It was the first stone building to be built in Rotterdam and was the place where the reformation took place in 1572, when it moved from Catholic to Protestant.
It was also heavily damaged during the Rotterdam blitz, with only the tower and walls surviving, but Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands commissioned its restoration.
14. Escape the SS Rotterdam
The SS Rotterdam is a retired navy ship turned into a hotel, but it’s more than just luxury accommodation, the SS Rotterdam also has two escape rooms which are both exciting and educational.
Choose between the Cold Stores or The Metro, and solve riddles designed to teach you about maritime history and bring you and your travel partners closer together.
Can you escape before the time runs out?
Best time to visit Rotterdam
Summer is the best time to visit Rotterdam, although summer in Holland is always a gamble of course!
The Dutch love a warm summer’s day, so you’ll find them out in force if you happen to be there during a day of 25 degrees and sunny! It always makes for a nice atmosphere.
Spring is also a great time to visit when the tulips are in season.
Popular Tours in Rotterdam
Consider one of these most popular tours of Rotterdam…
Getting To and Around Rotterdam
Rotterdam does actually have its own airport, and flights using the airline Transavia can actually be quite reasonable.
Of course, there is also the train, most trains coming from Paris or London will stop in Rotterdam as well as Amsterdam.
Don’t bother with buses between the main cities in Holland – as with a lot of Europe it’s all about the trains system!
When it comes to getting around Rotterdam, public transport in Rotterdam is pretty good. You have plenty of options between the train, metro, tram, bus, water taxi and of course the trusty bike – you’re really spoiled for choice.
If you plan on being in Holland for a while, then consider getting an OVChipKaart (sort of like the Oyster card in London) and load it with some Euros.
Where to stay in Rotterdam
There is actually a hostel right in the Cube Houses called Stayokay hostel. That looks like fun and is one of the only hostel options for Rotterdam (it’s located in a great spot as well).
The Savoy hotel is a good mid-range option to investigate, and those wanting to splash out on something nice should check out Hotel New York.
For more places to stay in Rotterdam choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner Booking.com. You get free cancellation on most rooms, and in most cases, you only pay when you stay.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Rotterdam
I love Rotterdam because it’s such an underrated city and often people don’t give it a chance, both people from The Netherlands and tourists alike – and I’m happy I did, and I’ve discovered what an awesome place it is.
Rotterdam really is an excellent city once you get to know it.
It’s always building and has a rich history and a can-do attitude teeming with art and culture, watch this city over the next 20 years – I predict a boom!
BIO: Tom currently lives in Rotterdam (as you may have guessed). Like a lot of Aussies, he loves backpacking and seeing new places. He has a special spot in his heart for Europe and South-East Asia and his travel blog, Active Backpacker, reflects that.
Do you have any tips on what to do in Rotterdam? Let us know in the comments!