Looking for travel tips on what to do in Rotterdam?
As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Tom Summerfield who is an Aussie but has been living in Rotterdam since October 2011.
Tom shares with us his insider tips on what to do in Rotterdam for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.
Take it away Tom…
Why visit Rotterdam?
Rotterdam actually has a lot to offer visitors, but on first glance it’s not as ‘beautiful’ as its arch rival 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, it became a place booming with modern architecture and funky buildings.
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.
Things to see & do in Rotterdam
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.
If you’re into architecture there are myriads of buildings to investigate, from the Cube Houses near Station Blaak to the quirky buildings located near Central Station.
The Euromast “Space Tower” is also a big attraction, 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.
My hot tip is to have a picnic in the Euromast Park nearby, on a sunny day it’s a beautiful park full of shady trees, vibrant green grass and lazy Dutch streams.
For museum lovers there is the Boijmans museum. It’s actually considered to be one of the best museums in Western Europe, and it’s located in “Museumplein” which, as you can imagine, has lots of museums nearby such as the Natural History Museum and the Kunsthall.
Best neighbourhoods to explore in Rotterdam
The suburb of Kralingen is worth a visit, 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 summer.
Where to eat in Rotterdam
Food in Holland is exceptionally multicultural, and considering their history as traders (and ahem, slavers) this is completely understandable.
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).
Where to drink in Rotterdam
Cafe Van Zanten on De Meent or Villa Kakelbont in the Oude Haven are good spots for a drink in the sun or in cosy (gezellig) cafes.
The Belgium Beer Cafe Baldwin is also a lovely spot to sample the smorgasbord of tasty beers on offer.
Best place for a night on the town in Rotterdam
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.
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.
Markets & shopping in Rotterdam
The Rotterdam Market in the city (behind the Church and near Blaak station) is AWESOME. We actually live nearby and 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) 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 it’s abundance of shoe stores!
Festivals & events 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 is a top mention!
De Wereld van Witte de With (artist and cultural festival), and the Romantic Music Festival in Euromast park are other notable inclusions too.
Getting around Rotterdam
Public transport in Rotterdam is pretty good. You have tonnes of options between the train, metro, tram, bus and of course the trusty bicycle – 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.
Finding wifi in Rotterdam
Of course. Most of Holland is WiFi friendly. Almost every cafe will have WiFi.
Best time to visit Rotterdam
Summer (although summer in Holland is always a gamble of course haha). 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.
Getting there and away
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!
Best insiders tip for Rotterdam
Rotterdam is not much a touristy city as it is, and a lot of the places that the locals go & see & do I’ve already mentioned above.
Something fun to do might be to go see a Feyenoord football game in De Kuip (a stadium with a rich history and the homeground for the Dutch team Feyenoord) if you can get tickets.
Try the breakfast at De Bazar on Witte de Withstraat is a scrumptious meal (especially if sporting a hangover).
I love Rotterdam because …
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!
More resources on travel to the Netherlands
Check out these helpful Netherland travel guides:
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. Follow along with his adventures on Facebook or Twitter on @activebackpackr.