Rotterdam is one of the most underrated cities in the Netherlands and there are so many things to see in Rotterdam.
Lacking historical houses and canals like famous Amsterdam of Delft, travellers rarely visit this hidden gem. Visiting Rotterdam will give you a taste of Dutch local life, the finest modern architecture in Europe
Rotterdam is a major port city in the Dutch province of South Holland. The Maritime Museum’s vintage ships and exhibits trace the city’s seafaring history.
The 17th-century Delfshaven neighbourhood is home to canalside shopping and Pilgrim Fathers Church, where pilgrims worshipped before sailing to America. After being almost completely reconstructed following WWII, the city is now known for bold, modern architecture.
It’s an amazing city with lots to offer visitors. Located in the south of Holland, Rotterdam’s unique architecture now brings many visitors to cycle around this urbane, cosmopolitan city. Futuristic architecture inspired local initiatives such as inner-city canal surfing, a proliferation of art, and a surge of drinking, dining and nightlife venues make Rotterdam one of Europe’s most exhilarating cities right now.
Keep reading for even more things to see in Rotterdam…
Top Things to see in Rotterdam
- Modern architecture
- Street art
- Markthal Rotterdam
- Witte Huis (White House)
- Oude Haven (Old Harbour)
- Rotterdam Zoo
- The Cube Houses
- Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk
- Maritime Museum
- Fenix Food Factory
- Rotterdam Boat Tour
How to get to Rotterdam
Rotterdam is close to well-known cities like Amsterdam and Delft. There’s a direct train to both cities and to Schiphol Airport. It’s only a 35-minute train ride from Amsterdam (pay extra for the fast train) and even less from Schiphol Airport. Rotterdam has it’s own small airport as well – Rotterdam-The Hague Airport. A bus will bring you to the city centre in 10 minutes.
When is the best time to visit Rotterdam
You can visit Rotterdam all year round. but if you’d like to enjoy the restaurant terraces and festivals and spend a lot of time outside, late spring or summer would be the best time. But Rotterdam has mild winters and warm summers, offering visitors the perfect weather all year. A visit in summer or spring season is probably the best due to its warmer climate, and bustling streets.
How to get around Rotterdam
Do like the locals do and get yourself a bike. Walking is a great option too and you could use the metro and tram as well. But the best way to see most of the city and get a local experience is to rent a bike. Don’t try to bring a (rental) car to Rotterdam. Parking is expensive and it can be hard to find a parking spot.
The official native language of The Netherlands is Dutch, however as in many other parts of The Netherlands and Scandinavian cities, English is widely spoken and understood.
Have you got more time to explore Holland? Check out my guide to 48 Hours in Amsterdam!
Top things to see in Rotterdam
1. Modern architecture and street art
Rotterdam is known for its award-winning modern architecture. The central station is a gem, although many locals hated it at first. The best photo spots are the station square in front, the enormous main hall and the platforms on sunny days with the shadow play of the glass roof.
Other interesting buildings are the yellow Cube Houses, the Erasmus Bridge which is nicknamed The Swan by locals, the award-winning The Rotterdam and the colourful Markthal.
The Markthal is not just a beautiful piece of architecture – the ceiling is beautiful and often compared to the Sistine Chapel – but a must-visit for foodies as well. You can get some Dutch snacks like fried ‘bitterballen’, but also tapas, Italian food, souvenirs and much more.
The Rotterdam street art scene should be on your wish list as well. You can find them all over town, especially close to central station and at the Witte de With street known for its cafes and bars. You can download a free map with a tour to see the best of them. A must-visit on your list of things to see in Rotterdam.
2. Hidden gems: The historic monuments no-one visits
But Rotterdam is more than modern architecture, cool restaurants and urban murals. Not many visitors know where to find historic gems. Rotterdam was heavily damaged during the Second World War, leaving just a few historic monuments and making space for the modern architecture its now known for. Interesting historic monuments are the Witte Huis (White House) in the Oude Haven (Old Harbour) which used to be the highest office building in Europe or the old Post Office and City Hall.
Both the Post Office and City Hall are on the central street of Rotterdam – Coolsingel – and survived the bombings during the war. The Post Office is now being renovated and the beautiful monument will be partly open to the public with restaurants and shops in the central hall and apartments in the newly built modern addition.
The City Hall has always been open to the public. Upon request, you can get a free tour around the building – make sure to email your request well in advance – and the courtyard garden is open for visitors anytime. It’s a popular location for wedding shoots, so you might spot Rotterdam newly-weds here.
Historic Delfshaven will offer you a glimpse of Rotterdam before the war. The canal, old houses and characteristic bridges will probably remind you of Amsterdam. You can’t visit Holland without seeing at least one windmill and this might be your chance.
The windmill in Delfshave is still being used and open to visitors. You can buy some local foody souvenirs in the shop. Add these hot spots to your list of things to see in Rotterdam.
3. Upcoming Wilhelminapier in the South
After exploring all the well-known highlights in the city centre, you might want to see more of the lesser-known Rotterdam. Our favourite areas in Rotterdam are the upcoming Wilhelminapier (South), the historic Delftshaven (West) the village vibe in Noord (North) and the monumental Kralingen (East). All are just a 10-minute bike ride from the city centre.
The Wilhelminapier is just across the Maas river at the other side of the Erasmus Bridge. It’s home to The Rotterdam – with the hotel, restaurant and apartments – and other modern skyscrapers. These modern buildings contrast beautifully with the historical buildings, most of them were port warehouses back in the days.
The buildings are renovated and are now used for hotels, apartments, museums and restaurants. A must-visit is the popular Foodhallen with bars and small stands for amazing food. Another historic highlight is Hotel New York at the end of the pier. This hotel, bar and restaurant is famous in Rotterdam and has one of the best terraces at the Maas river.
4. Vintage and local beer in Rotterdam-North
Rotterdam-North is known for its vintage shops, cool restaurants and local beer brewery. It feels like a different city with its local village vibe. You’ll probably find any tourists here, but the locals love it all the more. Popular places are Mangiare for Italian food, the local brewery Brouwerij Noord, Hopper Noord for coffee and AAA Gallery for art.
5. Monuments and forests in Kralingen
Kralingen is one of the most expensive places to live in Rotterdam. When Rotterdam was still a small city the size of the current city centre, this was the place where the rich built their country houses. Some are still there – walk or bike between the Oudedijk and Oostzeedijk to spot them. The botanical garden of one of those old villa’s is now a park museum. The lush gardens are home to unique trees and offer a green oasis in busy Rotterdam.
Another oasis is the Kralingse Plas with its small lake, forest, petting zoo, a small beach and historic windmills. One of the windmills can be visited most Saturdays – you’ll have a view of the lake and you can buy some freshly grounded spices. The best photo spot at the lake is at the docks in the north. You’ll have the peaceful lake ánd the modern skyline of Rotterdam in one shot.
Top places to eat in Rotterdam
Enjoying the Rotterdam restaurant scene is not just limited to the Markthal and you might want to plan some time for this as well.
The city is packed with amazing restaurants like Vegan Junk Food Bar for the best vegan burgers, Guliano for the perfect Italian sandwich, Ayla for drinks and bites, Takumi for Japanese noodles and Bertman’s for fancy healthy food.
You will also love the amazing breakfast and brunch spots in Rotterdam. Head to By Jarmusch or Lilith for pancakes, Harvest Coffee Brewers for avocado toast with a poached egg and the best coffee in town, or Sajour for picture-perfect smoothie bowls.
If you’re on a budget and the sun is out, you might want to join the Rotterdam locals in the parks. The Euromast, Kralingse Plas and Blijdorp are packed with locals and their barbecues on summer days. You can just get a disposable barbecue and your food at a supermarket and enjoy the summer weather like the locals do.
- FG Food Labs
- Panzero’ Italian StrEat Food from Puglia
- Gastrobar Hartig
- Pho Hanoi
- Traiteur Amélie
- Spirit Rotterdam
- The Fish Market
- Restaurant Chung
- Vessel 11
- HMB Restaurant
- Restaurant Three
- De Ballentent
Where to stay in Rotterdam
The city centre might be an easy pick and offers many hostels and hotels. If you’d want to explore more than just the obvious area, consider a hotel or hostel at the upcoming urban Wilhelminapier or the historic Delfshaven.
- nhow Rotterdam
- Hilton Rotterdam
- Novotel Rotterdam Brainpark
- Stayokay Hostel Rotterdam
- Urban Residences Rotterdam
- Hotel ibis Rotterdam City Centre
- The Slaak Rotterdam, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel
- Suite Hotel Pincoffs Rotterdam
- The James Hotel Rotterdam
- ss Rotterdam
- Hotel Rotterdam
- Room Mate Bruno Hotel
Author Bio: Maartje and Sebastiaan, the content creators of The Orange Backpack and travel buddies since our 10th date in Cambodia. Our orange camera backpack has been with us from this first trip. Follow them on Instagram too!
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