There really isn’t a single reason why you shouldn’t visit Rotterdam on your next trip to The Netherlands. It definitely is the most exciting city in the country at the moment, with its groundbreaking architecture, sublime museums, and multi-cultural gastronomical scene.
Many travellers don’t realise that Rotterdam is only 1 hour by train from Amsterdam and has far more to offer than being the largest port in Western Europe. Since Rotterdam was badly bombed during the Second World War the city is now basically an open-air museum of modern, cutting-edge buildings, dramatic bridges, street art and rejuvenated industrial areas. Make the best of your trip to Rotterdam: here’s our top list of things to see and do.
- Museum Boijmans van Beuningen
- Admire the Erasmus Bridge
- Visit Hotel New York
- Go Street Art Spotting
- Eat at the Fenix Food Factory
- Enjoy the City Sculptures
- Visit the Laurenskerk Church
- Go on A Food Trip in Markthal
- Explore the Neighbourhood Oude Noorden
- Visit the Cubic Houses
- Resources: Where to Stay in Rotterdam
Museum Boijmans van Beuningen
Whether you are into Dutch art or international surrealists, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen deserves at least a morning of your time. The permanent collection holds the best Dutch and European art throughout the centuries. The Marriage Feast at Cana by Hieronymus Bosch and Portrait of Titus and Man in a Red Cap by Rembrandt are absolute must-sees, while the collection of surrealist works is equally impressive. Museum Boijmans van Beuningen owns the largest number of works by Dalí, outside of Spain.
Other Museums in Rotterdam
- Het Nieuwe Instituut
Admire the Erasmus Bridge
The iconic bridge is literally a highlight on the Rotterdam skyline. The locals have nicknamed it The Swan, as from afar it really does look like a large white bird landing on water with its wings spread out. The bridge connects the centre of Rotterdam with the trendy Kop van Zuid, full of theatres, museums and bars.
Visit Hotel New York
Rotterdam was the most important port of The Netherlands since the 19th century and by visiting Hotel New York you will be able to see a special part of Dutch history. Hotel New York is located in the old head office of the Holland America Line, the streamliners from this shopping company were responsible for carrying millions of immigrants full of hopes and dreams to the new world. Nowadays Hotel New York still breathes that old world atmosphere and is the perfect place for lunch or dinner, all seafood platters are amazing. Or you can get your beard trimmed at the adjacent barber shop.
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Go Street Art Spotting
Rotterdam is one of the best cities in the Netherlands to see some street art. If you take a self-guided street art tour using this app you will not only be able to discover great works by local artists, but discover the most popular Rotterdam neighbourhood and take in some of the highlights at the same time. During my street art tour of Rotterdam, I particularly like the works by local artists duo Bier & Brood who have put their mark on Rotterdam with their powerful black and white murals.
At Baan you can actually see an entire building that they have painted in black and white. It’s possible to walk around the premises for quite a while and discover something new at every turn. Around Witte de With straat (one of the most popular streets in Rotterdam with dozens of amazing cafés and bars), you can also spot works by Bier & Brood, as well as other great murals. Local artists MeLikePaintng even used his work Love Birds to propose to his girlfriend! (And she said yes!).
Eat at the Fenix Food Factory
Katendrecht used to be a rough Rotterdam neighbourhood at best, and a gritty and unsafe place at night at worst. Until a few years ago that is when the city council started to redevelop this once industrial part of the city. In a former waterfront warehouse market collective, Fenix Food Factory opened its doors and is now one of the most popular places for lunch, afternoon snacks and drinks. Local vendors sell artisan cheese, meat, bread, and coffee. Don’t forget to sample a couple of beers at local craft brewery Kaapse Brouwers.
Restaurant Recommendations for Lunch and Dinner:
- De matroos en het meisje
- CEO Baas van het Vlees
Editor’s Note: Check out our Europe Packing List for tips on what to bring.
Enjoy the City Sculptures
When the weather is nice, it would be a shame to be stuck inside a museum (no matter how great Rotterdam museum are). Instead, take a walk along the dozens of sculptures by world-renowned artists. Ossip Zadkine’s masterwork, The Destroyed City, depicts a desperate man, falling backwards and raising his arms, reminding of the terrible 1940 bombardments of Rotterdam. In front of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Picasso has portrayed his muse Sylvette David in Cubist style. But there are a lot more pieces to discover!
Visit the Laurenskerk Church
The Laurens church stands proudly next to Markthal, across the square from the iconic Cubic Houses, and was badly damaged by the bombardments of the Second World War. It’s one of the few historic Rotterdam landmarks that was rebuilt after the war and therefore worth a visit. Climb the tower for an amazing view over the city.Neighbourhood Oude Noorden
Go on A Food Trip in Markthal
Rotterdam’s Markthal was the first covered market in The Netherlands and the horseshoe-shaped building with brightly coloured flowers, fruit and vegetables on the ceiling is a great place to sample Dutch cheese, cured meats, spices, sweets and freshly picked wild mushrooms. Buy ready-to-eat stroopwafels (syrup filled thin waffles) or poffertjes (Dutch mini-pancakes) or sit down for some proper meals upstairs.
Explore the Neighbourhood Oude Noorden
What once a neighbourhood for workers and immigrants is now a vibrant place full of independent boutiques, cafés and restaurants. Take the tram up to Oude Noorden (The Old North) and discover a place where everyone seems to live together peacefully: young families, old Rotterdamians that have been living there since before the war, immigrants, and artists. There are Turkish bakeries next to vintage shops and traditional cafés next to hip ice cream parlours. Zwaanhals is considered the high street of the area. Rightfully so, as it’s completely packed with fun shops and great bars. It even has a bit of a village like feel as the residents are often outside having a chat.
Visit the Cubic Houses
Since Markthal was opened, the area around Blaak is once again a Rotterdam hotspot. It was one the first time around when the bright yellow cubic houses were built in the 80’s. They’re built so close together than they remind you a little of a forest, or maybe a bunch of yellow tulips. The cubic houses (or kubuswoningen in Dutch) were designed by architect Piet Blom. It’s possible to visit one of the cubic houses and you can even stay in one during your visit to Rotterdam as a hostel is established in one of the bright yellow buildings.
Hopefully, this has given you plenty of ideas on things to do in Rotterdam. From visiting urban city highlights to soaking up the foodie scene in this city, Rotterdam is a place that I recommend visiting.
Resources: Where to Stay in Rotterdam
As in most big cities, there are heaps of option when it comes to accommodation. Here are a few recommendations that will suit your budget.
Budget Hostels in Rotterdam:
King Kong Hostel Rotterdam: Located in the trendy Witte de Withstaat, the King Kong hostel combines contemporary design with vintage furniture. Offering three private hotel-style rooms and 4,6,8 person dorm rooms (plus an all-female dorm room) with free morning tours to get to know the city.
Hostel Ani & Haakien: Located right by the train station, this popular hostel is within walking distance to popular places like the Markthal and the yellow cube houses. Set in a relatively quiet location, expect to get a good night’s sleep when you’re staying here.
Mid-Range Hotels in Rotterdam:
CitizenM Rotterdam: Located right in the Oude Haven (Old Port), CitizenM Rotterdam is a super modern hotel full of modern luxuries which you can control straight from a tablet. Everything from the lights, LED TV, music system, blinds, and the temperature is all within the reach of your fingertips.
H2OTEL Rotterdam: Want to stay somewhere unique? Why not a boat? Located right by the Wijnhaven harbour, this hotel sits right by the water and is an ideal place to base yourself when exploring the city.
Luxurious Hotels in Rotterdam:
Mainport Design Hotel: If you’re looking to splurge a little bit and stay in a 5-star hotel, the Mainport Design Hotel in Rotterdam is one of our top picks. Located on the Maas River banks in the center of the city of Rotterdam, all the hotel rooms here feature an XXL 4-layer bed, a full spa, as well as other luxurious amenities to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible.
Hilton Rotterdam: This exclusive hotel brand naturally tops the list when it comes to luxurious hotels in Rotterdam. Featuring a 24-hour gym, super comfortable rooms, as well as other exclusive amenities, the Hilton is a great place to explore Rotterdam from.