Rotterdam is a treat of a city. Often overlooked in favour of the more famous Amsterdam, I found it to be a quirky, unique, fun and interesting place which I actually preferred to its well known neighbour.
Rotterdam is a port city and was the main location from which many departed Europe for a new life in New York. It was also completely flattened during WW2 and has been rebuilt in a very visitor friendly way with lots of sites close together and an easily walkable centre.
If you’re including Rotterdam in your Netherlands itinerary, or visiting it for a weekend break, you can see all of the main sights in 2 days on the following itinerary. If you have longer in the city, then I also recommend a day trip to the Kinderdijk windmills.
A. Visit the Markthal for breakfast (1.5 hours)
Markthal is one of the most fun destinations in Rotterdam. It’s an indoor market covered in colourful murals from floor to ceiling. It sells everything from the famous Netherlands cheese wheels to yummy smoothies and fruit pots with yoghurt which are perfect for breakfast.
B. Marvel at the insane Cube Houses and visit the Show Cube museum (1 hour)
I didn’t really know what to say when I saw the cube houses – I’m not sure there is a word. I guess they do exactly what they say on the tin – houses in the shape of cubes. They are tilted over at 45 degree angles and were built to mimic the effect of a treetop canopy!
You can also go inside one of the houses by visiting the Show Cube, or if you really want to go all out, you can actually spend the night in one!
C. Discover Oudehaven and the Witte Huis (30 mins)
Just around the corner from the Cube Houses is the super picturesque Oudehaven, or Old Port. Here you can find some lovely little waterside cafes for a coffee or a juice, as well as numerous bars including Noah which was voted best in The Netherlands. There are also pretty photo opportunities looking over the water to the Witte Huis (White House), which was the first ‘skyscraper’ in Europe.
D. Stroll along the Waterfront (2 hours incl. lunch)
From Oudehaven, it’s a 10 minute walk to the river front. The river running through Rotterdam is the Nieuwe Maas, which is actually a distributary of the River Rhine as it makes its way to the ocean. Along the river bank are the flags of the world, which are always fun to guess. Also along the front is the De Boeg war memorial to the 3,500 Dutch sailors who lost their lives during WW2.
There are also some nice lunch spots – of course you could have stopped at one of those cafes in Oudehaven, but we chose to eat right on the waterfront at Prachtig Bar – the menu isn’t long but a caesar salad followed by a caramel brownie is not to be scoffed at. If there’s not enough choice for you though, Guliano across the road is also a great choice – an authentic Italian where the meatballs are a must!
E. Cross the iconic Erasmusbrug (30 mins)
As soon as you hit the waterfront, you will have noticed the immense Erasmusbrug. To me it looks like a giant white harp hanging over the water, but it’s actual nickname is ‘The Swan’. Built in 1996, it divides opinion but I really liked it. It’s not quite the Brooklyn Bridge to cross, but it is well worth the walk across to take in the architecture and snap some photos of the riverfront.
F. Admire the futuristic architecture and check out Hotel New York (30 mins)
Once you’ve crossed the Erasmusbrug, it’s a 10 minute walk to Hotel New York. This is the former head office of the Holland Amerika Line and is the point from which thousands of emigrants left The Netherlands for a new life in New York. There’s a monument here to those people, as well as some nice views out to sea so a great place to stop for a drink in the hotel garden.
G. Speed across the water on a Watertaxi (30 mins)
Instead of walking back across the Erasmusbrug, we chose the much more fun option of hopping in a water taxi totally by accident. We noticed there is a water taxi stop right next to Hotel New York, which can take you to various points along the river. There was noone else there so we said where we wanted to go and they took us there for only a few Euros each.
You can stay in the central area or go further afield, but we chose to head back to where we’d started and headed to the Leuvehaven Centrum stop which is right back near the Cube Houses. The ride took about 15 minutes and was so much fun!
H. Understand Rotterdam’s history at the Museum Rotterdam or The Maritime Museum (2 hours)
From here, walk the 10 minutes to either the Maritime Museum or the Museum Rotterdam to learn more about the city’s history. The Maritime Museum was my personal favourite – it includes a collection of ships to explore as well as exhibitions on the history of Rotterdam’s port trading history. It even includes a gallery on the underworld drug trade in Rotterdam’s ports which was very interesting.
Museum Rotterdam focuses on the broader city’s history including an exhibition on WW2, its cultural identity and its art history.
I. Finish off your day with a drink with a difference
For a drink with a difference before or after dinner, head to Vessel 11. It’s a bright red boat on the water which you can’t miss – they do craft beer tastings for a reasonable price, or if you don’t want the fuss, just a great spot to grab a glass of wine and relax after a busy day.
A. Scoff some amazing pancakes for breakfast at Lilith (1 hour)
‘The best pancakes I’ve ever eaten’ was the verdict from Lilith, a quirky breakfast spot which has a gothic feel – decorated mainly in black, with smoothie glasses in the shapes of skulls – it wasn’t style over substance. The food was absolutely delicious and it was a great spot to experience a low-key breakfast whilst people watching.
B. Check out Europe in miniature at Miniworld (1.5hours)
A 10 minute walk from Lilith is an amazing little Miniworld – great for small and big kids alike. The main exhibition is Rotterdam and The Netherlands in mini models and the detail is amazing. There is also a second exhibition downstairs of Great Britain in miniature. It made me realise how little of my own country I’d seen and inspired me to visit more. A super fun way to spend an hour or so.
C. Stroll around colourful Het Park (2 hours incl. lunch)
Het Park is a beautiful area down by the waterfront which has lots of lovely gardens to stroll around and explore. There are also some good food options – I personally prefer Parqiet which is a really laid back cafe with chairs laid out on the main park so you can sit in the sunshine with your food and watch the world go by.
D. Discover views for days up the Euromast (1.5 hours)
The Euromast is one of the highlights of a trip to Rotterdam. A great spot for absolutely stunning views out over the city, you can also indulge your inner adrenaline junkie by abseiling off the top if that’s the kind of thing you enjoy. Unsurprisngly, I didn’t choose that option – instead I went to the bar at the top and ordered a Prosecco.
It’s also worth noting there is both a Deli and a Brasserie up at the top of the Euromast, so if you want to choose something a bit more special for lunch (or indeed add another meal to the day with a high tea), then you could eat here instead of in the park.
E. Explore the beautiful architecture of Parklaan and visit a museum (1.5-3 hours)
Park Lane, to the east of the park, is one of the prettiest streets in Rotterdam and the buildings lovely to stroll amongst. Also just north of Park Lane, you can find both the Natural History Museum and the Kunsthal art museum which both make for an interesting stop. The Natural History Museum has exhibitions on everything from extinct animals to plastic in the seas and is a great choice for those with children in tow. The Kunsthal displays art, sculpture and photography from a selection of artists.
F. Finish off the trip with a delicious dinner
There are lots of great choices for food in Rotterdam. I ate at Atithi Indian restaurant which was truly delicious. Yama is also amazing for Japanese food, and Sate is absolutely yummy for steak and barbecue. Finish off your evening with some cocktails or wine and sleep well ahead of your journey home tomorrow.
Thanks for reading. Has this post helped you plan a trip to Rotterdam or made you want to visit? Let me know in the comments below. Stay safe and happy travelling.