Row of Yellow Cube Houses -- seeing them is one of the unique things to do in Rotterdam Netherlands

48 Hours in Rotterdam

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Rotterdam is full of surprises. We knew very little about the second-largest city in the Netherlands before we decided to add a few days here onto our trip to Amsterdam. What we discovered was a modern, vibrant city full of architecture, art, culture, and lots of great food. Here’s a look at some of the fun things to do in Rotterdam if you have 48 hours to explore.

Things to do in Rotterdam

Boat under the white Erasmus Bridge
Sailing under the Erasmus Bridge on a boat cruise

Take a Spido boat tour

One of the best ways to see things when you visit Rotterdam is by water—specifically by exploring its harbor on a Spido boat tour. The port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe and one of the busiest in the world. On a 75-minute Spido cruise, you can experience the activity of the harbor and see many of the city’s sights from a different angle.

From the distinctive Erasmus and Willems bridges to the De Rotterdam building, you’ll see some of Rotterdam’s unique architecture. You’ll also get a view of the shipyards and docks that make the port hum with energy. It’s a great way to orient yourself to all the places to see in Rotterdam.

Grab lunch (or a beer, or a snack, or…) at Fenix Food Factory

"Cider Bar" sign, sandwich, and drink on a table at the Fenix Food Factory, a Rotterdam must see
The bakery and cidery are just two of the great places to try at the Fenix Food Factory

On the surface, a 100-year-old port warehouse may not sound like the most inviting place for a food market. But, in reality, the renovated Fenix Lofts lend an enormous amount of character to the Fenix Food Factory, an eatery adjacent to the Wilhelmina pier.

The Fenix Food Factory space is occupied by eleven entrepreneurs, including a brewery, bakery, cheese monger, and butcher, among others. It’s a great place to try out everything from Dutch foods like stroopwafels to Moroccan tapas. It’s definitely one of the most delicious places to visit in Rotterdam.

Shelves and tables full of books

Vintage furniture and benches make inviting places for you to hang out in this hip market with a great view of the city. When you’re done eating, check out the cute bookstore.

Get cultured at Museumpark

Clothes display at the New Institute in Rotterdam
Temporary fashion museum at the New Institute

Rotterdam’s Museumpark is home, as the name suggests, to a group of the city’s finest museums. These top Rotterdam attractions showcase everything from the work of Old Masters to temporary fashion shows to animals preserved in formaldehyde.

At the Kunsthal Rotterdam, you can find rotating exhibits of all types of art and photography, while the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has an impressive collection of masterpieces from medieval to contemporary artists. The New Institute (Het Nieuwe Instituut) focuses less on pieces of art and more on innovation in architecture, fashion, and design.

Nearby is the Huis Sonneveld, an actual home that is one of the best-preserved houses in the Dutch branch of the International School of Modernism. To round out the offerings, the Natural History Museum features skeletons, fossils, and a wide variety of items from nature.

Visit a floating hotel

The ss Rotterdam ship docked as a museum and hotel in the port of Rotterdam
The ss Rotterdam in her permanent home

Rotterdam is home to one of the most unique hotels/museums we’ve encountered—the ss Rotterdam. This ship from the Holland America line was once known as “The Grande Dame” and sailed the oceans for over 40 years until being permanently docked in the port. She opened as a combined hotel and museum in 2010.

You can visit the ship for events, to dine, or to take one of the many tours available. Possible stops include the bridge, engine rooms, Captain’s quarters, and the various public spaces of the ship. Staying overnight in one of its 254 hotel rooms (decorated in 1950s motif, of course) is also quite an experience—one of the more unusual things to do in Rotterdam.

Eat your way through the Market Hall

Glass exterior of Rotterdam's Market Hall
Rotterdam’s enormous, delicious Market Hall

Rotterdam’s Market Hall (Markthal) is an explosion of colors and scents. From the moment you walk through the doors of this enormous, horseshoe-shaped building, all you see are bright fruits, vegetables, and other foods—both actual items at the numerous food stalls and images of items on the massive ceiling artwork.

You can browse your way through the 100+ shops and stands or stop for a meal at one of the 15 restaurants in the market. Pretty much anything you can think of from tapas to hamburgers is available here.

Shop at Binnenrotte Market

Hanging clothes for sale at Binnenrotte Market

One of the largest street markets in the Netherlands, Binnenrotte Market has over 500 stalls. Every Tuesday and Saturday, you can browse the massive area just outside Market Hall. There’s everything from clothes to books to produce at great prices, and it’s truly a local experience.

Hang out at the Old Harbor

Rotterdam's Old Harbor with old boats and new buildings in old town Rotterdam Netherlands
Old Harbor is a mixture of the old and the new

Dating from the 14th century, the Old Harbor (Oude Haven) is one of the more historic places to visit in Rotterdam and is the city’s oldest harbor. This unique area is home to an eclectic mix of old and new.

In the Old Harbor, you’ll find a small shipyard where historic ships are renovated (part of the Maritime Museum) as well as a group of regal, old ships that are actually moored in the harbor. There are also historic merchant houses, which are some of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. This history is juxtaposed against a lively group of waterfront cafes, modern architecture, and innovations like the first skyscraper in the city. It’s a great place to grab a drink or a snack during your Rotterdam trip and take in the view.

Marvel at the Cube Houses

Close up of yellow Cube Houses
The remarkable Cube Houses, up close

Rotterdam’s unique Cube Houses are recognized around the world for their striking appearance. Dutch architect Piet Blom designed each cube to be tilted at a 55-degree angle and perched atop a hexagonally-shaped base. Plus, they’re bright yellow, so they more than stand out from the nearby buildings.

Many people just walk by the Cube Houses and marvel, but it’s also possible to visit the Show-Cube—a fully-furnished cube house that serves a museum. A step inside shows that it is indeed possible for people to live in these unique structures.

See all of Rotterdam from the Euromast

View of Rotterdam skyline from the Euromast
The remarkable view of Rotterdam from the top of the Euromast

The 185-meter-tall Euromast is Rotterdam’s highest tower. From its rotating elevator that ascends to the top of the building, you can see brilliant 360-degree views of some of the city’s most notable landmarks.

For those a little bit less adventurous, the observation platform and restaurant at 96 meters also offer a great view of the city, perhaps paired with a meal or cup of tea. I chose the traditional elevator route down to the ground, but it’s also possible to abseil or zipline down from the tower during the summer if you’re looking for something adventurous to do in Rotterdam.

Visit quaint Delfshaven

Marina of Delfshaven filled with boats and lined with buildings
The picturesque marina of Delfshaven

The inner-city harbor of Delfshaven is one of the few areas that survived the bombing of Rotterdam during World War II. In this charming enclave, you can visit Pelgrimskerk, the church from which the Pilgrim Fathers left for America, and the Pelgrim Brewery which has been making craft beer in Rotterdam for over 20 years. The restored grain mill “De Distileerketel” is also worth a visit. Or, if you’ve had your fill of sites, just walk around and enjoy the historic marina area.

Wander Witte de With Street

Rotterdam's colorful Witte de With Street with people at sidewalk cafes at night
The colorful Witte de With Street is full of activity at night

Witte de With Street is one of the cool areas of Rotterdam. Filled with cafes, restaurants, art galleries, and shops, there’s always something happening on this street adjacent to the Museumpark. Pop into the Bazaar restaurant for some hummus, browse for sleek fashion at Design Studio Armeni, or stop by a thought-provoking exhibit at the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art.

Visit the original Holland America headquarters

Exterior of brown building, the Hotel New York

In the Kop van Zuid neighborhood, you’ll find the original headquarters of the Holland America line built in 1901. For decades, the distinctive Art Nouveau building was the point of departure for many Dutch people leaving for America.

Now, the historic building is the stylish Hotel New York. Despite the changes, many of the building’s architectural elements have been preserved, including its distinctive signage. It’s a great place to stop in for a drink or one of the restaurant’s seafood specialties.

See the colors of Keukenhof

Tuplis and sculptures at Keukenhof gardens, one of the most famous attractions near Rotterdam
Gorgeous Keukenhof is less than an hour from Rotterdam

For eight weeks every spring, Keukenhof, the most famous tulip garden in the Netherlands, opens less than an hour away from Rotterdam. With over 1600 varieties of flowers and lots of sculptures, demonstrations, and unique exhibits, visiting Keukenhof is a gorgeous experience.

The 80-acre garden is accessible by public transportation from The Hague or Leiden, which are only 30 minutes away by train. Once you’ve seen Keukenhof, rent a bicycle in the parking lot to explore the flower fields nearby.

To easily visit Keukenhof from central Rotterdam, consider this tour.

Walk among the Kinderdijk windmills

Five windmills with a boat passing by in the canal at Kinderdijk

Like tulips, windmills are quintessentially Dutch. The ones you can see at Kinderdijk are some of the most historic and majestic things to see in the Netherlands. They’re so close to the city that a visit to Kinderdijk is a must do day trip from Rotterdam.

The Kinderdijk windmills aren’t just amazing to see in person—they’re an essential part of life here. At 5 feet below sea level and surrounded by water, the mills are necessary to help keep the water out, and they’ve been doing their job for centuries.

On a walk around this UNESCO World Heritage site, you can see inside the windmills and learn about their history and their importance to the Netherlands, or you can just take a canal cruise and enjoy the peaceful scenery. We loved seeing the windmills at Zaanse Schans near Amsterdam, but the authenticity and history at Kinderdijk takes it to a different level.

Where We Stayed in Rotterdam

Exterior of the Bilderberg Parkhotel Rotterdam

There are so many interesting things to do in Rotterdam. From strolling the Witte de Withstraat neighborhood to visiting the museums to eating your way through the Fenix Food Factory, you could be on your feet all day if you wanted to be. That’s why staying at the Bilderberg Parkhotel Rotterdam hotel is so perfect. From here, the city’s attractions are in easy reach of your front door–a place where you can unwind from your day with great food, an expertly crafted cocktail, and a super-comfortable bed.

Check current prices on hotels in Rotterdam

The Restaurant, The Park, is one of Rotterdam’s most popular restaurants, inspired by a chef with two Michelin stars. It features simple but high-quality flavor combinations in a modern, casual environment. The hotel’s breakfast is also served in the restaurant. The buffet consists of an extensive assortment of hot items like eggs and bacon as well as cold items, such as cheeses, cold cuts, and cereals. The hotel prides itself on a great spread, so the artisan breads are local, the dairy is organic, and the jams are homemade.

Long table and chairs in the restaurant at the Bilderberg Parkhotel Rotterdam
The Park restaurant is modern but cozy

The hotel has two primary types of rooms — classic rooms, which have views of the park, and higher-end deluxe/executive tower rooms, which have city views.

My executive room was tastefully furnished in shades of gray and red with artwork featuring some of Rotterdam’s unique architecture. There were two chairs, a table, a desk, and a minibar in the spacious room. Despite some construction taking place outside, everything inside was silent and peaceful.

Bed and chairs in the Executive rooms at the Bilderberg Parkhotel Rotterdam
An executive room with view of the city

The Bilderberg Parkhotel Rotterdam is a cozy respite from the city, yet located right in the heart of the action. Its comfortable rooms, delicious food, and attentive staff make it the perfect place to base yourself on any trip to Rotterdam.

Check current prices at the Bilderberg Parkhotel Rotterdam hotel here

Getting to Rotterdam

It’s fairly easy to get to Rotterdam from any major city in the Netherlands.

The train from Amsterdam Centraal Station to Rotterdam is only 30-40 minutes depending on the specific train you choose. From Schiphol airport, the journey is even faster at just under a half-hour. The train from The Hague to Rotterdam is 25-40 minutes. When you arrive, take a minute to look at the architecture of Rotterdam Centraal, which is an attraction in itself.

Our visit was hosted by Rotterdam Partners, and we stayed at Bilderberg Parkhotel Rotterdam. All opinions of the artistic and entertaining are our own.

Have you discovered other fun things to do in Rotterdam that we missed?

From taking a boat tour to visiting museums and eating great food, there are lots of fun things to do in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

10 thoughts on “48 Hours in Rotterdam”

  1. Perfect timing! Taking my boyfriend to Rotterdam for his birthday next week, so great to hear your insights! Staying in a hotel by the Oude Haven, so looks like we’re in a good spot!

  2. I spent two weeks in the Netherlands last year, and Rotterdam didn’t make the cut. But now it’s on the list for the next time! Thanks for the post.

  3. I’ve lived in the Netherlands for nearly 1.5 years and still haven’t made it to Rotterdam. Definitely bookmarking this post for later use–especially the places to eat/drink (my favorite in every city…)!

    1. That’s great. I ate at Bazaar on Witte de With and the seafood restaurant at the Hotel New York. Both were delicious. In warmer weather, Hotel New York has a great outdoor space right on the water.

  4. Heading to Rotterdam in a fortnight, this is great! Had no idea there’s a cidery, no way can I miss that…

  5. Yep, this is a great overview of what to do in Rotterdam. My husband is from near Rotterdam, but has lived in Utrecht for over 20 years. So we’re going back soon, to discover some new hotspots. Can’t wait!

    1. I had a great time, and I think the city has continued its renaissance over the last year since I visited. I’m sure there will be lots of new fun spots to explore.

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