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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
Spido boat tour
One of the best ways to see things in the city 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.
Fenix Food Factory
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.
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.
Museumpark is home, as the name suggests, to a group of the city’s finest museums. These 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 and take in the view.
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.
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.
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 De Pelgrim Brewery which has been making craft beer 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.
Witte de With Street
Witte de With Street is one of the cool areas. 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 Kunstinstituut Melly.
Original Holland America headquarters
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.
For eight weeks every spring, Keukenhof, the most famous tulip garden in the Netherlands, opens less than an hour away. 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.
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
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.
The Restaurant, The Park, is one of the city’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.
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 the city’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.
The Bilderberg Parkhotel 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.
It’s fairly easy to get to Rotterdam from any major city in the Netherlands.
The train from Amsterdam Centraal Station 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. All opinions of the artistic and entertaining are our own.