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14 Fun Things to Do in Rotterdam, Netherlands

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

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.

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 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.

Eat your way through Fenix Food Factory

"Cider Bar" sign, sandwich, and drink on a table
The bakery and cidery are just two of the great places to try at the 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.

Explore Museumpark

Clothes on display in a museum exhibit
Temporary fashion museum at the New Institute

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.

Visit the SS Rotterdam

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.

Shop at the Market Hall

Curved building with glass exterior
The enormous, delicious Market Hall

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.

Browse Binnenrotte Market

Clothes for sale at an outdoor market
Vendors 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.

See the Old Harbor

Harbor filled with old boats surrounded by modern buildings
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 and take in the view.

Visit 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 the city from the Euromast

View of city skyline and harbor from above
The remarkable view 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.

Visit Delfshaven

Marina 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 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.

Stroll Witte de With Street

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. 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.

See the original Holland America headquarters

Exterior of brown building, the Hotel New York
Hotel New York dates from 1901

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.

Get outside at Keukenhof tulip garden

Tuplis and sculptures in a pons
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. 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.

Visit the Kinderdijk windmills

Five windmills with a boat passing by in a canal
The historic windmills of 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.

Exterior of a hotel courtyard

Where to Stay

The Bilderberg Parkhotel Rotterdam is located in easy reach of the Rotterdam attractions. It’s 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.

Our visit was hosted by Rotterdam Partners. All opinions of the artistic and entertaining are our own.

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Esther

Wednesday 19th of July 2017

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!

Laura Longwell

Wednesday 19th of July 2017

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.

Lorna

Saturday 13th of May 2017

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

Heather

Monday 29th of February 2016

Is it wrong that I want to go to Rotterdam just for that cider and grilled cheese? :-)

Laura Longwell

Monday 29th of February 2016

Not a bit! It's a cool place :)

Emily

Sunday 28th of February 2016

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...)!

Laura Longwell

Sunday 28th of February 2016

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.

Stephen Garone

Monday 15th of February 2016

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.

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