Rotterdam is the biggest seaport of Europe, the second-largest city of the Netherlands (with 656,000 inhabitants) and known for its unique architecture. Throughout the years, the city has become more and more popular, and for a good reason: Rotterdam is a unique city and there is so much to see and do. With 170 nationalities, you can find restaurants with unbelievably good food from all over the world, so you won’t get hungry here!
If you have been to Amsterdam or other cities in the Netherlands, you will see that Rotterdam is completely different compared to them. Something that you will probably notice immediately is how modern the city is, and how different the architecture is. Where Amsterdam has its cobblestone bridges going over the canals; Rotterdam has modern, industrial bridges, and where Amsterdam has old canal houses, Rotterdam has high skyscrapers.
But the harbour city used to have an old centre just like Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leiden and other cities in the country. Unfortunately, this was destroyed during a bombardment in World War II. Throughout the city of Rotterdam, there are lights placed in the floor, where the border is of what was destroyed and what was not. You can view the map of this route here. Luckily there are some buildings that have survived the disaster, which are included in this itinerary.
During these 3 days in Rotterdam, you will have the perfect mix of old and new, see a lot of interesting artworks and hopefully learn a lot of new things! But first, check out my top picks for Rotterdam:
If you arrive at Rotterdam Central Station, walk outside to see the impressive façade. I bet you have never seen a train station that looks like this! This new station was opened in 2014 and Rotterdammers like to call it the Haaienbek (Shark Mouth) or Station Kapsalon (referring to a popular fast food dish created in Rotterdam).
Feeling small while visiting the Netherlands? Don’t worry, you’re not short… Dutch people are just extremely tall! In fact, they are the tallest people in the world, with an average height of 1.84 metres. The tallest person the Netherlands has ever known was Rigardus Rijnhout (also known as Rijn). He was 2.37 metres and had 63 as his shoe size (European size). But the thing is, he was a true exception - his height wasn’t really because of his Dutch genes, rather, unfortunately, he had this long length in stature due to a brain tumour that caused a growth disorder. There is a statue dedicated to him 5 minutes from the Central Station: The Giant of Rotterdam, created by Herman Lamers. The reason why Rijn deserved a statue was because although he was bullied a lot and had a lot of pain in his body in the last years of his life, he always stayed friendly to everyone. You could say that Rotterdam has known the real Roald Dahls’ Big Friendly Giant.
Walk a little further and see a very wholesome piece of art. Above the IJssalon (an ice cream shop) you will see a teapot created with Delft tile designs, surrounding the windows of an elderly home. During the day you can catch a glimpse of the typical Dutch Delftware, and at night it lights up. The teapot was created by Anne Mercedes Langhorst to represent the multiculturality of the district and unite different cultures, as everywhere around the world people drink tea.
Make your way to Santa Claus by Paul McCarthy (not to be mistaken for Paul McCartney of the Beatles). This statue is a gnome version of Santa Claus holding an object that could be either a tree… or *ahem*, a buttplug. Yes, you’ve read that right.ut Local legend has it that the artist probably meant for it to be the latter one (though you can decide for yourself).
2 minutes away from Santa Claus, you will find Fikkie, a statue of a puppy that represents the youth and stubbornness of the students of the city. It was given to the city by its artist, the Hungarian Joeki Simák to celebrate the centennial birthday of the Rotterdam Student Corps in 1963.
Hungry? Make your way to Frietboutique (‘Fries Boutique’). Because something that the Dutch know how to do well is deep frying! Although deep-fried snacks aren’t really fancy and usually seen as fast food, the Frietboutique somehow knew how to make some Dutch specialities look fancy. The Dutch love their fries and have different ways of eating them. My personal favourite and recommendation (and of a lot of other Dutchies): patatje oorlog (war fries). Your fries will be served with mayonnaise, peanut sauce and onions. Try a kroket with it (a snack originally filled with ragout, but there are also vegetarian options) or a kaassouflé (a snack filled with cheese) for the real Dutch experience.
After your stop at Frietboutique, walk 20 minutes to the Museum Rotterdam. This museum is a great way to start your time in Rotterdam, as you will understand the city better. In Museum Rotterdam you will learn about its past, present and future of the city. A little bonus: If you are here on the first Saturday of the month, entrance is free!
Not too far from the museum, a 10-minute walk, there is a beautiful historical piece of Rotterdam that survived the horrible bombardment in 1940: the Delfshaven (Delft Harbour). Here you will find historic canal houses with picturesque shops, galleries, jenever cafes, beer breweries and one of the biggest windmills in the Netherlands! For €4 per person, you can do a tour through the windmill and see the historic harbour and the modern Rotterdam from above.
Also located in Delfshaven is the Pilgrim Fathers Church which dates back to 1417. It owes its international fame to the Pilgrim Fathers, who held their last service here in 1620, before they left for what is now called the United States. There is also De Delft, a replica of an century warship, to complete your historic visit at Delfshaven.
From the historical part of the harbour, make your way to the Tovertunnel (Magic Tunnel). Painted by Willij van der Linden, this tunnel used to be a dark tunnel that people didn’t feel safe in. Her children used to cry when they had to go through, so Willij decided to create something magical out of it, by painting the tunnel beautifully and putting neon lights. In this way, the artist managed to replace fear with fun.
As you might have noticed by now, Rotterdam has a lot of art around the city. The statues you have seen already, the tunnel, the teapot… But there is more! If you are into street art, check out the red BMW that is ‘falling’ off a roof, a big polaroid that is pinned under a bridge, a big hat that is floating in the water or a huge rubber duck/bunny. There are even street art tours for different areas in Rotterdam, which you can find more information about here.
By the time it is time for dinner, Restaurant Gare du Nord is a really cool place to go to. Here they serve a vegan three-course meal in a real antique train carriage! They only use organic ingredients and are all about sustainability and low waste. If the weather is nice you can sit outside in the peaceful garden.
If you aren’t tired yet and are in the mood for a good cocktail, make your way to Cocktailbar on the Rocks. This bar is located at the Inntel Hotels Rotterdam Centre, and has a view of the Leuvehaven (harbour).
A perfect way to start your second day is getting up to the Euromast. You can’t leave Rotterdam without having seen this 185-metre high tower and its view from above, where if the sky is cloudless, you can see the Belgian city of Antwerp!
Walk through the beautiful park that is located right next to the tower, called Het Park (‘The Park’), to the enchanted Historical Garden Schoonoord. Escape from the busy urban life for a bit in this peaceful park that is like a fairy tale. Sit at the pond filled with water lilies where the green, majestic trees watch over you while you’re listening to the sound of water flowing from a little fountain and waterfall. Watch the koi carp fish swim through the magical pond and listen to the exotic birds singing their wonderful tunes. Besides being a great place to relax, the garden holds a lot of history, with trees that are over 250 years old!
Walk six minutes to get a ride on a very unique taxi: a water taxi. This yellow boat will take you to the other side of the New Meuse river (to the stop Provimi), while you will see the iconic Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge) that connects two important parts of the city. When you have arrived on the other side of the river, make your way to the Fenix Food Factory: a food hall with stalls where you can get different foods such as homemade sandwiches, fruits, cheese and more.
Once you have finished your sandwich and had your cappuccino, it is time to head to the Nederlands Fotomuseum (‘Dutch Photo Museum’). The museum focuses on all kinds of photography and has its own collection. With changing exhibitions as well as a permanent one that showcases 99 photos that tell the story of the development of photography in the Netherlands, it is a great museum to visit if you want to see some iconic pieces.
Walk over the Erasmusbrug and watch the river from here. The Erasmusbrug is one of the most famous structures in Rotterdam and was opened in 1996. It is 284 metres long and has a 139-metre-high asymmetrical pylon, which is why the bridge is also called ‘the Swan’. The bridge has two tramway tracks, and four traffic lanes and it of course wouldn’t be the Netherlands if it didn’t also include two sidewalks and two bike lanes.
From the bridge, you can either walk or take the tram (line 25 from Wilhelminaplein, get off at Beurs) to HotTug. You thought a water taxi was already a unique way to go over the water? Try the world's first driving hot tub! Yes, it is a boat, but instead of sitting on a bench, you sit, relax in hot water that is kept warm by a wood-burning stove. And the great thing is that you don't need a licence to drive the boat, so anyone can explore Rotterdam with this cool way of transporting, no matter if it is cold outside.
After floating through the waters of Rotterdam, you might be a little hungry. Have a Dutch dinner at Dutch Diner, where you can try typical Dutch pannekoeken (pancakes) or poffertjes (small, fluffy pancakes). Dutch people eat pancakes for dinner, but if you are craving something more savoury, they also serve delicious hamburgers (vegetarian options as well), salads and sandwiches.
On your final day in Rotterdam make your way to Blaak Station. From here it is easy to go to your first stop: the Markthal (Market Hall). This popular arch-shaped building has many different food stalls, from kroketten with different types of filling to boba tea and from Surinamese food to Mediterranean food. But when you’re there and you want to try something Dutch, try kibbeling, fried fish with a creamy sauce that even people that usually don’t enjoy fish like. You can get this at Andalus Fish.
After getting your food for the start of the day, make your way to the Cube Houses, which you might have already caught a glimpse of while getting out of the station. These yellow houses were designed by architect Piet Blom, and are positioned at an angle of 45 degrees. If you’re wondering if people actually live in here, yes they do! The houses have three floors and some of them even have a small garden. Now you’re probably wondering what these houses look like from the inside. You’re not the only one: many people would ring the doorbells of the houses because they were so curious, so one of the residents came up with a great idea, which was creating a Show-Cube, where the public can have a peek of the inside. There is even a Stay-Okay Hostel situated in one of the houses, so if you want to you can even stay the night at one of the cubes.
From the same square, the Markthal is located, you can see St. Laurenskerk, which is one of the oldest buildings in Rotterdam, dating back to the 15century. After the bombardment, only the walls and the tower of the Laurenskerk remained. The mediaeval church was restored and is now seen as a symbol of the reconstruction of Rotterdam, but it mainly stands for the resilience of the people of Rotterdam. If you want you can visit the church between 10:00 and 17:00 from Tuesday to Saturday for an entrance fee of €3 (kids under 12 can go in for free).
Take a 5-minute walk to Stadhuis Rotterdam (the town hall). Built-in 1915 in neo-Renaissance style and with Art-deco influences, this is another building that survived the bombardment. The magnificent facade is decorated with sculptures and is crowned with a 71-metre high bell tower. If you’re here on Tuesday afternoon or Friday evening, you can hear the carillon with 63 bells ring. The facade itself is already impressive, but of course, there is something behind it: a beautiful courtyard, which is free to visit on weekdays. You can also visit special rooms such as the council chamber, the civic hall and the wedding rooms with a guide.
After admiring this beautiful building, take a 3-minute walk to something very random but cool to see: a very unique McDonald’s. Trust me on this one! In fact, this might be one of the most beautiful McDonald’s you will ever come across. With a golden façade and walls mostly made out of glass, you can see its grand spiral staircase from the outside. The golden part on the outside of the facade is dotted with small heart-shaped perforations, forming a pixelated image showing a crowd of people. The restaurant is open 24/7 and looks even more impressive at night, while it glows because of the lights on the inside.
Walk 3 minutes to Dudok Patisserie to have the best apple pie (another truly loved Dutch dish) in the city. After enjoying some delicious apple pie, walk to the Oudehaven (Old Harbour). This is one of the oldest harbours in Rotterdam, they started building it all the way back in 1350! Nowadays it is a place where people go out in one of the many cafes, restaurants and bars that are located by the water. From here you can see het Witte Huis (the White House), a building that was opened in 1898 and was inspired by American skyscrapers. Back in the day, it was the highest office building in Europe, today it houses a restaurant.
From Blaak, go to Kralingse Bos, one of my favourite places in Rotterdam. You can take metro B and get off at Voorschoterlaan. From here it is about a 20-minute walk, but this is well worth it! The Kralingse Bos consists of a big lake, surrounded by trees, a beautiful park and even a little beach. It is perfect to have a picnic in summer or go for a walk anytime in the year (if you walk all around the lake you have a beautiful view of the skyline of Rotterdam). The park has two windmills that look over the lake, which you can visit for free every Wednesday and every second Saturday of the month between 10:00 and 16:00.
After spending some time in nature, make your way back to the city centre to have dinner at Captain’s Cabin. The restaurant is furnished as a cabin, with lots of copper and ship antiques that will make you feel like you are actually having dinner on a ship. On their menu, they have meat and fish dishes, and of course delicious desserts.
End your time in Rotterdam at Spikizi, a fun cocktail bar where they serve delicious drinks, such as the Vietnamese Espresso Martini and the Let That Mango. They also have amazing non-alcoholic cocktails such as the Ex White Choco Pornstar and the Passionfruit No-jito.
Where to stay in Rotterdam
Budget - Stayokay Hostel Rotterdam
Stay your nights in Rotterdam in a very unique way: in one of the Cube Houses!
Mid-range - The James Rotterdam
This hotel has comfortable rooms, for fitness fanatics includes a gym, and is only a quick 10-minute walk from Rotterdam Central Station.
Luxury - nhow Rotterdam
At nhow Rotterdam you can book a room with a view of the sparkling skyline of Rotterdam and see the sun come up beautifully from your expansive window.