Rotterdam has the confident vibe of a place on the up. Amsterdam might still be the brightest beacon for travellers to the Netherlands, but a host of exciting attractions put this southern city on the map.
The Netherlands boasts the largest port in Europe and it’s located in Rotterdam- although you may not be drawn to visit this impressive feat, Rotterdam’s architectural wonders are sure to pull you in.
Thanks to a progressive attitude to post-war reconstruction, after the city was blitzed by the German Luftwaffe (the only Dutch city to experience this), Rotterdam is also an interesting place to explore. The architecture is characterised by bold design and high-rise buildings, while the busy seaport helps to imbue the city with a strong work ethic and down-to-earth attitude.
Those architectural wonders we mentioned- Rotterdam Central railway station and the Markthal, a market hall and apartment complex whose arched ceiling bears the largest artwork in the Netherlands.
The Luchtsingel, a 390-metre-long, wooden pedestrian bridge linking the city centre and the north was partially funded through crowdsourcing; an example of the social engagement that’s bringing about positive changes in Rotterdam.
Struggling with the difference between a rectangle and a rhombus? You’re not alone- explore Rotterdam's architecture by foot with a local architect who can explain it all.
Direct trains between the Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport and Rotterdam Central railway stations take just 27 minutes- just over 40 if you leave from Amsterdam Central making Rotterdam an inexpensive day trip from the capital. Once there, you can walk to most highlights or take the extensive public transport system. Much of the city’s free sites can be enjoyed while walking or biking.
Need more convincing? Here are 12 reasons to visit Rotterdam…
You don’t have to spend money to see artworks by world-renowned artists when visiting Rotterdam. Works by the likes of Auguste Rodin and Joel Shapiro are displayed on the Rotterdam sculpture route along the Westersingel canal. If sculptures aren’t your thing, street art is also in abundance.
Laidback café-bars are dotted throughout the city, including Boudewijn, which serves more than 100 Belgian beers. Locals recommend a stroll along Witte de Withstraat because of its high density of watering holes. You’ll find chic cocktail bars, such as the gin specialist Ballroom, plus casual venues. At De Witte Aap art displays change on a monthly basis.
For live music, from jazz to hip-hop, check out events at Bird, a club nestled below railway arches in the north of the city.
Walk along the River Meuse’s waterfront and you’ll see De Rotterdam, a 149-metre-tall skyscraper designed by Rem Koolhaas. The building is described as a ‘vertical city’ and its eye-catching form resembles off-set stacks.
The Van Nelle Factory was opened to process and package tea, coffee and tobacco in 1932. It’s an outstanding example of carefully thought through Dutch functionalist design. The airy building today hosts offices and conference space.
To learn more about Dutch architecture and design head to Het Nieuwe Instituut, which hosts regularly changing exhibitions and events. Pop into the nearby Sonneveld House to view modernist interiors of a building that in the early 1930s was regarded as an ideal family home.
Booking a journey by water taxi is a great way to see the city while visiting Rotterdam at speed along the river. Taxis travel at up to 50 km per hour, making trips a practical means of getting around while inducing an adrenaline-fuelled buzz. If you’d prefer indulging in a beverage or two before getting on a water taxi, the Boat Beer Tour will do just that.
An iconic brick tower makes it easy to locate the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Its vast art collection ranges from paintings by old masters, such as Rembrandt and Hieronymus Bosch, through Magritte and Mondriaan to contemporary works by the likes of Maurizio Cattelan and Pipilotti Rist.
The museum’s collection of drawings and prints is one of the world’s most significant for understanding the development of art. It includes pieces by Albrecht Dürer and Paul Cézanne.
You can also see eight centuries of applied designs, encompassing Dutch Golden Age glassware and Rietveld furniture.
If you’re looking for tasty but inexpensive food when visiting Rotterdam try dining at Bazar, whose selection of Middle-Eastern and North African cuisine proves popular with students and young professionals.
A handful of stylish restaurants are redefining Rotterdam’s culinary scene. At Restaurant de Jong you choose between the four-course vegetable or non-vegetable menus then the team of chefs in the open kitchen get creative with seasonal ingredients.
Rotterdam has a decent selection of inexpensive places to stay. Arguably the pick of the budget rooms are those decorated by local artists at King Kong Hostel.
CitizenM Rotterdam is a mid-priced design hotel that places you by the Oudehaven (old harbour) and within easy walking distance of the Markthal.
Most of the rooms in the four-star New York hotel boast fantastic views of the waterfront and city.
Held every year in mid-July, the North Sea Jazz Festival is the country’s most prestigious jazz event, attracting international media coverage and the world’s most famous jazz musicians. Over the three days, multiple stages and a thousand musicians both international names as well as local talent are showcased.
You may have heard of Ajax, based in Amsterdam, but its notorious football rival is Feyenoord in Rotterdam. When visiting Rotterdam, pick a pub and be part of the local crowds (just make sure you cheer for the right team).
When visiting Rotterdam and the timing is right (usually late January to early February), you’ll come across the International Film Festival Rotterdam. This annual film festival is held across several cinemas in the city, focusing on new and experimental filmmakers.
Spared from the bombings of WWII, Delfshaven was once the harbour that served Delft with its signature blue and white pottery. The ensemble of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century warehouses and high-gabled houses lining up on either side of the main canal give you a taste of what once was.
You read that correctly, the world’s first floating dairy farm opened in 2019. Utilising Rotterdam’s extensive waterways, the cows are fed the residual flows from breweries and Schiedam windmills. Although it has been met with some criticism, the floating farm showcases how circular food production can be intertwined with the urban consumer. Visitors can taste the milk and yoghurt produced here.
When you click on our links, Rough Guides can earn a small commission at no cost to you- we promise you won’t feel a thing, except the joy of booking a stellar trip. It allows us to keep giving you the best advice and travel inspiration. All accommodation and Get Your Guide experiences are recommended by us- our travel experts know a good thing when they see it!