Rotterdam in the Netherlands was named one of the places to travel to in 2016 by Lonely Planet and having spent a weekend there, I can see why.
This is a city unlike any other European city I've ever visited.
As Rotterdam was bombed flat during the Second World War, there’s plenty of modern architecture. There’s also a lot of water (Rotterdam has the largest seaport in Europe!). And for some reason, there are hairdressers everywhere.
But I’m drifting off.
Rotterdam is super close to Belgium and yet I’d never been. So when Rotterdam Partners agreed to host me for a weekend, I was more than happy and went in search of the best things to do in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Armed with Google Maps and my camera, I roamed the streets of this northern Dutch city to see as much as I could and capture my impressions to share them here with you.
Now, let me immediately tell you that a weekend is way too short to see all there is to see in Rotterdam, but it’s a good start. And if you come prepared and kind of know what things to do in Rotterdam, you can actually fit loads into those two days. Below you can find a recap of my weekend in Rotterdam.
- Weekend in Rotterdam – things to see and do: Day 1
- Weekend in Rotterdam – things to see and do: Day 2
- Activities and tours in Rotterdam
- How to get to Rotterdam
- Where to stay in Rotterdam
- Stay connected while visiting Rotterdam
- Don't forget travel insurance
- You might also like:
Weekend in Rotterdam – things to see and do: Day 1
1. The Markthal
6.05 am. The alarm on my phone goes off. I've got a train to catch. First from Leuven to Mechelen and then from Mechelen to Rotterdam. When I arrive, I can immediately check in at the Ibis Rotterdam City Centre. I’m so happy when I hear my room is available already. It’s always nice to freshen up after a long train ride.
Having done that, I set off towards the first item on my list of things to do in Rotterdam: the famous Markthal.
This entirely covered market hall consists of a 40-meters high arch. The market stands are located at ground floor level, while there are restaurants on the first floor, a supermarket and a place to park underground, and apartments above. The ceiling of the arch is covered with the biggest artwork of the Netherlands, “Horn of Plenty”, which immediately gave the hall the nickname of “Sixteenth Chapel of the Netherlands”.
If you're wondering what to see in Rotterdam, this is one of the things. You can even go on a food tour of Rotterdam which will include several tastings at the Markthal.
I’d seen pictures of it before, but the real deal is even better. Nevermind the gorgeous ceiling, look at all of those food stands! Nuts, pastries, sausages, fries, cheese, drinks… I could’ve spent a day eating my way through the stands, but I didn’t, as there was much more to see.
2 + 3. The Binnenrotte market and Pannekoekstraat
I left the Markthal to find a market out on Binnenrotte Square. This market is there every Tuesday and Saturday and it’s huge. I needed to walk through it to get to the Pannekoekstraat, a cool little street full of boutiques and cozy bars. You can find some of the city's most unique shops here, selling things like little-known clothing brands, trendy glasses, and interior design.
4. Lunch at Picknick
I was getting hungry, though, and so I walked over to Picknick in the Mariniersweg 259 where I had lunch with Anne from Rotterdam Partners. When I arrived, the place was packed and several people, including us, had to wait for a table. Picknick offers breakfast, lunch, fresh juices and coffee.
For lunch, they mainly offer slightly roasted slices of bread with all kinds of delicious spreads. I had bread with soft white cheese, hummus, and salad. The portion was pretty big and even though I was really hungry when I started eating, I couldn’t finish it all.
I had the perfect latte, too.
5. The Museum Quarter
Time passed quickly, so I decided to save some of it and take the metro to the city's Museum Quarter. For €12.5 you can get a 48-hour pass for public transportation (metro, tram and bus) in Rotterdam, so if you plan on doing big distances or don’t want to think about buying a ticket each time, a pass like this can come in handy.
Het Nieuwe Instituut
I wanted to visit Het Nieuwe Instituut (“The New Institute”). Normally a place to see architecture, design, and e-culture, but at the time I was there, it housed a temporary Fashion Museum. The Netherlands doesn’t have its own fashion museum and so they were trialing what a Dutch fashion museum could look like by “putting one together”.
Most interesting to me was the exhibition on the top floor which shows you how many clothes we westerners throw away a year and how those clothes are being recycled in India. You can enter the temporary fashion museum until May 8.
If you don't know what to see in Rotterdam and are into art, you might want to start at The Museum Quarter and check out one of the best exhibitions.
6 + 7. The Westersingel and Witte de Withstraat
When I left Het Nieuwe Instituut, it was getting dark already. I walked to the famous Witte de Withstraat, but not before taking a look along the Westersingel. This is a place to find 17 sculptures by famous artists like Rodin and Carel Visser. They’re just standing there, out in the open, for all the city's residents to enjoy.
Pretty cool, don’t you think?
The Westersingel runs between the Museum Park and the Witte de Withstraat, Rotterdam’s most famous nightlife street. It was only late afternoon when I walked through it, so things were still pretty calm, but there was street art to see and indeed a lot of the city's bars and restaurants here.
And let’s not forget Seventyfive, a very cool sneaker store. This isn’t the only trendy fashion store you can find here, but the bars are definitely in the majority.
8. The shopping area (one of many)
I’d actually planned on having dinner here, but as I wasn’t hungry yet, I left Hamburger (crowned for having the best hamburgers in the Netherlands) for another time and walked in the direction of the Beursplein (“Stock Exchange Square”). This is an area with many pedestrian streets and shops, reaching all the way to the Markthal where I ended up having dinner before heading back to the hotel.
It was a Saturday night, but I decided to stay in so I would be fresh for my second day in the city.
Weekend in Rotterdam – things to see and do: Day 2
9. The White House
After the perfect, healthy breakfast (oatmeal, yogurt and fresh fruit – yum), I spent my morning at the waterside of Rotterdam. I first walked passed the Witte Huis (“White House”), which was built in 1898 and with its 45 meters considered the first European Skyscraper.
10. The Flag Parade
From there I quickly got to the Boompjes, home to the Flag Parade, a collection of the national flags of every country belonging to the United Nations. Of all the things to do in Rotterdam, it's not the most exciting, but I'm glad I went.
11 + 12. The Erasmus Bridge and Kop van Zuid
The Boompjes also offers a great view of both the Willemsbrug and the Erasmusbrug, also known as “The Swan”.
I needed to cross the Erasmusbrug to go to Kop van Zuid (“Head of the South”), the Rotterdam area which is home to the building De Rotterdam (head to the bar on the 7th floor for a great view of the city!), the Photography Museum, but also the historical Hotel New York – former main office of the Holland-America Line – and what used to be the departure point of the Holland-America Line. Between 1873 and 1970, thousands of people left to the United States by boat from Rotterdam.
From here you get one of the best views of the skyline of Rotterdam, which makes it a hotspot for photographers.
If you rather visit the architectural highlights of the city with a guide, this architectural walking tour gets great reviews.
I quickly crossed the Rijnhavenbrug to Katendrecht, an up-and-coming quarter of the city best known for the Fenix Food Factory where you can find seven food and drink businesses in one spot. Unfortunately, I only had the time for a quick look around as I still had to explore the north of the city as well.
13 + 14. Hofbogen and the Luchtsingel Bridge
To reach it more quickly, I decided to go by metro from the Wilhelminaplein to Stadhuis, the metro stop by Rotterdam’s city hall, one of the few buildings that were left standing during the war. It’s right by Rotterdam Central Station and the shopping area around the Korte Lijnbaan, where you mostly find bigger well-known chain stores. But I preferred to go north, to see and walk across the Luchtsingel Bridge.
This 390-meters long yellow wooden bridge connects meeting place Schieblock to Pompemburg Park and Station Hofplein or Hofbogen, a former train station that now houses restaurants, shops, and a jazz club and recently got a park on its rooftop.
15. Lof der Zoetheid
I’d planned it well because the bridge took me in the direction I needed to go in any way to go to Lof der Zoetheid, a famous (afternoon) tea bar.
Of all the things to do in Rotterdam, though, this was a bit disappointing.
I think tea places should be cozy, decorated with pastel colors. Lof der Zoetheid is really just a big room where it can get pretty loud (and it did while I was there). There were some people having afternoon tea and they had huge platters of cakes and other treats, but there was just something missing about the ambiance.
16. De Meent
I returned to the center to visit the last street on my list of things to do in Rotterdam: De Meent. Now, De Meent is known as one of the city's more luxurious shopping streets, but it’s actually only the part between the Binnenrotte and the Coolsingel where you have some really nice shops (not all super pricey, though, so no need to stay away! :-)
The most eastern part, between the Binnenrotte and the Goudsesingel, isn’t that interesting.
17. The cube houses
It was late afternoon by the time I’d seen De Meent and so I decided to head to the Markthal to take some shots of the building now that the square in front of it was empty. I also wanted some new photos of the famous cube houses as when I'd visited them the day before, the rain made it hard to take any nice photos.
The last reason I needed to return to that area was because of the many cool food spots there near the cube houses. I had a long train ride home ahead of me and so I decided to try out Bagels & Beans at Hoogstraat 129B.
Apparently, Bagels & Beans is a Dutch chain. I had no idea, but this place proves that food chains aren’t necessarily bad. I had a delicious bagel with hummus, sundried tomatoes and rucola combined with fresh black tea. The fact that there was free wifi was only a plus!
Bagel finished and caffeine level replenished, I went to pick up my bag at the hotel and headed to Rotterdam Centraal Station.
I’ll definitely go back and spend another weekend in Rotterdam as there are so many more coffee bars I want to try out and sites I’d like to visit. There are so many things to do in Rotterdam! In summer, probably, when the sun stays up longer and it’s warm enough to eat outside.
Activities and tours in Rotterdam
If you'd rather explore Rotterdam with a guide and go on a walking, boat or bike tour, check GetYourGuide for a wide range of options.
How to get to Rotterdam
I took the train from Leuven to Antwerp and then directly to Rotterdam. Thalys offers the fastest option.
If you're flying to the Netherlands, it's best to fly into Amsterdam Schiphol and then take the train into the center of Rotterdam from there. Click here to find the best flights for your trip.
Where to stay in Rotterdam
Want to stay near most of the things to do in Rotterdam yet in a quiet location? Then try the ibis Rotterdam City Centre. I've stayed there twice now and had a lovely experience both times. Personnel is friendly and WiFi is free. The nearest subway station is just 300 meters away and Rotterdam Centraal Station is also walking distance.
Aside from that, the ibis Rotterdam City Centre is located at the Wijnhaven, right by the water, which I think always adds some extra charm, and there was street art to see nearby.
All rooms have air conditioning, a television, desk, and safe. They're all soundproof and toiletries are provided as well.
Guests can relax on the terrace or in the lounge, grab a bite at the hotel's à la carte restaurant or use one of the vending machines for a quick drink or bite on-the-go. The elaborate breakfast buffet is extra.
Want to stay at the ibis Rotterdam City Centre too? Click here for more information, prices and availability.
Stay connected while visiting Rotterdam
Traveling to Rotterdam from outside the EU and want to stay connected so you can share photos, call loved ones over WiFi and easily use apps like Google Maps? Then check out Solis Wifi mobile WiFi.
They offer both day passes and monthly subscriptions providing you with 4G throughout your trips. I've been using their daily passes not just when I travel outside the EU (no roaming charges for me in the EU) but also as a backup for when I think I'll go over my phone's data plan.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets cancelled, you get sick or hurt abroad and even when your electronics break or get stolen. I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
You might also like:
- 21 awesome Rotterdam restaurants and cafes
- Spotting Rotterdam street art with this awesome app
- Rotterdam Unlimited, the city's Caribbean festival
- The Keukenhof Gardens seen from the ground and the sky
PIN FOR LATER
During my time in Rotterdam, I was a guest of Rotterdam Partners and Ibis Rotterdam City Centre but, as always, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own. By the way, you should really visit the website of the Rotterdam Tourism Office as it has some great thematical information.