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 a lot 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.
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 quite a bit into those two days. Below you can find a recap of my weekend in Rotterdam.
- Weekend Rotterdam – things to see and do: Day 1
- Weekend 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:
- Pin for later
Weekend Rotterdam – things to see and do: Day 1
1. The Markthal
6.05 am. The alarm on my phone goes off. Time to get up! 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 a bit after a long train ride.
Having done that, I head to my first stop of the day: the famous Markthal.
This entirely covered market hall consists of a 40-meters high arch. The market stands are located on the ground floor, while there are restaurants on the first floor, a supermarket and parking spaces underground and apartments on the upper floors. The ceiling of the arch is covered with the biggest artwork of the Netherlands, “Horn of Plenty”, which immediately gave the Markthal 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, check out all of those food stands! Nuts, pastries, sausages, fries, cheese, drinks… I could’ve spent a day eating my way through all the stands, but I didn’t, as there was plenty more I wanted to see.
2 + 3. The Binnenrotte market and Pannekoekstraat
I left the Markthal to find a market out on the 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 really 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 to get 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.
Their Latte was great too.
5. The Museum Quarter
Time passed quickly, so I decided to save some of it and take the metro to the 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.
You can also get a one-day or two-day pass for the hop-on-hop-off bus. This includes:
- your bus ticket with stops at Central Station, Museum Park, Erasmusbridge and Spido boat, the Euromast at the park, Kop van Zuid with the cruise terminal, the Markthal and the Oude Haven, city hall on the Coolsingel
- free coffee at the Markthal
- free 30-minute bike rental (available from Zit by the Mass next to the Spido)
- live commentary in Dutch and English
I wanted to visit Het Nieuwe Instituut (“The New Institute”). Normally focused on architecture, design, and e-culture, but at the time of my visit, it housed a temporary Fashion Museum. The Netherlands doesn’t have its own fashion museum and so Het Nieuwe Instituut wanted to find out 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 visit the temporary fashion museum until May 8.
If you don't know what to visit in Rotterdam and are into art, you might want to start at The Museum Quarter and check out an exhibition or two.
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 where you can find 17 sculptures by famous artists like Rodin and Carel Visser. They’re just standing there, out in the open, for everyone 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 were indeed a lot of bars and restaurants here.
And let’s not forget Seventyfive, a very cool sneaker store. This isn’t the only trendy fashion store on the street, 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 a lot of 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 as I wanted to be fresh for my second day in the city.
Weekend Rotterdam – things to see and do: Day 2
9 + 10. The White House and the Flag Parade
After a 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.
From there I quickly got to the Boompjes where I wanted to see the Flag Parade, a collection of the national flags of all the countries belonging to the United Nations.
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 get to Kop van Zuid (“Head of the South”), the Rotterdam area where you can find 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 for the United States by boat from Rotterdam.
From here you get a great view 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 to have a quick look around as I still wanted to explore the north of the city as well.
13 + 14. Hofbogen and the Luchtsingel Bridge
To get there more quickly, I decided to take the 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 the shopping area around the Korte Lijnbaan, where you mostly find bigger well-known chain stores. But I wanted to go north, to see and walk on 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 get to Lof der Zoetheid, a famous (afternoon) tea bar.
When I got there, I was a bit disappointed, though.
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: De Meent. Now, De Meent is known as the more luxurious shopping street of Rotterdam, but it’s actually only the part between the Binnenrotte and the Coolsingel that has 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 cubicle houses
It was late afternoon by the time I’d seen De Meent and so I decided to head back to the Markthal to get some shots of the building now that the square in front of it was empty. I also wanted some new photos of the famous cubicle houses as I'd visited them the day before, but the rain made it hard to take any nice photos.
A last reason I wanted to get back to that area was because of the many cool food spots there. 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.
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. 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 central yet in a quiet location? Then check out the ibis Rotterdam City Centre. I've stayed there twice now and had a lovely experience both times. Personnel is friendly, WiFi is free and the nearest subway station is just 300 meters away. Oh, and the famous Markthal is just a few minutes walking as well.
Aside from that, the ibis Rotterdam City Centre is located at the Wijnhaven, right by the water, which I think always adds a bit of extra charm.
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 Skyroam 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.
Rather be safe than sorry too? Check out World Nomads. They cover a wide range of activities for people from 140 countries.
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.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you book or buy anything through them, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
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