Rotterdam, the place I live. A super cool city packed with history, art, good food and amazing architecture. My Airbnb guests are of course curious what to do, what are the local tips, the must do’s, “Yvette, what should we know?”
So here’s some info, handy for everyone who comes around. It’s an ongoing blog, so will add more info along the way.
Heads up, this post is loooooong and it will (hopefully!) go beyond the famous tourist attractions and what to see in Rotterdam, although this is work in progress. So will start with the basics. Here you’re going to find tips to best places to stay in Rotterdam, how to get around in the city plus some delicious food you must try and where to find them. My list of things to do in Rotterdam is big, it’s up to you to pick and choose. Are you ready to discover the best of Rotterdam?
Where to stay
Rotterdam hotels cater for all types of travelers, from budget rooms to luxury suites. There are two things you should consider when booking your accommodation in Rotterdam: location and view. Of course my own apartment should rank high in the top 10, super location and public transport around the corner. For the view though, the only suggestion is to become friends with the neighbors living at the second floor, they built a roof terrace which is pretty amazing. On my own terrace you have every summer evening live Spanish guitar music, unless the elderly next door neighbor has something else to do, but this is rarely the case. He sits on his tiny balcony, never says a word but plays at least one hour. I love it, gives me a holiday feeling.
If staying somewhere else, the city breathes art and has some of the most interesting buildings in The Netherlands , so a room with a view would be a pre. Going to bed under Rotterdam night skyline or waking up with a stunning sunrise.
If you agree and think that’s the way to go, a recommendation would be the Nhow Hotel:
- One of the best views of Erasmus Bridge and Maas River.
- Combines modern decor and massive windows the river, sunset and sunrises are amazing from there.
- The hotel is located in De Rotterdam, an architecture masterpiece by Rem Koolhaas. Apparently there’s also a Nhow Suite, don’t know about the costs though..
- The hotel is a few steps from the Netherlands Fotomuseum, the historical Hotel New York, movie theatre LantarenVenster (often also music performance) and the Fenix Factory, a culinary hotbed, all produced on the spot. Also Foodhallen recently opened their doors. They have beats & bites in the weekend. If you prefer a smaller place for a good cup of coffee, a breakfast or lunch, go to Kate ( Deliplein). Their shakshoukate will keep you going. They also have a small urban food market, nice for presents.
There are also plenty of cheaper and still original options, such as H2OTEL (floating hotel) and Stayokay Cube Houses, the architectural trees designed by Piet Blom. Plenty of cool Airbnb’s to be found as well so I’m sure you’ll end up somewhere nice.
What to do
Let’s start with architecture, and a little bit of history. Rotterdam was heavily bombed during World War II and the city got rebuilt in a pretty innovative way, merging urban spaces with art and a city that boosts creativity. If I were to list all of the cool architecture here, this blog post would become a book, so I created a short list with some of my favorites.
- Cube Houses
Okay, since they are so often mentioned, let’s start with them. The Cube Houses were built in late 70’s. You can walk among the houses, visit one of the Cubes and, as mentioned above, even spend the night in one of them. The houses are built on a cube shape, placed on top of pylons and together they resemble trees, creating a concrete jungle. You have to know this before you see this as a concrete jungle, or maybe that’s just me … ?
Just beside the Cube Houses you will see ‘The Pencil’, designed by the same Piet Blom. A tall building that looks exactly like a pencil pointing up to the sky, no imagination is needed to recognize this. As well the Rotterdam Central Library is close by. This square is an epicenter of some cool architecture, you can see the futuristic Blaak Station, some modern buildings and the iconic Market Hall. I guess that last one deserves a special mention.
- Market Hall
This central market is clearly one of those must visit in Rotterdam, mentioned in every travel guide. Therefore, be ready for some tourists. Of course there are plenty of nice food stalls but I would go there for the design, the colorful ceiling and maybe some finger food. On the underground, you can see historical artifacts from different periods of the city’s history. On the ground level is the huge panel ‘Horny of Plenty’, by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam. As you go up, there are apartments overlooking the square.
- De Rotterdam
Sitting by the Maas River, this three-tower building is a true icon of Rotterdam’s skyline. As mentioned, designed by Rem Koolhaas, the building houses a hotel (Nhow), as well as restaurants and offices, and it has a marvelous view of Erasmus Bridge. You can admire it from outside, you can also go on a tour to learn more about the building and the architecture innovations used there.
- Erasmus Bridge
My favorite area of town, it leads a.o. to Kop van Zuid and Katendrecht where you easily can spend a good afternoon. Just make sure you visit this bridge during the day and in the evening, as it looks even more stunning when it’s lighted up. Plenty of good restaurants in the surrounding so worth the trip anyhow. At the southern end you see the new Luxor theatre, architect duo Bowles & Wilson.
The first Willemsbrug bridge was destroyed during WWII and a new one was built in 1981. The construction itself is impressive, but, more than that, the bridge connects the Oude Haven (= old port) to Noordereiland, a cute and small neighborhood located in the middle of Maas River, nice for a stroll and some views over the river.
The above mentioned projects are some of the city’s more modern architecture wonders, but you might also want to add some old beauties, such as:
- White House
For when you are in the neighborhood. Built in 1898 and measuring 43 meters. It’s hard to believe but this was Europe’s first skyscraper, but it’s the truth. The White House facade is decorated with some nice Art Nouveau mosaics. Together with the City Hall and (part of) St Lawrence Church, it’s one of a few buildings that wasn’t destroyed during the WWII.
- City Hall
A building constructed with mixed styles, from Byzantine, Roman to Art Deco. Although everyone thinks so, the bullet holes you can see are not the result of a battle between Dutch and German soldiers. At least, according to the historian… Apparently they are the result of a confusing shooting between Dutch troops.. Just beside it there is a nice building that used to be the Post Office, both of them are located in front of the Timmerhuis, another historic building.
- St. Laurence Church
Close to the Market hall. If you’re here during summer you could take your experience to a higher level and climb the tower for an impressive view of the city. I believe it’s every Wednesday and Saturday, but you can’t book it in advance. Just stop by the church reception and ask about the tour timetable and buy your ticket. While climbing the 300 steps, you can admire the church’s gothic architecture and see the enormous organ with 7600 pipes. Often the church has a nice photo exhibition at the back. Next to the church you’ll find a great Vietnamese restaurant, Little Vie. I think I know their menu by heart…
- Van Nelle Factory
This former tea, coffee and tobacco factory was renovated in 2000, being declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. It’s a nice example of Dutch modernist architecture; concrete, steel and glass. It’s a meeting place but also an office complex, event location and museum. Check out opening times and possible tours before you take off.
Art & museums
Rotterdam breathes art and everywhere you look you can see paintings, graffitis, sculptures and statues in public spaces. The best way to feel and understand Rotterdam’s unique spirit is walking around the city. Plenty of galleries will catch your attention. But if all is not enough to satisfy your desire for art, there are some great museums worth adding to your to do list. At Museumpark you could normally visit the beautiful Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. However, it’s closed for the coming years… Large renovation work is needed and the collection of 150.000 + objects has been spread out to all kind of locations. Mostly via a traveling exhibition in other top notch museums, also a small part of the collection (approx. 450 art works) are placed in locations in Rotterdam (project ‘Boijmans bij de Buren’).
The nearby Kunsthal has often very nice temporary exhibitions, as well I’m a fan of the Netherlands Fotomuseum. I guess the Maritime museum is worth mentioning although I have to be honest that I still haven’t visited it myself. It’s about traveling back in time when Dutch sailors explored the far east on the glamorous cruises that sailed into the new world. They have interactive expositions and apparently it’s also great fun with kids. In the surrounding smaller harbors you will find old port machinery and historical ships. Same for the ‘Oude Haven’ (Old Port), this area is known for the historical ships that turned into floating houses, which are open to visit, eat or stay, surrounded by bars and restaurants.
The Wereldmuseum is a beautiful ethnographic museum, located near the Erasmus bridge and in the midst of the Scheepvaarts quarter. Nice neighborhood for a stroll including the Veerhaven and along the river. If you happen to bypass a small vegetable stand, check if the restaurant is open (restaurant Zinc, Calandstraat 12, should be open in the evening, Thursday – Sunday), you will not disappointed!
Although not an official museum, they have tours at the SS Rotterdam, the biggest steamship ever built in the Netherlands. Constructed in 1959, the ship has for sure sailed many seas. Nowadays it’s permanently moored in Maashaven and open to the public. The tours will take you to the staterooms, platform, and decks so you can have a glimpse of how luxurious this cruise ship used to be. You can also have a drink next to the little swimming pool.
Simply cool places to go to
Lots of microcosms neighborhoods, similar to ‘het Oude Noorden’ where I live.
Nearby you can discover Luchtsingel, the yellow wooden pedestrian bridge, created in 2015. It’s an urban project that connects two areas of the city. But, it’s much more than that. It’s a place for art, music, food, culture, and fun. At one end of the bridge, there is the Hofplein Station, a former train station that became the address of restaurants and shops; Hofbogen. At the other end of the bridge you can find a beer garden, and the Schieblock, an old building that was turned into a home of entrepreneurs, artists, and a really nice rooftop garden. You have to search a bit to find the rooftop garden & restaurant (called DakAkker & Op Het Dak) but definitely worth the effort. No worries, there’s an elevator. Once there, you won’t forget it, great place for breakfast, lunch or simply a delicious cup of coffee. Green environment with a city view! Rotterdam has large opportunities to do more with the enormous amount of flat roofs.
- China town
If you find yourself missing the old Dutch charm with canals, houses, and breweries you don’t need to leave Rotterdam. Take a tram to Delfshaven and see the old version of Rotterdam, a small part of the city that wasn’t destroyed by the bombing.
- Kop van Zuid area
Already mentioned. Packed with both modern buildings and old beauties as well. Behind the Luxor Theater, you can find a Bombing Forest with floating trees, a floating pavilion for events, and a floating garden made of recycling collection from Rotterdam’s rivers. One the other end close to the Port Authority building, there is a bridge connecting Kop van Zuid to Katendrecht. The nickname of this bridge is far more interesting than the official name and it relates to years back when this area was still a rough harbor area. Today you can visit many nice restaurants and little cafes, as well the SS Rotterdam and of course the Fenix Food Factory; an old warehouse turned into a collective project with great food and craft beer from the local brewery. Just pick up a cider, beer or coffee (probably depending on the hour of the day), together with some finger food you’ll have an awesome time simply sitting next to the water and watch people, boats and whatever more. It’s definitely one of my favorite spots at the end of day. When still hungry, or simply because because I can’t bypass them, I’m finishing off with a visit to nearby Vislokaal Kaap or I’ll grab some take away Thai from Deli Bird.
- Witte de Withstraat
This is the address for good food (Oliva is my favorite, also opposite Bazar is always fun with a good selection of sharing dishes), coffee, drinks, some shopping (conceptstore COLLECTIVE. by Swan has some coll stuff) and fun. Go there for lunch, happy hour or dinner, it will be crowded with locals and travelers. When you get there, open your eyes for some amazing street art, because you might find an installation or a graffiti art, hidden or unbidden. Looking for things to do in Rotterdam at night? Try some of the bars at Witte de Withstraat, street mingle with locals and see where the night will take you.
- Street Art Tour
if you want to see more street art, you can follow a 7-kilometer route via a self-guided tour, just download the Rewriters-app (rewriters010) and follow the tips to find the graffiti art and installations, and read information about the artists and their artwork. It’s pretty much booming, although old time favorite for many is still ‘Santa Claus holding a pine tree’, better known as ‘the Butt Plug Gnome’ . This sculpture has seen many ‘homes’, due to his nick name no one wanted to display the Santa Claus who was no longer a Santa Claus. After seven years moving places, the sculpture found a permanent home at Eendrachtsplein. Adored by many, photographed by many more.
Artist: Wild Drawing – location: West-Kruiskade 89 – crossing Coolsestraat
- Rotterdam Harbour Tour
Rotterdam is a lot, but foremost it’s the largest port in Europe. From the historic city centre harbour area towards the reclaimed Maasvlakte which projects into the North Sea. Many options available to take a closer look, but Spido Rotterdam is definitely the most famous. My parents took me on those boat trips ages ago and they still exists. It’s a good way to see the harbor and will show the connection Rotterdam has with the sea and with trading. The average tour takes 75 minutes and there are plenty departure times during the day. However, when you’re on a tight schedule it’s probably best to buy the Spido ticket in advance, so you don’t need to spend time queuing.
- Visit the windmills
I suppose some people think that a trip to the Netherlands is not complete without visiting a windmill. If you’re one of them it’s good to know that you can do it on your trip to Rotterdam. An original way to do so is via the waterbus, which leaves near the Erasmusbridge and will bring you from Rotterdam city center to Kinderdijk, a world famous UNESCO Heritage Site where 19 windmills tell the Dutch history of handling water and wind. Yes, touristic, but if you want to see windmills, this is the place to be.
Food and drinks
Although many options have been mentioned above while writing, there’s so much more! Food walhalla…
For all wonderful options in my neighborhood, please check out the info at my airbnb account, section neighborhood. I will copy paste and weave into this blog at a later stage but some names are: Ciao Ciao, Rebelz, Wes, Westerkaatje Noord, Osteria Liz, la Cabane de Fabian, Brasserie Nieuw Noord, Tosca, Speck, Lof der Zoetheid, Restaurant de Jong, Mevrouw Meijer and many, many more. For a splurge, go to FG Food labs
Also, don’t forgot the Oogst markt (farmer market), every Saturday from 10-5 at Noordplein. Regional entrepreneurs selling amongst others delicious bread, cheese, fish, sausages, honey, coffee and olive oil.
- Surinamese and Indonesian food
You must try some dishes from Suriname and Indonesia, former Dutch colonies that lent some flavors and spices to our cuisine. The easiest place to find this type of restaurant is at Witte de Withstraat Street or around the Cool District.
- De Machinist
- Fenix Food Factory
Already mentioned, but when the weather is nice, this is the place to be (for me). Lots of cheese, Moroccan delights, a lovely bakery, craft beers, ciders, meat, vegetable pies and much more. It will satisfy all your cravings. Grab a seat outside or just sit on the ground and enjoy your time with one of the best views on the Maas River. Tip: don’t wait until your next time R’dam since they will have to move, planned for beginning of 2020.
- Chocolate Extravaganza
A chocolate tasting at Chocolate Company Rotterdam is to die for. Amazing bonbons, hot chocolate that melts like velvet in your mouth, delicious cakes and the list goes on. If you like chocolate (who doesn’t?) you must stop by their shop at Oude Binnenweg Street for a little treat.
- Coffee.. so much options..
- What NOT to try? Kapsalon..
This might be the most local food in Rotterdam, and you’re gonna find it in every part of town. I never tried and hopefully never will. If you want to try, be ready for a huge plate full of chicken or beef shawarma, fries, salad, a lot of cheese and a spicy sauce on top. It’s juicy, greasy, and some say it’s delicious.
Water Taxi – More than means of transportation, taxi boats are probably as well one of the tourist attractions taking you from North to South and opposite. Just look for the yellow platforms and follow instructions to call a Water Taxi. Chances of bypassing one of the large cruise ships are actually pretty high.
Train – metro – tram, it all works pretty efficient.
The central station is another fine piece of architecture (created by team CS: Benthem Crouwel, MVSA Meyer en Van Schooten Architecten and West 8) so take your time to look around. It’s very likely also your entry point and main transport hub in the city. Next to the trains there a 5 metro lines and 9 tram routes to choose from.