Since I’m currently living in Rotterdam, I felt I should do up a little ‘Best Things To Do In Rotterdam’ list – I even have a category on Active Backpacker for exactly that sort of thing, so it would be remiss of me not to drum up a mini travel guide to Rotterdam from an expat’s point of view.
Rotterdam often gets overlooked by tourists and backpackers alike as they all swarm to enjoy the delights of its arch rival, the capital of Amsterdam.
It is true; Rotterdam is not as beautiful as Amsterdam – that’s if you are defining beauty as the traditional Dutch style of canals and old buildings that run through the city center. You can blame World War II there. If we’re talking funky style however, Rotterdam has plenty and more of that on offer and there are a number of awesome things to see and do.
This post is going to show you what to do in Rotterdam if you are planning a visit, from my favourite museums and restaurants to what spots to check out to enjoy the night life. If you know where to go, then you’ll enjoy Rotterdam immensely. Rent yourself a bike (or borrow one) and get ready to explore (use the links below to jump to the section you’re after, or simply read the whole article!).
Rotterdam is famous worldwide for its architecture – even getting off at central station you will notice the towering beams of metal that make up the current station renovations. The city itself is covered with architectural marvels, from the cube houses to the famous Erasmus bridge that spans across the Nieuwe Maas river – if you’re interested in that sort of thing, then Rotterdam will float your architectural boat.
Rotterdam draws its livelihood from the fact that it has one of the biggest ports in the world. Much of Germany essentially piggy backs off this Dutch port and the port itself does wonders for the Dutch economy. They really are doing well for a country with a population of less than 17 million people.
It’s possible to go on a Port boat tour which if you’re into that sort of thing should be a real blast.
I know that it’s a wonderful sight when I’m riding across the city or over a bridge and I can see the cranes from the Port towering the skyline in the distance. It’s also nice to see the big transport barges and other boats crawl up the Nieuwe Mass River towards the Port – it just feels like Rotterdam.
The popular and famous ‘Euromast’ or ‘Space Tower’ in English. Atop the Euromast is something known as the Euroscoop, which is a revolving elevator (that has seats in it) allowing you to have a birds eye view of Rotterdam from 185 meters. There is a brasserie restaurant at the top of Euromast too, I haven’t eaten there but be assured that if you do the views will be fantastic.
This bridge is an iconic landmark of Rotterdam – it was opened in 1996 officially by Queen Beatrix and is one of The Netherland’s most famous bridges. I like to say that the Erasmus is the only hill in Holland, after riding on flat surfaces my whole time here, whenever I have to ride over the curved Erasmus I definitely feel it in my legs!
The 800m long bridge is also known as ‘The Swan’ (because of its white colour) and it really is a photographer’s delight. I doubt you’ll miss seeing it from a distance, but definitely ride or walk over it if you get the chance.
I like to call this one the ‘Red Bridge’ – but it’s often fondly referred to as Rotterdam’s ‘Golden Gate Bridge’. This bridge was built in 1981 and was the best way to cross the Nieuwe Mass River up until the Erasmus was built.
It has two 50m high red heads and you can the Willems bridge just nearby the Oude Haven (which I discuss in more detail below).
The Tub or in De Kuip in Dutch is the football pride of Rotterdam, it’s the home stadium of the Feyenoord club which is famous all throughout Europe. For a small country, the Dutch produce some fantastic football players (most of which get poached into the big clubs like Bayern Munchen or the English Premier League clubs).
It’s an excellent stadium and many people claim that it is one of the best in Europe in terms of atmosphere. It rises up sharply and is an old bucket of a girl but I went and saw a game in The Tub and enjoyed myself immensely. If you get the chance and like to watch football, see if you can get a ticket for De Kuip!
As you may or may not know, Rotterdam got blown to smithereens in World War II. The majority of the city was destroyed and is the reason that it doesn’t have the traditional Dutch ‘looks’ of cities like Amsterdam. Instead of rebuilding Rotterdam to look exactly the same, they made the choice to make it more modern and filled in the canals that ran directly through the center of the city.
To cut what could be a long story short, Delftshaven is an area of Rotterdam that remained mostly unscathed during the bombing. Where the canal is in Delftshaven is a lovely spot to visit so definitely check it out. As a bit more trivia, Delftshaven literally translates as Delfts Harbour (Delft is another city close by to Rotterdam which is also worth visiting). In the old days, Delft and Rotterdam were very competitive as to who had the best city so Delft decided to build a harbor close to Rotterdam to lay claim to more land and show how great there city was, ‘Look Rotterdam, our Harbour is RIGHT THERE’.
Who knows if this is a true story, but as my girlfriend always says, ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a great story!’.
This massive lake close to the Rotterdam city in the area known as ‘Kralingen’ is a wonderful spot to have a picnic or go for a run, walk or bicycle ride. When I was living here in winter, the lake froze COMPLETELY over and it was awesome – I went ice skating across the whole thing.
It’s much more popular in the warmer summer days and should not be missed if the sky is blue and sun is bright – I can guarantee you the locals won’t be missing a second of it.
There are a bunch of FANTASTIC museums in Rotterdam, including one that is actually considered one of the best in Western Europe. These are the ones that I personally enjoyed the most and think that you should check out too!
Head to the area known as ‘Museumpark’ located here, this idyllic park is surrounded by some of the cities best museums and it’s fantastic that so many of them are situated so close to each other with a park in the middle.
Location: Museumpark, 18-20 Rotterdam
As their website states:
“A visit to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is a journey through the history of art. Dutch and European masterpieces provide a comprehensive survey of art from the early Middle Ages to the 21st century, from Bosch, Rembrandt and Van Gogh to Dalí and Christo.”
I like Boijmans, it deserves to be up there with the cream of the crop when it comes to western European museums. This is a must see if you plan on visiting any museums at all in Rotterdam.
Location: Museumpark, Westzeedijk 345 Rotterdam
Not everyone loves these types of museums but they’re my cup of tea. There are loads of stuffed and interesting animals (not that I support that sort of thing now but this was done by collectors in the olden days which are now preserved and maintained by the museum) as well as a slew of other natural wonders to feast your eyes upon.
Address: Museumpark, Westzeedijk 341 Rotterdam
This museum is the place to go for new, rotating and interesting art exhibitions. The museum hosts around 25 exhibitions annually with everything from contemporary and classical art to photography art. I was there on Museumnacht and they had a great DJ playing in the bottom of the Kunsthal where there is a bar and a dance floor. Worth a visit.
Where: Maritime Museum Rotterdam, Leuvehaven 1, Rotterdam
Where: Gebouw Las Palmas, Wilhelminakade 332, Rotterdam
For a slightly more personal touch on some of the museums around Rotterdam, check out my post on Museumnacht (Museum Night) where for one night only, all the museums open up in Rotterdam at once and everyone parties well into the night.
In my opinion these are the three streets you should go out in Rotterdam to experience the best nightlife.
This street is full of vibrant cafes and local haunts – if you’re visiting Rotterdam definitely head to this street and bar hop around. De Witte Aap (The White Ape) made famous in the Lonely Planet books is here, and actually heaves with a surprising amount of locals on Friday and Saturday nights.
Tiki Bar is also a great spot for a cheap burger and some beers (it’s located just off Witte de Withstraat).
Nieuwe Binnenweg also has a number of fantastic pubs and restaurants to explore, including RoTown which is arguably one of the best places in Rotterdam to enjoy some live music and knock down a few drinks.
De Meent is another favourite of ours which also happens to be the street that is closest to our apartment. Our top pick for where to go here is Café Van Zanten, but there are also a number of other excellent restaurants and cafes along this street to enjoy.
There are a few enjoyable places in the city center as well, including the Paddy Murphy’s Irish Pub which has a great sports bar and live music every night with Heineken and Irish Red flowing into clinking pints.
If you’re after a spot to sit and relax in the afternoon on a sunny day, then you can’t look past the Oude Haven (Old Port). This spot is extremely popular during the summer months where it stays light until 10.30pm and is a great spot to enjoy a drink outside with a view of a small port and some boats and looks across at a building that at one point was considered the ‘highest in Europe’ (it’s not very high). Oude Haven is located just next to the Cube Houses near Station Blaak.
I’ve only listed restaurants here that I’ve eaten at myself. Rotterdam has a LOT of great restaurants (so don’t feel like you need to stick to my list), but these are some of my personal favourites after living here for a while.
Where: Hartmansstraat 31, Rotterdam
This Thai restaurant does awesome Thai food, I had a Red Penang Curry here and it was sublime.
Where: Westerkade 20, Rotterdam
Hands down the best Indonesian in Rotterdam – the rice table (an offering of multiple small dishes) is an excellent choice.
Where: Meent 81a, Rotterdam
Excellent Italian in a small restaurant with a wonderful vibe and atmosphere – the house red is also reasonably priced and compliments the food beautifully.
Where: Mariniersweg 90, Rotterdam
Another Italian restaurant (The Dutch do so love Italian), but where it really shines is its Pizzeria section. It serves up quick yet mouth wateringly delicious and huge pizzas from a massive selection that is cooked in a mosaic ‘Octopus’ wood fired oven.
Where: Pannekoekstraat 38 /A, Rotterdam
A French café that serves up delicious French food and Belgium beers, we enjoy coming here just for a coffee or a beer on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. However the food is top notch (but does come in ‘French’ sizes) and is actually reasonably priced.
For a real ‘Dutch’ experience, head to the red Dutch diner (Pannenkoekenhuis) on de Meent, in my opinion it serves up the best ‘poffertjes’ in Rotterdam. Poffertjes are small pancakes covered in sugar and smeared with a slab of butter – if you’re thinking that it sounds a tad unhealthy then you would be right. Who said tasty things had to be healthy though, right?
If you’re living in Europe or the UK, then Rotterdam really is a great choice for a weekend getaway. The same applies for those who may be backpacking or travelling Europe; don’t simply discount Rotterdam because you’ve only heard of Amsterdam. Not venturing out of the capital often means you miss out on so much that a country has to offer.
Rotterdam – I live here and I like it (and you will too if you give it a chance!).