Culturally Immerse Yourself In This Burgeoning City

Known for its modern architecture, bustling port, and rich cultural scene, Rotterdam is one of the best-kept secrets in the Netherlands.

As the second-largest city in the country and one of the largest ports in the world, Rotterdam has a long history of international trade and commerce. However, in recent years, the city has emerged as a hub of innovation and creativity, with cutting-edge architecture, world-class museums, and a thriving nightlife.

With its cosmopolitan atmosphere and unique blend of history and modernity, Rotterdam is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to the Netherlands. Keep reading to learn about the best things to do in Rotterdam during your next trip!

ABOUT ROTTERDAM

Rotterdam was founded in 1270 and has a long and rich history. It was once the world’s largest port and still the largest one in Europe. This city houses many important cultural institutions, such as the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, the Netherlands Architecture Institute, and the Kunsthal.

Rotterdam is also known for its unique and distinctive architecture. This city has modern skyscrapers, bridges, and traditional Dutch buildings. The Erasmus Bridge, which spans the Maas River, is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.

Rotterdam is also incredibly diverse. As a dynamic port city, Rotterdam is home to over 170 nationalities and various cultures, subcultures, and communities. You can find residents of all different ethnicities and backgrounds in this bustling area.

Only 52% of Rotterdam’s population comprises people born to Dutch parents. As of 2009, about 46% of this city’s population were immigrants.

Night cityscape view of Rotterdam.

FUN FACTS ABOUT ROTTERDAM

  • Rotterdam’s port is the second largest in the world.
  • Rotterdam had the first metro system ever.
  • The residents of Rotterdam have nicknames for everything, including the architectural monuments.
  • Speaking of nicknames, the main shopping area is called the “gutter.”
  • Rotterdam’s flag is red, white, and green.
  • This city has over 68 football clubs.
  • There are over 73 bridges in Rotterdam.
  • The oldest street in this city is Hoogstraat.
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Markthal on the inside. Beautifully designed and houses so many food options.

BEST TIME TO VISIT ROTTERDAM

The best time to visit Rotterdam depends on what you’re looking for. The city is full of festivals, outdoor events, and concerts, making the summer the perfect time to take advantage of the city’s energy. It’s also the best time to experience its nightlife.

If you’re looking for more of a relaxed atmosphere and don’t mind cooler temperatures, spring or fall may be the best time for you. The city is still alive during these months, but the crowds are smaller, and the temperature is more comfortable for sightseeing and exploration. The city is full of parks and gardens, so you can take advantage of the cooler temperatures to enjoy the city’s beauty.

May and June typically offer the best weather in Rotterdam, but September through November can be lovely with the changing leaves.

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Interior of St. Lawrence Church (Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk).

HOW TO GET TO ROTTERDAM

If you are making a trip from Amsterdam, the most popular tourist destination in the Netherlands, hop on the hour-long train to Rotterdam Central Station (Rotterdam Centraal). The station is served by national and international trains, making it easy to access from other parts of Europe.

If your traveling from outside of the country and your priority is to visit Rotterdam, take a flight to “Rotterdam The Hague Airport,”  located just north of the city center. You have an easy train or bus ride from the airport to the city center.

Traveling by car is also an option if you are already on a road trip through Europe. But having a car is not a must — most of Europe is easily accessible by reliable and fast public transport.

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The remarkable Rotterdam Central Station.

WHERE TO STAY IN ROTTERDAM

Rotterdam has many fantastic neighborhoods, but which one should you stay in? Here are a few of our favorites.

City Center

It may seem obvious, but the city center is one of the best places to stay in Rotterdam, especially if it’s your first visit. Because this area has a transport hub, Rotterdam Centraal, the entire city will be within easy reach.

Kop van Zuid

Located on the Maas River’s south bank, Kop van Zuid is home to many of Rotterdam’s architectural gems. You’ll find some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, shops, attractions, central banks, and financial institutions here.

Because it is so close to the city center, this is a great place to stay while visiting Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Delfshaven

The historic neighborhood of Delfshaven overlooks the harbor and is home to various cafes, galleries, and boutiques. Delfshaven also offers a unique glimpse into the city’s past with its preserved 17th-century buildings. You can also find several lively bars and music venues in this area.

Charlois

The vibrant neighborhood of Charlois is another fantastic place to stay if you want something less touristy. It’s home to some of the city’s best nightlife spots and a wide variety of ethnic restaurants, cafes, and shops.

Charlois is known for its lively street markets, beautiful waterfront views, and abundant green spaces, including Zuiderpark. Because there are so many parks, this is also where many outdoor festivals are held throughout the year.

Katendrecht

The up-and-coming neighborhood of Katendrecht, a riverside neighborhood, is a great spot to stay in Rotterdam if you’re looking for a bargain. This neighborhood is home to some of the city’s best bars and restaurants and the iconic Fenix Food Factory. Katendrecht also offers a unique view of the city, combining modern and historic architecture.

BEST HOTEL OPTIONS IN ROTTERDAM

Rotterdam, Netherlands, has plenty of fantastic hotels, so picking one out of the many can be overwhelming! Here are just a few hotel options while you’re staying in Rotterdam.

Budget: CityHub Rotterdam

This trendy capsule hotel is perfect for the budget traveler! While you’re here, enjoy free WiFi, shared bathrooms, and a self-service bar.

CityHub Rotterdam stands out with its City Host service, giving you access to a local with recommendations ready to go.

Mid-range: citizenM Rotterdam

citizenM Rotterdam’s interiors may be compact, but that’s only because this hotel focuses on style and comfort.

Funky interiors feature floor-to-ceiling windows, soundproofing, high-end linens, designer toiletries, and tablets for internet browsing. Common spaces include a cozy lounge with a fireplace and a dynamic library.

Luxury: Mainport Hotel

Mainport Hotel has access to everything you could ever want or need during your stay in Rotterdam. This upscale and modern hotel is decorated with murals and trendy accents, and rooms feature WiFi, coffeemakers, and flatscreen TVs.

Upgrade your room to enjoy river views, living rooms with fireplaces, or a private sauna. Other amenities include a bar, gym, indoor pool, and a spa with a sauna and hammam.

Best for Families: Rotterdam Marriott Hotel

With 228 rooms and suites, the Rotterdam Marriott Hotel has a room option for groups of all sizes. Not only is this hotel stylishly designed, but it’s also in one of the best Rotterdam locations!

Located across from Rotterdam Central Station, this hotel offers an extensive breakfast buffet, onsite dining, a fitness center, and bike rental.

HOW LONG TO STAY IN ROTTERDAM

If you’re trying to decide how many nights to spend in Rotterdam, it depends on what you want to experience while you’re there. Rotterdam has plenty to do and see, so you could spend as long or as short as you’d like.

You’d only need a weekend to visit the city’s major historical attractions, museums, and churches. Make this a day trip or overnight stay (or two) during your Amsterdam visit.

16 BEST THINGS TO DO IN ROTTERDAM

There are plenty of Rotterdam things to do, from local landmarks and green spaces to food markets and cafes. Check out the list below for some ideas!

1. Check out the Erasmus Bridge

This 800-meter-long bridge is an iconic symbol of Rotterdam and a must-see for any visitor. Nicknamed the “Swan” due to its upright mast that resembles a swan’s neck, this is one of the most popular things to do in Rotterdam.

Take a stroll across the bridge and take in the stunning views of Rotterdam from the top – walking across this bridge is a rite of passage while exploring this city.

In the middle of the bridge, you’ll find a bascule section, allowing larger ships to pass through these waters. Architecture enthusiasts are sure to enjoy admiring this bridge!

2. Visit the Rotterdam Zoo

Home to Black Rhinos, Asian Elephants, and Sumatran Tigers, animal lovers always enjoy the Rotterdam Zoo. Also known as Diergaarde Blijdorp, this zoo comprises a botanical garden, oceanarium, Chinese garden, crocodile river, and Malayan forest.

From plants to wildlife, you could easily spend an entire day with the family at this zoo, making this one of the best things to do in Rotterdam for kids.

3. Tour the Euromast

Towering 606 feet, the Euromast is the tallest building in Rotterdam and offers breathtaking skyline views from its observation deck. Built in 1960, this structure was explicitly created for panoramic views.

This building is home to a restaurant, hotel suite, business center, and observation deck. Thrill seekers can even zipline from the top of the tower! Take the elevator up to the top and experience some of the best views in the city.

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Euromast in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

4. Hike the Hoge Bergse Bos & Lage Bergse Bos

As a wetland park, Hoge Bergse Bos offers canoe rental, an artificial ski slope, a viewing tower, and hiking trails. This is a great spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the city while relaxing in nature.

Lage Bergse Bos is another great green space in Rotterdam. This forest area has designated hiking trails, a dog beach, and lakeside restaurants. If you get lucky, you might even spot some wild grazing cattle!

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Viewing tower in recreational area Hoge Bergse Bos

5. Explore Coolsingel

Nicknamed Rotterdam’s “cool” district, this area is home to the city’s Town Hall and several different historical monuments, making this an excellent place for history buffs.

Want to do some shopping? Coolsingel houses several excellent shopping streets, like Lijnbaan and Koopgoot. You can also catch a show at De Doelen, an old concert hall, along with the city’s municipal theater.

Other fun things in Coolsingel include the Beurs-World Trade Center, a high rise with bluish-green glass, and the “Beehive” department store, designed in the 1950s. From architecture to history, you could spend an entire day in Coolsingel.

6. Visit the Kunsthal Rotterdam

The Kunsthal Rotterdam is one of the best things to do in Rotterdam for art lovers! This trendy art gallery, which opened in 1992, houses a variety of modern and contemporary art. Here, you can enjoy constantly changing exhibitions, including visual art, architecture, design, and culture from around the world.

If you are interested in photography, stop by the Netherlands Photo Museum, featuring a wide range of historical images from Dutch photographers.

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7. Discover Zuiderpark

Zuiderpark is situated in the Charlois neighborhood and is one of the largest city parks in Rotterdam. This is one of the best Rotterdam things to do if you love the outdoors.

Covering around 215 hectares, this is a great place to experience the forest, swamps, beach, small islands, and a large playground for the kids. Whether you want to get some fresh air or spend the day here with your family, Zuiderpark is an excellent choice.

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Picturesque autumn scene in Zuiderpark in Rotterdam, The Netherlands with trees, fallen leaves, a mirror-like pond and a friendly sky

8. Check out the Cube Houses

If you love intriguing architecture, these cube houses are a must-see! From afar, these yellow homes almost look straight out of a different world.

As a unique set of homes designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom, these houses are cubes tilted at a 45-degree angle. At the Cube Houses Museum, you can tour one of these single-family homes to discover how people live with the strange angles of these residences.

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Cube Houses that people actually live in!

9. Rent a Bike!

With over 600 kilometers of cycling paths, Rotterdam is incredibly bike-friendly. What better way to get fresh air and exercise than to explore the city on a bike? Don’t forget that this city has several free bicycle parking areas, making this form of transportation a breeze.

One of the best biking paths is near the Nieuwe Maas. All you have to do is follow the path to enjoy incredible views of the city, architecture, green spaces, and industrial sites. While the entire trail is around 28 kilometers long, breaking this path into smaller sections is easy.

If you want to leave the city, follow the river Rotte, starting from Noordplein. This route will take you to the lovely Rottemeren recreation area. Along this 12-kilometer path, you’ll see meadows, windmills, and old dike houses. This isn’t a heavily trafficked area, so you can quickly stop to take in the view occasionally.

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Rent a bike in Rotterdam, netherlands.

10. Explore the Maritime Museum

Rotterdam’s Maritime Museum is the largest in the world and has a massive collection of maritime memorabilia, art, and cartography.

Located in the old harbor, the Maritime Museum is a great place to learn about the history of Rotterdam’s maritime past, and it’s one of the best things to do in the Netherlands.

11. Immerse yourself in Afrikaandermarkt

The Afrikaandermarkt (African Market) is a multicultural market in the south of Rotterdam. There is no better place in the city to see that Rotterdam is a melting pot of nationalities.

It is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm. To get there, type Afrikaanderplein 41 in your preferred Maps for directions.

12. Tour Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk

Also known as Great St. Lawrence Church, Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk is Rotterdam’s only remaining medieval building since most ancient structures were destroyed in World War II.

This Gothic-style church dates back to the 15th century and was heavily damaged by war bombings. However, it has been fully restored since then.

The interior of this church is just as impressive as the exterior. Inside, you’ll find colorful stained-glass windows that bring abundant natural light into the room. This church is also well known for its three Danish organs, and the largest one stands on a marble base inside the tower.

While guided tours of this church are available, the admission fee includes an English-language audio guide.

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Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk (Saint Lawrence Church)

13. Visit the Kinderdijk Windmills

About 23 kilometers east of Rotterdam, you’ll find the charming village of Kinderdijk, one of the most popular things to do in the Netherlands.

This village is home to 19 beautifully-preserved 18th-century windmills, each of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Constructed between 1722 and 1761, this windmill collection is the Netherlands’ largest surviving group.

While here, you can tour the canals and museums in the Blookwer and Nederwaard mills.

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You can even bike to the windmills.

14. Hop on a Boat

Rotterdam has an extensive port occupying 247 square kilometers – much of which is part of Europort. Europort is a massive complex known as the “Gateway to Europe.”

One of the best ways to experience Europort is through a local boat tour. Many tours begin near the Hook of Holland, featuring incredible Erasmus Bridge views.

15. Tour the world at Wereldmuseum

Also known as the “World Museum,” Wereldmuseum was founded in 1883. This large ethnographic museum features over 1,800 artifacts from around the world. You can learn about almost any ancient or modern culture here, making this attraction extremely educational.

You can also enjoy guided tours, lectures, and events throughout the year. Remember the onsite gift shop and restaurant while you’re here!

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16. Experience Rotterdam’s Nightlife

Rotterdam, Netherlands, is known for its vibrant nightlife, with a range of bars, clubs, and pubs. You’ll find it in Rotterdam whether you want to sip the local beer in a Biergarten, dance all night, sample hand-crafted cocktails, or enjoy an intimate concert.

One of the best nightlife areas in this city is Witte de Withstraat. This street has fantastic restaurants, clubs, and bars, so you could easily party all night. Be sure to explore some of the side streets in this area, which are home to tiki bars, vintage pubs, and other unique nightlife options.

WHERE TO EAT IN ROTTERDAM

Sampling the local food scene is one of the best things to do in the Netherlands, especially in Rotterdam! There are so many different cultures represented in their diversity of cuisine. I try to capture some of them here in my top recommendations for food in Rotterdam:

Markthal

Also known as the Market Hall, Markthal is a modern market filled with various food stalls and shops. Not only does this market have 100 produce sellers, 15 food shops, and eight restaurants, but it is also home to a massive mural covering the entire interior. This is a fun browsing place, even if you’re not hungry.

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Markthal from the outside is an architectural marvel.

Restaurant Aji

This eatery specializes in Asian-South American fusion cuisine, offering a variety of unique entrees and flavor combinations. Enjoy seafood dishes, incredible wine, and several robust Peruvian flavors. Plus, the ambiance is just as great as the food!

Viva Afrika

This East African restaurant is in the heart of Rotterdam. Not only is the atmosphere fun and colorful, but this is also one of the best places in the area to enjoy authentic African cuisine, ranging from Injera (an African pancake) to banana beer.

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Viva Afrika Restaurant. Get ready to fill your tummy!

Panzerò

While this restaurant specializes in Italian cuisine, it offers more than your typical pizza and pasta dishes. Panzero serves authentic Pugliese cuisine, including panzerotti, puccia, and panzerelli. Of course, the menu also includes plenty of delicious desserts, so don’t forget to save room!

Fenix Food Factory

Home to tastings, workshops, and open markets, the Fenix Food Factory is perfect for those who want to sample everything. You’ll find it here, from local produce and beer to gourmet cheeses and meats. Don’t forget to come hungry!

D’Afrique

This restaurant is a hidden gem serving authentic Nigerian cuisine. Significant portions and tons of spices mean this is a great spot to sample African flavors.

NOTABLE ANNUAL EVENTS IN ROTTERDAM

Not only are there plenty of things to do and food to sample in Rotterdam, but this area is also home to several festivals throughout the year! Here are a few of the most popular events:

International Film Festival (January)

Held at the end of January every year, Rotterdam’s International Film Festival showcases emerging talent and established filmmakers throughout several locations in the city. This festival started in 1972 and has focused on experiential and independent filmmaking since it started.

Rotterdam Museum Night (March)

This special event is where all participating museums open from 8:00 pm to 2:00 am for a romantic (maybe?) night viewing of various artwork. Be sure to check it out if you’re in town.

Rotterdam Marathon (April)

Every year, thousands of runners and many more spectators fill the streets to celebrate their annual marathon race. Feel free to sign up! For those who cannot commit to a full marathon, try their ¼ marathon (about 6 miles) that they hold on the same day.

North Sea Jazz Festival (mid-July)

If you love live music, the North Sea Jazz Festival is a must-do event in Rotterdam. Held the second weekend of July every year, you can attend around 350 concerts at 125 locations throughout the city.

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Mama Africa (year-round)

Mama Africa is a cultural organization that hosts parties highlighting the very best in African music and nightlife. They host events across Europe but tend to have the biggest party each year in Rotterdam. Check them out HERE:

BLACK (AFRO-DUTCH) IN ROTTERDAM

While on a month-long solo tour through Europe, I desperately needed a place to get a haircut from someone whom I could trust with the perfect line-up. I was in Amsterdam, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the Afro-diversity in the country, especially in Rotterdam.

The largest populations have migrated from Somalia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Eritrea, Cape Verde, and Nigeria; the culture and food you will find reflect them all. Even better is the plethora of places for hair care, giving me this sense of community and belonging thousands of miles from home.

Isn’t that the best feeling!?

Afro Hair Care in Rotterdam

Here are some notable places and resources I discovered in my quest for a great haircut.

Natural Hair Lounge

As the name implies, Natural Hair Lounge is excellent for those maintaining their natural hairstyles. This is a ladies-only salon, so sadly, I won’t be able to experience this place. Ladies, tell me what you think if you decide to drop by!

Tasha’s Hair Salon

Tasha’s Hair Salon, founded in 2004, specializes in treating naturally curly hair. Services include straightening treatments, Deva cuts, weaving, and standard curly cuts, to name a few options.

Unique Trends Barbershop

Unique Trends barbershop has over 18 years of experience. Besides standard haircuts, this shop offers dreadlock care, shaving, curly hair treatments, and eyebrow services.

Barbershop Mixed People

Mixed People does way more than offer a nice haircut. If you want the ultimate self-care experience, check out their offerings for massages, skin treatments, dental whitening, manicures, and pedicures.

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Support Black Business in the Netherlands

There are plenty of other establishments listed in this post and beyond that offer a way to support black communities worldwide. 

For a great resource, check out this Instagram page, @blackownedinc_

ROTTERDAM’S FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is Rotterdam famous for?

Rotterdam is well known for its river scenery, restaurant scene, educational opportunities, modern architecture, and maritime history.

Is Rotterdam worth a visit?

Yes! Rotterdam is a perfect home base while exploring the southern Netherlands, and there is plenty of things to do and see while you’re here.

Is it better to visit Amsterdam or Rotterdam?

Rotterdam and Amsterdam both have a lot to offer, so it depends on what you’re looking for. My suggestion? Visit both! While Amsterdam has old architecture and coffee shop culture, Rotterdam is home to incredible modern architecture and top-notch restaurants.

Do they speak English in Rotterdam?

While Rotterdam’s primary language is Dutch, many residents speak English fluently.

GET READY FOR A GREAT TIME

I can’t recommend Rotterdam highly enough. When you go, please tell me what you think any other cool spots that I should know about.

Veel plezier (Have fun)!

Cultural Rotterdam: Top Things To Do, See, Eat

Malcolm
Writer & Blogger

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