Rotterdam has always been a fascinating city that should be on everyone’s “places to visit” list as it doesn’t matter what you’re looking for when planning a city trip, you can bet that Rotterdam has it!
The history is Rotterdam is filled with destruction, rebuilding, and water… but doesn’t let that scare you off… During WWII, the city was almost completely destroyed, which means it was also rebuilt, and that you can definitely see in the modern architecture that is visible everywhere. But before WWII, Rotterdam also played a key role by the formation of the Holland America Line, which transferred thousands of passengers from Rotterdam to the United States hoping to achieve the American Dream. This part of history is very visible when you go to see the Hotel New York. Another part of Rotterdam that is famous, and important is water and more particularly the Rotterdam Port which is the largest seaport in Europe. But enough about history, let’s see what Rotterdam has to offer in the present 🙂
Rotterdam is quite close to Belgium, so we decided that this city would be a perfect opportunity to go for a quick girls weekend 🙂 We set out to walk the streets, do some shopping and sightseeing while also taking in the views so that I could share as much as possible here with you!
Top Things to Do:
Cube Houses (Kubushuisjes)
Think one of the most photographed parts of Rotterdam are the cube houses that were designed by Piet Blom (Dutch architect) who wanted to create a small village inside the city and was focused on creating living areas that were designed to optimize the space available. These houses are also very colorful so that they really stand out and make them nice to look at instead of boring grey buildings that you find everywhere. You can visit a show-cube (kijk-kubus) for 3 EUR so that you can see how it looks like from the inside, but also experience how living in these cubes would be like.
The Market Hall is a paradise for foodies, but it’s more than just another market hall like you can now find in major cities all over the world. What makes this market hall special, is that it’s a combination of an indoor food market with very colorful ceilings and luxury apartments. These apartments are incorporated in the arch over the market hall, which is actually clever thinking as it’s also optimizing the use of the space available. Inside the food market, you can wander around and get seduced by all the wonderful worldly food that is available. As we weren’t that hungry, we opted for delicious muffins 🙂 The ceiling as mentioned is very colorful and is an artwork called “Horn of Plenty” and in which you can recognize lots of different types of fruits which is also suitable for a food market!
The marina of Delfshaven and the surrounding area, are actually parts of Rotterdam that survived the destruction during WWII as most of the buildings are still in it’s original built. It’s very pleasant walking through the Delfshaven area as you can see the old-fashioned boats, walk past the waterfront and have a drink in one of the lovely cafes, visit the old windmill and visit the church where the Pilgrim Fathers would pray before departing to America.
Kop van Zuid / Hotel New York / Erasmusbridge
When you cross the Erasmus bridge, you arrive in the Rotterdam area that is referred to as Kop van Zuid (Head of the South) which is housing the building “De Rotterdam”, the Photography Museum, Rotterdam Cruise Terminal and the historical Hotel New York. This area used to be only docklands, but they were redesigned and now host some of the most impressive architectural buildings, such as De Rotterdam. The Erasmus bridge itself is a nice piece of architecture and is also referred to as “the Swan” because of it’s shape and color. Walking over it, you can admire the shape of it and the views it gives you over the city. In my opinion, the bridge is the most beautiful during the night when it’s illuminated!
Inside the building The Rotterdam, you can find an Asian restaurant (Aqua Asia) as well as a Nhow Hotel which hosts a rooftop bar on the 7th floor. We explored the rooftop bar in the evening, and I have to admit that even though I’m afraid of heights, you don’t notice it that much when you’re out on the terrace and enjoying the views of the Erasmusbridge and Rotterdam.
One note to make, is that if a cruise ship is docked at the Rotterdam Cruise Terminal, then don’t go to the rooftop terrace and the ship will be blocking your views!
Walking towards the end of the “island” where the Hotel New York is located, you have amazing skyline views of Rotterdam and also this area is one of the most photographed places 🙂 We were thirsty so decided we wanted to have some tea and something sweet at the hotel terrace since it was sunny outside. The current Hotel New York, is actually the former main office of the Holland-America Line where thousands of people would leave by boat to find their American Dream. This is visually displayed by suitcases and other belongings that would be taken on board.
If you read travel guides of Rotterdam, they will all say that you have to go up the Euromast as the 185m high tower is the highest one in Netherlands open to public . In my opinion, being the highest tower is not something that is high on my to do list since I’m afraid of heights, but the tower or mast itself is quite impressive to look at. Also, if you don’t want to go up, you can also still eat and drink on the ground floor restaurant 🙂 Having said that… those that go up the tower, can enjoy some of the most impressive views over the city and it’s surroundings. From the tower, you can see the main port with all of it’s industry on one side and on the other side of the tower, you have a very big park with even a Norwegian church!
Witte de Withstreet / Shopping
You cannot go on a city break and not do some shopping! Rotterdam has quite some shopping streets / areas so there is plenty to go about. Two places that I definitely recommend exploring are the Witte de Withstreet where you can find some cool boutiques and food places. These boutiques range from antiques, alternative to hyper-modern, but don’t expect main-stream chains. The other place is the shopping area on Binnenwegplein, Lijnbaan, Meent and Beursplein. Here you’ll find most of the main-stream chains but also some more high-end stores. These streets are mainly car-free so plenty of walking to do and going from one shop to another 🙂
Where to Eat:
Apartt is located just next to the Cube Houses and has views on the Old Harbor so it’s a great place to enjoy some drinks or snacks while taking in the views. They have a very broad menu so there is definitely something for everyone. We opted for cocktails and wine just because it was after lunch time and we wanted a short break from all the sightseeing and shopping 🙂 Definitely recommend the sweet white wine or the Cosmopolitan. Prices vary depending on what you want, but the wine is 4 EUR / glass and the Cosmo is 7.5 EUR which is quite cheap actually compared to other places.
As mentioned above, the Market Hall is a foodie paradise as you can find food shops from all around the world almost, but it also has restaurants to sit down and enjoy a meal. If you’re hungry, then I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going here immediately because you’ll want to eat everything 🙂 We went in with not really a big hunger, but still were craving some food, so we went for the delicious muffins as a sort of afternoon snack! You also cannot go into a food hall in the Netherlands without having a shop dedicated to cheese 🙂 Make sure to check this market hall out for some snacks or even a full meal if you’re up for it. They also host food tours that take you through the market hall and everything it has to offer and even has some food tastings included.
It sounds silly and should not be on your list per se, but Happy Italy is a chain of Italian food that is known for it’s low prices and fast service. This is not necessarily a bad thing especially if you’re in a hurry and still want some good food. In total, there are about 4-5 Happy Italy locations in Rotterdam city center, so plenty of places to go to. We went for the one at Binnenrotte just because we were in the neighborhood and were hungry. I can definitely recommend the Pizza Salami as it’s my go-to pizza whenever I’m eating at Happy Italy. Besides pizza, they also have pasta, salads and much more… Prices range from 4,95 EUR for a Pizza Margarita to 9,95 EUR for the more luxurious pizzas. Also worth to mention that the sizes of the pizza are huge! 🙂
Hotel New York Terrace
If you’re exploring the Kop van Zuid and taking in the skyline views of Rotterdam, I would definitely suggest to sit down on the terrace of the Hotel New York (former Rotterdam America Line office) and enjoy a cup of tea or even a glass of wine with something to eat (I can recommend the Oreo Cheesecake) 🙂 There are glass walls sheltering you from the wind, but opening hours of the terrace range as they’re only in business as of spring when it’s getting warmer.
Belgium Beer Cafe Boudewijn
Being from Belgium, we could not pass the opportunity to eat & drink in a Belgium Beer Cafe 🙂 This might sound cliche but it’s true.. I’m always curious as to how other countries are representing Belgium in these beer cafes unless they’re owned by actual Belgians. Looking at the menu in this Boudewijn Beer Cafe, it looks quite Belgian especially the beer selection (of course!), but when it comes to food I have to say that the food selection is mainly Dutch with “uitsmijter” or “bitterballen” although they also offer some Belgium dishes like “croque monsieur” or “stoofvlees”. Prices are quite OK with the beers being a bit more expensive but that’s understandable given their wide selection of special beers.
Where to Stay:
When searching for hotels for a weekend break, I’m always using booking.com as it’s easy to select hotels depending on your wishes and they offer good deals. This is how we ended up in Hotel Light as we were able to reserve the last available room for the weekend at a very good price given that prices in the middle of the city center are really high. Walking distance from the hotel to the shopping area or sightseeing area is less than 1 km, we had no problem whatsoever. The hotel is really nice and the owners are friendly and helpful especially if you’ve never been in Rotterdam and they even provide you with a paper city map (yes, I know.. very old school but I like it) where they indicate where the hotel is and which areas you definitely need to check out! Rooms are spacious enough especially for 3 girls travelling together with all the necessary facilities in the room, e.g. bathroom with shower, coffee and tea maker, TV and small desk if you need to work (not a preferred thing to do on a weekend though). Since we stayed with 3 in one room, we were happily surprised to find a double bed and a single bed instead of a sleeping coach. Breakfast was in the form of a buffet and it had everything you needed to start your day healthy and full 🙂
How to Get there:
Depending on where you’re from, Rotterdam can be reached quite easily by train, car or flight.
If you come by train, you can get to Rotterdam Central via all national train routes with one or two changes. There are also direct trains from Antwerp (Belgium) if you’re coming from the Belgium. Rotterdam Central is really located in the city center, so no matter where your hotel is, you can easily walk to it from the station. If you don’t want to walk, the public transportation is very well organized so it’s easy to catch the tram or bus.
If you come by car, Rotterdam is located on the west side of the country and more in the middle so if you’re from the south (area of Maastricht), consider about 2,5 h drive. Parking in the city center is somewhat expensive especially if you’re parking for a couple of hours. For long duration parking, the prices vary between 20 – 35 EUR per 24 h so for a weekend break this can become costly. Not many hotels offer on-site parking, so this is something to keep in mind when planning your visit.
If you’re flying in, you will have to fly to Amsterdam Shiphol Airport and then take the train to Rotterdam Central as there is no closer airport. From Shiphol Airport, you can easily take the train straight to Rotterdam Central. If you’re thinking of combining Rotterdam with any of the Belgian cities, then I would recommend flying in to Brussels Zaventem and then taking the train via Antwerp to Rotterdam (think the Thalys should be operating this route).
In general, due to the location of Rotterdam, the city is easy to reach and travel time no matter what area you’re coming from is rather limited (the 2,5 h from Maastricht are the longest…).
We spend an weekend in Rotterdam (Saturday and Sunday), and if come prepared then you’ll be able to tick of most things on your list but without some preparation, you will definitely need more time here. I’ve already started making a list of things we missed to do or see, and that will have to be checked out next time I’m visiting this amazing city!
Hope you enjoyed reading this travel guide, and if you have suggestions of things to do and see that we missed, please let me know!