Back in 2016 Rotterdam was named as one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit by Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel’. The city owes its place on the coveted list to its futuristic architecture, inspiring city initiatives and a growing range of art, culture, restaurants and entertainment venues.
Rotterdam, the city of reconstruction, was also mentioned by the New York Times and Rough Guide. Both recommended the Maasstad (Rotterdam’s nickname) as one of the best cities to visit in the world.
Looking for more places to visit in the Netherlands? Click on the link for 24 other suggestions like: Giethoorn, Volendam, Parkstad Limburg and much more.
Ever since Rotterdam was mentioned in Lonely Planet, there seems to have been a flow of tourists from all over the world to the Maasstad. It is quickly becoming a more and more must-see city. If Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and the New York Times think it is worth it to visit Rotterdam, let’s find out ourselves then!
I had visited Rotterdam before, about 8 years ago, but for some reason I can’t remember a lot of that trip. With the summer of 2020 being a ‘staycation’ summer, slowly the idea of visiting Rotterdam for another city trip came up and the idea of writing this Rotterdam travel blog was born.
Quick history about Rotterdam
Rotterdam is now a vibrant city, but that was certainly not always the case. In fact, Rotterdam has come a long way to get where it is today.
It was the 14th of May 1941 when the bombings of Rotterdam took place, carried out by German bombers as part of the German military raid on the Netherlands. The bombings lasted for 15 minutes and destroyed almost the entire historic city center of Rotterdam. Due to these bombings, Rotterdam has a completely different cityscape than other Dutch cities. The center consists largely of high-rise buildings and an old historic center is missing.
Immediately after the war and the devastating bombings, the people of Rotterdam started rebuilding their city, successfully! Rotterdam became and still is the largest sea port of Europe. For over years, until 2004 it was even the world’s busiest port, now overtaken by Singapore and Shanghai.
Over the past few decades Rotterdam has fought hard to get rid of the bare, chilly image of the city. In a few years’ time, the Rotterdam skyline (best skyline in Holland) has changed quite a bit. Slowly but surely the city is regaining some allure. The project for the ‘Kop van Zuid’ and the construction of the Erasmus bridge have made a huge difference. The Erasmus bridge soon became a showcase for the new flair of Rotterdam. The north and the south of the city were forged into one whole.
All this ultimately resulted in Rotterdam being ‘Manhattan on the Meuse’, and a very well-deserved spot in the Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel!
1. Go up the Euromast
Let’s start our Rotterdam trip with the Euromast. This one immediately stands out when you see the Rotterdam skyline. This Rotterdam tourist attraction was built in 1960, specially for the very first edition of the Floriade, an international flower and garden exhibition, that took place in Rotterdam.
The Euromast, originally 112 meters in height, for many years was the tallest building in Rotterdam. It shortly lost this position to the high-rise of the Erasmus MC, but quickly regained it when the Space Tower was added to the top of the Euromast, adding another 85 meters.
Euromast is now the tallest tower in the Netherlands.
Nowadays this observation tower is one of the most popular places to visit in Rotterdam, and in the Netherlands. It offers truly spectacular views of Rotterdam. And on a clear day you can even see as far as Antwerp, Moerdijk and The Hague.
2020 marks a very special year for the Euromast. This year the Euromast celebrates its 60th anniversary. To celebrate this special occasion, and to bring back the Floriade to Rotterdam, there was a flower field right next to the Euromast. Unfortunately, this flower field was only there until May 2020. But, also on the inside of the Euromast this flowering theme is visible. In the restaurant, this flower theme is reflected in the decoration and in the dishes.
Want to experience the Euromast in a very special way? Book a table at the restaurant and enjoy the spectacular views over Rotterdam while indulging on their delicious meals and wines.
2. Take a tour in the ss Rotterdam
Another unique must do in Rotterdam, and surely another icon of the city is the ss Rotterdam. Also known as the Grande Dame, the ss Rotterdam is a former ocean liner and cruise ship. She was launched by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands on 13 September 1958.
For the Holland America Line she began her journey as an ocean liner from 1959 to 1969, as the popularity of air travel began to grow. After her retirement from transatlantic services, she received a small makeover for permanent cruising. And so a new life as a full time cruise ship began.
The ss Rotterdam cruised all over our world until 1997, when she was taken out of service. The ship returned to her hometown Rotterdam in 2008, where she docked to her current location. In 2010 the ship was officially opened to the public.
You can visit this Rotterdam tourist attraction and piece of history yourself. There are two tours offered on a daily basis. These tours show you all the ins and outs of this former ocean liner and cruise ship. It only takes a little imagination to realize what it must have been like on board of this ship back in the days.
The ship also offers a wine bar, restaurant and terrace. Imagine having dinner or a drink at the promenade deck of this ship, nowadays overlooking the skyline of Rotterdam.
A fun way of visiting the ss Rotterdam is by taking the water taxi. You can give them a call from one of the 50 locations in Rotterdam and Schiedam. It’s a fast and fun way of getting to the ss Rotterdam.
But wait, it gets even better, because the ss Rotterdam is now a hotel, so you can actually spend the night at this former ocean liner and cruise ship. How cool is that?!
Well, I can tell you, it’s freaking awesome! It has to be the most cool and unique place to stay in Rotterdam. I was lucky enough to spend two nights at this amazing floating hotel. It really feels like stepping back in time, back to the glory days of this ship.
Getting a taste of what it was like to be a passenger on board of the ss Rotterdam. The former cabins of the steamship are transformed to 4-star hotel rooms with a fifty’s decor.
The ss Rotterdam as a hotel is part of the WestCord Hotels. Becoming part of this hotel group meant that two icons in Rotterdam reunited again. The ss Rotterdam, former flagship of the Holland America Line, and Hotel New York, the former headquarters of the Holland America Line.
Both of these hotels are within walking distance from each other and are part of the 100+ year long history of the Holland America Line.
3. Tour the Port of Rotterdam with Spido Rotterdam
This surely is a must do when visiting Rotterdam. Most likely the best way to experience the world’s smartest and most innovative port and to me the best thing to do in Rotterdam.
The Spido ticket office and departure point is located right in the center of the city, right next to the Erasmus bridge. So, very easily accessible by public transport and water taxi.
Spido offers several tours and cruises, there is something for everyone. I did the Rotterdam Harbor Tour. Which takes you out to the harbor area for about 75 minutes. But you also have full day tours and cruises if that’s what you’re after.
The Rotterdam Harbor Tour gives you a unique tour through one of the largest harbors in the world. At departure, you first sail right under the Erasmus bridge, then make a quick turn, and sail under it again. This is your moment for the perfect picture of the Erasmus bridge.
Both at departure and arrival of the Spido tour you get some amazing views of the Rotterdam skyline.
From the skyline you make your way to the unique harbor shipyards, docks and the super modern transshipping of thousands of containers. Very impressive to sail past all of this, it makes you feel very small.
On your way back you will also pass the impressive ss Rotterdam steamship. While enjoying the views during this tour, make sure to listen to the audio tour as well, it will tell you a lot about what you see.
4. Play golf in the middle of the city at Midgetgolf Parkhaven
When visiting the Euromast, no doubt you will pass the midget golf course Parkhaven, the only midget golf in Rotterdam! It is literally located right next to the Euromast, so perfect to combine these two. It’s an 18-hole course right in the middle of bustling Rotterdam. What more do you want? Every course is different, and as you move from course to course it gets harder with fun obstacles.
Part of the midget golf course is the terrace Parkhaven, offering views of the Meuse river and of course the Euromast. Tucked away and hidden among the foliage next to the beautiful park of Rotterdam. It’s a great place to enjoy a drink or a snack on their sunny terrace.
Explore Rotterdam Deal – All-in-1
The above mentioned places to visit in Rotterdam: The Euromast, ss Rotterdam, Midget Golf Parkhaven and the Spido have joined forces and created the Explore Rotterdam Deal especially for you!
Four of Rotterdam’s favorite tourist attractions combined in one ticket, what else do you need? What exactly is included in this Explore Rotterdam Deal?
Start your day with an audio tour at the ss Rotterdam and learn all about the history of this impressive ship. I would recommend taking the water taxi once the tour is done, and let it take you to the departure point of the Spido. Here you’ll enter one of their luxurious and modern vessels for your 75 min Rotterdam Harbor Tour. A very interesting tour where you will learn a lot about the Port of Rotterdam, one of the world’s largest harbors.
After this you make your way towards the Euromast, Your next two Rotterdam tourist attractions are located here. Hit the ball on the 18-hole midget golf course and beat your travel buddy! To finish your day, make your way up to the top of the Euromast to enjoy some spectacular 360-degree views of Rotterdam! From above you can now recognize all the attractions and highlights you visited during the day with your Explore Rotterdam Deal!
The Explore Rotterdam Deal can also be booked with an overnight stay at the amazing ss Rotterdam, where breakfast is included. What a way to make it a complete trip to Rotterdam. Check out this deal, and all the details right here!
5. Erasmus bridge - Rotterdam’s iconic landmark
The Euromast and the Erasmus bridge is are most probably the top sights of Rotterdam. In fact, they are Rotterdam’s most important landmarks and the Erasmus Bridge is even the city’s official logo!
The bridge was officially opened in 1996 by Queen Beatrix. The Erasmus bridge connects the north and the south parts of the city. The bridge has a 139-meter-high steel pylon, which is secured with 40 cables. The shape of the pylon gave the bridge its nickname, the Swan.
Some fun facts about the Erasmus bridge:
- The Erasmus bridge featured in the 1998 Jackie Chan movie ‘Who am I?’.
- In 2005 several planes flew underneath the bridge as part of the Red Bull Air Race.
- The Erasmus bridge featured in 2005 as the backdrop for a performance of DJ Tiesto, titled DJ Tiesto @ the Bridge, Rotterdam. Fire-fighting ships spraying jets of water into the air in front of the bridge, fireworks beside the bridge and multi coloured spots attached to the bridge itself, this performance had it all.
It might not be as spectacular or as popular as the NYE show at the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but the Netherlands surely has its own version of this NYE show. The Dutch National NYE celebrations are held every year in Rotterdam. The Erasmus Bridge serves as the location for this massive, impressive and spectacular fireworks show on New Year’s Eve.
It’s definitely a big recommendation to spend NYE in Rotterdam at least once in your life, and experience NYE the Dutch and Rotterdam way!
6. Be amazed at the Market Hall Rotterdam
I love to visit (street) food markets whenever I’m travelling. You often get to try the best local food at these places. The Market Hall in Rotterdam is something more than that, but absolutely worth a visit. The Market Hall is a residential and office building, with the actual Market Hall underneath. The building was opened in 2014 by our Queen Maxima and houses the large Market Hall, 228 apartments, retail space, horeca and a four storey underground parking garage.
The building is both impressive from the inside and the outside. From the outside the structure looks like a horseshoe, with a glass façade on both sides.
When entering this Market Hall, it’s like walking into a museum or art exhibition, I was amazed. The inside of the building is adorned with an 11.000 m2 artwork, showing enlarged fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, flowers and insects. Just this artwork alone makes the Market Hall already worth visiting, I guarantee you will be amazed too!
And don’t forget to buy some food of one of the 100 food stands in the Market Hall, you won’t regret it.
Fun Fact: Right after the opening in 2014, the artwork of the Market Hall got a lot of attention from all around the world. Some even called it the Sistine Chapel of Rotterdam.
7. Visit the Cube houses
After visiting the Market Hall, cross the market square and you will see your next must do in Rotterdam, the Cube Houses. These are one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. These homes are literally cubes, tilted over by 45 degrees. You have to see it, to believe it.
These cubes are all residential cubes, so not accessible. Except for one. You can learn all about life in the cubes by visiting the Show Cube Museum (the Kijk Kubus). A fully furnished cube, showing what it’s like to live in a cube house.
You can even spend the night in one of these cubes as StayOkay Rotterdam transferred one of the cubes into a hostel.
8. Historic Delfshaven - The Remaining Old City
The 1940 bombings of Rotterdam have destroyed a lot of the city, but the picturesque yacht marina of Delfshaven is one of the few parts that survived. Historic Delfshaven stands out between all the new construction and high-rise buildings in the city. It still gives you the pre-war atmosphere of Rotterdam. It gives you an idea of what Rotterdam looked like before it got bombed. It’s very easily accessible and from the Euromast just a short 15-minute walk even.
My secret Rotterdam travel tip: taste a Rotterdammertje.
Rotterdammertjes are candies in the shape of bricks that symbolize the reconstruction and architecture of the city. The flavor of these candies is very surprising, a mixture of orange, mint and cinnamon. These flavors symbolize the fruit transshipment port (orange), the spice trade, shipping and the Maas (cinnamon) and Rotterdam itself (mint).
How to get to Rotterdam
Due to its very strategic location, Rotterdam is very easily accessible, with every kind of transportation.
One of the easiest ways to get to Rotterdam is by (rental) car. I like travelling by car as it gives me much more freedom. There are plenty of parking lots to leave your car and enjoy the city. I would highly recommend parking next to the ss Rotterdam. A large parking lot where you pay max €15 for 24 hours. Not too bad for a city like Rotterdam.
Probably one of the fastest, and also one of the easiest ways to get to Rotterdam is by train. From pretty much every part of the Netherlands you can take a train towards Rotterdam. There are also very fast connections from Rotterdam to Amsterdam and Schiphol Airport. Eurostar and Thalys also offer international connections to Antwerp, Brussels, Paris and London.
Rotterdam has its own airport, Rotterdam The Hague Airport. The airport offers direct flights to a growing number of European cities. Rotterdam The Hague Airport is the second largest regional airport of the Netherlands.
Depending on what type of transport you use getting from Rotterdam airport to the city center takes up to 25 minutes.
Arriving at Schiphol Airport? Go down to the train station below Amsterdam Airport and take the direct intercity to Rotterdam and you’ll be in the city center within 25 minutes only!
Obviously Rotterdam is also very easily accessible by boat. From the United Kingdom you can travel to Rotterdam by ferry. P&O Ferries and Stena Line offer regular ferry services between The Netherlands and the UK.
Whatever means of transport you have chosen to get to Rotterdam, you’ve made it! Now let’s start exploring this city by the hand of this Rotterdam travel guide. I hope all my tips for Rotterdam were useful for your upcoming trip.
This blog was written by travel writer and Traveltomtom team member Ashley. She was invited to explore Rotterdam on behalf of Traveltomtom, and wrote this blog about her adventures in the city of Rotterdam. Check out her Instagram: @travelashie.