From strolling along the scenic canals to checking out an astonishingly elaborate miniature replica of the Netherlands, there’s no shortage of things to do in Rotterdam.
As one of the largest port towns in all of Europe, this bustling hub has long been proud of its diversity and eclectic culture. For decades, Rotterdam has been home to top-tier museums and art galleries, not to mention stunning architecture that ranges from the medieval cathedral to the sky-high Euromast tower.
Thanks in part to its exceptional university, the city has a decidedly youthful energy to it and a thriving contemporary culture scene to match. Live music, cutting-edge art, and excellent dining can all be found here.
Here are a few of the best things to do in Rotterdam.
Take a Photo From the Top of the Euromast
Anyone with a high vertigo tolerance should absolutely pay a visit to this popular attraction. The Euromast is not only the tallest building in Rotterdam, but also in all of the Netherlands.
The tower itself, which was constructed between 1958 and 1960, stands at an impressive 331 feet. Perched at the top of the original obelisk is the Space Tower, a vertiginous addition incorporated a decade later.
The main draw here is, of course, the jaw-dropping panoramic view of the city. On a clear day, you can see as far as The Hague, not to mention the entire harbor of Rotterdam, from the observation deck more than 600 feet above the ground.
After snapping a few highly impressive selfies, stop for a bite to eat at the onsite restaurant. One of the most popular options by far is the “Highest Tea,” which comes with the classic triple-tiered array of crustless sandwiches, sweets, and other small nibbles, plus a freshly brewed pot of your tea of choice.
Admire the Erasmusbrug
A masterpiece of modern engineering designed by Ben van Berkel in 1996, this impressive suspension bridge stretches more than 2,600 feet over the Maas River. It’s impossible to miss and makes for an imposing highlight in Rotterdam’s skyline.
A lone steel pylon fastened to 40 steel cables makes the bridge especially striking. It also happens to be why locals sometimes affectionately refer to this architectural marvel as “The Swan,” since the graceful arch of the pylon vaguely resembles the neck of one of these regal birds.
These bite-sized sugar bombs are the absolute height of comfort food and have a special place in the hearts of just about every Dutch person.
To make them, cooks use a special cast iron pan with small circular indentations in it. After allowing a simple yeasted pancake batter to rise, the cooks then pour them into the pan, where the individual poffertjes fry in copious amounts of butter.
The result is somehow both ethereally light and incredibly rich. A blizzard of powdered sugar or a drizzle of stroop, the traditional Dutch pancake syrup of choice, gilds the lily here.
At Pofferjes Seth, expert cooks flip hundreds of these tiny morsels before your very eyes, before piling them high and serving them to eager customers.
Visit the Maritime Museum
At the height of its global power in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Netherlands was renowned for its seafaring prowess. Dutch traders sailed around the world, amassing great fortunes in costly fabrics, spices, and other precious cargo.
Today, shipping continues to be a crucial part of the Dutch economy. Learn all about the nautical history of the country as well as the craft of ship-building at this highly engaging, interactive museum.
The best part about the museum may well be its location right on the harbor, which makes it possible to experience floating exhibits.
Go Shopping in the Markthal
Built right on the site where Rotterdam was founded back in 1270, this visually striking, beautifully colored structure houses a vibrant marketplace.
Artist Arno Coenen conceived the whole design as a giant horn of plenty, complete with a breathtaking ceiling mural depicting all sorts of bounty.
If you can bear to pry your eyes away from the paintings up above, there’s plenty of eye candy at ground level as well. Dozens of stalls sell local organic produce, wheels of gouda cheese, and freshly cut tulips.
There’s also a wide array of eateries serving all sorts of cuisines. Order traditional Dutch herring and other delicacies from the North Sea at Andalus Fish, Iberian jam at 21 Pinchos Tapasbar, or samosas at Bombay Street.
One stall not to miss is Bram Ladage, a family-owned Rotterdam icon since 1967 known for its ultra-crispy French fries. For the full experience, get the patatje oorlog, or “war fries,” which come fully loaded with peanut sauce, mayo, and minced raw onions.
Have a Pancake Brunch on a Boat
For travelers with children, there’s no better way to take a break than this roving breakfast boat. De Pannenkoekenboot allows passengers to cruise along the Maas River for 75 minutes, just enough time to see the sights of downtown Rotterdam without breaking a sweat.
Along the way, passengers can try the Dutch answer to pancakes, pannenkoeken. Unlike their fluffy American counterparts, these pancakes are the size of vinyl records and approximately as thick as a crepe.
With their lacy, buttery edges and golden hue, they make for a supremely satisfying meal at any time of day.
Pannenkoeken can be either sweet or savory, with toppings ranging from Nutella and bananas to ham and cheese.
On this mobile eatery, passengers are invited to eat as many pancakes as they can manage during their voyage. The current record is an impressive 15, or one whole pancake every three minutes.
See a Concert at the St. Lawrence Church
This spectacular 15th-century Protestant church, known as the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk in Dutch, dates back to medieval times. The building also has a particularly special historical significance to the city.
When the city was heavily bombed in 1940 during World War II, the walls of this mighty cathedral were one of the only structures left standing above the rubble.
Today, the St. Lawrence Church has been restored to its former glory, complete with impressive stained glass windows and a gleaming pipe organ. Of particular note are the bronze doors, which Italian artist Giacomo Manzù designed to warn against the tragedies of war.
While the church is still very much an active place of worship, it’s also one of the most remarkable concert venues in the city. Musical acts ranging from jazz to classical to contemporary groups have all taken advantage of the incredible acoustics here.
Stroll Through Het Park
This sprawling, gorgeously landscaped English-style garden dates back to 1852. It’s the perfect place for an idyllic afternoon of wandering along tree-lined paths.
If you find yourself craving something to snack on, Parqiet is an incredibly charming café with outdoor seating overlooking all the greenery.
Order the bitterballen, the ubiquitous Dutch specialty of fried meatballs served with mustard, or a tosti, a grilled cheese sandwich. There’s a kids’ menu, too, plus an assortment of cakes.
See the Curious Cube Houses
These architectural oddities have been synonymous with Rotterdam ever since Dutch designer Piet Blom created them in 1984. Painted a sunny shade of yellow, the compact homes seem to hang suspended above the earth at a jauntily slanted angle.
While they’re far from spacious, the interiors are quite cozy and represent a rather ingenious use of limited urban space.
Nowadays, the cube houses are a point of pride for locals and an emblem of inventive Dutch design. One is a museum, so you can check out cube living for yourself.
Check Out the Critters in the Rotterdam Zoo
Visitors of all ages can enjoy the Rotterdam Zoo, which boasts an incredible assortment of wildlife in its well-designed habitats and enclosures. See an Asian elephant family, watch the gorillas playing with their little ones, or spy on the playful penguins.
One of the highlights is the 15-foot-wide underwater tunnel. Walking through this transparent acrylic passageway feels like being at the bottom of the ocean, complete with sharks, tropical fish, and other marine life swimming overhead. The overall effect is absolutely mesmerizing.
See Works of Art at the Kunsthal
Designed by Dutch starchitect Rem Koolhaas, Rotterdam’s Kunsthal is a must for art-lovers. The unconventional space has sometimes been referred to as the “collectionless museum,” since all of the exhibits rotate 20 or more times annually.
While it’s worth checking the website in advance to get a sense of the current programming, curation here tends to be top-notch and there’s almost always something worth seeing.
Although it’s possible to blitz through the museum in an hour or two if you’re pressed for time, navigating the deliberately disorienting interior can be a minor challenge.
Dine at the Fenix Food Factory
Located right on the waterfront in the buzzy Katendrecht neighborhood, this warehouse-turned-über-hip food hall brims with energy. Peruse the eclectic collection of books at Bosch & de Jong, shop for artisanal cheeses at the Booij Kaasmakers, or stop for a craft beer at Cape Brewers.
After checking out all the artisanal wares, make a beeline for the Kaapse Kitchen, which features rotating menus showcasing seasonal produce from an ever-changing line-up of some of Rotterdam’s best chefs.
See Art at the Depot Boijmans-van Beuningen
Situated right next to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, this collection of more than 152,000 works of art is the first art storage facility in the world that welcomes visitors into its carefully climate-controlled interior.
It’s important to note that this is neither a traditional museum nor gallery. What it offers visitors is a behind-the-curtain look at how the art world operates, plus the chance to see far more individual works than would be on display at most museums at any given time.
After admiring the paintings, make your way to the rooftop and stop for lunch with a phenomenal view at Restaurant Renilde, where chef Jim de Jong serves up innovative dishes spotlighting local produce.
Discover Miniworld Rotterdam
If you’re looking for the perfect kid-friendly activity or even just a great photo-op, it’s hard to top this Lilliputian version of the Netherlands.
The level of detail at Miniworld Rotterdam is absolutely astounding. From the 27,000 individual “inhabitants” of the tiny city to the meticulously detailed miniature trains, windmills, and boats, the creators here went above and beyond. Wander through the Dutch countryside while the sun rises and sets every 24 minutes.
Cycle Along the Historic Rotterdam Canals
The intricate network of canals that runs through the entirety of the Netherlands is both an officially designated National Monument and a central part of Dutch life.
Architect Willam Nicolaas Rose engineered most of the key canals in Rotterdam in the 19th century, forever changing the city. Well-maintained paths run the length of many of these canals, making them just right for a leisurely afternoon bicycle ride.
Make your way along the scenic Westersingel canal, which dates back to the 1870s, or the Noordsingel, an especially lovely canal that runs through a public garden.
Learn About Diversity at the Wereldmuseum
According to recent surveys, people of more than 170 nationalities call Rotterdam their home.
Dedicated to celebrating cultural diversity all over the world—and right here—the Wereldmuseum features rotating exhibits on everything from the transformative power of hip-hop to the individual stories of immigrants and refugees who made their way to the Netherlands.
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