Considering taking a day trip to Rotterdam? I’ve created a one day guide to Rotterdam, covering Rotterdam’s best things to do in Rotterdam with a free self-guided walking itinerary covering this modern Dutch city. (If you’re less keen on covering this Rotterdam itinerary on foot, there’s a good metro system in Rotterdam.
Rotterdam is an electric city. Although people often think of old Dutch cities, Rotterdam is alive, moving, and always changing. I used to live in Amsterdam, so I’d often bring guests (particularly New Yorkers) to Rotterdam, however I now live in the Hague, which is only 20 minutes away by train. I sometimes just for the day to eat, relax, enjoy the cool atsmophere, and catch up with friends, so this independent guide is strictly with my favorite things to do in Rotterdam. I’ve included a map at the end.
One day limits you, so consider staying overnight in Rotterdam at a cozy boutique hotel in Rotterdam in order to enjoy Rotterdam’s fantastic nightlife without worrying about the last train back as I have many times. (Hotels in Rotterdam tend to be cheaper than Amsterdam, so definitely consider a night in Rotterdam to cut costs.)
Getting to Rotterdam from Amsterdam
Important notes: It’s very easy to take a day trip from Amsterdam to Rotterdam. The train ride from Amsterdam to Rotterdam takes about 40 minutes direct, however for the direct train, you must buy an extra supplement for the direct train, which will cost 2.40 extra (toeslag is the word in Dutch). The non-direct train will take over an hour. If you do not buy the supplement for the direct, you will be fined. On one of my first trips to Rotterdam, I made this mistake…
Your itinerary for Rotterdam
To get around Rotterdam, the Metro and tram is easiest as Rotterdam is actually quite large for a Dutch city. I recommend carrying some coins to pay on the bus/tram as needed. This itinerary only includes two Metro rides, however it might be worthwhile to get the Rotterdam public transportation day pass to minimize walking. I recommend carrying some cash on you as many restaurants in Rotterdam do not accept credit cards.
Things to do in Rotterdam
- Rotterdam Central
- Cool District
- Eat Kapsalon
- Visit the great art museums in Rotterdam
- Take in the old Harbor and views of the Erasmusbrug
- Walk over the Erasmusbrug
- Admire the modern architecture of Rotterdam
- See the cool Katendrecht area of Rotterdam
- See the historic Delftshaven area
- Visit the Markthal
- View the cube houses
- Browse the Rotterdam market
- View Grote Sint Laurenskerk
- Get drinks along Witte de Wittestraat
- See the bizarre Santa Claus statue
Arrive at Rotterdam Centraal. This beautiful modern train station is one of the gems of the Netherlands and one of the most sustainable buildings in Europe with nearly 130,000 solar cells on the roof. I absolutely love the sculpture in the foyer of the station. Admire it a little before you go.
Coffee at Grand Café La Buvette
For breakfast (or just coffee) in Rotterdam, consider stopping off at this cool cafe that is known for breakfast or just a coffee as I have fantastic lunch/dinner plans for you! Who doesn’t love Eggs Benedict or avocado toast?
Cool District / Witte de Wittestraat
The Cool district is not surprisingly cool. This area has some of Rotterdam’s coolest cafes as well as bars. I just love strolling down here, popping into the various boutiques, and stopping for a bite to eat. If you’re okay waiting to eat around lunch time, save your appetite for the great food in this area.
Optional: Art at Chabot Museum, Kunsthal or Boijmans Van Beuningen
Rotterdam is fantastic for modern art. If you’re a modern art lover, be sure to check the exhibition as they’re truly world class–and always innovative. The Kunsthal is my go-to museum for modern art exhibits that you would find at similar institutions, such as the Whitney.
Lunch at Jaffa Shoarma or Bazar or Swati
One of the most iconic foods from Rotterdam is the kapsalon. This Rotterdam favorite was invented after a hairdresser (Dutch word: kapsalon) was hungry and called the nearby sharma shop to ask for something to eat. The hairdresser ended up with something with all the ingredients on it. It ended up being a classic and seriously, it’s good. One of the best places to go in Rotterdam for kapsalon (or falafel) is Jaffa Shoarma.
I have a few other favorites along Witte de Wittestraat. I always love Bazar, a middle-eastern restaurant with amazing salads and hummus. The portions are generous and the decorations inside are absolutely beautiful as well. Across the street from Jaffa, you’ll find Switie. This Surinamese restaurant has delicious sandwiches with an affordable lunch special that I have taken advantage of in the past.
Old Harbor & Views by the Werldmuseum
Some of the best views of Rotterdam are right along the water, so be sure to take the iconic photo of the Erasmusbrug and the Rotterdam skyline. This is as good a moment as any to discuss the fact that Rotterdam was almost entirely destroyed during World War II. The Dutch put a good fight when the Nazis attempted to invade and unfortunately majority of the historic center was destroyed. Rotterdam is like a phoenix and came back, bigger and better than before.
Walk over the Erasmusbrug
Biking or walking over the Erasmusbrug is one of those iconic things in Rotterdam that will make every local happy to hear. The Erasmusbrug is a bridge completed in 1996 that is one of the “icons” of Rotterdam. It’s good to note that if you take the tram towards Hotel New York, you’ll go over the bridge this way as well! Famously, this bridge was in Jacky Chan’s masterpiece, Who Am I? 😉
Hotel New York & modern architecture in Rotterdam
Rotterdam is famous all over the world for its architecture. The island close to Hotel New York, the former headquarters of the Holland America Lines. However, this stunning hotel is now surrounded by skyscrapers that you’ll want to admire up close. Another cool attraction is the S.S. Rotterdam, a former ocean liner, now hotel.
Optional: Katendrecht & Fenix Food Factory
Katendrecht is one of the coolest “new” neighborhoods in Rotterdam. A lot of Rotterdam feels hyper modern, however this area is the one most rapidly changing at the moment. Within this former village, you’ll find the Felix Food Factory, a food hall in Rotterdam. Although I’ll be taking you to the iconic Markthal, this is also a great place to stop for a snack or a coffee. (We love snacking here.)
Metro to Delfshaven
Delfshaven was actually part of Delft for many years as the name literally means Delft’s harbor, however it was annexed by Rotterdam in the 1800s. The pilgrims departed the Netherlands from Delfshaven by ship. (You can visit the Pilgrim museum in Leiden if you’re interested in that history.) Unlike Rotterdam, Delfshaven survived, so be sure to enjoy its beautiful historic center.
Take the metro to Markthal
The cube houses are an iconic sight of Rotterdam that you can’t miss. I’m not the biggest modern architecture lover, however these cubes are absolutely fascinating to view from all different angles. For a small fee, you can enter one of the cubes, which is a museum open to the public.
The architect of the cube houses was inspired by a forest and had the concept of a urban forest back in the 1970s. The house interior is about 100 meters although the houses incorporate cool angles. Be sure not to disturb the residents, who are annoyed by the tourists. You can stay at a hostel within one of the cube houses for a reasonable fee.
Optional: Browse the Market
Many people don’t realize this, but Rotterdam has a fantastic street market where you can buy delicious and fresh vegetables from the vendors. Be sure to bring cash. The market is held on Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday in the afternoon until 5pm. The market is also a great place to buy street food, in case you’re not tired of eating yet. It’s held between the church and the Markthal.
Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk
Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk is one of the few buildings that survived the bombing of Rotterdam although it was severely damaged. Although Rotterdam is much older than the city that you see today, it’s one of the few remnants of medieval Rotterdam. The church dates back to 1449 and it’s been restored today. Protestant church services are held here although it’s possible to enjoy the views of Rotterdam from its tower (for a fee).
Dinner at Markthal
The Markthal has a special place in my heart since my first trip to Rotterdam where my husband and I just feasted there for an hour. This food hall as well as residence was opened in 2014 by the Dutch Queen, Queen Maxima. Be sure to admire the stunning artwork, which unfortunately did not come out great in my photo, and actively browse before making a decision. It’s a tough one and I recommend sharing. Cards are generally accepted here.
There’s also an Albert Heijn downstairs in case you’re looking for something else. It’s good to keep in mind that people actually have apartments with floors looking down into the food hall. A friend of mine visited an apartment there, which are some of the most expensive in the Netherlands, and said the view was fantastic.
Drinks on Witte de Wittestraat
One of my favorite places to go out for a beer in Rotterdam is Witte de Wittestraat. I like de Witte Aap for a good selection of beers as well as Stirr for great cocktails. Basically, you can’t go wrong as long as you don’t order Heineken.
You know, Rotterdam, you’re weird sometimes. For your weird photo collection, say hi to Santa Claus, which was made by the artist Paul McCarthy. It’s a bit controversial, but …why not?
Goodnight Rotterdam & Where to stay in Rotterdam
You’ll find numerous great hotels in Rotterdam. For something budget, yet innovative, try out City Hub Rotterdam, which has private cube rooms. For the boutique hotel experience, stay at the James or Bazar, two favorites of my friends who visited. For somewhere iconic and historic, stay at Hotel New York. To stay in one of the iconic cube hostels at the cost of a hostel, stay at Stayokay Rotterdam.
Map with the best things to do in Rotterdam
Have you been to Rotterdam?