Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands after Amsterdam. When visiting the Netherlands, a lot of people ignore Rotterdam, and just go to Amsterdam. That’s a huge mistake! Rotterdam is a wonderful city, and you have to go visit Rotterdam if you’re in the Netherlands. My visit to Rotterdam was full of surprises, I wasn’t expecting anything special when I went there, and honestly I really liked it. The culture, the food, the architecture… There are many things to do in Rotterdam.
History of Rotterdam
But let’s start from the beginning. Rotterdam was founded in the 9th century. People settled there, close to the river Rotte. In the 12th century, a terrible flood forced the inhabitants to leave the city. They came back in 1270, but they had to get rid of all the water still present. Therefore they built a huge wooden dam to hold back the river Rotte, and the houses were built around the dam. Yes, now you know the origin of the city’s name, Rotterdam!
Several centuries later, in 1940, during World War II, the Germans bombed the city, and Rotterdam was almost entirely destroyed. That’s the only city in the Netherlands which was flattened, cause the other ones surrendered. After the war, the population had to rebuild everything. This long task started in the 1950s. This is why, unlike the other Dutch cities, there’s almost just relatively new buildings in Rotterdam, and not old ones. Rotterdam is a modern city.
To rebuild the city, the local council decided to let the architects and their creativity express themselves, and as a consequence, Rotterdam is now known for its architecture. Some people talk about a particular architecture, others say the architecture is modern, original, astonishing… When you look at the buildings, you notice there are many different styles because at the time, numerous architects with diametrically opposed styles worked at the same time on the design of the new buildings. When talking about Rotterdam, people often say it’s “ugly but impressive”.
Description of Rotterdam
Today, Rotterdam is a rather quiet city. There are tramways everywhere. A lot of locals get around by bicycle. Even people on scooters use the bicycle path. The pedestrians calmly wait for their turn to cross the street. In the evening, people meet on the terrace to have a drink, especially on Witte de Withstraat. You’ll notice a strong odor of weed sometimes in this area…
Like 10 years ago, Rotterdam was notorious for having one of the highest crime rates of the country. But the city quickly changed and it’s safe now. Otherwise, I thought that in Western countries, people were used to black people, plus I saw many here. However, a few teenagers greeted me in the street, and a few black people did the nod when running into me.
What to do in Rotterdam?
The Cube Houses
It’s probably the most iconic attraction of the city, the reason why Rotterdam is famous, the Cube houses! It was the idea of the architect Piet Blom, and they were built during the 1970s. There are 188 houses on stilts, each one represents a tree, and the whole thing represent a forest. They’re at height because the architect wanted to keep some space on the ground for the pedestrians. One of the cube houses is open to the public, so that you can see what it’s like inside. It’s 3 euros to get in.
For your information, it’s also possible to stay in one of the houses. Click here to book your stay. There are even people living in some of the houses. Although they’re quite large, it’s tricky to live there because you cannot buy any furniture. The walls aren’t straight, you need to order made-to-measure furniture. Oh and the rooms are quite small…
That’s a huge covered market! Don’t miss it! It was opened in 2014! Look at the ceiling and you’ll see that it’s covered with a large painting! We actually call it the Sistine Chapel of Rotterdam! This painting represents everything you’ll find in the market : fruits, vegetables, local cheese, cold meats, pastry, candies, small restaurants, cafés…
Indeed, there are numerous stalls to have something to eat! There are even people living in Markthal! Anyway, go there when you’re hungry! Let’s talk about architecture again! From the outside, the building reminds of a pencil sharpener upside down! Realizing it, another building was built next to it, this one looking like a pencil!
Euromast is an observation tower, and you can get on top of it! It was completed in 1960 and needless to say, you get there to admire the view from the heights of Rotterdam! An elevator takes you 185 meters into the air in less than a minute! When the weather is nice, you can see all the way to the Hague and even Antwerp in Belgium! It’s 9.75€ to get on top of Euromast. You can only pay by credit card. It’s also possible to buy your tickets online here. Finally, there are two restaurants in the tower, and even two suites. Click here to book! For the bravest ones, it’s possible to take a zip-line or abseil down the tower!
Another iconic place of Rotterdam is the Erasmus bridge! It was completed in 1996, and links the city center and an area called Kop Van Zuid. You won’t miss its huge pylon, which is 140 meters high! The bridge is 802 meters long, and you can cross it by foot in about 10 minutes. The Erasmus bridge actually represents a swan.
The White House
The White House (Witte Huis in Dutch) is the very first skyscraper of Europe. It dates back to 1898 and at the time, people were coming from all over the country to see it! You got, it’s one of the very few buildings not destroyed during World War II. To this day, it’s still one of the highest buildings of Europe, with 10 floors and 43 meters high. There’s also a rooftop there.
The floating forest
It’s the work of an artist named Jorge Bakker. It consists of twenty trees placed in sea buoys so they float on water. With all the new buildings, the city council got rid of many trees. The artist wanted to raise awareness among the locals of the consequences of urbanization on nature. Next to the floating forest, there’s a floating pavilion made of three solar-powered bubbles. The pavilion highlights the challenges we face regarding global warming and sustainable development.
Witte de Withstraat
You just had a long visiting the city, and checking all the things to do in Rotterdam? You wanna relax and have a drink now? Go to Witte de Withstraat! That’s the place to be to hang out in Rotterdam! You’ll find there numerous bars, restaurants, terraces, clubs… There’s a good vibe there, and you really have plenty of options! You have to go!
Street art in Rotterdam
Even if you’re not into street art, it’s impossible to miss it! Street art is all over the place in Rotterdam! I’m not an expert, but I have to admit some pieces of work are really beautiful! Although the street art is all over the city, you’ll find many wall murals on Witte de Withstraat, the street with all the bars! If you’re into street art, download the Rewriters010 app! They offer street art routes in the city with an audio guide.
The Santa Claus statue
Go see it if you wanna have a laugh! The city of Rotterdam had 200k euros to spend and ordered this statue, which was carved by Paul McCarthy. It’s supposed to represent Santa Claus and his pine tree. But when you watch it, you can clearly see it looks more like Santa Claus and his dildo… At first, nobody wanted the statue, and they put it in a remote place in the city. However, the statue started to attract more and more people and finally, seeing its popularity among visitors, several storekeepers were ready to take the statue. Therefore the statue was moved to a shopping street. It still attracts visitors… who go shopping right after taking pictures of Santa Claus!
Rotterdam central station
It’s rare enough to be worthy of note, it’s not often that I recommend seeing a train station. But you already know, Rotterdam and the architecture of its buildings… This train station was opened in 2014, and there are more than 3000 solar panels on its roof supplying electricity to the whole station (lights, elevators, escalators…). There’s a bike parking space, and up to 5000 bicycles can park there. On the frontage is written “Centraal Station” without the name of the city (that’s the only train station of the country with no city name). How come? Pretty simple, if you’re in Rotterdam, the city and its train station are so unique and famous that they don’t even need to mention its name!
Other things to do in Rotterdam
There are plenty of other places to see in Rotterdam. I’m thinking about Laurenskerk, a wonderful church dating back to the 16th century. It wasn’t destroyed during World War II. It’s two euros to get in. There’s also the Delftshaven district, untouched during the war and very quiet. We call it the old Rotterdam. There’s also Oude Haven, a slight hidden hotspot in the city center with loads of cafes and terraces. And also the port of Rotterdam, you can’t miss it! By the way, that’s the largest port of Europe. I’m not into museums but again, you have plenty of options : the maritime museum, the Boijmans museum (the largest and most popular of the city, but closed right now due to renovations), the Netherlands photo museum, the Witte de With center, the Kunsthal, the Wereldmuseum… And of course, there’s the wonderful Efteling theme park, about one hour away from Rotterdam!
I really liked my visit to Rotterdam. A relaxing city, it’s really nice to stay there. People are cool and the cost of living is not too high. If you’re in the area, or if you have some time, don’t hesitate to go there! Here are a few tips now!
How to get to Rotterdam?
If you’re not too far (Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne…), the easiest way to get to Rotterdam is by Thalys train. The train tickets are not expensive, and it will take a few hours only to get there. Otherwise check the latest flight prices to go to Rotterdam.
How to get around in Rotterdam?
If you’re like me, and you like to stay active, it’s possible to get around by foot, really! Otherwise there’s the metro and the tramway. A single ticket is 3.50€, a one-day ticket is 13.50€. Otherwise you can buy the Rotterdam Welcome Card. With this card, you get discounts at numerous museums and activities. Moreover you get unlimited access to public transport. The one-day card costs 12€, for two days it’s 18€ and for three days it’s 23€. Once you bought it, you need to pick it up at the Rotterdam tourism office, or at the central station! Finally, you can get around by bicycle, the most popular means of transportation in the city! Oops I almost forgot, there’s also the watertaxi, a small boat, yellow and black, very useful to cross the river! More info here.
Where to stay in Rotterdam?
I stayed at the Hostel Room Rotterdam, and I really liked it! The staff is really nice, the location is great, they always propose doing various activities, and it’s very clean! They have dorms but of course they also have private rooms! Needless to say, if you’re not into hostels, check the hotels available in Rotterdam!
Rotterdam travel tips
- Traveling soon? Check my travel resources page!
- Never ever travel without a travel insurance! Here’s why you should buy travel insurance!
- Want a tailor-made trip to the Netherlands? Get a free quote here!
- If needed, get a Rotterdam guidebook
- Here are other things to do in Rotterdam!
- If you spend some time in the Netherlands, the Holland Pass can be interesting! It gives you access to many museums and tourist attractions all over the country, free of charge or at a reduced price! Click here to buy it!
- Always use a VPN when traveling. I use ExpressVPN and I love it! Here’s why you should use a VPN when traveling!