The best things to do in Rotterdam Netherlands for a weekend: The Perfect Rotterdam City Break
In this Rotterdam travel guide, I list the best things to do in Rotterdam for a weekend from what to see, where to eat and cool street art. Rotterdam has like all!!
Rotterdam is unknown as an architect’s playground, and you only need to look at the skyline of Rotterdam to see why.
Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands after Amsterdam (it's bigger brother). Being my first visit to Rotterdam, so I didn’t know what to expect.
But, I was pleasantly surprised with the dramatic history of this new city, welcoming people and stunning architecture that had me always looking to the sky to see what new and pioneering building I would get a glimpse of along the Rotterdam skyline.
If you’ve already visited Amsterdam and want to see a different side of Netherlands, then a weekend in Rotterdam should be on your city break list. I will say if I had a choice I would have spent a good five days exploring Rotterdam as a weekend in Rotterdam is not enough.
But, if a weekend is also you have, then look no further as I've picked out some of the top things to do in Rotterdam Netherlands for your next city break.
If you are looking for a cool place to stay in Rotterdam check out my review of Cityhub Rotterdam, a capsule hotel in Rotterdam's hottest neighbourhood.
So, what to do in Rotterdam you ask? Read on to find out.
Check out my Rotterdam Instagram Highlights
How to Get to Rotterdam
Rotterdam is easily accessible from London and most of Europe. Flights from London to Rotterdam inexpensive and takes under an hour. I flew from London City Airport on British Airways to Rotterdam Haus Airport (which is 15 minutes’ drive from Rotterdam city centre). I found tickets for as little as £50, with only a 50 minutes flight you’ll be in Rotterdam in no time.
You can also take the Eurostar to Rotterdam direct, where you can get tickets for £35 one way if you book in advance.
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Do A Rotterdam Walking Tour
If you’ve been reading this blog long enough you know, I love tours. I'm not one to miss a food tour (read my post on Eating Prague Food tour or the best desserts in London) or a walking tour. I was excited to wander the city of Rotterdam with my energetic local guide from Rotterdam Pages walking tour. I think doing a walking tour to explore the city is one of the top 10 things to do in Rotterdam.
Our guide Haas broke down the history of Rotterdam and why it’s considered a new city - with such modern architecture compared to other cities in the Netherlands like Amsterdam and The Hauge.
Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe and lies on the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt river delta.
After almost being wholly destroyed due to bombing during the second world war the centre of Rotterdam was rebuilt.
But, instead of rebuilding in the old European architecture the people decided to rebuild the city with more modern innovative architecture.
Starting at the Central Station, the tour took us along the side streets, harbours an iconic building in Rotterdam, like the first skyscraper in Europe and end at the famous Marthal. Where our guide advised us where the best places in Rotterdam were to eat (non-tourist and budget-friendly), as well as other local things to do in Rotterdam.
I would highly recommend this walking tour of Rotterdam if you want to find out more about the city you are visiting. We also saw some of the top Rotterdams attractions during the walking tour.
Cool things to do in Rotterdam Netherlands
Checking out the cool architecture
Rotterdam's Cube Houses (Kijk-Kubus)
I don’t think anyone can come to Rotterdam and not see the incredible Rotterdam cube houses. The houses are tilted at a 55 degrees angle and intertwined amongst themselves like branches of trees and collectively create a forest which was the thought process of Piet Blom as part of the Blaakse Bos development. Piet Blom the architect who designed the 38 cube houses, held up by hexagonal pillars, overtop of a busy road.
Approaching the cube houses, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after walking underneath the homes, examining them from all angles, it dawned on me that the houses were so intricately intertwined like some yellow forest that I couldn’t tell where one house began and another end. I spent a good few minutes looking up at the yellow cube dwellings.
Although the cube houses contain about 1,080 square feet of floor space, approximately 270 square feet, is usable due to the sharp angles of the architecture. These 270 square feet distributed between four floors – (and here I thought space in London was terrible).
If you want to know what to see in Rotterdam, the cubes houses are a must and one of the stops on the Rotterdam Pages walking tours.
Visit the cube houses is one of the top Rotterdam attractions and one of the best things to do in Rotterdam. If you want to experience what it would be like living in one of these cube houses, then you are in luck as there is a cube house showroom converted into a museum which is open to the public daily from 11 am to 5 pm. Entry Price Euros 2.5.
If you want to take it a step further and sleep in one of the cube houses, then you can book a room using Stayoykay Rotterdam.
Address: Overblaak 70, 3011 MH Rotterdam
Opening times: Open 10:00 am - 6:00 pm daily
Rotterdam's Markthal (Market Hall)
Five minutes’ walk from the Cube houses is the Markthal (Market Hall) Rotterdam. Walking up to and into the futuristic Markthal was like walking up to a portal that could transport you through time and space to another dimension, crafted by being of far greater intelligence than that of humans. Being a kid from the 80’s this was like something straight out of Star Trek!
The horse-shoe shaped building with a semi-circular grey façade and a large windowed section facing out to the surrounding courtyard serves as both a marketplace and a residential building. The building boast market stalls (with 100 various places to eat) on the ground floor, parking spaces underground and apartments on the upper floors. But to me, the winning feature of this building is the artwork covering the ceiling by Arno Coenen. Visiting the Rotterdam Markthal is one of the best things to do in Rotterdam.
The artwork called ‘Horn of Plenty’ and shows multicoloured flowers, plants, fish and insects. Is called the largest artwork in the world.
Also, check out the parking lot of the building – I bet you’ll never hear that for things to do in a city before.
The Rotterdam Market Hall was built on top of a century-old buried village and during the building of the Makthal archaeological artefacts were found on the site, and some of these artefacts are now on display in the parking lot.
Address: Dominee Jan Scharpstraat 298, 3011 GZ Rotterdam
Opening times: Monday – Thursday and Saturday 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, Friday 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, Sunday 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Rotterdam Central Station
The city of Rotterdam is full of modern architecture, and the central station is one of those building. A total reconstruction of the station began in 2004 and completed in 2014. Rotterdam Central Station (or Central Station as it’s boldly named), has become a destination piece on its own, triangular shape with the very tip of the building pointing towards the sky (this building too could be mistaking for an alien vessel).
Some of the features from the original stations are included in the new station – such as the letters in the clock.
I would recommend visiting the Central Station at night when it’s all lit up and less busy.
The station is one of the four central stations in the Netherlands - connected to destinations including Amsterdam, Den Haag, Paris, Lille, Brussels and Amersfoort.
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Unusual things to do in Rotterdam
Paul McCarthy’s Santa Claus
I will admit that this was a very unusual statue even for me, but it is fascinating to look on. I will never think of Santa the same ever again after seeing this guy.
This piece of public art commissioned by American sculptor Paul McCarthy in 2001 for the city’s orchestra building, Schouwburgplein square near De Doelen. But, by looking at the statue, you can tell it caused a lot of controversies and was never installed at Schouwburgplein.
The people of Rotterdam objected to the statue, not for reasons of religious tolerance, but instead because they found the tree in its Santa Claus hand to be too sexual.
This intriguing piece has now found a home in Eendrachtsplein, after being displayed at various sites around Rotterdam. This is one of the more interesting Rotterdams tourist attractions.
Address: Eendrachtsplein, 3012 LA Rotterdam, Netherlands
Fenix Food Factory
On the advice from one of the hosts at the CityHub Rotterdam hotel, I visited Fenix Food Factory. He said this was a cool place with inexpensive food in a relaxing environment and I was hooked.
Fenix food factory is in the district of Katendrecht a former prostitution area that is now a hotbed of all things modern and trendy.
You can delve into an array of world food, take part in food tasting and workshops at Fenix Food Factory. They also emphasise and promote fresh and local produce such as coffee and craft beer at the factory. Also, you have a killer view of the harbour from the factory.
Address: Veerlaan 19D, 3072 AN Rotterdam,
Opening Time: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-11pm, Sunday 12am-11pm, Closed Mondays
Rotterdam Tourist Information
One of my first stops in Rotterdam was at the Rotterdam tourist information located at Coolsingel 114. Which has a small museum about Rotterdam where you can watch a 15 minutes video on Rotterdam’s history, including the bombing and rebuilding of the city.
There is even a model reconstruction of Rotterdam. Here is where you can pick up a day tourist pass which allows you to access public transport. The pass costs 13.50 Euros and provides access to trams, trains, buses and water taxi for 24 hours.
Address: Coolsingel 114, 3011 AG Rotterdam, Netherlands
Opening Time: Monday-Saturday 9:30am-6:0pm
Rotterdam Boat Tour
With Rotterdam being a port city, so there is no way you can visit without taking a boat tour to see the beautiful harbours and ports around the city of Rotterdam.
The boats are modern with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and fantastic full windows for unobstructed viewing. The tour is in both English and Dutch, and you can also enjoy food and drinks on your ride.
The Witte Huis (White House)
This very distinguished looking building was one of the few buildings in central Rotterdam to survive the Blitzkrieg in the second world war and stands proudly as a reminder of the cities heritage and history. It was also the first Skyscraper in Europe. This is one of the top places to see in Rotterdam.
The white façade, ornate turrets, decorative roof and Art Nouveau style of architecture causes the Witte Huis to stand out amongst the other buildings in the harbour.
Address: Geldersekade 1 3011 WB Rotterdam
Free things to do in Rotterdam
The Maritime Museum is one of the largest in the world with an extensive collection of cartography, art and maritime memorabilia. The museum is in central Rotterdam near the Markthal and the Cube houses, and you can also get there by water taxi 47.
There are exhibitions of the show such as the figureheads from various ships, navy uniforms and painting of different battles in history.
If you are interested in Martine history or battles, then this will be a beautiful place to visit.
Address: Leuvehaven 1, 3011 EA Rotterdam, Netherland
Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00pm Monday: closed
Another amazing building to see in Rotterdam is the De Rotterdam from across the water at the foot of the Erasmus bridge. The De Rotterdam was created as vertical city of three interconnecting multiple purpose towers stacked on two layers that form a glass plinth.
The building consists of offices, a hotel, conference facilities, shops, apartments spread over six floors.
The De Rotterdam is the largest building in the Netherlands, with a floor area of approximately 162,000m2.
De Rotterdam's stacked towers are arranged in a subtly irregular cluster and depending on the angle at which you view the building, what you see will be different w.
They’er are also some killers views of the Erasmus bridge from the rooftop of the De Rotterdam at night.
Address: Wilhelminakade 139, 3072 AP Rotterdam
Erasmus Bridge (Erasmusbrug)
I spend most of my weekend walking over Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam and each time this bridge seemed more beautiful than my last walk. This bridge is like a symbol of Rotterdam, rising from its devastating history to become a beacon of modern technology and a beautiful city.
The bridge used by pedestrians, joggers, cyclist and trams and on a lovely day it is easy to spend 30 minutes are more watching the different ships, water taxis and people move across the bridge and water underneath.
This steel suspension bridge spans the Nieuwe Maas of the Rhine and runs from the combination of the Noord and Lek rivers. The Erasmus bridge is the second largest bridge in the Netherlands spanning 802m and is nickname the Swan due to its shape. The bridge has a bascule section that opens to allow larger ships through. Walking across the bridge is one of the top 10 things to do in Rotterdam.
Address: 3011 BN Rotterdam
Witte De Withstraat
If you’re looking to get the party started then Witte De Withstraat is the place to be. There is a variety of café’s, bars and restaurants, giving more options than you’ll know what to do with it.
It is also the street that you’ll find a bounty of cool street art on and the side streets are not to be forgotten either in this area. People watching in Witte De Withstraat is also a must. But do look out for cars and motorbikes as this is a busy road with people slipping on to the streets and sometimes you’ll end up walking into the street or towards oncoming traffic. Visit the Witte De Withstraat is one of the top things to do in Rotterdam at night.
There are so many things to do in Rotterdam for a weekend and the above list can be your starting point for your city break in Rotterdam.
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