Rotterdam is one of the best cities to visit in the Netherlands. Not only does it have an interesting history and abundant museums, but its postwar architecture is known around the world. You can find a ton of fun attractions in Rotterdam, including classic Dutch windmills, farmers markets, and the second-largest port in the world.
Planning a perfect vacation can be a daunting task, which is where we at Road Affair come in to lighten your load. We’ve carefully curated a list of the best things to do in Rotterdam so you can create the perfect itinerary for your holiday.
Enjoy the Views From the Euromast Tower
One of the most iconic Rotterdam attractions is the Euromast, an observation tower that features a restaurant with unparalleled views. Standing 101 meters high, this was once the tallest building in the Netherlands. There are now a few taller buildings in the country, but they don’t offer fine dining with 360-degree city views!
If you want a meal at the Euromast Brasserie, book your spot well in advance, as reservations tend to fill up quickly. If you’d like to enjoy the view without the meal, you can purchase a ticket to go up to the observation deck. Check the weather forecast first, though: If the winds get too high, the building will close and tickets will be refunded.
Marvel at the Cube Houses
The iconic cube houses designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom in the ’70s are one of the best tourist attractions in Rotterdam.
These unique modern homes were each constructed at a 45-degree angle, the intention being to build high-density housing with maximized ground-floor living space. The project was a success and caught the eye of every onlooker, causing a disturbance to the cube houses’ residents. So a local turned one of the homes into the Show Cube Museum, letting visitors see the layout and the challenges of furnishing such a space. Today, you can tour the museum or even stay the night in one of the houses, Stayokay Hostel Rotterdam.
See the Artworks at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
The municipal Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is a must-see in Rotterdam for anyone interested in historical art.
The museum boasts a vast collection of over 151,000 artworks, ranging from medieval to contemporary. You’ll find the works of many famous Dutch artists, including Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt, along with international artists such as Claude Monet and Salvador Dalí. After a visit to the exhibits, you can enjoy a bite to eat at the museum’s rooftop restaurant.
See the Windmills at Kinderdijk
If you’re wondering what to do in Rotterdam on a sunny day, consider heading out to the UNESCO windmills in the village of Kinderdijk.
Just a 30-minute drive from Rotterdam Centrum, Kinderdijk offers some of the best varieties of Dutch windmills in the Netherlands and is one of the best free things to do in Rotterdam. You can explore the hiking and biking trails around the windmills on your own or book a ticket to tour the grounds. The ticket includes access to two of the windmill museums, allowing you to enter the windmills, and a boat tour of the canals. There’s usually someone selling hot chocolate and snacks on the trails, and there’s a souvenir shop at the tourist office.
Visit the Royal Delft Museum
One of the best places to visit in Rotterdam if you want to learn more about Dutch culture is the Royal Delft Museum, which showcases classic Delft pottery.
This 17th-century factory and museum is the last of its kind of Delft manufacturers in the area. The company has been in business for over 350 years and still produces this stunning earthenware. The special tin-glazed ceramic is characterized by its crisp white background and bright blue designs that paired perfectly with popular style in the 1600s.
Today, you can tour the museum and see hundreds of Delft ceramics produced over the centuries. Audio guides are included in the price. You can also book a high tea at the museum to follow your tour.
Play Mini-Golf at Het Park
Het Park is a great place to wander and take in the nature of the city. The trees here are over 150 years old, and there are plenty of open areas where you can enjoy a picnic or kick a soccer ball.
If it’s a warm day, enjoy a stroll through the park and then head next door to play mini-golf at Midget Golfbaan Parkhaven. There are also several restaurants within the park for a nice sit-down lunch before or after your game.
Examine the City at Miniworld Rotterdam
If you’re looking for a unique and fun thing to do in Rotterdam with the family, make your way to Miniworld Rotterdam, a miniature replica of the city with both night and day simulation.
You can purchase tickets to explore the miniature city and see Europe’s largest indoor miniature port. You can even add a behind-the-scenes tour to see how the miniature city was built at scale with such fine detail. Afterward, head to the on-site restaurant for a bite to eat or pick up a souvenir at the gift shop.
Take a Boat Cruise
One of the best ways to appreciate Rotterdam from a different point of view is to tour it via the canals. The Netherlands is famous for its canals, so boat cruises are a popular way to see the city.
There are a few options for boat tours in Rotterdam. For a more laid-back experience, consider this two-hour harbor cruise of Rotterdam on a historical ship with optional audio guides. If you want to learn more about the city and ask a local guide questions, we recommend Experience Rotterdam’s open-boat tours, especially when you want to enjoy the summer sunshine.
Spend a Day in The Hague
Rotterdam is so close to The Hague that it’d be a shame if you didn’t take some time to visit the home of the International Criminal Court. It’s only 40 minutes away by train and roughly 30 minutes away by car without traffic.
The Hague has plenty of activities and attractions for you to spend a day in the city. You can visit the Dutch Parliament headquarters at Het Binnenhof, ride the coasters at Family Park Drievliet, or tour the gardens of Noordeinde Palace. The city is also home to some fantastic art museums, such as the Museum Voorlinden, Kunstmuseum Den Haag, and the Beelden aan Zee Museum for contemporary works. To view more historical works, check out the Mauritshuis or the Vermeer Centrum Delft.
One of the more interesting attractions in The Hague is the Celestial Vault, constructed by artist James Turrell in 1996. To experience the art project’s effect, you’ll walk through a tunnel to the center of an artificial crater and lie flat on a stone bench. The curve of the crater from this vantage point creates an optical illusion of the sky as a dome, which is especially beautiful at night.
Learn About William of Orange at the Prinsenhof
King William III, or William of Orange, is one of the Netherlands’ most notorious noblemen and definitely an interesting guy to get to know.
You can learn all about William of Orange and his connections to English, French, and Scottish history at the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft. This building was a monastery in the Middle Ages but then became an urban palace. It served as a residence for William, who was murdered there in 1702 – you can see the bullet holes in the wall to this day.
The museum shows how this Dutch-born noble became king of England and the role he played in England’s religious history. It also boasts an impressive collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age and a permanent display of Delft ceramics.
Those with a particular interest in William the Orange can visit his tomb at the Nieuwe Kerk.
Grab a Bite at a Market Hall
If you enjoy browsing endless options for local and international cuisine, you need to try out two particular places in Rotterdam.
The Markthal (Market Hall) is the most popular food hall in the city, and for good reason. The building’s architecture is mind-blowing, incorporating apartments and food stalls in one design. The arched ceiling and colorful murals of food celebrate the Market Hall’s initiative for fresh meals. You’ll find over 100 stalls selling fresh foods and 15 restaurants inside, along with 15 food shops and a supermarket.
Fenix Food Factory also offers a wide selection of food stalls. You can pop in for a nice sit-down lunch or grab something to go at the deli. The market is also home to a brewery, which is the perfect bonus on a hot summer day. After a meal and a drink, you can purchase locally made goods to go. The food market is open Thursday to Sunday every week.
Check Out the Maritime Museum and Old Harbor
As the home of Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam has always been a major trading and sailing hub. In fact, the Netherlands’ United East India Company (or VOC) is the most valuable company in history.
You can learn all about Dutch sailing history at the National Maritime Museum, which even has an interactive exhibit where kids can play and learn. Afterward, take a stroll around the Old Harbor, where the museum houses historic ships. If you continue cruising along the Old Harbor, you’ll spot a great variety of houseboats too.
Climb the Tower at Great St. Lawrence Church
This restored church is all that remains of Rotterdam’s Gothic medieval buildings, since most of the city was flattened by World War II bombers looking to take out the advantages of the port.
The Great St. Lawrence Church has quite a stunning interior, along with a large tower that you can visit on a guided tour. The tour guide will explain the history of the church and tower while you climb the 300 steps to the top. The tower’s rooftop observation deck is the ultimate reward for the climb, offering sweeping panoramic views of the city.
Tower tours are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays from April to October. The church is also quite popular for its Danish organs and regularly puts on concerts.
Visit Rotterdam Zoo
A great thing to do with kids in Rotterdam is to visit the animals at Rotterdam Zoo. This is one of the oldest zoos in the Netherlands, with 26 hectares boasting over 180 species.
The kids will love hanging out with the elephants and rhinos or admiring the exotic birds in the aviaries. After seeing the animals, you can grab a bite at the restaurant and then let the kids burn off some energy at the indoor playground. Make sure to visit the sea creatures in the Oceanium before heading out!
You can purchase your skip-the-line tickets to the Rotterdam zoo here.
Head to Delfshaven to See the Pilgrim Fathers’ Church
While most of Rotterdam was destroyed by bombings in WWII, the area of Delfshaven survived, and so did its architecture.
If you want to see the historic buildings of the Netherlands, spend some time walking the streets of Delfshaven. The Pilgrim Fathers’ Church is arguably the most notable surviving building in the area, as it’s where pilgrims had their last service before sailing to Plymouth in 1620.
Learn About Dutch Wartime at Museum Rotterdam
If you go sightseeing in Rotterdam and want to learn more about WWII history, Museum Rotterdam needs to be on your itinerary.
The ’40-’45 NOW exhibit specifically focuses on the Dutch experience during WWII. You’ll hear firsthand stories from residents who survived the bombings and see artifacts from the German occupation, such as the original flag the Netherlands used to surrender to Germany in May 1940.
Learn About Dutch Liquor at the National Jenever Museum
There’s probably a handful of you out there who enjoy a good gin and tonic, right? Well, you actually have the Dutch to thank for your favorite liquor.
Long before gin, there was genever (or jenever), a Dutch liquor distilled with juniper berries, malted grains, rye, barley, or corn. Legend has it that Dutch soldiers drank tons of this liquor before battle, inspiring the British soldiers to coin the phrase “Dutch courage.” Whether or not this is true, genever and the Dutch go way back, with many varieties of the drink appearing over the years.
The National Jenever Museum in Schiedam is a distillery first and foremost, so you’ll not only learn all about the history of the drink, but also get to see how it’s crafted today. After touring the two exhibition rooms, you can sample the liquor.
Play Some Games at the Dutch Pinball Museum
Do you find museums boring? Well, this one might change your mind.
The Dutch Pinball Museum is a great activity in Rotterdam for all ages, mixing history, nostalgia, and play into one great experience. It boasts about 100 playable pinball machines, ranging from the 1930s to the present day, and an impressive display of collectible machines.
Take a Day Trip
The Netherlands is a relatively small country, which makes it great for a day trip. Plenty of places near Rotterdam are perfect for a day’s adventure out of the city.
To experience a smaller city, head to Gouda, where you can check out the Gouda Cheese Experience and Museum Gouda, along with the Gothic town hall, Stadhuis van Gouda. Gouda is a 45-minute train ride or a 30-minute drive from Rotterdam Centrum.
If you’re in Rotterdam in the spring, don’t miss the world-famous Keukenhof, or the Garden of Europe. The gardens boast endless acres of immaculate flowers and lush landscapes, which you can only see from the end of March to the middle of May. Keukenhof is just outside of Lisse, about a 45-minute drive from Rotterdam Centrum.
Amsterdam is another popular day-trip destination, of course. The city offers endless things to do, including the Red Light District, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House. Amsterdam is an hour away from Rotterdam by train or just over an hour away by car, depending on traffic.
Well, there you have them, the best things to do in Rotterdam. Whether you’re most interested in history, cuisine, or fun, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. You just have to figure out how to pack so many awesome attractions into your itinerary.
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