Rotterdam is more than just Europe’s largest port. A combination of innovative architecture, diverse communities, and rich cultural scene have earned it the title of “City of the Future”. You could spend a week exploring this cutting-edge port city, but I can help you experience the best of it in one day. (If you have two days, check out our cruise to Kinderdijk’s UNESCO World Heritage windmill site.) Lots of places are closed on Monday, so best to avoid that particular day. Here we go!
Getting to Rotterdam
Rotterdam Centraal Station is a hub of the national train network and perfectly located to begin your tour. The station is open around the clock so you can take an early train to make the most of the city. Not too early though; most stores don’t open until 7:30.
Central Rotterdam is walkable, but you should rent a bike to save your time for the sights. If you have an OV Card, you can rent an OV-fiets in the station. If not, there are several bike rental places to the left and right of the station but Zwaan Bikes, which stays open the longest, still closes at 19:30, so OV-fiets is the best option.
As in many Dutch cities, Rotterdam’s central station opens onto a plaza and a wide boulevard leading towards the heart of the town. Ride the Westersingel, taking in the mix of architectural styles. Much of Rotterdam was destroyed during World War II, so the city showcases architectural styles of the past 80 years.
Get fortified for your day with coffee and food. Turn right at the end of the Singel onto Nieuwe Binnenweg. You’ll be turning away from the plaza whose ribald statue has caused controversy amongst the locals. Nieuwe Binnenweg has an assortment of cafes, but for good food and charming design, we recommend Coffeelicious. If you order before 9:30, you can get a complete breakfast for €5.95.
Rotterdam Central station > Nieuwe Binnenweg > Euromast
Get a view of the city – from 185 meters up! Turn left onto ‘s-Gravendijkwal and head towards the Euromast. The multi-level viewing station gives you a 360° view of the city. On a clear day you can see all the way to The Hague!
Euromast > Kunsthal
Cut through the park at the base of the tower to get to Museumpark, home to four museums: the Natural History Museum; the modern art Kunsthal; the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, home of Dutch and European masters; and Het Nieuwe Instituut, dedicated to the architecture that made Rotterdam famous.
You could spend an entire day in these collections, but you’ve only got a couple hours. The best of the lot is the Kunsthal, which has seven distinct halls with rotating contemporary art exhibits. Choose a couple that interest you, then head across the park to the Boijmans, and check out The Collection as Time Machine walk, which takes you through the highlights of the collection thematically.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Museumpark > Markthal
A Markthal lunch
When all that museuming has made you hungry, hope on your bike and head down Westblaakstraat to Markthal. An architectural wonder in its own right, Markthal is full of stalls and restaurants selling the best cuisines the Netherlands has to offer. Sample a bit of each, but make sure to save room for dessert!
Before getting back on your bike, take a stroll out the back of Markthal to the famous Cube Houses. Designed as a forest, the cube houses surround a quiet clearing to play chess or sit with a coffee.
Grab your bike and head back towards Blaak to the Maritime Museum. The building houses cool exhibits about the past and future of shipping, but make sure to save time for the pier of working ships and cranes from the harbor’s history.
Spido’s Rotterdam Harbor Cruise leaves from the base of the Erasmus bridge, just past the end of the Maritime Museum’s pier. The cruise takes you to Rotterdam’s busy port, the world’s tallest windmill, and the historic Scheepvaartkwartier, the only district unscathed by WWII. You will be able to see by boat the famous sites you can’t reach by bike in our one-day tour. Book with Tiqets you can use your smartphone for entry. The last tour is at 17:00.
Head down the Schiedamsedijk to the Erasmus Bridge. Not only is the bridge the icon of Rotterdam, but you’ll have a great view of several iconic structures, including De Rotterdam, the largest building in the Netherlands.
Maritime Museum > Erasmus Bridge > Fenix Food Factory
A factory-fresh dinner
Fenix Food Factory is a reclaimed warehouse on Rijnhaven dedicated to craftsmanship, local food, and exploring how products are made. Try to sample from a couple different stands and be sure not to miss the dizzying array of beers on tap at Kaapse Brouwers.
The food stands are open until 20:00 on Friday but close at either 18:00 or 19:00 the rest of the week, so put yourself on an early dinner schedule. If a slightly later sit-down meal is more your style, the plaza behind the Factory has a nice assortment, including Rotterdam’s only Peruvian restaurant!
Fenix Food Factory > SS Rotterdam
Head down the Maashavenkade to the SS Rotterdam, the historic ocean liner built in Rotterdam. It’s been converted into a hotel that’s open to the public, complete with a bar on the sundeck to watch the sunset.
SS Rotterdam > De Witte Aap
Nightlife on Witte de Withstraat
You can’t head back to the train without getting some sense of Rotterdam’s vibrant nightlife, so head back the way you came to Witte de Withstraat, the coolest street in Rotterdam. Wander around to take in the vibe, but make sure to stop at De Witte Aap, whose atmosphere is literally award-winning.
From Withstraat, it’s a short ride down the Westersingel back to the station. Just be sure you know when the last train leaves!