Things to Do in Rotterdam
What was once an abandoned port area has now been redeveloped into an urban, metropolitan neighborhood. Many of the disused buildings in Kop van Zuid – shipyards, headquarters, and plants – have remained and were recently given a second life, not without thanks to the completion of the now-iconic Erasmus Bridge that finally united the north and the south sides of the mighty Nieuwe Maas River. Along with new infrastructure and award-winning architecture (throughout their modernization, most buildings kept a lot of their original features to keep history alive), this duality and eclectic feel have helped Kop van Zuid reached an international reputation, and its business model has since been copied several times in other naval cities facing similar issues. If Kop van Zuid used to be exclusively for dockworkers and sailors, it is now filled with fashionable youngsters and local families wanting to experience a new side of their city. Visitors will now find a contemporary and inviting entertainment district that features hotels, cafés, restaurants, a theater, and many businesses – even an international cruise ship port, the Wilhelmina Pier.
The Netherlands Photo Museum (Nederlands Fotomuseum) is a must-visit stop if you are interested in the medium of photography. With more than 100,000 images available to browse in its digital collection, travelers can explore more than 100 years of Netherlands’ photographic past, as well as from other locations around the world. The museum contains more than 130 archives from Dutch photographers, with millions of images of the country’s cultural, social and historical past archived within, and also includes a collection of short films from Dutch filmmakers, some of which can be viewed in the site’s Film Lounge.
The museum displays varying exhibits throughout the year featuring famous international photographers as well as younger, amateur artists. Within the exhibits, you can also listen to the stories behind the photos, while elsewhere at the museum, workshops, lectures and guided tours are offered. The extensive library is also open for browsing, and prints, books and gifts are available for purchase in the museum’s shop.
The Maritime Museum Rotterdam is one of the world’s oldest and largest museums dedicated to naval history and displays more than three quarters of a million objects from the 15th century to modern times, including photos, models, blueprints, videos and actual ship objects and uniforms.
One of the core displays is the collection of ship models, which formed the core of the museum when it was founded by Prince Henry of the Netherlands in 1874. In addition, the site also contains some actual ships; its open-air Harbour Museum of Rotterdam features historic ships, as well as relics from the old port Leuvehaven, such as cranes, a lighthouse, a tugboat, a locomotor, and a steam-powered grain elevator.
Another important permanent exhibit is Mainport Live, an interactive, multimedia model of the Port of Rotterdam. Here you can not only learn about the history of the port, but also experience the world’s largest and port in miniature. A display of video, lights, sounds and actions brings the bustle of the port to you, while standing in the middle of the old port of yesteryear.
For kids ages 4 through 10, the Professor Splash playground is a fun educational experience. Children can carry out a series of port-related actions that help Professor Splash and his friends prepare for their adventures, while learning about the museum’s collection in the process.
Designed by Dutch architect Hugh Maaskant for the 1960 Floriade flower festival, Euromast dominates the Rotterdam skyline with its futuristic shape, serving as a much-loved city landmark. Now standing 606 feet (185 meters) tall, Euromast was originally only 328 feet tall before its extra height was added in the 1970s to counter its lost title as Holland’s tallest structure. Originally built as an observation tower, Euromast is better known today as a center for fine dining and adrenaline-pumping extreme sports.
From the bottom to the top, a visit to Euromast tests bravery. Speedboats depart from the foot of the tower for high-speed tours of the port of Rotterdam, getting up close to Erasmus Bridge, as well as the wharves and ships of one of the world’s largest commercial ports. Up at Euromast’s viewing platforms, which are accessible by elevator, visitors can rappel down the tower (summer only, check dates) or zip-line to the ground on the last Sunday of every month.
The revolving Euroscoop elevator corkscrews its way up from the viewing platform and takes those unafraid of heights to the very top, while a brasserie serving snacks such asbitterballen (spicy Dutch meat balls) can be found perched up at 314 feet (96 meters). If you can’t bear to leave, the tower houses two hotels rooms with stupendous views from their private balconies.
The Church of St. Lawrence (Sint Laurenskerk) is the primary landmark of Rotterdam, and the only remaining building of medieval times in the city. The late-Gothic structure was built between 1449 and 1525, originally consecrated as a Catholic cathedral before being converted to a Protestant place of worship following the Reformation in 1572. Much of the ornate decoration from the interior was removed at this time.
For a time, from 1619 to 1642, the church was topped with a wooden spire designed by architect Hendrick de Keyser, but this was demolished due to rot. The next idea was to top the tower with a stone pinnacle, but this caused the tower to tilt, requiring new piles to be added under the foundation. Much of the remaining interior decoration was removed during the Batavian Revolution of 1795.
Sint Laurenskerk was heavily damaged in the German bombing of May 14, 1940, the images of which still symbolize the hardship the city endured during this period. After the bombing, there was controversy over whether to keep or demolish the church, and in the end, a restoration was agreed upon.
One of the main attractions of the Sint Laurenskerk is the Carillon of bells, which were originally installed in 1661 as a set of 36 designed by F. Hemony. More were later added during the post-war renovation, and there are now 49.
Revolutionary architect Piet Blom designed and developed Rotterdam’s collection of 40 innovative cube houses in 1984, each of which has a giant yellow and gray tilted, wooden cube balancing on top of the ground level. The houses were built to resemble trees in a forest and to present an alternative to high-density urban living. Blom took the Ponte Vecchio in Florence as his inspiration for the structures and included public areas below and private living spaces above in the cubes. These bizarre apartments are centered around a courtyard playground and lean at an angle of 45 degrees over the buzzy waterfront bars and restaurants of Oude Haven. The whole complex sits on top of a pedestrian bridge over a busy road.
Inside, the houses have three stories and myriad angled walls with plenty of light pouring in from the sloping, triangular, plate-glass windows. The rooms are also triangular, which makes furniture design especially tricky. Each unit consists of a living space on the first floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second and a workspace or sun lounge on the top floor.
Two of the larger cube houses have been transformed into a funky hostel for tourists, but the three-floor Show Cube (KijkKubus) is a fully furnished pod open to impress visitors with the crazy planes and slopes of its interior.
This Rem Koolhaas-designed art museum houses about half a dozen exhibits at a time in its sleek, low-slung stone and glass exhibition hall. Exhibits in the museum’s spacious white galleries have included the works of Andy Warhol, an extensive collection of objects from World War II and the avant-garde fashions of Jean Paul Gaultier. Kunsthal Rotterdam made headlines in 2012 when seven important works by the likes of Monet, Gaugin, Matisse and Picasso were stolen in a daring late-night raid of the museum.
Better known by its affectionate local nickname of “the Swan,” Erasmus Bridge crosses the River Nieuwe Maas with its elegant white spines, constructed in 1996 to link north and south Rotterdam across the harbor. Designed by Ben van Berkel, the bridge is an iconic landmark in Rotterdam, and its 456-foot (139-meter) single pylon supports 32 steel cables from which the half-mile (800 m) roadway is suspended. The southern side of the bridge includes Europe’s heaviest bascule, which lifts in order to let shipping transport through. It’s best seen at close quarters from the water on a harbor tour, from above on the viewing platform of Euromast or from the walking and cycling trails around the Port of Rotterdam.
The Swan is beautifully illuminated at night and often provides an eerie backdrop for Rotterdam’s festivals and fireworks displays. In 2005, several planes flew beneath the bridge as part of the daring “Red Bull Air Race.”
Miniworld Rotterdam is the largest indoor miniature world in the Netherlands. The 535-square-meter site of Dutch landscapes is complete with miniature versions of polders, city views, harbors and model trains that traverse over 2 kilometers of track.
Experience the city of Rotterdam, complete with historic architecture and modern towers, including buildings such as the Erasmusbridge, the Euromast, Hotel New York, the new Rotterdam Central Station and City Hall. There is even a to-scale working model of the Port of Rotterdam, the largest port in the world. The site even expands beyond city limits, stretching out to the coast and including the suburbs of Rotterdam. The UNESCO World Heritage windmills of Kinderdijk are here in miniature too.
One day in Miniworld Rotterdam lasts 24 minutes, and toward the end of each cycle, night falls with the overheard lights dimmed in a sunset, while thousands of tiny lights illuminate the miniature landscape. An open workshop allows visitors to see how the models are made, and the command center is open for exploration as well.
The Netherlands is famous for its windmills, and the most charming place to admire the traditional Dutch landmarks is at Kinderdijk. Just outside of Rotterdam, Kinderdijk’s 19 windmills date back to the 17th century and are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
More Things to Do in Rotterdam
The SS Rotterdam, La Grand Dame, is the former flagship cruise liner of the Holland America Cruise Line, which since 2010 is now a hotel, restaurant, and event center located in Rotterdam Harbor.
The SS Rotterdam was built in Rotterdam, inaugurated in 1958 and put into service in 1959, making a Trans-Atlantic crossing to New York for its maiden voyage. At the time, the ship was one of the ten largest cruise ships in the world. The ship’s design was more streamlined and modern than traditional cruise liners at the time with a sharp, high bow and slender flues instead of the traditional chimney of other cruise ships.
The Rotterdam was used for many years for these Trans-Atlantic crossings, until this was replaced by air travel as the preferred mode in the early 1970’s. The SS Rotterdam was then converted into a cruise service in the manner of cruise lines today, serving the Holland America line until the mid-1990s. In the late 1990s, the ship was renamed the Rembrandt and was used by Premier cruises for shorter European cruises, until the Premier line went out of business in 2000.
Between 2005 and 2008, the ship regained its old name and was restored to its original luxury, while being upgraded and modernized to service its current purpose. In 2008, the ship returned to Rotterdam and docked at Katendrecht, in the center of Rotterdam.
Today, visitors to the ss Rotterdam can wander the ship, visiting most areas, as they are open to the public. For some areas, you need to book one of the private tours to get in. Tour packages include an above-deck Sea Breeze Deluxe tour of the bow, bridge, and captain’s cabin, or a below-deck Steam & Chrome tour of the engine rooms, crew areas, and radio room. You can also combine both tours into the Rotterdam Complete tour to see the whole ship.
The Rotterdam is a fully functioning hotel with 254 guest rooms. The steamship also features two restaurants and two bars, as well as an outdoor terrace where you can relax with a drink by the poolside.
If you're interested in how ports work or simply want to spend some time out on the sea, a boat visit to Rotterdam's FutureLand visitor information center might be just the ticket. Here you can view the massive port, tour it via VR, sign your child up for a workshop, or dine in one of many on-site restaurants.
Rotterdam’s brand new market hall is more than just a place to shop for produce and grab a bite; it’s an attraction in its own right. It features over 100 food stalls, eight restaurants and 15 shops, all located underneath an imposing horseshoe-shaped structure with glass facades consisting of 4,000 small windows hanged by steel cables – it is, in fact, the largest glass-window cable structure in Europe, and as such, is considered an architectural masterpiece by many experts.
Additionally, the inside of the market is covered by more than 4,000 colorful tiles that give the horseshoe-shaped arch a boost of color, making it the largest artwork in the Netherlands. A 10th-century farm was uncovered seven meters underground during construction of the market, and several foundations and artifacts are now on exhibit throughout the market hall in homage to Rotterdam’s agricultural past.
The Old Harbor, or Oude Haven, of Rotterdam is the city’s first port, dating back to 1350. Today, the Old Harbor is an entertainment center of Rotterdam, with a unique mix of old and new structures and a collection of terraces and restaurants to enjoy some time to relax in the bustling city.
Rotterdam’s Old Harbor is home to a number of old sailing ships that harken back to the heyday of the city as a trading port. Alongside the harbor stands Het Witte Huis (The White House), recognized as the first skyscraper of Europe. Standing 45 meters, the White House was built in 1898, and was not only the first, but also the highest skyscraper in Europe.
The ten-story, art nouveau-style building was designed by Dutch architect Willem Molenbroek, and stands on 1,000 piles that keep it from sinking into the soft soil. It is one of the few buildings in Rotterdam to have survived the German bombing campaign of May 14, 1940.
The Old Harbor used to be the home of the Plan C business complex, built in 1880. This complex combined shops, offices and homes around central arcades, allowing shoppers to remain dry even during the rain. This complex was, in fact, one of the first shopping malls similar to the malls of today. Unfortunately, most of Plan C was destroyed in the bombing, and only the railing and some underpasses of the complex remain today.
Taking its place around the Old Harbor are the restaurants and modern apartments that the Old Harbor is known for today. Chief among these are Rotterdam’s Cube Houses, built in 1984. These houses, designed by Piet Blom, look like giant yellow blocks, tilted on their side and raised up on poles. The cube house complex is known as the Blaakse Bos, or Blaakse Forest, as each of the houses can be seen to look like a tree. One of the cube houses is open to the public, or you can spend the night at the Stayokay hostel, which is located within one of the cubes.
The area around the harbor has now been transformed into a center for dining and nightlife in Rotterdam. There are thirteen restaurant and cafes that surround the harbor, along with a CitizenM hotel.
Rotterdam is famous around the world for its modern architecture, but this quirky feature came about by obligation rather than by imagination. The vast majority of the city was turned to ashes during the destructive Rotterdam Blitz by the German Air Force of 14 May 1940, but one building miraculously survived: the City Hall. Built between 1914 and 1940 as per Queen Wilhelmina’s request, it has a symmetrical design and a sober Renaissance style that is not without resemblance to other Dutch city halls. It features and four wings and a small interior courtyard, as well as two statues on either side of the main entrance: the ‘Portier’ (doorman) and the ‘Fiscus’ (tax collector); there are ten other statues scattered around the city hall’s gardens, each representing Rotterdam’s values and virtues. The most striking part of the building, however, is the 70-meter high tower featuring a clock, a bell, and an angel of peace. During the holiday season, Rotterdam's biggest Christmas tree is set up in front of the City Hall.
As the main railway station of the city of Rotterdam and one of the most important transportation hubs in all of the Netherlands with over 110,000 daily passengers in 2007 (as many as Amsterdam Schipol airport), Rotterdam Centraal was just recently renovated and reopened in March 2014. Because it is
now connected to several high-speed networks in Europe and because of its proximity to Schipol airport, it is expected that the numbers of daily passengers will increase to 323,000 by the year 2025.
In terms of architecture, the station has already received the acclaim of the industry thanks to its bold yet efficient design – a nod to the city’s architectural heritage, which is famous for being edgy and resolutely non-traditional. One of the main changes from the recent renovations works is the difference
between the north and south entrances; one faces the residential Provenierswijk neighborhood and the other, a futuristic, skyscraper-ridden commercial district. The station was designed so that commuters feel the gradual evolution from a more modest northern entrance with plenty of natural light and green
spaces merging into a metropolitan, dramatic allure to the south as the stations opens up onto a large and lively public square and a 5000-bike parking.
Rotterdam Zoo (Diergaarde Blijdorp) is known for its successful conservation and breeding programs. Visit the zoo for the chance to see creatures from all around the globe, from African pygmy hippos to Asiatic lions, North American polar bears to Australian swamp wallabies. There’s even an on-site aquarium and butterfly garden.
A historic quarter of Rotterdam, Delfshaven is on the River Nieuwe Maas and managed to withstand the worst of the nearby bombings that took place during World War II. The town first grew in importance as part of the trading port of Delft and began to thrive in the 14th century as the base of the Dutch East India Company. The area grew rich through fishing, shipbuilding and the trading of jenever (Dutch gin) before being subsumed into Rotterdam in 1886.
Delfshaven is an appealing district of photogenic gabled buildings that formerly served as warehouses, with yachts and barges moored up along the quaysides. The area is chiefly notable for including the original point of departure for the Pilgrims in 1620. The Speedwell left Delfshaven for the new world on August 1, stopped over at Plymouth in the United Kingdom to pick up the Mayflower and then went on to establish an English colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Delfshaven is dedicated to the Pilgrim Fathers, while Rotterdam’s only brewery, Brewery de Pelgrim, is appropriately named as well.
Delfshaven is also known as the birthplace of Piet Hein, a naval officer who captured a Spanish treasure fleet in 1628 during the Eighty Years’ War and brought great riches back to the Netherlands. His monument stands on the waterfront, and today the district’s waterfront is lined with cafes, shops and bars, including a lovely old jenever-tasting proeflokaal on Havenstraat.
Rotterdam’s premier art museum began with bequests from two wealthy Dutch art lovers: Frans Jacob Otto Boijmans donated his collection to the city in 1847, and Daniel George van Deuningenfollowed suit in 1955. From 16th-century paintings to contemporary glassware, the museum’s displays of western works are constantly changing; it has featured 20th-century bodies of work by German Expressionist Max Beckmann and French surrealist Yves Tanguy, as well as pieces from hundreds of years earlier.
Highlights of this expansive 140,000-work collection include Pieter Bruegel’s peerless Old Testament offering The Tower of Babel (1553), which warrants close inspection for all its detailed activity; scores of delicate drawings by Renaissance artist Fra Bartolommeo; Rembrandt’s winsome Titus at his Desk; and a collection of Gerrit Rietveld’s distinct colored wooden furniture. The many other artists represented here include Rubens, Dalí, Da Vinci, Monet, Picasso, Van Eyck and Man Ray. All works are housed in a stylish red-brick building designed by Adrianus Van der Steur, now updated with airy glass galleries and surrounded by a sculpture park and fountains. Free temporary exhibitions are on display in the Willem van der Vorm gallery and Serra Hall just inside the main entrance.
Please note: The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is temporarily closed for renovations. The reopening is scheduled for January 2026.
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