It all started with a conversation I overheard between two ladies as I walked down a street in Amsterdam. One of them had just spent a weekend in Rotterdam and she remarked how “gezellig” (a typical Dutch word basically meaning cosy) the city had become, the many things to do in Rotterdam and what a lovely time she had. I almost stopped in my tracks when I heard that! Coming from an Amsterdammer, and considering that Amsterdam and Rotterdam are fierce rivals, this verged on blasphemy! Haha! It triggered my curiosity and I made a mental note to spend a weekend in Rotterdam soon. A week later, I found myself in this port city and I couldn’t agree more with that lady!
My weekend in Rotterdam
Rotterdam is a bit of an anomaly in the Netherlands. The city proudly holds the title of being one of the largest ports in the world and it’s arguably the only city in the country that oozes a modern flair coupled with an impressive skyline.
I never thought much of Rotterdam to be honest; this can be partially attributed to being an Amsterdam snob myself! 😉 Large swathes of the city were destroyed during World War II. The reconstruction that followed was, in my view, more functional than aesthetically-pleasing, resulting in a rather nondescript cityscape – a sharp contrast to Amsterdam, with its charming canals and historic buildings. However, Rotterdam started to experience somewhat of a renaissance from around the turn of the century. New urban projects spearheaded by various world-renowned architects brought new life and a shiny, new skyline to the city.
I chose the Mainport Hotel, a five-star waterfront hotel in the city centre as my weekend base. The hotel is perfectly situated between the harbour and the Coolsingel, the city’s main thoroughfare, and a stone’s throw from the city’s main attractions such as the lively Witte de With quarter, Markthal, the Museum Quarter and the Kop van Zuid.
I booked a harbourview room with a spa – some rooms come equipped with both a Finnish spa and a jacuzzi with a view of the harbour! My room had a gorgeous view of the Leuvenhaven and the city’s iconic Erasmus bridge.
As I only had a weekend, I decided to concentrate on the new architecture in Rotterdam as I set out to explore the city. Follow me as I spent the weekend exploring this vibrant city. I’ve included in the map below the main attractions of Rotterdam and a sightseeing walking route.
Weekend in Rotterdam – Day 1
From the hotel, I hopped onto a tram which took me to the Central Station in ten minutes. The railway station, with its pointy roof, is absolutely spectacular.
From here, I explored a bit of the Cool district and discovered more architectural gems like these striking new buildings along the Mauritsweg near the Central Station. The Pauluskerk (Paulus church) was especially eye-catching!
I continued to the Schouwburgplein (Theatre Square) and on to the Coolsingel avenue.
From the Coolsingel, I headed to the Witte de With Quarter, with its many cafés, terraces, bars and restaurants. It’s a great place to stop for a drink and a meal and mingle with the locals.
That evening, I had a fantastic dinner at Asian Glories, one of the top Chinese restaurants in Rotterdam.
After dinner, I visited the iconic Hotel New York for a drink. The former HQ of the Holland America Line, Hotel New York has one of the best locations (and views) in Rotterdam. The night view of the Rotterdam skyline is stunning!
Weekend in Rotterdam – Day 2
The next day, after a terrific breakfast at the hotel, I visited the Maritime Museum which is practically next door to the hotel. The Maritime Museum is great for people of all ages and provides unique insights to Rotterdam’s maritime history.
From the Maritime Museum, I walked towards my next stop, the Markthal. Along the way, I passed by the Schielandshuis, the only remaining 17th century building in the Rotterdam city centre.
I finally arrived at the Markthal, just in time before it started raining! I was very excited because I’d seen so many amazing photos of this new market.
After lunch at the Markthal, I walked through the charming Oudehaven and Leuvehaven districts. The Oudehaven is Rotterdam’s oldest harbour (dating from the 14th century). These days, it’s a lively area with lots of cafés and restaurants, as well as the Witte Huis, Europe’s first skyscraper.
I continued to the Museum Quarter. This quarter is home to two famous museums: De Kunsthal and Boijmans van Beuningen, as well as various smaller museums. De Kunsthal is an art museum with (often) fascinating exhibitions.
Adjacent to the Booijmans van Beuningen Museum is another eye-catching structure, De Depot. This stunning building with its mirrored surface is a huge art repository.
Across the road from the Depot are three attractions that would appeal to architecture fans: Het Nieuwe Instituut (with art and architecture exhibitions), Chabot Museum and Sonneveld House, both of which are beautiful Modernist (Bauhaus) houses.
From here, I slowly made my way back to the Central Station, passing the Westersingel Sculpture route along the way.
Things to do in Rotterdam
I only scraped the surface of Rotterdam on this 36-hour visit. This vibrant city has much more to offer visitors, making a visit of a few days absolutely worthwhile. Places to stay I can recommend, aside from Mainport Hotel, include nhow Rotterdam and Room Mate Bruno.
Here’s a list of things to do in Rotterdam that I’ve done on numerous visits and truly enjoyed:
- visit the fascinating Museum Booijmans van Beuningen (contemporary art), KunstHal (contemporary art) and the Maritime Museum
- see the reflection of the Rotterdam skyline at the Depot building adjacent to the Museum Booijmans van Beuningen
- go on a harbour cruise from the Spido terminal or join a harbour tour
- go on a ‘global’ food tour of Rotterdam and visit the Markthal food market
- visit the beautiful Van Nelle factory, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Van Nelle factory was once described as “the most beautiful spectacle of the modern age” by the famous architect Le Corbusier
- visit the historic and modern landmarks in the ‘Kop van Zuid‘ district just across the Erasmus bridge. My favourite is De Rotterdam, a striking 3-in-1 tower designed by world-renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. You can also opt for a two-hour architecture walking tour. Other attractions in this district are Hotel New York and the National Photography Museum.
- stroll along the Westersingel Sculpture route, with its intriguing sculptures
- experience the atmosphere of the quaint Delfshaven, a historic corner of Rotterdam most famous as being the departure point of the Pilgrim Fathers to New England in the 18th century
- go up the Euromast for panoramic views of the city and port
- visit another UNESCO World Heritage site: Kinderdijk. This site, with its 19 18th-century windmills, is famous the world over. You can combine a visit to Kinderdijk with the Euromast and a harbour cruise
- visit nearby Delft, the home of Delft Blue ceramics and Vermeer! Delft is a short train ride away and has a beautiful historic centre with charming canals. Read more about things to see in Delft.
Visit Rotterdam Info for more information and tips for things to do and see in Rotterdam. If you’re staying a bit longer, I can also recommend three nearby cities to visit: Delft, Gouda and Dordrecht. You can also visit all these places on a road trip around the Delta region of Central Netherlands. Check out my recommendations for towns in the Netherlands to visit.
Read more about other places to visit in the Netherlands
- Charming Amersfoort
- A drive around the tulip fields
- Holland at its best
- Exploring the historic towns north of Amsterdam
- A drive along the Markermeer loop
- Day trips from Amsterdam