The Dutch port city of Rotterdam is often overshadowed by its infamous neighbour Amsterdam. But what many people don’t realise is that this exciting and modern city is a mere 25 minute train journey away and is definitely worth a visit on any trip to Holland. So to encourage you to add another stop to your next trip to the Netherlands, here are the 8 top things to do in Rotterdam…
1. Visit the Cube Houses
Any trip to Rotterdam wouldn’t be complete without visiting the iconic cube houses.
Rotterdam is undoubtedly home to much of the most innovative and creative architecture in the Netherlands, however, nothing will leave you quite as in awe as these 40 strange tilted cubes close to Rotterdam Blaak station.
Designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom, the houses were created to represent an ‘urban forest’, with the yellow ‘trees’ clustering together above the city on top of their concrete ‘trunks’. The cosy pedestrian promenade below is home to shops, small businesses and a children’s play area.
You can wander around the houses and admire the amazing architecture from below, or head to the ‘show-cube’ to see the inside of one of the houses for a €3 entrance fee.
Alternatively, you could stay inside a cube house yourself. One of the cubes is available on Airbnb for €120+ a night, whilst the big cube is home to a StayOkay Hostel with beds for as low as €30 per night.
2. Admire the Architecture
On the topic of quirky architecture, simply wanding around and admiring the city’s amazing buildings is definitely one of the top things to do in Rotterdam!
Much of Rotterdam’s city centre was destroyed by German bombs in 1940. Although a handful of old buildings remained or were salvaged from the wreckage, much of the city needed rebuilding. Rotterdam’s architects, therefore, decided to swiftly move the city into the future rather than replicating the past, resulting in the abundance of modern architecture you see today.
Check out the Blaaktoren (aka the pencil building) next to the cube houses, also designed by Piet Blom. As well as the unusually pointy roof, you’ll notice that all of the building’s windows appear to be upside down and cleverly resemble the rubber end of a pencil.
Head further over to the ‘cool district’ (yes that’s really what it’s called!) and admire the Calypso building close to Rotterdam Central station.
Straight underneath the Calypso, you will also spot an unusual little brown building with many triangular windows. This is, in fact, Pauluskerk (St Pauls Chuch), an unorthodox church which is also known as ‘the rough diamond that fell from the Calypso’.
Other pieces of interesting architecture in the city include the Erasmus bridge, Hotel New York, the Witte Huis (white house), the Maastoren and the Euromast.
3. Explore the Markthal
The large Markthal is a new addition to Rotterdam, having only opened in October 2014. The impressive looking building is not only home to the central food market, which can be seen clearly through the two glass facades on either side, but it also houses 228 apartments, retail space and a 4 story underground car park.
Once inside of the Markthal, it’s important not to get too distracted by the exciting sights and smells of the food traders straight away and remember to look up to admire the impressive artwork adorning the interior of the curved building.
Designed by Dutch visual artist Arno Coenen, the piece is called Hoorn des Overvloeds (Horn of Plenty) and depicts giant fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, flowers and insects. At 11,000m2 some call it the largest artwork in the world!
The ground floor food market has a whole variety of traders selling everything from fresh produce to local and international street food and even flowers and plants.
Make sure to try some local bitterballen and krokets from ‘Het Kroket Loket’ who serve the small breadcrumbed fried rolls stuffed with traditional fillings including beef and Dutch cheese, as well as more unusual fillings such as Indonesian curry.
Or if you’ve got a sweet tooth like me, make sure to stop by at the Chocolate Company for a selection of over 65 flavoured hot chocolates and their sugar-high inducing killer chocolate brownie.
This next part will sound a little strange but just stick with me. If you have time while at the market, take the central staircase down into the underground carpark.
The Markthal is built on top of a fourteenth-century buried village surrounded by water and dykes. When the Markthal was built, a tenth-century farm was found 7 metres under the ground, with items perfectly preserved by the wet ground. Now, many of the items discovered are on display for free under the staircase within the carpark.
Not many people know about these hidden treasures so you’ll more than likely have this mini-museum all to yourself. You’re welcome.
4. Take a Street Art tour
Not only is Rotterdam filled with exciting architecture and unique facades, but the city is also home to plenty of beautiful and thought-provoking street art.
However, the problem with Rotterdam’s street art is that it is spread out all across the city and often in hard to stumble-across locations. This is why a street art tour should definitely be on any list of top things to do in Rotterdam, especially as many of the tours are free!
5. Climb the Tower of Laurenskerk
Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk (Chuch of St.Lawrence) is a Protestant church in Rotterdam. Built in 1449, it is the only remnant of the medieval city and one of the few building not completely destroyed by the bombing of Rotterdam during the second world war. The old gothic church sits in stark contrast to the modern architecture around it, making it a symbol of the city and all that it has endured.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, you can climb to the top of the church’s tower with a guide (groups of 5+) for breathtaking views across the city, from the cube houses and Markthal just below to the Calypso building across the city.
6. Head down to the harbour
The Port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe, and up until 2004 it was also the busiest port in the World. The waterfront is a beautiful place to explore, with plenty of harbours, shipyards and docks to keep you occupied for hours. You can take in the sights by either by foot, bike or boat.
If you get the opportunity, definitely jump on board a water taxi or an organised boat tour for the most unique view of the port and the city skyline.
7. Grab a drink on Witte de Withstraat
Witte de Withstraat is probably Rotterdam’s coolest and most exciting street, full of bars, cafes, restaurants, shops and hostels.
On a sunny afternoon, this street is guaranteed to be full of both locals and tourists sitting outside enjoying a few drinks. Whilst at night, the party atmosphere continues on the street into the early hours of the morning.
Make sure to stop for coffee at De Witte Aap which was voted the best cafe in the world by Lonely Planet a few years ago.
And when you’re in desperate need of an end of the night snack, check out Jaffa Shoarma(open until 6am every day) to try the famous local dish of kapsalon, a tasty combination of chips, meat, salad and garlic sauce.
Efteling is probably one of the lesser-known theme parks around the world but it certainly shouldn’t be!
Located in Kaatsheuvel around an hour away from Rotterdam, Efteling is a fantasy-themed amusement park. Dating all the way back to the 1950s, Efteling’s attractions reflect elements from ancient myths and legends, fairy tales, fables, and folklore.
The theme park is suitable for all ages, from adults to young children, with everything from adrenaline-fueled rollercoasters to a charming Fairytale Forest.
Travelling in the Netherlands with children? Check out this post for more child-friendly places in Holland just like Efteling.
Visiting more of the Netherlands? Check out ‘Top tips for exploring Amsterdam like a local’!
Can you recommend any other top things to do in Rotterdam? Let me know in the comments below…