Rotterdam is the Netherlands’ second largest city, and though it may traditionally have been overlooked by tourists in favor of its larger counterpart, Rotterdam has really come into its own as one of the country’s most diverse, exciting cities to explore. Here’s a guide to a perfect 24 hours in Rotterdam!
Morning: Start your morning off right with breakfast at Markthal
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but Europe isn’t known for its breakfasts. Luckily for you, the city’s massive Markthal not has a wealth of food vendors and delicious local snacks. It’s also one of the city’s most striking pieces of architecture, and a perfect place to begin exploring Rotterdam’s dramatic modern buildings.
Markthal also happens to be very close to many of the city’s other iconic buildings—head across the square and walk under the wild Cube Houses, dreamed up as a modern housing solution by Dutch architect Piet Blom. Just past the Cube houses you’ll also be able to see the beautiful Witte Huis, one of the very few buildings in the city that managed to escape the brutal German bombing campaign in WWII unscathed. There’s a café on the ground floor—the perfect place for a coffee at the beginning of a day full of exploration! The Witte Huis sits on a canal right across from the Nieuwe Maas, Rotterdam’s main river and a distributary of the Rhine. Rotterdam’s ample waterfront makes for some really lovely walks, so from the Witte Huis you can amble along the Boompjeskade and see the source of Rotterdam’s shipping industry firsthand. As you head west, you’ll see the Erasmusbrug looming overhead—the main bridge of the city, also called the Swan for its elegant pylon design. Just northwest of the bridge is the amazing Museumpark, home to many of Rotterdam’s most famous art museums. This is the perfect place to explore a little bit of Dutch art history and see some of the country’s most famous pieces. Particularly worth visiting is the Chabot Museum, a smaller gem of an institution on the north side of the park, and the Kunsthal, a large set of exhibition halls that always has a cutting edge show on display.
If you’ve visited some museums in the park and are getting hungry, Nieuwe Werk, the neighborhood just southeast of the museum park is full of restaurants. For a really special bite, however, considering grabbing food in Het Park, one of Rotterdam’s most scenic nature spaces and a beautiful spot to kick back and relax on a sunny day. Even if you’re not eating in one of the restaurants near the park, make sure to give it a walk through. The wide lawns and huge old trees will make you forget you’re even in a city to begin with!
Afternoon: Enjoy stunning views of Rotterdam
For the start to a good afternoon, head to the Euromast right next to Het Park. The Euromast Tower has the distinction of being the highest tower of the Netherlands, built specifically to be an observation tower. It allows visitors to access two different platforms that offer panoramic views of Rotterdam and the surrounding cities and countryside. While the lower one is pretty standard viewing-platform-on-tall-building stuff, the upper platform is actually built into an elevator that picks you up at the first platform and slowly spins you up to tower’s full 185-meter height. It’s an exciting way to get the lay of the land!
Now that you’ve seen the sights and have a better sense of Rotterdam’s location, it’s time to learn a little bit more about the city’s history. Because everything comes back to the port and its importance to Rotterdam’s economy, it’s only fair that your next stop would be the city’s extensive Maritime Museum. It’s a monument like no other to the rich history of Dutch seafaring mastery. There are quite a few exhibits dedicated to the ins and outs of shipping through the centuries, and an extensive interactive exhibit on the way that Rotterdam deals with the drug trade and the shipping of illicit substances through its waters. The museum’s other highlight is an equally elaborate exhibit on the fascinating high-tech offshore industry, which allows you to take your place at the helm of an oil rig and get hands-on experience with a variety of high-pressure jobs. The museum also operates a number of boats in the harbor, and you can walk around some of the docks just outside the museum itself and hop onto a number of different vessels—some used for work, others as floating residences—and see what life looks like on the water.
Evening: Enjoy dinner and Rotterdam’s nightlife
Your options for the evening abound. For dinner, there are many restaurants just east of the Maritime museum. If you want to get a good sense of the city’s nightlife, then heading north from the Maritime museum up towards Rotterdam Centraal, the central train station, will bring you near some of the city’s best clubs and bars—both between the station and the street of Schiekade. Take in the views of the lit streets and city dwellers, and reflect on your day in Rotterdam.