March 3, 2015

What to See in Rotterdam in One Day – The Design Capital of the Netherlands

Wondering what to see in Rotterdam in one day? All ritzy and glitzy in an urban reinvention way, Rotterdam is the design capital of the Netherlands with plenty to see and do. Here's an itinerary for 24 hours in Rotterdam.

Things to do in Rotterdam the Netherlands

Things to do in Rotterdam the Netherlands

What to see in Rotterdam in One Day

You may find yourself wondering what to see in Rotterdam in one day because you're on a business trip in nearby Amsterdam. Or perhaps, you're putting together your own trip across the Netherlands. Rotterdam works well as an alternative city break in Europe as it's so easy to get here from the main Schiphol airport in Amsterdam.

An Overview of Rotterdam in One Day

Spend the morning on a walking architecture tour, then have lunch in the dazzling indoor market. In the afternoon, dip and delve into Rotterdam's art museums and then check out the restaurant suggestions below for dinner.

Did You Know? 

It is RIDICULOUSLY easy to link together the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague by train. City hop between all four over a weekend and get a brief taste of each. Or hunker down in one and explore it thoroughly. 

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Map of Rotterdam

Why visit RotterdaM?

Rotterdam stands out in the Netherlands. It puts the i in design, the arch into architecture and the otter into Rotterdam. Ok. So, I may be getting carried away. 

But Rotterdam does revel in its provocative cityscape, art museums, and pretty much everything else.

And this capacity for reinvention stems from a deeply disturbing past. 

Rotterdam's Destruction and Reinvention

When the Nazis bombed the city centre, Rotterdam decided not to "rebuild" but to start anew.

When the old port faltered as fewer emigrants fled to New York , Rotterdam redesigned its waterfront.

And when the EU threatened to ban the outdoor sale of fruits and vegetables (which turns out not to be quite true,) Rotterdam responded with Europe's largest indoor market (and most spectacular one to boot.)

How to Spend One Day in Rotterdam

If you only have one day in Rotterdam, it's often best to opt for a self-guided trip. That way, you can speed past anything you're not interested in and linger in the places that bring you joy. 

However, the city's architecture really needs some explanation along the way. So, if you can, try to join at least one walking architecture tour. 

Getting Around Rotterdam

Rotterdam is an easily walkable city, as long as you have plenty of energy, layers of clothing and comfy shoes.

Highlights of Rotterdam

Cool Architecture

Cool architecture is to Rotterdam what yellow taxicabs are to New York: ubiquitous and characterful. Unlike the taxis, some of the buildings are easy to miss if you don't have a helping hand to put them into context. Enter ArchiGuides (and if you take a tour with Willem Besselink you get an insight into the city's visual art scene too.)

Take a tour to catch the highlights and understand the stories behind Rotterdam's chrome and glass. 

Spectacular indoor market in Rotterdam

Spectacular indoor market in Rotterdam

Visit the Hendrik Chabot Museum

Check out work from the less well known local boy Hendrik Chabot at the museum that bears his name.

Catch the Classics in Art

Take a tour through Rembrandt and Van Gogh in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (and in addition to the art, enjoy the free wifi and banter about the nearby big city that we shalt never mention by name.)

Look for Bubbly Buildings

Marvel at the bubbly floating buildings that represent Rotterdam's scientific efforts to combat the threat of global warming.

Where to Eat in Rotterdam

Cafe-Restaurant Rodin - a light and airy restaurant in the vibrant Witte de Withstraat, this place brought warmth to my shivering bones through its truffle and mushroom soup and uber-friendly service.

Las Palmas - taste the city in all its modern glory in Las Palmas, creation of Dutch TV chef Herman den Blijker. Sea bream on pearl barley can seem dry and dull in lesser hands; here it's perfection.

And watch out for another local boy: Erasmus. Not only does his name decorate the backpacks of hordes of European students each year, but he also has a bridge. The Erasmus Bridge, in fact ;-)

Where to Stay in Rotterdam

If you decide you want to spend more than one day in Rotterdam, then here's where to stay:

As a member of the delicious Design Hotels Group, The Mainport matches Rotterdam's sense of style. It's modern and funky with an international flavour (each floor has themes from a different part of the world and as Europe's largest port, Rotterdam claims to be one of the most international cities in the world.)

The Mainport suffers from a common affliction among modern hotels - difficult-to-find-all-the-light-switches-to-turn-them-off-at-night-itis but the view from the glass walled elevator more than makes up for that.

Travel Tips for Rotterdam

Most visitors arrive in Rotterdam by train from Amsterdam central or the airport at Schiphol. 

You can buy tickets on arrival at the yellow ticket machines - and instructions are also given in English. The highlights of each city are close enough to manage on foot as long as you're wearing a sturdy pair of shoes and are happy to clock up the miles (8 1/2 miles and counting, for example, on my Rotterdam trip.)

All that said, there are buses and trams in each city and plenty of helpful, friendly people about who speak spectacular English and are happy to help you out.

Disclosure - I travelled to Rotterdam with some assistance from Rotterdam Partners. The pick of what appears here was entirely down to me, as ever, as always etcetera etcetera. After all, if I've had a bad time somewhere, why on earth would I recommend it to anyone?!

Travel Tips for Holland and the Netherlands



  • Great post! Massively inspired me to travel in Holland again, especially Utrecht!

  • As a Utrecht local I say… you missed quite a lot! ;-) But thank you for including Utrecht in your trip in Utrecht. not many tourists do and I think it’s refreshing to see someone wander past Amsterdam for a change. If you ever decide to come back (and I hope you do!), maybe my wee guide will help you along:

    • I do hope to come back – yes! It felt like quite a busy day just getting around these and Utrecht definitely deserves more time. Thanks for the tips :-)

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