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.
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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.
In World War II, Hitler threatened to obliterate Rotterdam unless the Netherlands surrendered. They did, but somehow this message didn’t reach the Luftwaffe on time and the air strikes went ahead anyway.
Unlike most of the rest of Europe, Rotterdam decided not to rebuild. Instead, it decided to start afresh. And that decision is what makes the city stand out so much in this part of Europe.
The Cube Houses, the Markthal, and the Erasmus Bridge are just a few examples of what stands out in this modern city.
Rotterdam has also breathed new life into its urban spaces, repurposing old industrial and waterfront areas into cultural hotspots, museums, and shopping districts.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s an interesting place to look at.
Map of One Day in Rotterdam
How to Spend One Day in Rotterdam
With its high-rise buildings and lively streets, Rotterdam is one of the most exciting cities in the Netherlands to visit in one day. Driven by a fast pace of life and a love for the beautiful, it has bloomed in the last decades, becoming a fascinating centre for art, culture and gastronomy.
In this guide, we will show you some of the top attractions and experiences that Rotterdam has to offer, all in just one day. So, get ready to explore the city and immerse yourself in its unique culture and energy.
Is One Day Enough to See the Whole City?
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands, so it is impossible to see it all in one day. Yet, the main attractions are all packed together in the city centre. So you will be able to visit most of them without the hassle of constantly switching buses or rushing to keep to a tight schedule.
How to Travel to Rotterdam
Since it is a major transportation hub, Rotterdam offers multiple ways of reaching it:
- Air Travel: Rotterdam has its own airport located about 7 kilometres from the city centre, which offers domestic and international flights to several European destinations. Alternatively, you can fly into Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, only 60 kilometres from Rotterdam, and take a train or bus from there.
- Train travel: The city is easily accessible by train, thanks to its excellent connections with other cities in the Netherlands and Europe. Several train stations, including Rotterdam Central Station, are available. If you fly into Amsterdam, you can take a train and enjoy the scenic journey, which lasts no more than 40 minutes.
- Car travel: It takes about an hour to drive from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, and the roads are excellent, making it a worthwhile drive for the landscape and views.
- Bus travel: Numerous bus companies, including Flixbus and Eurolines, connect Rotterdam to other cities in the Netherlands and Europe. Bus tickets are reasonably priced, and if you leave from Amsterdam, you can arrive at your destination in under an hour.
How to Get Around Rotterdam
Rotterdam is a beautiful, small city with contemporary architecture and a bustling city centre. To get around, there are several convenient and accessible transportation options available:
- Bike: Rotterdam is a bike-friendly metropolis, with several rental shops scattered throughout the city, making it easy to rent a bike. Bike-sharing schemes, such as OV-fiets and Donkey Republic, are also available, allowing you to rent a bike for a short period.
- Walking: Many of the city’s attractions are within walking distance of each other, making walking a great way to explore the many neighbourhoods, parks, and landmarks.
- Water Taxi: The water taxi is one of the easiest and most scenic ways to explore Rotterdam. With several stops along the Maas River, you can admire the stunning city skyline while getting to your destination quickly and comfortably.
- Metro: Rotterdam boasts a comprehensive metro system that covers most parts of the city. Trains run frequently from early morning until midnight, making it a reliable and efficient way to travel. You can purchase a single-use ticket or a rechargeable OV-chipkaart to ride the metro.
- Tram and Bus: Rotterdam also has an extensive network of trams and buses that run from early morning until late at night and cover most parts of the city.
- Taxi: Taxis are widely available in Rotterdam, and you can hail one on the street or book one through a taxi app.
Where to Stay in Rotterdam
From luxury hotels to houseboats, Rotterdam offers a broad variety of accommodation to match any budget. While the central area is a popular choice due to its proximity to tourist attractions, there are other attractive neighbourhoods to explore, such as the trendy Kop van Zuid or the peaceful Rotterdam Noord. Here are some of the best hotels to consider:
- Mainport Design Hotel – A contemporary and upscale hotel in Rotterdam’s city centre, it provides picturesque views of the harbour. The hotel also has a spa centre, which offers the perfect opportunity for some self-care while on holiday.
- Hotel New York – A historic lodging in the Kop van Zuid district, housed in a former shipping company building. This hotel has a charming atmosphere, with Art Deco-style interiors and views of the Rotterdam skyline.
- CitizenM Rotterdam – Step into a piece of history and book a stay at this enchanting hotel nestled in the Kop van Zuid district. Once a bustling shipping company building, it has been transformed into a captivating hideaway that exudes the charm of the past.
- nhow Rotterdam – An exquisite design-led hotel perched within the iconic De Rotterdam building in the vibrant Kop van Zuid district. Great views of the Maas River.
- Room Mate Bruno – Located in the charming Katendrecht neighbourhood, known for its delicious food and lively nightlife scene, this boutique hotel is the perfect choice for those looking to stay in a trendy area.
When is the Best Time to Visit Rotterdam?
Rotterdam has a moderate maritime climate characterized by mild summers and chilly winters. The warmest months are from June to August, with average temperatures ranging from 18°C to 21°C.
If you enjoy warmer weather and outdoor cultural events, this is the best time to visit, as the city hosts the popular Rotterdam Unlimited Carnival and the North Sea Jazz Festival, both held in July. However, keep in mind that the summer months can also be crowded with tourists, so consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of April to May or September to November for a more relaxed pace.
While Rotterdam is still worth visiting during the winter holidays, the temperatures often drop below zero, making it uncomfortable to stroll around. If you don’t mind the cold and are interested in holiday markets and festivities, then winter could be a great time to visit.
However, if you prefer milder weather, it’s best to plan your holiday for another time of year.
Your 1-Day Rotterdam Itinerary
You have a full day ahead of you to explore one of the Netherlands’ major cities, so put on some comfy shoes and get ready to be amazed.
Discover Rotterdam from the Heights of the Euromast Tower
To get the best start on your Rotterdam itinerary, head straight to the Euromast. This towering 185-meter-high structure in the heart of the city offers a mind-blowing panoramic view of Rotterdam and its surrounding areas. Take the high-speed elevator all the way to the top and step onto the observation deck to witness the sights of the Erasmus Bridge, the Port of Rotterdam, and the city’s impressive skyline.
But it’s not just the views that make Euromast a must-visit attraction. For the thrill-seekers out there, you can descend from the top of the tower to the ground by rope – an experience that will leave your heart racing and your adrenaline pumping. And on a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of the coast of Belgium and the magnificent city of The Hague in the distance.
Take a Stroll along the Erasmusbrug
With your body still buzzing, head to the Erasmusbrug. Also known as the Erasmus Bridge, it is an iconic cable-stayed bridge that spans the Maas River, connecting the north and south sides of Rotterdam. As you walk or bike along it, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the city skyline and the river. You can also see some of Rotterdam’s most famous attractions, such as the Euromast, the Cube Houses, and the Maritime Museum.
At night, the Erasmusbrug is illuminated with colourful lights, which add to the beauty of the structure and make for a magical atmosphere. You can also catch the bridge opening and closing to allow ships to pass through the river, which is an impressive sight.
Have a Coffee in the Historic Oude Haven
If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of Rotterdam’s past, head over to Oude Haven, also known as the “Old Port.” Dating back to the 14th century, this area offers a window into the city’s history and has been beautifully preserved despite the destruction caused by WWII.
Strolling along the picturesque canals, you’ll come across a variety of unique shops, cafes, and restaurants, as well as several historic ships that have been converted into museums or event spaces.
One of the main attractions in Oude Haven is the Witte Huis, or White House, a tall, white building that was constructed in 1898 and is considered one of Rotterdam’s most iconic landmarks. The building boasts an Art Nouveau design and stands out amidst the surrounding architecture.
For those arriving by cruise ship, Oude Haven is a great starting point for a walking tour of Rotterdam’s historic district. Take a stroll through this charming area and discover the city’s rich history and unique architecture.
Explore the Cube Houses
One of the best things to do in Rotterdam is to check out out the famous cube houses.
Designed by architect Piet Blom in the 1970s, these 38 cube-shaped lodges are a striking visual sight, tilted at a 45-degree angle and supported by a hexagonal pillar.
You can get up close and personal with the Cube Houses by visiting the Kijk-Kubus Museum, where you can see a fully furnished show house and experience what it’s like to live in one of these unique homes.
But if you really want to make your stay in Rotterdam unforgettable, consider renting a Cube House for a night or two. While they may not be suitable for everyone, staying in a Cube House offers a truly one-of-a-kind experience, with all the necessary amenities and even some unique features such as a rooftop terrace or a view of the Old Harbor.
Just be prepared for a compact living space and some unusual angles.
Have Lunch at the Markthal
Stop for lunch at one of Rotterdam’s most iconic places: the Markthal. This covered food market, located just a short walk from Rotterdam Centraal Station, is a bustling hub of food stalls, shops, and restaurants.
Inside, you’ll find a wide variety of food vendors offering everything from traditional Dutch snacks to international delicacies. You can grab a fresh sandwich, sample some sushi, or indulge in a sweet crepe or pastry. The market also offers plenty of fresh produce and meats if you want to put together your own picnic.
The Markthal’s stunning architecture is another highlight of this unique destination. The building’s curved walls are covered in a colourful mural of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and the central space of the market is a soaring, light-filled area with high ceilings and striking stained-glass windows. It is simply a stunning place to enjoy lunch while watching people as they shop around.
Visit the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
For any art enthusiast, a visit to Rotterdam’s Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum is an absolute must. Its extensive collection of over 151,000 objects includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and decorative arts spanning several periods and styles from medieval to contemporary art.
The museum’s permanent collection boasts works from celebrated artists like Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, Salvador Dalí, and Piet Mondrian, in addition to a significant display of Dutch and Flemish art dating back to the 15th to 17th centuries.
Another unique feature of the Museum of Boijmans Van Beuningen is its architecture. The museum is located in a modernist building designed by Dutch architect Alexander Bodon, which provides a striking contrast to the historic artworks inside. The building also features a beautiful sculpture garden and a rooftop terrace that offers a panoramic view of the city.
Check out the Witte de Withstraat
As you are moving to the second part of the day, take a few moments to explore one of the trendiest streets in Rotterdam. The Witte de Withstraat is known for its art galleries, cultural institutions, restaurants, cafes, and shops.
Visit the famous Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art, TENT Rotterdam, or the MAMA Showroom to check out what’s new in the art world and then stop at a coffee shop for a fresh dose of energy.
Have Tons of Fun at the Rotterdam Zoo
If you are visiting Rotterdam with your kids, they will have a blast at this huge zoo, one of the oldest in the Netherlands. And even for grownups, this place has incredible potential.
Upon entering the zoo, you will be greeted with a map that shows you the different sections of the zoo and the animals that are found in each area. You can then start exploring the different sections of the zoo, which are designed to mimic the animals’ natural habitats as closely as possible.
Some of the animals you can expect to see include lions, tigers, elephants, gorillas, giraffes, penguins, sea lions, and many others. There are also several indoor exhibits, such as the Butterfly Pavilion and the Amazonica exhibit, which feature a large indoor rainforest.
Discover the 15th Century Laurenskerk
In a city that was almost completely destroyed by the war, to find historic buildings dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries almost feels like a miracle. So when you find yourself in front of the Rotterdam Cathedral, make sure you step inside.
The Laurenskerk is an impressive Gothic-style building that dates back to the 15th century, and it has been beautifully restored and preserved over the years. The church’s interior is equally impressive, with a high vaulted ceiling, stained glass windows, and intricate woodcarvings.
Visitors can explore the church’s interior, attend a service, or take part in a guided tour to learn more about the building’s history and architecture. There is also a museum inside the church that houses various artefacts and displays related to the church’s history.
Stop for Dinner and Drinks in Rotterdam’s Cool District
Head to one of Rotterdam’s most lively neighbourhoods for a beautiful night in the city. The area is well-known for its trendy restaurants, bustling nightlife, and energetic atmosphere.
As you walk through the streets, you’ll notice the unique and modern architecture of the buildings, which creates a dynamic urban environment. This is the perfect place to people-watch, soak in the city’s energy, and enjoy a diverse array of culinary experiences.
There’s a wide variety of dining options available, ranging from upscale restaurants to cosy cafes and everything in between. The district is particularly well-known for its international cuisine, including Mediterranean, Asian, and South American-inspired dishes.
After dinner, you can experience the lively nightlife scene. The district is famous for its bars, pubs, and clubs, each with its own unique vibe and music and offering a great way to remember the city.
What and Where to Eat in Rotterdam
For food enthusiasts, Rotterdam is a must-visit destination with a multitude of culinary options. Here are some of the best places to dine and recommended dishes to try when exploring Rotterdam:
- Markthal – The Market Hall is not just visually stunning but also offers a fantastic range of dishes. It’s the perfect place for a satisfying lunch. For an authentic Dutch experience, try the kibbeling (fried fish bites) and the poffertjes (mini pancakes).
- Fenix Food Factory – Another food market worth visiting in Rotterdam is the Fenix Food Factory. It’s located in a renovated waterfront warehouse and showcases local and organic food stalls. Sample the cheese from Booij Kaasmakers and the sausages from Stielman.
- Restaurant Joelia – Joelia, a Michelin-starred restaurant located in the Hilton Hotel in Rotterdam’s centre, is a must-visit for foodies. Chef Mario Ridder offers innovative and creative dishes using locally sourced ingredients. Don’t miss the chance to try the tasting menu.
- Gastrobar Hartig – This trendy gastropub is located in the historic Delfshaven neighbourhood and offers a mix of Dutch and international cuisine. Be sure to try the bitterballen, kapsalon, and Dutch-style steak tartare.
- Bistrot du Bac – If you’re looking for something more upscale, visit Bistrot du Bac, a French-style bistro serving classic French dishes such as escargots, steak frites, and crème brûlée. The cosy atmosphere and welcoming staff make it an ideal spot for a romantic dinner.
Day Trips from Rotterdam
If you’re looking for some fun things to do near Rotterdam and have an extra day to spare, consider taking a guided tour of one of the nearby cities. Here are some great day tours to try:
- Delft: Just a 15-minute train ride from Rotterdam, the charming city of Delft is a great place to explore. Visit the Royal Delft factory to learn about the famous blue and white pottery and stroll along the picturesque canals.
- The Hague: The political capital of the Netherlands, The Hague is only 30 minutes away by train. Take a guided tour of the Peace Palace, home to the International Court of Justice, and enjoy a stroll along the beach at Scheveningen.
- Kinderdijk: About 30 minutes by car or 1 hour by public transport from Rotterdam, Kinderdijk is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its iconic windmills. Take a boat tour to learn about the history of windmills and their role in water management in the Netherlands.
- Gouda: The historic city of Gouda, known for its cheese and stroopwafels, is just 30 minutes by train from Rotterdam. Here you can visit the Gothic-style Gouda Cathedral and the cheese market (open only on Thursdays during the summer months) and enjoy a cheese-tasting tour.
- Keukenhof Gardens: If you’re visiting Rotterdam during the spring (March to May), don’t miss the stunning Keukenhof Gardens, which feature over 7 million tulips and other flowers. Located about an hour away by train, it’s a great place to visit for flower lovers.
Final thoughts on 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.
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.
- See also this article on unusual things to do in The Hague.