Rotterdam is a truly modern, culturally diverse city, with around 186 different nationalities making up its population. As Europe’s largest port and the second biggest city in the Netherlands after Amsterdam, Rotterdam is an energetic and fast moving city that prides itself on the ability of its population to embrace change.
Though the city dates back to 1270, it was practically obliterated in World War II and, today, the skyline has more in common with New York than with a traditional Dutch city. Soaring skyscrapers and award-winning modern architecture sit, side by side, with the quaint traditional Dutch houses that remain of the original city.
This vibrant university town, with its buzzing nightlife and great shopping, is just under four hours from London by train, so perfect for a holiday or city break with friends.
Whether you’re a hard-core clubber, a jazz-lover, a shopaholic or an architecture buff, there’s plenty to do and see in Rotterdam.
This monumental modern building houses Rotterdam’s most spectacular food market. You’ll find everything here, cheese, cake, Genever gin, meat, fish – stall after stall of deliciousness. And, if looking at all that food makes you hungry, there are restaurants where you can sit and eat as you watch the frenzy of consumerism going on around you.
For fabulous 360 degree views across Rotterdam, head to the top of the Euromast tower. The first level is the main viewing platform with a restaurant where you can sit and admire the views over breakfast, lunch or dinner, or even stay the night in one of the two luxury hotel suites.
If you’re a sucker for baby animals, this is the time to visit Rotterdam zoo to see the baby rhino, born on Valentine’s day 2017. You can visit her in the nursery, and even keep up with what she’s up to after you’ve gone home, via the zoo webcam.
There is no shortage of museums and galleries to visit in Rotterdam, in fact there’s an entire district called Museumkwartier, so you can even try pack them all into one day.
The Kunsthal is worth a visit for the building alone, designed by Rem Koolhaas in the late 1980s, it’s an iconic example of modern Dutch architecture. At first view it is a very simple, apparently transparent, square box but, as you explore the space, the complexity of the design becomes more obvious.
Most of the old city of Rotterdam was destroyed during the war, the little that’s left is around the old harbour of Delftshaven. Full of quirky old buildings, houseboats, windmills and all things Dutch, Delftshaven is an oasis of calm in the high octane, ultra-modernity of Rotterdam.
The Dutch like their food deep fried and they like it to go, making street food popular and easily available. It’s warming, cheap and filling, in other words – perfect food to line your stomach before a night on the town!
Top tip: Jaffa, on Witte de Withkwartier, is a popular place to eat Kapsalon, especially during a night out.
Top Tip: Try the Patatje oorlog from Bram Ladage outlets, there’s one on Binnenwegplein, handy for the hungry shopper.
Top tip: If you’re in Rotterdam between November and early January, try Oliebollen from Richard Visser's stand on the corner of Heemraadssingel and the Vierambachtsstraat. These are regularly voted the best in the Netherlands.
Witte de Withkwartier should be visited at night when it really comes alive. During the day you can browse the numerous art galleries or visit the Maritime Museum but, if you want to get a taste of Rotterdam nightlife, head here after dark.
The area around the town hall is where you’ll find the more upmarket bars and restaurants in Rotterdam. This is close to the main shopping area so is busy during the day as well as at night.
In the evenings the restaurants on the main square attract a well-dressed clientele so, if you’re going out in this area, put on your glad rags.
Bars and clubs around the old harbour are popular with students, especially in summer, when the terraces along the waterfront are heaving.
One of the main venues around here is Café Plan C, which recently reopened after five years. This is a great budget place to eat during the day, but in the evening it transforms into a club, with DJs or live music most weekends.
Meent is a slightly alternative place to shop during the day, with smaller more exclusive boutiques rather than high-street chains.
In the evening this area is increasingly becoming a place to go out for a slightly older crowd. So, if your hard-core clubbing days are in the past, this could the place for you.
The Hofplein is home to Bird, one of the best known jazz clubs in Rotterdam. This restaurant and club is under the arches of the old Hofbogen railway bridge, and has a wide programme of jazz and related music. The area around the Hofbogen viaduct is being regenerated and there are quite a few bars and restaurants popping up under the arches.
Rotterdam has no shortage of shopping areas to visit where you’ll find all the usual high street brands. However, if you’re looking for something a bit different that you can’t easily find at home, head to van Oldenbarneveltstraat.
Hutspot Rotterdam is a concept store that stocks local designers as well as international brands. Try SHPPR for fashion and accessories by young Dutch designers, and Susan Bijl for bags.
Rotterdam’s main shopping area covers Lijnbaan, Beurstraverse and Binnenwegplein and is where you’ll find all the familiar high street shops, as well as a few Dutch ones. If you don’t know the Dutch chain, HEMA, it’s great for inexpensive gadgets and food that make perfect presents. The Sting is another local chain for fashion at reasonable prices.
While you’re in the area, pop into De Bijenkorf, the Netherlands' top department store. It’s just a few streets away, on Coolsingel. The building is a modernist masterpiece, designed by Marcel Breuer.
For high-end designers stores, Kruiskade and the Central Plaza mall are where you’ll find all the big International names. There’s a casino in the same complex, should you get bored of shopping and your money is burning a hole in your pocket.
Nieuwe Binnenweg links the central shopping district with hipper, historic Delfshaven. The street is full of small artisan food shops, trendy coffee bars and old-style barber shops and record stores. Try Buiten for a healthy organic lunch, Ruby Lee for vintage clothes and, ultra-hip concept store, Plek for things you never knew you needed. You can also pick up a new pair of Birkenstocks if your old ones have seen better days, there’s a whole store of them here.
These are very popular in Rotterdam and there is usually at least one going on somewhere in the city on every day of the week. The biggest market, with around 400 stands, is in the centre near Blaak metro station and the Markthal. You’ll find food, drink, clothes, flowers, plants and lots more.
For art and lifestyle goods, the Swan Market is worth a visit. It takes place several weekends a year in different locations. It’s a bit of an event, with music and food and drink as well as stands selling jewellery, crafts and fashion.
Rotterdam has a great public transport system, The RET. You can choose from bus, tram, metro and waterbus and a selection of travel cards that cover travel on all of them.
For budget sightseeing, take a trip on Historic Tram line 10, it will take you past many of the city’s main attractions and you can get off and on wherever you like. The tram is available in July and August and costs around €7.
This being Holland, it’s no surprise that the city is very bike-friendly with a large network of bike paths. You can rent bikes for around €6.50 a day from various places around the city or take a guided bike tour.
If you fancy venturing further afield to the Hook of Holland or inland to Dordrecht, you could consider a water taxi for something a bit different. You’ll need to check prices as these are dependent on distance and number of people travelling.
International film festival
Museum night – all the museums stay open late so you can do a museum crawl
Rotterdam marathon; Kingsday - annual celebration of the monarchy that takes place across the Netherlands with different local events taking place throughout April
Bevrijdingsfestival - Independence day celebration with a festival in the Euromastpark
Hidden garden weekend - more than 90 private gardens open to the public for two days only
Architecture day - some iconic buildings are free to visit
North Sea Jazz Festival – this is massive and attracts thousands of people from all over the world
Rotterdam Unlimited – Street parade and celebration of cultural diversity
World Port Days – event in and around the port, finishing with a spectacular fireworks display
World of Witte de With - street art festival with live music and late-night gallery openings
International Comedy Festival Rotterdam
Festival Jazz International Rotterdam
Buma Rotterdam Beats Festival – hiphop/urban music festival that takes place in multiple venues across the city
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