Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands and is well known for being Europe’s largest seaport. It attracts visitors with its modern and extraordinary architecture, interesting museums and art galleries. When we lived in the Netherlands we visited Rotterdam several times and enjoyed the city every single time.
With its close proximity to Amsterdam and direct connections to Brussels and Paris, Rotterdam is a perfect one day trip destination in the Netherlands. Read on our ‘The Best of Rotterdam in a day’ guide for things to see and do in Rotterdam if you have one day in this modern Dutch city.
How to get there
Travelling within the Netherlands is very easy. Public transport is well developed in this country and it takes under an hour to get from Amsterdam to Rotterdam by train. There are also direct train connections between Rotterdam and other popular Dutch cities such as The Hague and Utrecht.
A little history
Rotterdam’s history goes back to the 14th century when it has been granted its city rights. However, you won’t find many historical buildings in this city because Rotterdam was almost completely destroyed during the WW2.
During the WW2 the German army invaded the Netherlands. Adolph Hitler had hoped to conquer the country in one day, but met with strong resistance. So, on the 14th of May 1940 Luftwaffe bombed the city of Rotterdam to convince the Dutch army to surrender. The heart of Rotterdam city was destroyed with only few buildings surviving the bombing.
Looking at the pictures of Rotterdam after the 1940 bombing event it’s hard to imagine how Dutch people have managed through such a catastrophe and turned it around to build one of the most known and admired cities in the world – the modern Rotterdam.
The Best of Rotterdam in a day
Central Railway Station
If you arrive in Rotterdam by train you can’t miss the unique architecture of the central station – Rotterdam Centraal. It was opened in 2014, after several years that took to demolish old and build a new station.
When we went to Rotterdam for the first time the sight of Stationsplein (public square in front of the station) and surrounding buildings told us we’re going to enjoy our visit. Vast open areas, covered in green, canals and unique modern architecture – this is what Rotterdam has greeted us with.
The Church of Saint Laurence
The Church of Saint Laurence (‘Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk’ in Dutch) was amongst very few buildings that survived the 1940 bombing in Rotterdam.
This church, originally built in the middle of the 15th century, was restored after the war (see the post war picture above – the only major building standing is Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk). If you visit the church make sure to check exhibits about the building history and a guided tower climb (open from April to October).
The address is Grotekerkplein 15.
Market Hall (Markthal)
One of the major landmarks of modern Rotterdam is Market Hall (‘Markthal’ in Dutch).
‘What’s so unusual about the Market Hall?’ you’d ask. Well, lots of things. It is both residential and office building that covers a market square! The market is fully covered making it enjoyable at any weather outside. All the interior walls are covered with high-resolution pictures of flowers and food produce.
Huge size of the Market Halls allows for dozens of food stalls and shops to operate there. You can be sure to find some food to your taste here.
Market Hall is a relatively recent addition to the Rotterdam scene – only built in 2014, same year as the central station.
Located right next to the Market Hall are famous Cube Houses (or ‘Kubuswoningen’ in Dutch).
Nothing fake here, these are real residential houses with people living in them. The cubes are not sitting on one of their sides but rather tilted by 45 degrees – making the houses look very unusual. They don’t only look unusual from the outside, but imagine living in such a house with all the interior walls tilted!
The cube houses were designed by architect Piet Blom. The design of each house represents a tree, and all the houses together – a forest. Hence, they are also known as Tree Houses of Rotterdam.
One of the cubes is open to visitors – a Show Cube – and is furnished as a normal house inside.
The address is Overblaak 70.
Oude Haven (Old Harbour)
Right out of the Southern exit from the cube house complex is our next point of interest – Oude Haven, or Old Harbour. It’s an old basin where similarly old boats are restored to their best look, including some houseboats, used as a permanent residence for some of the Dutch people.
What we liked about Old Harbour is that feel of tranquility, just a few hundred meters away from the busy square with metro station, Cube Houses and Market Hall. Here, despite the presence of people and cafes it all felt different, older, slower and very pleasant.
Right there in the Oude Haven is another landmark of Rotterdam and yet another lucky survivor of the WW2 bombings – Witte Huis (or White House). It was built in the late 19th century, and despite being built so close to the water and on the soft soil it featured record 10 stories. No other country in Europe had such a tall building back then.
Maritime Museum Rotterdam
The Maritime Museum Rotterdam is well worth a visit especially if you travel with kids. Together with Maritime Museum Harbour it is the place for those in love with ships and travel.
The maritime museum is dedicated to naval history, has many exhibits of historical vessels, scale models of ships and lots of hands-on activities for children and adults alike.
There is a real Kids Marina in the same harbour with the maritime museum. Great place to visit with children to get some insight into the port and its functions and vessels and even try easy-to-control model boats.
Check the Maritime Museum website for more information on opening hours and admission prices.
An iconic Erasmus bridge (or ‘Erasmusbrug’ in Dutch) is named after one of the most famous people born in Rotterdam – Desiderius Erasmus, philosopher and Christian scholar famous also for his humanism.
Erasmus bridge connects north and south parts of the city. It was designed by Dutch architect Ben van Berkel and opened in 1996 by Queen Beatrix.
Take one of the many available boat tours to view Rotterdam from the water. You can choose a speed boat or a regular one, go for a short trip around the harbour, see Euromast or take a look at the Europort – one of the biggest and busiest ports in the world.
Euromast is an observation tower in Rotterdam and it’s the highest building in the Netherlands.
Besides the viewing platform Euromast also features a restaurant and few suites that you can rent as a usual hotel room (well, a bit more expensive than usual).
Het Park and Museumpark
One of the most pleasant parks in Rotterdam – het Park – is located in the city center right next to the Euromast and doesn’t even have a name! (Dutch ‘het Park’ simply means ‘the park’)
It’s not huge – rectangular shaped about 300m x 400m – but very nice. It’s well looked after and has all you’d expect from the Dutch park: water features, lots of green, mature trees, pieces of art, tulips in spring and of course, a cafe. Nice place to spend some quiet time after walking in a busy city.
Right next to het Park is Museumpark. The park itself is quite small but there are two major attractions for art lovers. The first one is Kunsthal Rotterdam, the other one is Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has many art masterpieces, such as, by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Rembrandt, Rubens, Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and others. Definitely worth a visit!
Heading back to the train station, make sure to walk by Westersingerl. You’d be walking by a nice and quiet path along the canal, surrounded by trees and green lawns, with pieces of art scattered along the way.
Rotterdam City Hall
Another miracle survivor of the WW2 bombing is Rotterdam City Hall (Stadhuis). If you are nearby, stop by and enjoy the neo-Renaissance building and the pretty courtyard. You can book a guided tour to see the interior of the city hall.
When living in the Netherlands I heard once from a colleague that Rotterdam is not really a Dutch city. Being too new and not really representing what the Netherlands is. While I understand where it comes from, for me Rotterdam still felt very Dutch. Their love for houses and architecture. Their understanding of how to build cities that people enjoy. Those greenery in the city, canals and lots of street art around you – very much Dutch and we liked it a lot!
See more ideas on travelling in the Netherlands in our What to see in the Netherlands post.