Visit Rotterdam, Netherlands
A blend of old and new architecture in the ever-developing post-World War II skyline of Europe’s biggest seaport, Rotterdam
Europe’s largest seaport and one of the Netherlands’ most modern cities, Rotterdam bucks the trend of other Dutch cities. Instead of calm, narrow canals and row houses, Rotterdam showcases wide rivers and busy working ports. Extensive bombing during World War II destroyed much of the city, but its rebuilding has been focused on creating a new, modern skyline and allowing contemporary architecture to flourish.
At the same time, places like the City Hall, Laurencekerk and the Delfshaven district have been carefully preserved. The latter is where the Pilgrims lived and worshipped before sailing to America.
You can explore the varying highlights of Rotterdam on a combined walking and boat tour of the city, where you’ll see the old and the new in the Old Harbour, the theatre square and concert hall and the city’s many modern sculptures. You can also check out plenty of museums, including the Maritime Museum and its adjacent port lined with historic ships.
Things to see and do in Rotterdam
Launched in 1958 and retired in 2000, the SS Rotterdam was one of the last great transatlantic ocean liners, and the largest ever built in the Netherlands. In 2010, the newly restored ship was brought to permanent dock on the Nieuwe Mass, in the heart of Rotterdam. The massive, white-prowed ship now operates as a hotel and museum — you can stay here, eat in one of its restaurants or take a tour of this former flagship of the Holland America Line. The ship also runs an Escape Room out of its old cold storage rooms.
Clustered together like an abstract yellow-and-white forest, the cube houses of Rotterdam are an eye-catching set of homes just outside Rotterdam’s main square. Designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom in the 1970s, the homes are a playful design experiment in which the usual cube-shapes of houses are set on a 45-degree angle atop concrete pillars. A pedestrian bridge runs through them, allowing you to walk among the houses and explore the buildings at your leisure. Or, you can stop and take a tour of one of the houses, which remains open to curious visitors.
Part of Rotterdam’s rich modern architecture movement, the looming, grey-stone arch of the Markthal encompasses a mixed-use mini community of housing, offices, markets and restaurants. Beneath the horseshoe-shaped arch, which is enclosed on both sides by massive walls of windows, you can browse an open-air market during the day and dine in one of the restaurants at night. The inner walls of the arch are richly decorated with a massive mural referencing the still life paintings of the Dutch Masters, creating a feeling of warmth and playfulness inside. On the outer walls, you can see the many balconies of the apartments lining the upper floors.
See the city by boat
We can arrange a tour of the city both by foot and by boat, so you can get a glimpse of Rotterdam’s varied and always developing architecture. On the boat part of the tour, you’ll see the Old Harbour with its mix of old and new structures. You’ll pass the modern white cable-style Erasmus Bridge, the post-World War II sailors’ memorial, the observation tower Euromast, and the old factory buildings, which are now apartments.
You’ll also see Delfshaven, an older part of the city lined with the familiar Dutch gabled buildings and a restored windmill. Sail through the dry dock, where ships are still repaired, and pass between the SS Rotterdam and the grand Hotel New York.
Opened in 1992, this modern and contemporary art museum is renowned both for its ever-changing exhibitions and its radical architectural style. Showcasing work from Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, Picasso and more, the museum includes modern masters alongside contemporary paintings, sculptures, photography and fashion. You can view the current showings in the unassuming box-shaped building, whose seven exhibition halls are seamlessly linked by a sloping, spiralling floor.
Founded in 1874, the Maritime Museum Rotterdam celebrates Dutch naval history through the centuries. The main building offers several permanent exhibitions that outline the history of Rotterdam as a port city, from its beginnings to today’s trade. Outside the museum is the Maritime Museum Harbour, where you can visit ships and other vessels from eras past. Explore on your own, take a guided tour or join a tour aboard a historic museum ship, such as a tugboat from the 1900s.
Best time to visit Rotterdam
April to June and September to October are the best times to visit, since the months of July and August are hot and quite crowded with visitors. The winter months, from November through February, tend to be cold and wet.
Many museums are closed on Mondays but are otherwise open year round. High water levels and winds mean boat activities are sometimes cancelled last minute.
Map of Rotterdam
Places & hotels on the map
Photos of Rotterdam
Accommodation choices for Rotterdam
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Rotterdam. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
The Mainport Hotel is a chic, modern lodging located right on Rotterdam’s waterfront. Enjoy the extensive wellness facilities, the stylish, world-travel-themed rooms and the on-site restaurant’s international cuisine in this comfortable, nautical-themed hotel near the historic maritime port.
Conveniently located on Rotterdam’s waterfront, Hotel New York combines a comfortable stay with a playful nautical theme. Enjoy learning a bit about the hotel’s cruise line history, or walk out front and take a water taxi to explore Rotterdam’s highlights.
The Suite Hotel Pincoffs offers a stylish place to stay in a stately and historic building. Admire the waterfront directly across the street, relax at the hotel bar or learn a bit about the hotel’s controversial namesake.
Ideas for experiencing Rotterdam
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Rotterdam, and which use the best local guides.
You’ll visit the Dutch village of Kinderdijk, where 19 wood and stone windmills stand sentinel along the canals, keeping the town from being lost to the water. Learn the history of these 18th-century structures and go inside one to see how it works.
A cycle tour that encompasses Rotterdam’s buildings, culture and food. You’ll explore a mosaic of architectural styles, from Cube Houses to gleaming skyscrapers, as well as below-the-radar street murals and sculptures while stopping off to sample the food that the Dutch love to eat.