Although it might be a pre-emptive proclamation, we believe that Rotterdam, the second largest city in the Netherlands, is Europe’s coolest city in our opinion (and maybe just a bit behind Portland, OR in our “World’s Coolest City” ranking). We’ve made a couple of trips to the city and this post summarises our highlights covering the spread of things to do in and around the city, where to get the best (Indonesian food) and public transport logistics / travel pass options.
Top public transport tip: The Rotterdam tourist board graciously gave us both Rotterdam Welcome Cards that include unlimited public transport and it is absolutely worth it for the public transport traveller.
- Places to check out in Rotterdam
- Cube houses + must-visit Chess Museum
- Kinderdijk Unesco Heritage Site
- Streetart feat. Oxalien@
- Traditional Dutch @ Delfshaven
- Bojimans Art Museum and the Photography Museum
- Rooftop festival
- Food & drink
- Public transport logistics
Rotterdam things to do
We love quirky and classic architecture equally and Rotterdam rules for the former as evidenced by the geometrically disorienting Cube Houses at Overblaak. They were built way back in the 1977 and houses a museum, an AirBnb (a discount for new users) and a hostel for someone willing to experience this vision of a residential area. It is difficult to disagree with the thought that these buildings combined with the library and Markthall nearby make it the area a modern architecture lover’s dream destination.
The must-visit Chess Museum
One of the cube houses is home to one of the world’s most underrated museums – the Chess Museum. There are 100+ different types of chess sets in about 2 rooms and super interesting for chess players and design lovers alike. Plus, it is free under the Museumkaart and a well spent 2 EUR otherwise as a visitor can spend 15-30 minutes admiring the artfully created chess sets on display.
Kinderdijk Unesco Heritage Site
A short fast-ferry ride away from downtown Rotterdam lies one of the area’s best sites to get your windmill fix (and a Unesco Heritage site): Kinderdijk. The n windmills in the area are actually mostly functional and keep the water levels in check. There are boat rides that circumvent the canals which looked fun but we just walked about, people-watched and took some fun photos before heading back. A lot of people also entered an operational windmill which did look quite cool.
Getting there: Fast ferry 202 from Rotterdam port (30 mins), Bus 90 (1 hr 5 mins)
Streetart featuring Oxalien
The Rotterdam streetart scene can be a post by itself, the city has some excellent and diverse types of graffiti adorning its buildings. The streetart map created by Rewriters010 was our guide to finding some kickass streetart works, the most striking of them made by the artist oxalien (whose signature is the word ‘ox’ for the eyes of the colourful aliens in their work). We’d have loved to explore more streetart given more time, our favourite has to be the oxalien piece near Erasmusbrug.
Delfshaven – A traditionally Dutch area
“Delft’s port” is very much part of modern day Rotterdam and the traditional architecture of the area (some of which remains from the initial port built in the 1300s) mark a striking contrast to the hyper-modern buildings in the rest of the city. We found some of the best food and drink in this area as well in a traditional brown cafe (ie pub) and a fishmonger – featured in the Food & Drink section.
Museum Bojimans & the Photography Museum
The Netherlands Fotomuseum was another Museumkaart covered stop which generally has a couple of rotating exhibitions and a small permanent collection. They have a massive archive of original photos available only to members. We saw work from a couple of good photographers during out visit but left a bit underwhelmed for the size of the resources owned by the museum. Bojimans, on the other hand, is a world famous museum full of lovely artworks especially from modern artists. We were lucky to see an exclusive Dali exhibit on our visit.
Rotterdam Rooftop Festival
For a weekend in the summer, a select number of rooftops in Rotterdam are open to the public with certain venues playing host to themed events. The highlight has to be the opening ceremony of this year’s fest when a tightrope walker attempted to walk from the 35 story Millennium Tower to the skyscraper across and *almost* succeeded (video below). An extremely unique festival which we haven’t seen the likes of elsewhere!
Rooftop festival IG: https://www.instagram.com/dakendagen010/
Food & Drink
Top tip: In our opinion, the famed Fenix Food Factory and Markthall presents gentrified world foods that are Instagrammable instead of something traditionally Dutch or Rotterdam specific. We hope our recommendations lead you to something more local.
Traditional Herring Sandwich & Kibbeling @ Zeezicht (Delfshaven)
We make it a point to try one quirky local food dish when we’re travelling and the obvious candidate this time was Herring. Across NL, the best place to eat fish is at the fishmongers itself and Vishandel Zeezicht in Delfshaven delivered in spades. Sure, the herring is a smelly fish but the accompanying onions cut through the oilyness beautifully making the sandwich not a bad thing to eat. We also got a portion of Kibbeling which is essentially fish & chips but only so much better than the British varietal as the batter is packed with flavour.
Trappist Beers @ Tapperij Vanouds ‘t Kraantje (Delfshaven)
Top notch traditional brown cafe (ie pub, the woodwork makes it brown) in Delfshaven (location) that had so many amazing beers on tap (including some trappists, so good!), bottles and football team scarves adorning the interiors. Wonderful for chilling out on a rainy day.
Indonesian @ Katak Mas (Prinsenlaan)
We described in our Amsterdam + Utrecht post how erstwhile colonisation has brought about top-notch Indonesian food choices in the Netherlands. We followed up on that theory and visited a highly-rated Indonesian restaurant called Katak-Mas 30 mins+ away from the city centre by metro A/B. Were we glad we did, the food was incredible and so filling! They offer a traditional Rice Table featuring 20+ items which Yoda and I devoured while sitting at a lakeside table. ❤
Ice-cream @ De IJssalon
This summer was quite hot across western Europe and ice-cream parlours were in high demand across the board. We visited the Withstraat branch of this famous ice-cream chain in Rotterdam and were blown away by the high quality and reasonable prices of the icecream. Highly recommended on a hot summer day in Rotterdam.
Public Transport Logistics
- Getting around: The Rotterdam Welcome Card is excellent value for money as for €21, you get a 3-day pass valid on all RET trams and buses (which we took to get around the city, normally €17) and big discounts on local tourist attractions including admission fees on both Kinderdijk and Cube House museum. Perfect for a long weekend! Available at the Rotterdam Tourism Board shop in Rotterdam Centraal station. Tip: Remember to tap in and out at the readers near the doors with your RET card.
- A common travel pattern is to do a daytrip to Amsterdam (or the reverse) and we would like to promote the wonderful Holland Travel Ticket to do so inspite of the single journey. Read our detailed blogpost on this pass and why it is amazing value for money for public transport travel in Holland. That post also contains why buying a Museumkaart is a money saver for museum lovers.
- Getting in: We took the new Eurostar from London – Amsterdam to take us from St. Pancras to Rotterdam Centraal in 3 hours flat. It was a longtime dream for Dalek to take the Eurostar but the crowds and sub 300 kmph speed meant that the journey was a touch underwhelming. We flew back from Schipol, only a 50 min train journey from Rotterdam Centraal.
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