Are you traveling to The Netherlands and planning a city to Rotterdam? You might wonder what the city is famous for, let’s find out! 

Rotterdam is a famous port city in The Netherlands, the Port of Rotterdam is the largest seaport in Europe. With the rich maritime history of the city, Rotterdam is a cultural melting pot. Known for its unique location next to the Maas river and the renowned Erasmus University. The city is famous for its modern, and sometimes bold architecture. 

In this article, we tell you more about the history of this important Dutch city, the best things to do while visiting, the best time to visit, and where to stay in Rotterdam. Both Kirsten and I studied in Rotterdam for many years, so we know the best places to go to have a great local experience! 

Famous History of Rotterdam 

The city of Rotterdam dates back to the 13th century when, in 1270, the first settlement was created after building a dam in the river. Building the dam made it safe for people to live close to the river. It took another 70 years before Rotterdam became a city. The first acknowledgeable step in the cities development was the creation of the Rotterdamse Schie. Which is a shipping canal that created easy transportation with cities as Delft, The Hague, and Amsterdam. It became even possible to cross the sea street to England directly, which created many opportunities. 

Dutch Eastern Company

During the 17th century, The Netherlands was the biggest maritime trade country in the world. The Dutch Eastern Company had the monopoly rights of counts of Holland to create the trade routes in South East Asia. The Dutch Eastern Company, in The Netherlands known as Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), was the first company with a modern international structure. The precursor of global companies like we know them today. 

The Port of Rotterdam became one of the seats of the Dutch Eastern Company, which directly had an essential influence on the economic development of the city. However, it took until 1872 before the city flourished. That year the shipping canal Nieuwe Waterweg opened and created even more opportunities for the port of Rotterdam to grow. 

Rotterdam during 1st and 2nd World War

Because of its large port, and good infrastructure via the rivers to other countries in Europe, Rotterdam became the largest spy center of the world during the first World War. The Netherlands was independent during this war, and both the German and British secret services had their offices in Rotterdam. 

The Second World War was an entirely different story. The Germans occupied the Netherlands from 1940 until 1945. The Germans invaded the country on the 10th of May 1940, but the Dutch army resisted fiercely. The German army decided to bomb the city of Rotterdam and threated to bomb the other Dutch cities, after which The Dutch army capitulated. The bombing, known as Rotterdam Blitz, killed around 900 people and destroyed most of the city. Almost 80.000 people became homeless in a few seconds. It was one of the most massive bombings in the war. 

Rebuilding the city

The rebuilding of the city started after the war. Not many buildings survived the heavy bombings, but luckily the white house, a building dating back to 1898, survived. This building was the first ‘skyscraper’ in Rotterdam with a height of 42 meters. It was at that time the highest building in The Netherlands. 

Between the 1950s and 80’s restructuring, the city was an ongoing process. Resulting in the modern city Rotterdam is today. It is known for its modern and bold architecture, with unique bridges, cubic houses, a metro line, a unique shopping hall, and ‘Kop van Zuid,’ one of the first modern business centers in The Netherlands. 

Rotterdam Quick Facts

  • The second-largest city of The Netherlands
  • A Population of around 650.000 people (over a million when you count the surrounding areas of the city)
  • The highest number of singles in the country (70%)
  • The highest number of non-native Dutch citizens (51%)
  • Biggest European Port
  • One of the best universities in Europe; Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Home to the most prestigious art school in The Netherlands; Willem de Kooning Academy 
  • Feyenoord Rotterdam is traditionally one of the best football clubs in The Netherlands
  • World-famous (ex)football-player Robin van Persie started his career playing at Feyenoord. 
  • Rotterdam Marathon and ABN Amro Tennis Tournament, are two of the most significant annual sports events held in Rotterdam. 
  • In 1968, Rotterdam was the first city that opened a metro system.

Highlights of Rotterdam

The river De Maas (a branch of the Rhine river), divides Rotterdam into a northern and southern part. Different tunnels and bridges are connecting both parts of the city. The most famous bridge is Erasmusbrug, the second-longest bridge in The Netherlands, and one of the most famous landmarks of Rotterdam. 

Kop van Zuid (Southern Part of Rotterdam) 

The beginning of the southern part of Rotterdam is known as Kop van Zuid or in English, Head of South. You’ll find the most landmarks in this southern part of the city. 

Hotel New York & SS Rotterdam

Kop van Zuid was the departure location of the traditional Holland America Line sailing route, which started in 1873. Connecting The Netherlands with the United States. Cruises are still leaving today but from a different location. 

At the traditional location, you still can find Hotel New York, a renowned hotel, in the former head office of the Holland America Line. A great place to have dinner or use as your hotel during your stay in Rotterdam! 

Close to Hotel New York, you’ll find a unique historic cruise ship, SS Rotterdam. A former cruise ship used by the Holland America Line. Today the ship is a unique hotel, restaurant, and event location in the harbor of Rotterdam. 

Rotterdam Ahoy

Further down south, you’ll find Rotterdam Ahoy, the biggest convention center of The Netherlands. It was one of the first public buildings built during the reconstruction of Rotterdam and opened in 1950. However, the current design is a new building that opened in 1970. 

Rotterdam Ahoy is one of the best buildings to visit music- or sports events (not for football though) in The Netherlands. Some of the annual events which are taking place in Rotterdam Ahoy are ABN Amro Tennis Tournament, North Sea Jazz Festival. And the famous and popular Vrienden van Amstel, which is a music event organized for multiple days in a row, where almost every famous Dutch singer is performing. The fact is one of the most popular in The Netherlands and sells out a year in advance. 

De Kuip Rotterdam (Feyenoord Stadium) 

Also located in the southern part of Rotterdam, and because of its location, it survived the bombings in the second world war. The building of the stadium completed in 1937. The stadium of football club Feyenoord is one of the most atmospheric and traditional football stadiums in The Netherlands. 

The stadium was renovated in 1994, but for a few years, the football club make plans for building a new and larger stadium. However, many fans of the football club rather see that they try to renovate the stadium again. 

If you’re into football and ever get the change to visit a game at De Kuip, we recommend you to go! A unique experience. Quality of football is not so good as when you visit Ajax Amsterdam (from which I’m a fan), but still, it is a unique experience. 

The football stadium is also often used as a concert venue for large international pop artists. 

Euromast

Another unique landmark in Rotterdam is the Euromast. An observation tower, specially built for the Floriade in 1960. The Floriade is an international flower parade that takes place every ten years in The Netherlands. 

Euromast is one of the highest buildings in The Netherlands, with the antenna reaching 184 meters. It has a deck on 94 meters high, which you can visit for a 360 view over the city. 

Since 2004 there’s also a hotel located in the Euromast. When you’re still looking for a place to stay in Rotterdam, and something with a view, you know where to go! 😉 

Koopgoot

The main shopping center in Rotterdam, its official name is Beurstraverse. However, its nickname, which is known all over the country, is Koopgoot. Which when you translate, it sounds something like ‘shopping gutter.’ It gets its name because the shops are in the street a few meters below ground, which looks like a gutter, towards the metro station. 

Koopgoot won several international awards because of its unique architectural design.

Markthal

When you’re tired of shopping and looking for a place to find some unique food, you must go to Markthal. A unique food hall with many fresh food shops. Markthall is a new building which you’ll find at Rotterdam Blaak, around 10 minutes walking from Koopgoot. 

The building is not only a food hall, but on the top floors, you’ll find different offices and apartments. However, for visiting, I would recommend sticking to the food stands. It displays the unique multicultural variety of the city. 

Cubic Houses

Let’s stay at Rotterdam Blaak. When you walk outside the Markethal, you’ll notice a building with only cubics. These are the cubic houses. An internationally renowned design. Today it’s a hotel, another great place where you can stay during your visit to Rotterdam! 

Oude Haven (Old Port)

There are not many historical places to find in Rotterdam. However, the old port is a great place to visit. You’ll find many bars and restaurants. And some unique historical ships. 

Oude Haven is close to many faculties, so we spend a lot of time at one of the bars during our student life 😉 Great place to have drinks! But the best way to explore Oude Haven is sailing around in a Hot Tug. Which is a hot tub and boat in once! You need to reserve the hot tug a few days before. We did it once, during my birthday a few years ago, which resulted in this funny video; 

Samen lekker in een Hottug, Rotterdam

Witte de With Street

Looking for some local culture, unique shops, bars, and restaurants? Witte de With street is the place to go if you like to enjoy the typical Rotterdam vibe. A real bohemian area with lots of art galleries and museums. 

Two of our favorite places for a drink are BierBoutique (with 90 different beers!) and Cafe de Witte Aap (also a great variety of beers and wines on their menu).

Nieuwe & Oude Binnenweg

Close to Witte de With street, you’ll find the Nieuwe and Oude Binnenweg. Both streets connected via a square, Eendrachtsplein. Where you’ll also find many shops and bars. 

You’ll find some of the best barbershops in the country at Nieuwe Binnenweg. 

Oude Binnenweg is a small street that leads you to the heart of the city center. Along this street, you’ll find some traditional shops and cafes. 

The area between Witte de With street and Nieuwe/ Oude Binnenweg is the best area to explore the cultural and bohemian vibe of Rotterdam. 

Coolsingel 

The main street in Rotterdam’s city center is Coolsingel. Located between Hofplein (a major square) and the Erasmus bridge. 

Alongside Coolsingel, you’ll find many important buildings as it runs through the traditional business center of Rotterdam. The most famous building on this street is the town hall of Rotterdam. The building is one of the oldest buildings in Rotterdam, built-in 1914. 

The town hall is excellent to visit if you want to learn more about the history of Rotterdam. Some unique Dutch and local artworks are on display in the city’s town hall. 

Hofplein 

This major square in the center of Rotterdam is in between the Central Station and Coolsingel. Hofplein is famous for its major fountain in the middle of the square, where the water during Kingsday turns into the national color orange. 

For years the area around Hofplein was a vibrant area with lots of bars and shops. It was a connection hub for the small villages between The Hague and Rotterdam. A shuttle train stopped at almost every village in between. Restructuring the train network in between Rotterdam and The Hague resulted in the shutdown of Hofplein station, and the area lost its vibrant vibe. It became a bit of a shady area, with nothing going on.

Until a few years ago, when the old station revived, and entrepreneurs opened new bars and clubs. 

Today it hosts even the largest pop stage of Rotterdam, which is called AnnabelAnother great spot to hang out is Beer Garten Rotterdam. It is outside but even during winter, a fun place for a beer, some great BBQ food, and nice music. 

Hofplein Rotterdam is becoming one of the hippest places in Rotterdam, perfect for hanging out! 

Erasmus Bridge

We already mentioned it a few times, but this unique bridge is something you must have seen while visiting Rotterdam. You can either walk over it, drive from north to south, or take a boat tour with the water taxi, which crosses the bridge. 

The Erasmus Bridge is the second-largest bridge of THe Netherlands and the most famous landmark of Rotterdam. During public holidays like Kingsday and New Year’s Eve, some significant events taking place around the bridge. 

National Firework show during New Year’s Eve is always from the Erasmus bridge and broadcasted live on national television. 

The bridge has a length of 800 meters, and the highest point is at 139 meters. In 1996 former Queen Beatrix opened the bridge. 

Kralingse Bos (Citypark)

Are you looking for a more relaxing place while visiting the city of Rotterdam? Citypark Kralingse Bos is the best place where you can go. 

The park is the most popular recreational area of the locals. Great for sports like jogging, running, inline skating. Or playing some soccer with friends at one of the many fields. During the summer nights, many locals come here to have a BBQ and some drinks with friends. 

Kralingen Lake is in the middle of the park and great for watersports like windsurfing or a refreshing swim during the warm summer days! 

Kinderdijk (Unesco World Heritage)

This unique place is not within the city of Rotterdam but is closeby and a must-visit while in The Netherlands. Kinderdijk is a 19th-century windmill complex. These unique windmills are the best example of how The Netherlands started their water-management centuries ago. 

Kinderdijk Museum tells you the story of almost 800 years of water management in The Netherlands and how the people managed to keep the country dry. The constant fight against high water and floodings. This Unesco Heritage site is a very interesting visit when you want to learn more about the Dutch heritage. 

van Nelle Factory (Unesco World Heritage)

One of the most impressive buildings in Rotterdam is the old van Nelle Factory. It was one of the first buildings with a concrete structure instead of bricks. Since 2014 it is a Unesco World Heritage site. A unique example of the innovative architecture Rotterdam is famous for. 

Van Nelle factory is from the 1920s, and even in that period, before the heavy bombings, Rotterdam was leading in Dutch and European architecture. 

Speedo Harbor Tour

One of the best things to do while visiting Rotterdam is exploring the city from the water. A must-do while in a harbor city. There are many tours available, but our best recommendation is to hop on one of the speedos Rotterdam harbor tours.  

They offer a tour along with the best hotspots of the town and go into the largest port of Europe. A unique way to explore the best of the city! 

Laurenskerk (Medieval Church)

It is probably the oldest building in Rotterdam and shows some traces of what a unique medieval city Rotterdam was before the bombing in the second world war destroyed the largest part of it. 

Laurenskerk was heavily damaged, but it survived. After rebuilding the church, it is still one of the most famous landmarks to visit in Rotterdam. The history of the church goes back to the middle ages, built between 1449 and 1525. People who wanted to become a citizen of Rotterdam could buy their citizenship with a minimum of 3000 stones, used for the construction of the church. 

The church is home to the largest church organ in The Netherlands. When you’re into the classical church music, it is unique to visit the church while the organ is in use. Church services or on every Sunday. However, the church is also a stage for many classical plays and concerts. Their program varies every year. When you get the chance, make sure to visit! Find the latest information about opening hours and program on their website

Famous Museums in Rotterdam

Rotterdam is home to many world-famous museums. The city is a perfect visit for the contemporary, and especially modern art lover. We lined up a few of the most interesting museums which you should consider to visit. 

Museum Boijmans van Beuningen

This renowned museum offers a unique collection of historical, modern art. Historical paintings and drawings, surreal sculptures and design, and modern and contemporary art. The collection of the museum is one of the most varied you’ll ever see. They were able to grow their collection mainly because of the many gifts they received from private collectors. Frans Boijmans and Daniël George van Beuningen were the largest contributors to the museum collection, the museum thanks its name to these two contributors. 

An important note: The museum undergoes renovations heavily, and the building is not open for visitors. Renovations of the museum will take around seven years. However, the collection of the museum is during these renovations on display at different museums and public buildings throughout Rotterdam. These exhibitions are changing every few months. Before visiting, we recommend you to take a look at the museum’s website where you can find the latest information. 

Kunsthal Rotterdam

An interesting building and renowned within the world of architecture. Designed by the world-famous Dutch architecture Remco Koolhaas in 1989. The building first opened its doors in 1992 and is an iconic building ever since. Visited by thousands of art and architecture lovers every year. 

Not only the building itself but also the different modern and sometimes controversial exhibitions are unique to visit. 

Kunsthal is absolutely a must-visit while in Rotterdam. 

Museum Rotterdam

When you’re interested to learn more about the story of Rotterdam, we recommend you to visit Museum Rotterdam. A few years ago, known as the Historical Museum of Rotterdam. They changed their name, though, to be able to tell not only the stories of the past but also the present and future day. 

The exhibitions typically designed in ‘the Rotterdam way.’ Modern, Unique, but with an eye for history. The museum describes the exhibitions as The Story of Rotterdam, a city with a young heart and old soul.

Go for more information about opening hours, current exhibitions to their website

Maritime Museum Rotterdam

Maritime Trade plays a significant role in the historical and present-day development of The Netherlands. Historically because the Dutch Eastern Company was the largest maritime trade company of the world, and created an enormous economic boost for The Netherlands. 

Present-day because Port of Rotterdam is the largest container port of Europe, and therefore an important pillar of the Dutch economy. 

Maritime Museum Rotterdam is one of the largest maritime museums and offers a unique exhibition telling the story of the Dutch maritime development over time. You can learn about the development of the Dutch Eastern Company, visit some historical ships, and get to know the story of how Port of Rotterdam grew to one of the biggest ports in the world. 

The interactive museum is great to visit for adults and kids. Visiting the museum is a perfect choice while visiting Rotterdam with your family.

Wereldmuseum Rotterdam

Rotterdam is the most diverse city in The Netherlands, and maybe even in Europe. Wereldmuseum offers different exhibitions about humans all over the country. While visiting the museum, you’ll learn about the struggle of everyday human life. We’re are looking for answers on the same questions all over the world. Only our cultural backgrounds, economic, and health situations are a few of the factors why we answer these questions differently. 

Instead of focusing on the difference within the different cultures, Wereldmuseum shows how these unique cultural backgrounds enrich us, what we can learn from each other. And that in the end, we’re not so different after all. 

Wereldmuseum is a unique museum to visit for everyone. With interactive exhibitions, they make sure that a visit is even fun for the youngest travelers. We recommend visiting Wereldmuseum when you’re in Rotterdam. It’s interesting to learn more about the different cultures of the world. 

Their exhibitions change every few months, so for the latest information, check out the website of Wereldmuseum

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Rotterdam is between April and September. When you love to visit some of the most traditional public holidays in The Netherlands, we recommend planning a visit at the end of April and the beginning of May. 

On the 27th of April, it is King’s Day in The Netherlands, where we celebrate the King’s birthday.

Read more about Kingsday in our article; What is Kingsday in The Netherlands? 

The 5th of May is Liberation Day, and every year several events are taking place throughout the country. In 2020 The Netherlands celebrates 75 years of freedom, which makes it an extra special event! 

Both days are fantastic to visit while in Rotterdam. As you, Rotterdam is the second-largest city of The Netherlands, so you can imagine some significant events taking place during these days. 

When you’re not able to visit in this period, try visiting during the summer months. The period between May and September, the weather on average, is convenient in The Netherlands. There’s more to do outside, and during July and August, most festivals and events are taking place. 

The best time to visit Rotterdam is entirely depending on what you’re planning to do during your trip. If you love to be outside, stick to the spring and summer period. We wrote an extensive article about The Best Time to Visit The Netherlands, which helps decide when to visit the country. 

Best Places to Stay

While we explained the best spots in Rotterdam, we also recommended a few places where you could stay. Some of the famous highlights of the city are also offering hotel rooms. Which makes Rotterdam a great place to spend a few nights. To make it easier for you booking a place to stay in Rotterdam, we made this list of accommodations. 

  • Hotel New YorkUnique hotel within the old main building of the Holland America Line
  • SS RotterdamThe old cruise ship of Holland America Line, which is now a hotel and event center. 
  • Cubic HousesThe unique building at Rotterdam Blaak. A hostel is located at this place. They only offer dormitory rooms
  • Wikkel houseboatA unique place in the old harbor, great when you want to sleep in a tiny house and experience the through harbor vibe. 
  • EuromastBook this hotel when you want the best view of the city while staying in Rotterdam. 
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