Are you looking for free things to do in Rotterdam? We got you covered!
Best Free Things To Do In Rotterdam:
- Central Station
- Markt Hall
- Erasmus Bridge
- Rotterdam Free Walking and Cycling Tours
- Rotterdam City Parks
- Summer Carnival
These are just a few free things to do in Rotterdam. In this article, I’ll share over 30 free things to do while you’re visiting the city.
After years of studying in Rotterdam and living on a budget as a student, I know where you can find the best free activities in the city. I also asked a few friends who are still living in Rotterdam for some new local tips. Let’s check out the full list of free things to do in Rotterdam.
Rotterdam Central Station
When you arrive in Rotterdam, there’s a good chance you arrive at Rotterdam Central Station. It’s the largest station in the city where trains, buses, and metro connecting. A few years ago, the city and railroad company completely renovated the station. It became a unique attraction on its one. The new building opened in 2014. Its architectural design complements the city’s skyline. Rotterdam is known for its bold and unique architecture.
Also, as an essential transfer hub in the country, you can find everything you’ll need at Rotterdam Central Station. Restaurants, cafe’s, grocery stores, fashion outlets. You name it, and you can probably find it at Rotterdam Central Station. Take your time to explore the building and the station’s square. And while you are at it, grab a coffee at Lebkov and Sons, a coffee bar concept you can find at many places in The Netherlands, but this location serves one of the best coffees in Rotterdam. The coffee bar is located at the main square of Rotterdam Central Station (address: Stationsplein, 50)
Hofbogen – Hofplein Station
Old train station area, which was once the most essential transfer hub from people traveling between The Hague and Rotterdam. ‘Hofbogen,’ which is the new name for this area, consists out of the old train stations Hofplein and Bergweg. The train that connected villages located in the countryside between Rotterdam and The Hague. It was an alternative for the existing railroad via Delft, which is still the main railroad today.
Hofplein station was the first railway arch built in The Netherlands that was over 1.9 kilometers long and consisted of reinforced concrete. The railway arch was built in 1908, and the complete railroad between Rotterdam and The Hague was the first electrified train connection in The Netherlands. Since 2002 the railway arch became a national monument. A few years later, the train connection was redirected to Rotterdam Central Station, which made it easier for travelers to connect with other railway lines in the city. This was also the time when the area got neglected. The number of travelers was declining, so fewer people used the area as a transfer hub. It resulted in a neglected neighborhood.
Hofbogen New Creative Initiative
In 2006 a group of real estate developers bought the national monument to re-develop the area. They completely renovated the monument, according to the national monument standards, and created a creative hub that they called Hofbogen. The name Hofbogen derives from the old station Hofplein (hof) and the arches in the viaduct. Arches in Dutch are Bogen. So there you have it; Hofbogen.
Hofbogen is a unique place in Rotterdam where you can find creative entrepreneurs, unique shops, restaurants, and things to do. Even Lonely Planet named Hofbogen as a uniquely creative and innovative area in Rotterdam to visit.
Things to do at Hofbogen
Hofbogen is definitely worth a visit when you’re in Rotterdam. And the good thing is, most things are free! Of course, when you visit a restaurant or bar, you’ll need to pay for your drinks, but that’s quite normal, don’t you think ;). Some highlights at the hofbogen area are:
Luchtsingel & LuchtPark
The old railway road and station is now a city park. And because the old station is located on top of the viaduct, it has the name Luchtpark. Lucht in Dutch mean Air. So it’s basically Airpark. The park opens every day from 10:00 AM until sunset. Which in the summer months can be until 10:00 PM! During the summer months, you can visit many unique events at the park, some interesting summer events which are held at the park are Rooftop cinema festival Roffa Mon Amour, Rotterdam Rooftop Days. It also functions as one of the stages for the popular event Motel Mozaique.
The yellow wooden bridge that leads to the rooftop park is known as Luchtsingel. The bridge connects the northern part of the city with the city center and is over 390 meters long. It is the main entrance for people walking from the city center to the Hofbogen area.
Vinyl became very popular again. When you’re into electronic dance music, vinyl and DJ’ing, Clone Records is the shop you’ll need to visit. Their collection is extensive, you can find almost everything in different dance music genres. Make sure to check out Clone Records, when you’re looking for some unique vinyl records.
FG Foodlab & Restaurant (Michelin Start Awarded)
Do you know the Michelin Stars concept? Of course, you do! This worldwide restaurant guide only rates the best restaurants in the world. According to their website, they rank over 30 thousand establishments in more than 30 countries and three continents.
Fun fact; Did you know the Michelin Guide initially started as an information guide to encourage people driving more often and to boost the sales of Michelin tires? Initially launched in 1889 for the French industry. It was meant to be a helpful guide, free of charge, with a map of petrol stations, maintenance tips, restaurants, and hotels in France. Between 1920 and 1936, they changed the guide, started to charge money for it, and added rankings to restaurants. Over time it grew to the worldwide renowned, unique star rating guide it is today.
What has that Michelin story to do with FG Foodlab and restaurant? Both establishments are rated with Michelin stars. Foodlab is a unique dining experience. Chef Francois Geurds created its own tastings laboratory, where he experiences with unique flavor combinations, which result in dishes you can try!
The restaurant concept, FG restaurant, is a bit different, but also with the fantastic food, and unique hospitality is even rated with two Michelin stars!
This is not a free thing to do, but well, you need to eat somewhere, right? And why not while you’re enjoying one of the best restaurants in Rotterdam! 🙂
When you’re looking for a unique place to go to enjoy a variety of live music in different styles, a place to have drinks, and a nice restaurant, BIRD is the place to go! This place is known for their reference with JAZZ music, their name is a reference to the renowned US jazz saxophone player Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. According to their website, and I quote, Bird is the perfect place for cultural omnivores
Man Met Bril (Coffee)
A coffee bar and roasting factory in one place, you find it at Man Met Bril, which means The Man with Glasses. I don’t know why they chose this name, probably because of the owner weres glasses? Their coffee bar opens every day of the year. Man Met Bril is renowned by locals as the perfect place for a coffee, to chill or to work on your laptop. And of course, they only serve their own coffee brands!
Mooi Boules is a relatively new concept in The Netherlands, combining food, drinks, and a game of Jeu de Boules! It’s a fun place to go and have some fun with fellow travelers. It’s not entirely free though, but I’m so enthusiastic about this new place, I thought it was worth mentioning it! You’ll need to pay € 12,50 to rent a Jeu de Boules court for 45 minutes.
You can make a reservation via their website (which is only available in Dutch at the moment).
Hofbogen is known as the new hotspot in Rotterdam. Check out all the highlights of the area on their website.
Rotterdam Free Walking and Cycling Tours
As the second-largest city of The Netherlands, there’s, of course, a lot to explore in Rotterdam. You can book a guided tour with a local, or explore the city on your own, using our one-day itinerary for Rotterdam. But there’s much more to explore! Did you know the city of Rotterdam developed a specialized tour app? Rotterdam Routes is a free app, available for iPhone and Android, that offers many unique tours throughout the city. Your smartphone becomes your tour guide for free! You can download the app by following this link, which will open the website of Rotterdam Routes. Currently, there are over 19 different routes available in the app. We have highlighted 5 of the unique routes which we think are most interesting.
Street Art Tour “Make it Happen.”
There are two Street Art Tours available in the Rotterdam Routes app. The first is Make It Happen, a tour that guides you along the street-art that is made as a part of the Make it Happen project in Rotterdam. This tour is around 7 kilometers long and brings you alongside 25 street-art highlights in the city. The tour takes approximately 90 minutes to complete. The voice-over guide of this tour is the Rotterdam-born street artist Judith de Leeuw (JDL), who made the portrait of Dutch renowned Hip-hop artist Winne, which you’ll find at Kruiskade. One of my favorite street arts in the city!
Street Art Tour “Route 2”
Peter van der Helm is a renowned tattoo artist in Rotterdam. He’s also known as a street artist and developed a tour throughout the city that brings you alongside some unique murals. Street art in Rotterdam is widely accepted, and if you know where to go, you can spot the most beautiful paintings made by often unknown artists.
Street Art Route 2 is also around 7 kilometers and has over 25 highlights.
Rotterdam’s worldwide icon is Erasmus. The philosopher who lived during the 15th century is worldwide renowned for his writings and translations of the new testament. The second part of the Christian Bible. Many highlights in Rotterdam are named after Erasmus. A few of the most well-known highlights are Erasmus University, Erasmus Bridge, Erasmus Hospital. But there’s much more to find about Erasmus while going around in the city.
Dutch columnist and writer Hugo Borst is the voice-over of this Erasmus route, he is widely known as a follower of the ideas of Erasmus. Which makes him the best person to be the tour guide for this route. The Erasmus route takes you alongside 20 highlights for 12 kilometers. Duration is between 90 minutes and 2 hours.
This route is perfect when you’re traveling through Rotterdam with children. The route is created by some local children and their parents and crosses 17 city highlights. With 10 kilometers, it might feel like a very long route. However, there are several stops along the way and possibilities to jump on a tram, bus or metro, so you can easily go to the next highlight when that’s more convenient. Just make sure that you use a public transport card when using public transport in The Netherlands.
Cycling around a city is the traditional Dutch way of transportation. It is perfect to rent a bike (okay not totally free, but the costs of this route are still low, you’ll only pay for bike rental), and go around the city. This route is around 23 kilometers long and stops at 12 unique highlights. Every highlight is told by a different local, so you’ll enjoy many different stories!
The city that’s known for its bold architecture and modern street art also has some unique natural parts. The tour Rotterdam Naturally takes you alongside the most beautiful parks and monumental trees, which are located in the city center. The voice-over tour guide for this tour is Dore van Duijvenbode, a writer and storyteller from Rotterdam. This short tour is only 7 kilometers but has 14 green highlights, which might surprise you.
There are many more tours to find when you download the Rotterdam Routes app!
A must-visit for each walking tour through Rotterdam is visiting the Erasmus Bridge. The bridge is the second-longest bridge of The Netherlands and connects the northern and southern parts of the city. The bridge is 802 meters long, and the cable construction reaches a height of 139 meters. Which makes it also one of the highest structures in The Netherlands.
The bridge is not only an important transfer hub in Rotterdam but quickly developed as one of the best-known highlights of the city. It is used in several Hollywood movies, like Who Am I from Jackie Chan. Several significant events are annually organized around this bridge. The most well-known is the New Years Celebrations when the bridge is used for the National Fireworks Show, which is broadcasted on Dutch National Television.
A great way to explore this bridge is not only by foot, but also to hop on a water taxi, and explore this bridge while crossing the Maas River. You’ll get a completely different perspective from the water!
The Euromast is one of the most famous landmarks of Rotterdam. It was built in 1960 during the first edition of the international flower event Floriade. A large flower and garden exhibition which takes place every ten years in The Netherlands. Did you know The Netherlands is the largest flower exporter in the world? You can read all about in our article Why Is The Netherlands Famous For Flowers?
The original building of the Euromast was 101 meters tall, and for a long time, it was the highest building in the country. Today it’s even higher because in 1970 an extended tower was built on top. The Euromast reaches a height of 181 meters!
You can visit the Euromast and go to the top, which is not free, you’ll need to buy an entrance ticket which is around € 10,25 (prices can vary). The view on top is great, during a clear day you can see all the way to The Hague, the North Sea, and other cities many kilometers away. The building also offers a restaurant, and several hotel rooms (link to Booking.com), which might be interesting when you’re still looking for a unique place to sleep!
Walking around the Euromast is of course, free of charge. The park that surrounds the Euromast is great for a visit, perfect for some relaxing. Just like many other parks in Rotterdam.
Rotterdam City Parks
The urban capital of The Netherlands, which many people call Rotterdam, also has a lot of green spaces to offer. We already told you about the city park located at Hofbogen area, on the roof of the old railway viaduct. And of course, the walking route which highlights many monumental trees throughout the city. But there are many more city parks in Rotterdam which are perfect to go relaxing on a sunny day.
A modern city park in the middle of Rotterdam’s city center. The park gets its name from the six museums that are located in the park. Some of the most unique museums in Rotterdam are located in the park, such as Kunsthal, Chabot Museum, Boijmans van Beuningen (temporarily closed). The park consists of five different areas; a rose garden with a pond, a monument for the famous city architect Gerrit de Jongh. The different museums. A romantic garden with a lovely pedestrian route. And an area for large public events.
This recreational area, together with the large lake, Kralingse Plas, is known as one of the best recreational areas of The Netherlands. It is perfect for just relaxing on a sunny day and swimming in the lake. Or for a work-out, running, or inline skating. It is even possible to play Golf at Kralingse Bos.
There are many places where you can go for a drink or something to eat. Most restaurants are located between the two historical windmills in Rotterdam. Did you know there are over 1000 historical windmills in The Netherlands? Read more about in our article about the most unique windmills.
A visit to Kralingse Bos is perfect when you want to enjoy a lovely sunny day.
Zuiderpark is the largest city park in The Netherlands. It is even larger then Vondelpark in Amsterdam, which was the first city park in The Netherlands. Zuiderpark is ideal when you love te be outside. Perfect for activities like hiking and running. Or just relaxing at one of the many fields. During the summer months, you’ll find many free festivals which are organized in Zuiderpark Rotterdam.
Holland America Line
For years the cruise ship connection between The Netherlands and New York was the only way to reach the United States. The Holland America Line was one of the most popular ways of transportation at that time. In the southern part of the city you can explore Hotel New York, which is now a trendy hotel and restaurant, but back in the day was the main office of the Holland America Line. Also, close to the hotel, you’ll find the famous cruise ship SS Rotterdam, one of the largest cruise ships of the old company, which is now an event venue, and hotel. It’s interesting to walk along with both landmarks, which are an important part of the history of Rotterdam.
We added a visit to Hotel New York and SS Rotterdam in our One Day Itinerary for Rotterdam.
From this part of the city, you can easily hop on a water taxi to reach Delfshaven, which is the most historic part of Rotterdam.
Delfshaven is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Rotterdam. As you might know, the city was heavily damaged during bombings in the 2nd World War, a few parts of the city were spared, one of them was Delfshaven neighborhood. Walking around Delfshaven, you can still enjoy the historical vibe, and get a glimpse of how Rotterdam used to be. You might notice that the architecture in this area is similar to the buildings in the historical city center of Amsterdam.
That’s because most cities developed during the 16th and 17th centuries. Rotterdam and Amsterdam have much more similarities, you can read all about in our article Is Rotterdam Similar To Amsterdam?
History Delfshaven – Port of Delft
Delfshaven has initially been a suburb from the city Delft. It functioned as a port for ships coming overseas, delivering goods and spices for the city Delft. The settlement was built in 1389 when the city of Delft got permission from the count of Holland, to create a direct connection between the Maas River and Delft. This resulted in the Schie Canal, a canal that’s still in use today.
With this new connection, Delft could start their independent trade and wasn’t dependant on cities like Rotterdam, Schiedam. In the centuries that followed, Delfshaven grew as an important settlement both for Delft and Rotterdam.
Important moments in the history of Delfshaven were the year 1577 when Piet Hein was born, who later became one of the most famous captains of the Dutch Eastern Company after he conquered the Spanish Silver Fleet, the biggest rivals of the Dutch Eastern Company during that time. Since 1870 there’s a statue of Piet Hein located in this part of the city.
In 1795 Delfshaven became an independent city, which later merged with Rotterdam in 1886. The old city hall of Delfshaven, a historic building known as The Pilgrim, is now a local beer brewery, which is excellent for a visit!
Do you love local markets just like we do? When we’re traveling, we always try to visit the local market. We feel that you can learn a lot of a country, city or village by visiting the local market. You’ll quickly get to know the local people, learning about the local products, and get to know more about the lifestyle by connecting with the locals.
Rotterdam is perfect for visiting a local market, and as the most multicultural city in The Netherlands, you’ll find many things from all over the world! I selected a few markets which are interesting for a visit while you’re in Rotterdam.
A few times a week, on Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday, you can visit Blaak Market. One of the biggest street markets in The Netherlands and Europe, which stretches out over almost 3 kilometers, with more than 400 different market stalls. You can find nearly everything at Blaak Market, from clothing, furniture, flowers, and food. You name it, and they probably have it!
It is lovely to stroll around and explore the local life at Blaak Market. Looking for something to eat at the market? You can try some typical Dutch Food, like herring or stroopwafels, but in Rotterdam, you must try a Kapsalon once. Which is a combination of Dutch fries, shawarma or döner, salad, onions, and Gouda Cheese, put together in a tray and heated in the oven. A unique fast-food dish that you can find in many places in Europe, but is originated in Rotterdam. The name Kapsalon comes from the inventors, who worked at a Dutch Barbershop, which in the Dutch language is Kapsalon. They were looking for some fast-food while they were working and came up with the idea of this dish.
Funny thing is that a Kapsalon is a combination of dishes from different cultures living together in The Netherlands. In our article Typical Dutch Food, you can find a complete list of unique Dutch food.
This new unique building is also located at Blaak square. The market hall is one of the newest buildings in Rotterdam and functions as a fresh food market, but also as an apartment building, and it has several offices on the top floor.
The market hall is famous for its design. A unique building that is definitely worth a visit. You can also enjoy different stalls with fresh food products. Honestly, walking around the market hall, you’ll notice that they’re aimed at tourism. Their prices are a bit higher, and it is not as authentic as the Blaak market. Still great for a visit, but when you have the change, I would recommend visiting the Blaak market.
When you’re looking for a place where local creatives show their products, arts and all kinds of different stuff, you must go to the Swan Market. This initiative that started in Rotterdam is now organizing different markets all over The Netherlands and Belgium.
They’re basically organizing days where local creatives can come together to sell their products. Their slogan is ‘The lifestyle market of The Netherlands and Belgium’, and ‘Where creatives meet.’ That must say enough, right? Visiting a Swan Market is also a great way to explore the local lifestyle, and step in the mind of the local creative artists. The locations of the markets vary per date and city, so if you want to visit a market, make sure to visit their website or Facebook page for the latest information.
Rotterdam Unlimited – Summer Carnival
The most multicultural city of The Netherlands also has the most Caribbean style festival of the country, Rotterdam Summer Carnival. The Summer Carnival is a massive parade inspired by the Carribean and tropical carnival parades, which we know from Brazil, Cape Verde, and other countries. This parade is the highlight of the Rotterdam Unlimited Festival. A multicultural festival that focusses on Super-Diversity, according to their website
Rotterdam Unlimited is annually organized at the end of July (dates vary per year), and hosts around a million visitors every year! For 2020 the dates are set on the 21st of July – 25th of July. This five-day festival has many activities, performances, and dances you can attend. Other highlights of the festival, next to the summer carnival parade, are, of course, many musical performances, and The National Battle of the drums, and biggest salsa dance of The Netherlands.
When you’re in The Netherlands in July, and you’re looking for a fun day with Carribean vibes, Rotterdam Unlimited is a must-visit!
Cape Verdean Community
Did you know Rotterdam has a large Cape Verdean community? Many people that came from the Cape Verdean islands, most of them coming from the island São Vicente came to Rotterdam to work in the Port of Rotterdam. The Netherlands and Cape Verde have a long history that dates back until the 17th century when the Dutch Eastern Company used the island of São Vicente as a stopover for ships sailing to South East Asia.
The Cape Verdean community in Rotterdam has a large influence on these Carribean events that are organized in the city. São Vicente is also known as the island where you can celebrate the best tropical carnival in Cape Verde, many Dutch Cape Verdean people go back there every year to celebrate the tropical carnival. We did that as well, we always wanted to experience such a unique event. When you want to find out more, check out our travel show page, where you can find a short documentary about the tropical carnival in Cape Verde.
From that small sidestep, let’s go back to Rotterdam. It’s time to explore the different shopping area’s in the city.
Rotterdam Shopping Areas
I can almost hear you thinking it ‘Shopping? How can that be free?’ Well, let’s try it the Dutch way. Dutch people are known to be thrifty. Most people don’t spend a lot of their money and for shopping we kind of invented the term window shopping. A widely known activity to just walk around the shopping windows, looking at the products, but not buying anything. We even have a saying for this Dutch economical way of shopping ‘Kijken, Kijken, niet Kopen!’, which means ‘Only watching, not buying.’ Ask around at market sellers anywhere in the world for the Dutch way, and they probably respond with this saying!
Anyway, there are many shopping areas in Rotterdam which are great to go window shopping. And because of the unique architecture in the city, it is lovely to walk around. The most famous shopping streets in Rotterdam are:
Koopgoot (City Center)
The heart of the shopping center in Rotterdam’s city. Koopgoot, whose official name is Beurstraverse, is a unique architectural design. A street that leads to the entrance of the important metro station Beurs in Rotterdam. The Koopgoot is located below the street level and looks kind of like a gutter. So that’s where this widely accepted nickname derives from since day one locals refer to this street as Koopgoot, which means shopping gutter.
When you’re looking for a street with fancy fashion shops, and unique bars and restaurants, you probably love walking around Meent. You can quickly enter Meent from Coolsingel, which is the main street in Rotterdam’s City Center. Meent is known as Rotterdam’s cultural street, you won’t find the large fashion stores at Meent. It’s more the street where the unique, specialized shops are located.
Witte de With street
Another cultural shopping area is Witte de With street. Known as the alternative and artistic area of Rotterdam. At Witte de With street, you’ll find many craft shops, ateliers. It’s a perfect place to explore more from the unique Rotterdam artists, and also enjoy some of the most extraordinary street art.
Food Courts Rotterdam
Buying some food is not free, of course. But when you enjoy the city of Rotterdam, you probably want to enjoy some excellent local food at one point. You can go to Blaak Market as we described earlier, and try the famous Kapsalon. Or choose some more luxury and go for lunch, and Michelin Star awarded FG Foodlabs, located at Hofbogen.
But there are many other great places in Rotterdam to go for some nice food. We didn’t mention the Southern part of the city yet, which is also perfect for exploring. At this part, you’ll also find to of the largest food courts in the city!
Fenix Food Factory
Fenix Food Factory is a unique concept where you can go for some lovely local food, but also learn more about the products they use, follow cooking workshops, or just have a great time. At Fenix Food Factory, they think it is important to tell people how things are made. The food court quickly grew to one of the most popular places where locals go to have a drink and some food.
They’re not open every day, so it’s best to check the latest information about opening times on their website.
Foodhallen Rotterdam is a place where everything comes together. Quality food, drinks, cocktails, music, and events. According to their website, they’re celebrating the flavors of local delicacies. Foodhallen is the perfect place to explore local food, local music, and enjoy the unique Rotterdam Lifestyle.
We wrote several articles about Rotterdam, and surrounding cities that you might find interesting to read;
In this article, you’ll find a complete itinerary for a one day visit in Rotterdam. We added many activities, so you can choose the things to do that fit you the most.
A great article when you want to learn more about the history of the city, and the famous and important highlights you can visit during your stay in Rotterdam. What is Rotterdam Famous For is a recommended read when you’re interested in learning more about the second-largest city of The Netherlands.
It is a question that many people ask us while we’re traveling, so I thought let’s answer this question in an article. I will explain the similarities and biggest differences between both major cities of the country.
When you want to read our other articles about The Netherlands, and Dutch cities, make sure to check out The Netherlands Category page, where you can find the complete list of articles about The Netherlands.