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Stopover Guide: 24 Hours in Rotterdam, Netherlands

Rotterdam skyline

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Rotterdam? If you recall European History, Rotterdam was bombarded in 1940 by the Germans during World War 2. A lot has happened in Rotterdam since then. Locals call Rotterdam the city that “works hard and plays harder” and this is evident in its culture.

The last 10 years have transformed the city and all eyes are on Rotterdam, especially in 2020 with its latest title as host of the Eurovision song contest. Rotterdam is a popular stopover city with its location only 25 minutes away from Amsterdam by speed train. Do yourself a favor and check out what you should do if you have 24 hours in Rotterdam.

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Let’s Begin: Rotterdam Centraal

@ Maciek Lulko

Most visitors to Rotterdam arrive via Rotterdam Central Station (Rotterdam Centraal). This is the main railway station which underwent a massive facelift in 2014. The new terminal was built to connect Northern and Southern Europe and the 110,000 passengers who commute per day.

Take a moment to admire the modernity of the building. Sunny days (they can happen!) allow for a flood of light to enter the open space. The building itself is sustainable with over 100,000 solar cells providing energy.

Since Rotterdam was bombarded in the Second World War, it is the most modern-looking city of The Netherlands. Architects took advantage of the opportunity to embrace what was a tragic loss to typical Dutch styled houses in order to create futuristic designs.

Exploring the City Center

If you walk directly away from the Station, you’ll enter the heart of the city centre. Take a right at the Korte Lijnbaan which turns into Stadhuisplein and follow it until you reach Stadhuis (City Hall). This impressive Beaux Art building survived the bombardment and dates back to 1915.

Local fact: Look on the side of the building to find bullet marks. You would think this was from the war itself but this is false. Upon liberation in 1945, Dutch soldiers decided to shoot the last of their to celebrate their freedom from German occupation. These bullet marks are remnants of this action.

Take a stroll down the Coolsingel; which is currently under construction at the time of publication (March 2020). Rotterdam’s boulevard that crosses through the city centre is being redesigned as urban greenery with a pedestrian-only alley, green spaces and fantastic opportunities to people watch.

Local Rotterdam Art?

@ Sonse

Head towards Eendrachtsplein which will take you into the shopping district of Rotterdam. At the beginning of the Oude Binneweg, you’ll encounter Rotterdam’s most famous statue. The official name for the piece is “Santa Claus” but Rotterdammers have a funnier nickname for him. It’s better to see it to believe it and to form your own opinion of what you think the statue represents, but let’s just say an adult and a child may have a different opinion!

Take the metro or walk to Blaak; Rotterdam’s second-biggest connection in the city. Take a moment and admire the “UFO”; the strange-looking metallic structure that sits over the railway station of Station Blaak.

Click here to plan your own path through Rotterdam’s public art.

The Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen)

@ Bert Kaufmann

Designed in the late ’70s, there is no trip to Rotterdam without observing these strange yellow houses. These 38 cube houses in Rotterdam were designed at a 45-degree angle and are home to apartments, a cube house museum and even a hostel where travellers can experience what it’s like to live in a world turned at an angle. Exploring the cube houses is a great way to observe the cutting edge architecture of Rotterdam and to take some awesome Insta-worthy photographs.

Lunch at the Markthal/Oud Haven

@ Hans Permana

Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, there are two places you can grab a bite to eat. One of Rotterdam’s newest and most iconic attractions is the Markthal. This U-shaped food mecca opened in 2014 and is a favourite for tourists and locals. Designed after the marketplaces of Barcelona, Sweden and Valencia. Inside you’ll find food stalls, restaurants, and local shops. You can find everything from authentic Turkish cuisine to local Rotterdam cheese. Besides the structure itself, once you’re inside, you’ll marvel at the large mural titled “Cornucopia” which showcases food items and flora in Dutch still-life form.

Food Recommendations:

  • A croquet at Het Kroquet Loket
  • Surinaams broodje at De Palmboom
  • Gozleme (I personally think of it as a Turkish quesadilla) from Ekmekci.
@ Stijn Nieuwendijk

If it is a beautiful day in Rotterdam, make your way to the Oud Haven (Old Harbor). This picturesque spot against the water sits along the backdrop of historic ships and a view of the Willemsbrug. It is one of the first places locals flock to for their dose of Vitamin D when it’s available. Look out for Europe’s very first skyscraper that dates back to 1897; the White House (Het Witte Huis) which also survived the Rotterdam bombardment.

Food Recommendations:

  • Any spot will do as long as you’re sitting on the terrace!
  • You can’t go wrong at Stockholm or Kade 4.
  • Make it a long lunch and order a round of Bitterballen with your beer to have a Dutch experience.

The best view in Rotterdam

A trip to the Noordereiland (North island); a small residential village in the middle of the city is a must if you wish to have a quiet moment amidst the busy city life. If you’re exploring Rotterdam by bike, you can take a quick ride to the Noordereiland. You can also take a 7-minute bus ride on the 47 bus to Meeuwenstraat. At the end of the island, you’ll admire the view of the Erasmusbrug which connects the city centre of Rotterdam with the Kop van Zuid.

Hotel New York

@ Marco Derksen

From the Noordereiland you can walk or take an Uber bike to Wilhelminaplein which is located on the Kop van Zuid. Home to the former office of the Holland America Line (A cruise line which connected Rotterdam with New York City), the Hotel New York is an iconic building with a rich history. It was a connection for Dutch immigrants on their way to a new life in New York City. Today it is an actual hotel which also hosts NY Basement; an intimate roaring 20s like the bar to commemorate those who travelled through this very route in its high time.

Want to stay at Hotel New York? Check the price → HotelsCombined | Booking.com | Agoda

On the Water Taxi to the Euromast

@ peter hessels

In a city surrounded by water, why not take advantage of commuting by water? The Water Taxi is a splendid way to get around quickly and to enjoy the ride along the way. Take the water taxi (€4,50) across the water to the Euromast. Make sure to look back towards the Kop van Zuid to understand why Rotterdam is called “Manhattan on the Maas”. High-rise towers make an iconic skyline of what is called the “vertical” city or an architectural haven. Named after the city itself, “De Rotterdam” complex is the one that stands out the most.

@ Nicole

A trip to the Euromast will give you a bird’s eye view of the city. Rumour has it that on a clear day, you can see as far as Antwerp (I have yet to see this). The tower sores 185 meters in the sky where you can view the city from an observation deck but you can also take a ride on the Euroscoop. This is a rotating glass elevator that takes you even higher with a 360-degree view. For those feeling adventurous, you can abseil off Euromast. Or if indulgence is more your style, consider booking at night in one of the suites that boast Rotterdam’s highest balcony!

Rainy Day Activity: Museum Time!

Let’s be real: The Netherlands is notorious for rainy weather and you may be unlucky and encounter a rainy day in Rotterdam. Whether you need to stay indoors to avoid the rain or you fancy visiting a museum, there are two great choices for museum lovers. Contemporary art lovers will enjoy the Kunsthal. Its main feature is the private art collection which is always rotating. Meanwhile, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen features everything from medieval to modern art with an emphasis on Dutch artists. Fans of Monet, van Gogh and Dali will enjoy this museum.

Delfshaven: Pre-War Rotterdam

@ Eric Allix Rogers

The historic district of Delfshaven is adored for its charming view of what Rotterdam used to look like pre-war. Walking around this neighbourhood will take you back to a simpler time. But did you know that an impressive part of history also occurred here? The Pilgrims who sailed to the New World in the 17th century actually made a pit stop before their ultimate departure to North America. This pit stop was in Delfshaven.

Dinner and Drinks at Witte de Withstraat

@ Sonse

End your grand tour of Rotterdam with dinner and drinks at Witte de Withstraat. This is the heart of Rotterdam’s nightlife with bars, cafe’s and restaurants abuzz for locals.

My recommendations for dinner and drinks include:

  • Ter Marsch: Take a bite into the winner of the best burger in The Netherlands (2015).
  • Hung Kee: Huge family-style portions of Chinese food you can probably share
  • Supermercado: Latin American streetfood meets cocktail bar done right.
  • De Witte Aap: Voted best bar in the world by Lonely Planet.
  • Wijnbar Het Eigendom: Grape lovers rejoice with a selection of 130 wines.
  • Nieuw Rotterdams Café: There’s always a reason to dance here.

Extra Time?

  • Fenix Food Factory
  • SS Rotterdam
  • Nederlands Fotomuseum

Where to stay

How to get to Rotterdam from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

Planning a trip to Rotterdam during your layover in the Netherlands? The train is a cheap and easy way to get to Rotterdam from Schiphol Airport, taking under half an hour on the fastest services.

Schiphol Station is located directly below the airport. It only takes a couple of minutes to walk from Arrivals to Schiphol Plaza, where you can take the stairs, escalator or lift down to the platforms. 

It takes around 29 minutes to travel from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Rotterdam Centraal by train. Trains run regularly 24-hours, though only hourly between 12midnight and 05:30 am. Plan your train journey here.


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