Most tourists flock to Amsterdam when they go to the Netherlands. If only they knew how many great activities there are in Rotterdam. Since my first visit to Rotterdam with Traverse earlier this year, I’ve returned four times, and I’d love to actually live there for a few months someday. Amsterdam might have a red light district, Anne Frank’s House and the Van Gogh Museum, but Rotterdam has everything else. Here are my top 12 favorite activities in Rotterdam which make it my favorite city in the Netherlands.
Take a Tour with Rotterdam Pages
As always, the first activity you should do in a new city is a walking tour. Rotterdam Pages is your best option for this in Rotterdam. Hassan and Farah really know the city and the best spots to show you. They fill their tours humor, fun facts and the amazing (and chilling) history of Rotterdam. By the end, you’ll know what attractions to go back to (many are on this list), where to eat and (most importantly) how to get by as a local. I took two of their tours – the highlights tour and a slightly custom-made south side tour where we were treated with a visit to the Scottish Hairy Coos (cows).
The tours they offer are as follows:
- Highlights City Tour – €19 ($22)
- Street Food Tour – €37 ($42.75)
- Highlights Chocolate Tour – €35 ($40.50)
- South Side Tour – €21 ($24.25)
Each of their tours can be booked privately, or you can join them with a group. Check their website for scheduled times. The tours last 2-3 hours. If you can’t make it to the tour, visit their website anyway to learn about all the current activities and events going on in Rotterdam, good places to eat and sleep, and other little tips for your visit.
Enjoy Munchies and Murals at Markthal
Built in 2009, Rotterdam’s market hall, or Markthal, is the city’s centerpiece. The huge structure has an indoor food market with 100 food stalls, 15 food shops and 8 restaurants. What makes the building particularly unique is the 228 apartments built in a horseshoe shape over the food market. Some of the apartments look out on the city, while others look down on the market. There are even penthouse apartments with glass floors directly above the market. Beneath the Markthal is a parking garage with 1200 spaces. During construction of the building, they found dozens of archeological artifacts. Rather than moving them to a museum, the artifacts are proudly displayed in the garage.
The Markthal is more than just food. For the art enthusiasts out there, this is the location of the largest indoor mural in the world. The Guinness Book of World Records actually has it wrong, as theirs is only one-fourth the size of Markthal’s 387,500 square-foot masterpiece. Painted by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam, it’s called Cornucopia. Although the Markthal closes at 6, visit at night (or after the sun has set in the winter) to get the best view of the vivid colors.
Get Confused in the Cube Houses
What happens when you turn a house on its end? You get cube houses! These yellow homes were designed in 1977 by Piet Blom and crafted to look like a forest. There are thirty-eight yellow box homes built diagonally to the ground on hexagonal pillars, although I think they should have been green to represent trees. One of the houses has been converted into a “museum,” which you can visit for €3 ($3.30). You can also find the houses on Airbnb. Or if you’re on more of a budget, the StayOkay hostel is located in the two big cube houses.
There are two other very impressive buildings around the cube houses. One is officially called Black Tower (as it’s on Black Square). Unofficially it’s called The Pencil. It’s a hexagonal-shaped building with a pointed roof…just like a pencil. What’s also unique about the building is all the windows are built upside down. Of course, if that’s the pencil, some call the Markthal the pencil sharpener.
The other building visible from the cube houses is Het Witte Huis, or The White House. Built in 1898, this was the first skyscraper in Europe…10 stories high. It was also one of the few buildings to survive the Nazi bombings in World War II. From the east end of the cube houses, there’s a great view of the White House and the iconic, red Willemsbrug Bridge (not to be confused with the white Erasmus Bridge.
Rappel from the Euromast
If you’re like me and enjoy getting to the highest point in a city, the Euromast is the place for you in Rotterdam. It’s a TV tower that rises up 606 feet, with an observation platform 315 feet up. From there, you can ride a rotating, glass-enclosed elevator up the “antenna” for even better views of Rotterdam and even to the nearby Hague. Tickets to the top are €9.75 ($11.25). There’s a cafe on the ground floor and a restaurant just below the observation deck.
Perhaps you’re looking for more of a thrill. As long as you book far enough in advance (at least a few weeks), you can experience a bit of adrenaline by rappelling off the observation deck. Available on the weekends every fifteen minutes, a team will teach you the basics of rappelling, take your photo as you’re suspended a few feet off the observation deck, and then guide you down to the ground. Tickets are €55 ($63.50) and they do sell out at least a month in advance.
Climb to the Top of Sint Laurenskerk
Another one of the few buildings to survive the bombings of World War II is the Sint Lauenskerk, or Church of Saint Laurens. Not only did it survive the war, it’s the last standing structure of medieval Rotterdam. Unfortunately, a massive fire that started as a result of the bombing consumed the roof of the church, leaving just the walls and tower still standing. The roof has long since been replaced.
On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons between April and October, you can get a tour up to the top of the tower. It’s not as high as the Euromast, but it has a great view of the city center. You’ll also get to see the high-tech setup they have to play the bells every day. Tickets up the tower are €5 ($5.75). The tour on Wednesday is at 2 p.m. and on Saturday it’s at noon and 1:30 p.m. It’s 300 stairs in a fairly tight staircase, just so you know.
Beat an Escape Room on the SS Rotterdam
I love escape rooms, but many people still haven’t even heard of them. If you haven’t, read my post on Escape Edinburgh to learn what an escape room is. After that, or if you already know what they are and love them as much as I do, consider trying your luck onboard the SS Rotterdam in their very unique escape room. They’ve got two, and they’re built into the old cold storage lockers of the ship. Designed for minimally four players and up to eight, the two identical rooms have some of the most ingenious puzzles I’ve yet to run across. Sadly, it’s also the first room I did not successfully complete (although I wouldn’t have finished Puzzlair either without the dozens of hints they gave).
The price of the escape room varies between €17.50 to €30 ($20.25 to $34.75); weekends and fewer players cost more. There are seven slots a day, seven days a week, and each game lasts an hour. They do book up quite a bit, so make sure to secure your slot in advance.
Ride a Hot Tub Tugboat
The Netherlands is famous for its ingenuity with its canals and dikes, and there are also cool inventions within the canals. What if you could float around in the canals of Rotterdam in a hot tub? That’s exactly what you can do! The Hot Tub Tugboat started in Rotterdam and has since expanded to London, Finland and Switzerland. A small tugboat, which really looks like a floating Jacuzzi, has been fitted with a stove. The entire boat is filled with water, which the stove keeps warm. A little onboard motor allows it to sail up and down the canals, while you relax in the hot water and sip your favorite cold beverage.
The Hot Tub Tugboat is located at the Vessel 11 boat restaurant a few feet down the canal from the Maritime Museum. The boats are available to book for two-hour slots at noon, 1, 4, 5, 8 and 9 from Tuesday through Sunday. It’s considerably cheaper the more people you have in a boat – two people are €70 each ($80.50), while a group of eight only pay €32.50 ($37.50) per person. I think it would be nicest in winter, floating around in the hot water. You could just slip off the side of the boat anytime you wanted to cool off.
Sample Some Dutch Chocolate at the Chocolate Company
I love chocolate. That’s no secret. So obviously, I jumped for a chocolate tasting with the Chocolate Company. Mario opened his first store on the famous Oude Binnenweg walking street. The chain has since expanded out to dozens of stores across the Netherlands and beyond. Two other friends and I met Mario at the Chocolate Company stall in the Markthal. He proceeded to give us the rundown of all his products, giving us samples of many of them, and leaving us in a food coma after we each ate a killer brownie. When I visited in May, there were 63 flavors. Mario has since added several more…not that I could hope to try that many flavors in a year!
While the small Markthal stall is limited to just chocolate, you can get a range of other meals at the Oude Binnenweg store. I decided to indulge in the strawberry Belgian waffle covered in chocolate fondue and whipped cream. Afterward, all I could think about was eating salads for a week. At least I didn’t get sick like the time I binged on Belgian chocolate.
Check this out: Is Dutch Chocolate Better Than Belgian Chocolate?
Discover Rotterdam’s Street Art With Hostel ROOM
One of the coolest places to stay in Rotterdam is the Hostel ROOM. Aside from a clean, serviceable hostel with very friendly staff, they also have a full calendar of activities. One of the many tours they offer is a Street Art Tour at 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Rotterdam is a city absolutely full of street art, and there are several well-known artists you’ll get to see on the tour. Graffiti is technically illegal in Rotterdam, so most of the art that is shown has a purpose. One of the key pieces is a collaboration from many of the top artists and shows all the landmarks of the city.
If you can’t make it to the hostel on Saturday, feel free to check out some of their other tours, including a food tour on Tuesday (€5) or a highlights tour on Sunday. Better yet, consider staying at the hostel for your stay in Rotterdam. If you’re not one for hostels, allow this place to change your mind. Their dorm rooms are comfortable, but there are also several private rooms to choose from. You’ll also get to enjoy the spacious common area, free Dutch breakfasts and some of the best stone-oven pizza in town.
Check this out: Hostel ROOM: The Best Place to Stay in Rotterdam for a Weekend Break
Experience Gluttony With a Kapsalon
The Dutch word for a barbershop is a Kapsalon. However, in recent years the word has acquired another meaning. As the story goes, one of the local barbers was tired of the meals available at the kebab shop next to him and asked them to make something special. They complied. The result was a dish with fries, cheese, doner meat, salad and sauce, usually in that order. A large can get up to a massive 1800 calories! That didn’t stop me from ordering several while I was in town. I found the best vendor was HAS Kebab with several locations across town.
Check this out: Is a Kapsalon the Best or Worst Invention from Rotterdam?
Take a Tour of Kinderdijk
If you like windmills, UNESCO World Heritage Sites or just beautiful landmarks, you’ll have to get to Kinderdijk while you’re in Rotterdam. Located just outside the city to the east, you can get to this top attraction by boat, bus or bike. It’s free to enter and walk along the canal, admiring the 19 windmills which date back to the 1740s. You also have the option of paying for a boat tour along the canal for €8 ($9.25), or entrance to two of the windmills which have been converted into museums for €5.50 ($6.50).
Check this out: Exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site Kinderdijk
Experience the Magic at Efteling
I’ve saved the best for last. Part of every Dutchman’s upbringing includes a trip to Efteling, the world-class amusement park designed by Anton Pieck. When I say world-class, not only is the park the third-most visited in Europe (a hair behind second), it was also opened two years before Disneyland, and arguably where Disney himself got his inspiration for his own park. As much as I like Disneyland, I’d have to say it’s ridiculously expensive and fake compared to Efteling. I was actually shocked to find Efteling offering meals that were reasonably priced, while entrance to the park itself for adults is only €36 ($42). That’s less than half of what Disneyland will cost you!
Efteling is 90% native woodland and lakes. There are dozens of attractions, rides and shows to enjoy (honestly more than can be enjoyed in a single day when it isn’t busy). There’s a roller coaster that drops you straight down into a black pit, another which winds through a magical dream flight, and a haunted mansion unlike any other I’ve experienced in the world. The main attraction at the park, and where it all started, is the Fairytale Forest where 28 fairytales are depicted with lifesize cottages, statues and scenes. You can see Sleeping Beauty locked in her glass cage, Little Red Riding Hood about to enter her grandmother’s cottage and even the Tall Servant from the Brothers Grimm’s The Six Servants fairytale. He recites his fairytale while sitting on a mound as his neck slowly stretches up and down a couple dozen feet.
Check this out: Bringing Out My Inner Child At the Efteling Amusement Park
Click to Pin It!
In case you missed them above, here are all the links to my other articles concerning Rotterdam.
- Bringing Out My Inner Child At the Efteling Amusement Park
- Is Dutch Chocolate Better Than Belgian Chocolate?
- Getting Back to My Family Roots in Rotterdam, Netherlands
- Exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site Kinderdijk
- Hostel ROOM: The Best Place to Stay in Rotterdam for a Weekend Break
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
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