Rotterdam is a fascinating city and there’s so much to see and do. To relax and take in the the street art and cool cafes and amazing architecture and all of the museums and galleries would take much longer, but what if you only had a day? What can you squeeze in? Here’s A Brummie Home and Abroad’s Guide to 24 Hours in Rotterdam.
Did you know this city guide is also available as a GPS navigated app? To download this, and other Rotterdam self-guided tours, please click here!
The Cube Houses are a perfect place to start the morning – get to these iconic abodes too late and you’ll have to share them with all of the pesky tourists but first thing, the only people wandering around are the residents who are adjusting to living a slightly discombobulated life of tilted heads and furniture that doesn’t quite fit. These buildings exemplify Rotterdam’s tendency towards quirky architecture, and look futuristic now even though they were designed by Piet Blom back in the 1970s. If you wanted to try cube life yourself, one of the cubes is available to let via Airbnb, and another (the largest in the complex) is a hostel – Stayokay Rotterdam
Before you start your tour of the city, you’ll probably want to grab a quick breakfast/brunch/coffee, and from 10am each morning the city’s iconic horseshoe shaped Markthal is open. You could grab a power espresso from Brazuca Coffee, or linger over pancakes and french toast at Mart Cafe. There are also toilets inside the Market Hall here if all that coffee makes you pee. It’s €0,70, but €0,50 is then redeemable against any food purchase.
One of the few buildings to survive the destruction of the city during World War II is Sint-Laurenskerk. Originally constructed back in the 15th century, it suffered much damage during the Blitz, and was largely rebuilt after the war. It retained classic architecture, even when the rest of the city was being rebuilt in a hyper modern style, and remains in contrast to the surrounding buildings. You can climb the tower for magnificent views over Rotterdam – or just admire it from the ground. Now the church houses a cafe and events space for hire – including hosting a singles disco!
Take a stroll canalside along Delsevaart and Haagsever and you will reach the bright yellow steps of the Luchtsingel Bridge. Funded almsot entirely by the citizens of Rotterdam, this 400m long footbridge links previously disconnected areas of North Rotterdam with the central area by way of an elevated walkway over an urban park. Rotterdam is a city proud of its dedication to ecology and sustainability, and the bridge is made of sustainably sourced Douglas Fir. Each wooden board has the name etched of one of the 8000 donors that made the project possible
Along with Sint-Laurenskirk, Rotterdam’s City Hall is one of a handful of buildings to survive the bombardment of 1940. It’s a beautiful Beaux Art building, built in the early 20th century, and at Christmas is the location of Rotterdam’s biggest Christmas tree. It’s a working building, so you’re not allowed in unaccompanied, but there are guided tours available via the local tourist office.
St Paul’s Church may not be the prettiest building in Rotterdam, and located close to Rotterdam Centraal it may be in one of the seedier parts of town, but it has a story which is worth hearing. In 1979, the city’s population included large numbers of drug addicts, homeless and illegal immigrants, and Reverend Hans Visser was brought in to lead the Pauluskerk, and to create a church that would serve these outcasts of society. He provided a small amount of drugs to addicts, ensuring that what they received was “safe” and then gradually reduced their intake over time. The congregation of Pauluskerk is a diverse community, but one where inclusivity and tolerance are practiced. It’s a fascinating tale, and you can read more about Reverend Visser and the programmes offered by Pauluskerk here.
In the busy Eendrachtsplein Square stands a year-round bronze Santa Claus. Holding a bell and a Christmas tree. Yes, to all of you with dirty minds reading this, that is a Christmas tree. It is definitely not a sex toy. Despite it’s nickname of “Butt-Plug Gnome”. This piece of art by Utah’s Paul McCarthy was intended to stand in a tourist-friendly square next to the city’s concert hall, but this slightly lewd spin on St Nicholas ended up being shunted around the city until it found it’s current home, slightly off the tourist trail. Although who wouldn’t want to seek out a vertically challenged Father Christmas with a giant dildo? It’s an essential holiday snap, although maybe not one to show your Nan.
After all that social education and culture it’s time to take a stroll down one of Rotterdam’s coolest streets. Witte de Withstraat is lined with bars and eateries, many with pavement terraces. There are also galleries, independent shops and loads of fab street art. It’s also home to the wondeful middle-eastern restaurant and boutique hotel Bazar and hip hostel King Kong. Everywhere you turn is instantly instagrammable and this is definitely where you’ll want to return to tonight for food and drink. We had a wonderful tapas platter at De With, and beer fans should definitely check out Bierboutique.
It’s time to spend a bit of time by the water, to the ports and harbours where shipping in Rotterdam began. The Maritime District brings together history and heritage, the essence of Rotterdam and it’s people, and finally, city life, with bars, restaurants and hotels – both on land and on water. The Maritime Museum is dedicated to sharing stories and exhibits, but it’s just as fascinating strolling from Leuvehaven to Oudehaven just taking in the sights and sounds of harbour life. It’s here you’ll find the bronze statue “The Destroyed City” representing how the historic heart of Rotterdam was devastated during WWII. In Oudehaven – Old Harbour – you can find the magnificent White House, Europe’s first skyscraper at a whopping 43 metres high.
At Oudehaven there’s plenty of choice of restaurants, bars and cafes with waterfront terraces, or you can do as all the tourists do (and the locals certainly don’t) and head for Markthal. There are over 100 fresh food stands, many with the opportunity to sit and enjoy the wares at counterside stools or at purpose-built restaurants. We chose the arabic restaurant Bab Tuma for the first of two middle eastern inspired meals on this day. Whilst in Markthal, make sure you admire that amazing “Horn of Plenty” mural by Arno Coenan and Iris Roskam decorating the inner arch of the building, punctuated by the occasional apartment window where someone may be peeping out. Look out for the frosted windows… those are bathroom windows!
Wow, this is turning into a mammoth day! This is why you need at least two days to explore Rotterdam, but let’s push on and walk off some of that lunch by heading down to the banks of the River Maas and crossing the water by way of the spectacular 800 metre long Erasmus Bridge. It’s angular light-blue steel pylon is quite the icon of Rotterdam, and gives the bridge it’s nickname, The Swan. And what do you do once you’ve crossed the bridge? (Sounds like a why did the chicken cross the road joke…).
This area of Rotterdam is in the midst of regeneration, yet gleaming high-rise buildings like the award-winning De Rotterdam skyscraper sit alongside historical buildings like Hotel New York, former home of the Holland America Line HQ. The Netherlands Museum of Photography can be found in this area, as can the current cruise terminal, numerous renovated warehouses repurposed for modern use, and an arthouse cinema and theatre for the culture vultures
From Hotel New York it’s a short stroll over Rijnhavenbrug to Katendracht. For the Brummies among my readers, this is the Digbeth of Rotterdam, where the hip and trendy flock to see and be seen among the rest of the hip and trendy. Cute little eateries carved out of old warehouses and garages, arts festivals and street performances, and most importantly for this street food lover, Fenix Food Factory – a quayside warehouse turned food market hall with bakeries, delicatessens, butchers, cheesemakers (of course – you are in the Netherlands after all) street food trucks and best of all, it’s own brewery. You can also find the Dutch Pinball Museum on the quayside too
Rotterdam is an extremely innovative and forward-thinking city, with green boutique hotels, rooftop allotments, organic cafes and city parks. Just a short walk along Rijnhaven is Rotterdam’s “Bobbing Forest” – trees are planted and cultivated on recycled sea buoys, bringing more greenery to a city which is as much as 20-foot below sea level in some parts. This lies next to the Floating Pavilion, a demonstration of how self-sufficient, climate proof structures could be used in future, creating urban districts entirely on top of the water to cope with rising sea levels.
We saw many of the city’s sights on a tour with Free Walking Tours Rotterdam. I’ve banged on before about the benefits of taking a free walking tour and this was up there as one the best, thanks to Vincent’s endless enthusiasm and energy, despite the terrible weather. If you want to do something a little different, you could try a bike tour – like many European cities, Rotterdam is very cycle-friendly.
So if you only find yourself with one day in Rotterdam, you can certainly find plenty to do in just 24 hours. Of course, if you have longer then you can do what we did and use Rotterdam as a base to discover some of the other wonderful towns, villages and cities of The Netherlands – there’s a new blog coming soon about our day visiting The Hague and Delft!
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I’m Emmalene, a 40 something with a passion for travel, theatre, food, drink and the occasional accidental hike! I’m a born-and-bred Birmingham native so expect lots of Brum content on here too…