17 Unique & Fun Things to Do in Rotterdam

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Rotterdam is a city unlike any other in the Netherlands. 

It’s modern. It’s bold. And what it lacks in quaint canals and historic buildings, it more than makes up for with an effortlessly cool vibe and gravity-defying cube houses.

While Rotterdam’s unique nature makes it one of the more divisive destinations in the Netherlands, I think it’s a perfect addition to any visitor itinerary, showcasing a uniquely modern side of the country that many visitors don’t get to see.

So, from endless food options to museums aplenty, keep scrolling for an overview of the top fun things to do in Rotterdam.

Save this list of Things to Do in Rotterdam for later!

You’ll be very glad you did.

1. Admire the famous cube houses

Rotterdam is known for its modern architecture and the most famous site in the city is definitely the group of yellow cube houses known as kubuswoningen in Dutch!

These unique houses were designed by the Dutch architect Piet Blom to look a little bit like a forest, with each cube house placed on a hexagonal pylon. The cubes are also placed at an odd angle which is meant to optimise the living space but also makes the whole thing look very weird and cool, both from the exterior and if you’re lucky enough to snoop inside.

Most of the cube houses are private residences, but you can go inside a number of them, including the Kunst Kubus (Art Cube Gallery) and the Kijk Kubus (show cube museum) to see how they are set up. You can even stay overnight in this architectural marvel, at the StayOkay Hostel Rotterdam or in a Cube House Airbnb!

2. Check out the world’s largest collection of chess sets and pieces 

Another cool place located within the Kubus area is a museum dedicated to chess sets and pieces, which houses the largest collection of these in the world.

The Chess Men Museum (Het Schaakstukkenmuseum in Dutch) was founded by Dutchman Ridder Dijkshoorn in 2006 from his own personal (and huge) collection, although it has also grown over the years. At last count, there were 928 unique chess sets, made up of nearly 30,000 individual pieces!

Even if you’re not hugely into chess it’s a really cute and quirky museum, with so many different chess sets, often featuring beautiful figures as well as funny cartoon characters. There are also regular temporary exhibitions and the museum hosts a chess design competition every year; visitors can vote for their favourite or just admire the past winners.

3. Eat your way through the Rotterdam Markthal

De Markthal (or Market Hall) is another very unique piece of architecture in Rotterdam, plus it’s also filled with delicious places to eat and drink!

Designed by the Dutch architecture firm MVRDV, the Markthal is constructed in the shape of an arch and actually comprises a number of residences, offices, shops and even an underground parking garage, along with many restaurants and bars.

There’s an impressive glass facade on the exterior of the building, while the underneath of the arch (over the marketplace) is decorated with a huge mural depicting fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, flowers and insects.

One of the best things to do here is sample cuisine from around the world at the many stalls and shops.

Some sell local produce (including Dutch cheese) while others offer everything from Bubble Tea to fried chicken. But even if you’re not feeling in the mood for a bite, the architecture alone makes this modern market hall a must-see in Rotterdam.

4. Stuff yourself on a pancake cruise

If you think that eating pancakes until implosion is a great way to spend the day, then hopping on the iconic Pannenkoekenboot is definitely one of the best things to do in Rotterdam.

Rotterdam’s harbour skyline is very impressive and what better way to enjoy it than on a lovely cruise while you eat as many pancakes as you possibly can?! Yep, this is truly a bottomless pancake cruise, where you can choose from all manner of sweet and savoury toppings throughout the 75-minute excursion.

Make sure you take some time out of enjoying the delicious pancakes to admire some of the modern architectural marvels lining the harbour.

Rotterdam was severely bombed during WWII, which is why there is so much modern architecture here. Very few of the old buildings like those in Amsterdam remain, which is sad, but it also rewards visitors with plenty of unique contemporary designs to see instead.

5. Admire the skyline from a harbour boat tour 

If you don’t fancy stuffing your face with pancakes, it’s still possible to enjoy seeing the city of Rotterdam from the water via a different harbour boat tour.

There are actually a number of cruises to choose from, whether you want to learn about the harbour’s history with an audio guide or take a romantic evening cruise to see Rotterdam at night. A boat tour is a great way to get an overview of the city if you have limited time, as you’ll get to view some of the most iconic modern structures such as the Erasmus Bridge and Euromast.

And if you really want to see the city in a unique way, you can even take a tour on an amphibious bus to see the streets of Rotterdam before plunging into the water to sail the harbour!

6. Wander along the Old Harbour 

For those who prefer to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground, make sure you go for a wander along Rotterdam’s harbour area instead.

Oudehaven (which literally just means Old Harbour) is the oldest part of Rotterdam’s waterfront area, and it’s right next to the famous cube houses which makes it easy to explore.

This area was constructed in the 14th century and while there are many modern buildings there are also plenty of historic ones too, along with historic boats!

One of the highlights is the Witte Huis, a ten-storey art nouveau building that is considered to be the first skyscraper in Europe since it was the tallest building on the continent when it was completed in 1898. It was also one of the few historic buildings in Rotterdam to survive the WWII bombs.

There are also lots of excellent harbourside restaurants and cafés here, so the best thing to do is find somewhere to eat or have a drink while you watch the water traffic go by. At night, the area gets particularly lively!

7. Indulge in some tasty international cuisine 

Enjoying the foodie scene is, in my mind, one of the top things to do in Rotterdam, with mouthwatering options from all corners of the globe.

Rotterdam is a proudly international city, with over 180 nationalities represented, and with its status as Europe’s largest port, it has long been a point of cultural exchange.

Today, the legacy of this cultural mixing carries on with a dynamic and varied food scene with eateries catering to every craving and budget… so, take advantage!

I certainly did when I wolfed down this absolutely monstrous poké bowl from the aptly named “Poké Bowl” (on Karel Doormanstraat):

8. Get a view from the Euromast Tower 

Without a doubt, the best views over Rotterdam can be experienced at the Euromast Tower, a 186-metre-high observation tower which overlooks the harbour.

This tower was originally built for the Floriade exhibition in 1960 but remains one of the highlights of visiting Rotterdam to this day.

If you want to be able to look out over the city of Rotterdam then you can purchase a ticket for the Euromast lookout tower, and you can even have a meal in the restaurant that’s located 100 metres above the ground.

As well as the restaurant, there’s also a hotel located within the Euromast Tower, if you really want to stay in a room with a view. Daredevils can even abseil off the side of the tower, the highest abseil in Europe!

9. Admire some unique public art 

Another one of the most charming aspects of Rotterdam’s modern landscape is how much public art can be found throughout the city. In fact, there’s more public art in Rotterdam than in any other city in the Netherlands!

And while there is street art on the walls, it’s the sculptures, many of which are huge, which really dominate the city as you wander around. More than 1,000 different artworks can be found throughout Rotterdam, particularly on the sculpture terrace which lies on the route from Central Station to the museum quarter.

While you can just go for a visit and see what you encounter, some of the more famous (and infamous) pieces to watch out for include a statue of Erasmus (the oldest bronze statue in the Netherlands, made in 1622!) on Grotekerkplein, some giant feet near the Markthal, a giant braid of hair on the Westersingel and a statue of Santa Claus holding a Christmas tree/dildo on Eendrachtsplein!

10. Explore the wonders of the Rotterdam Museumpark 

Not far from the controversial Santa Claus of Eendrachtsplein is the Rotterdam Museumpark, a beautiful green area that’s lined with some of the most interesting museums in the city.

While you should have a wander in the actual park section if you have time, there are even more sculptures to discover, the main drawcard here are the six main museums and art galleries. You may not have time to visit them all, but pick whichever interests you the most:

  • Boijmans van Beuningen: a European art museum that also comprises the reflective, upside-down bucket-looking building, Depot, which is the world’s first art depot that’s accessible to the public!
  • Het Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam: Rotterdam’s Museum of Natural History, great for kids since it’s filled with animal exhibits and fossils.
  • Kunsthal Rotterdam: an art gallery with no permanent collection, but many interesting temporary ones organised throughout the year.
  • Het Nieuwe Instituut: a cultural centre focusing on architecture, design and digital culture.
  • Huis Sonneveld: a house built in the Nieuwe Bouwen Dutch architectural style, a type of modernism, and now open as a museum.
  • Chabot Museum: a museum dedicated to the Dutch painter and sculptor Hendrik Chabot.

11. Scope out the Erasmus Bridge 

While there are a few interesting and well-known bridges in Rotterdam, Erasmus Bridge (Erasmusbrug in Dutch) is the most famous and one of the most important landmarks in the city.

Construction of the Erasmus Bridge started in 1986 and was completed in 1996, connecting the north and south parts of the city on either side of the Nieuwe Maas River.

It was named after Desiderius Erasmus, a very well-known Dutch philosopher and Catholic theologian alternatively known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, so it makes sense that now the Erasmus Bridge is part of Rotterdam’s official city logo.

Erasmus Bridge is quite remarkable in its design, as it’s both a cable-stayed bridge and drawbridge (bascule) in one. The bascule part of the bridge can open to allow ships to pass under, even though it’s the biggest and heaviest of its kind in all of Western Europe. Locals have nicknamed it The Swan due to the 139-metre-high asymmetrical pale blue pylon that rises up at one end.

You can see the bridge up close if you join one of the harbour cruises I mentioned earlier, or you can just walk, drive or cycle across it to explore the Kop van Zuid area.

12. Explore Delfshaven 

While most of Rotterdam was levelled by bombs during WWII, the neighbourhood of Delfshaven was largely spared. Visiting Delfshaven today is like stepping back in time since it’s the only section of Rotterdam where original pre-war buildings still stand, and it’s very pretty!

If you come here for a wander around, you should check out brewery De Pelgrim, the only city brewery in Rotterdam, for a beer while overlooking the small harbour. You can also join a tour of the brewery if you like.

Another highlight in Delfshaven, and right next door to De Pelgrim, is the Pilgrim Father’s Church, where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail on the Speedwell to England, before travelling to America on the Mayflower. Originally they were planning to sail on both ships but the Speedwell was damaged and left behind in England.

13. Try for a new record at the Dutch Pinball Museum 

One of the most unique attractions within Delfshaven is the Dutch Pinball Museum – a collection of vintage and modern pinball machines, many of which you can actually play!

This museum was created by pinball machine enthusiast Gerard van de Sanden from his private collection, which has since grown to include more than 130 different pinball machines.

For any pinball machine nerds out there, this collection includes 31 electromechanical pinball machines, 43 Solid State pinball machines, and 60 Dot-Matrix pinball machines.

Any of the machines which were made earlier than 1960 are only on display, but the ones that are younger are available to play, so it’s a particularly fun way to while away the time on a rainy day!

14. Stop by the Maritime Museum

Rotterdam’s port is the largest in Europe and the Maritime Museum is the number one spot to learn more about the city’s shipping past and present, in a fun way, of course!

This museum has lots of cool interactive exhibitions inside the main building, as well as a number of historic ships and cranes in the water outside. Many of the ships can be explored and, in summer, are often available for special cruises around the harbour.

There are lots of parts particularly designed for children at the Rotterdam Maritime Museum, so it’s a wonderful place to visit with kids, but anyone who’s interested in ships and/or the history of Rotterdam will find it fascinating!

15. Enjoy a brewery tour 

Beer lovers will enjoy visiting Rotterdam because there’s another brewery to visit (besides the one in Delfshaven) and that is the Stadshaven Brewery.

Stadshaven is the second-largest independent brewery in the Netherlands, and in the Nieuw-Mathenesse neighbourhood of Rotterdam, you can visit both the brewery and the charming gastropub. Guided tours give visitors a background on the history of the area, as well as demonstrating the brewery’s commitment to innovation and sustainability.

Tastings of the variety of beers created here are, of course, included and I would also recommend having a meal in the gastropub, where there’s a range of cuisine ranging from Dutch classics to Asian street food, as well as games and tables where you can pour your own beer from the tap!

16. Take a day trip out to Kinderdijk 

About 15 kilometres east of Rotterdam is one of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Netherlands, the windmills of Kinderdijk.

Kinderdijk is a village sitting on reclaimed land (called a polder in Dutch) near where the Lek and Noord Rivers converge. 19 windmills were constructed here around the year 1740 to drain water from the polder and to this day the area contains the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands.

Visitors to Kinderdijk are rewarded with the most scenic Dutch country views one can imagine, of old windmills lazily spinning beside a canal, surrounded by farmland. Tickets to explore the site include entrance into two of the museum windmills as well as a boat tour of the area, one of the most popular tourist sites in the Netherlands.

Photo by Thomas Bormans on Unsplash

17. Take a day trip to another awesome Dutch city

While you’re visiting Rotterdam you are also ideally situated to visit some other lovely Dutch cities nearby, which are much easier to get to from here than via Amsterdam, for example.

The beautiful city of Delft, for instance, is only a 12-minute train ride away and is a must-visit for anyone who’s a fan of the beautiful Delftware porcelain that originated here.

The Hague is a 30-minute train ride from Rotterdam, and home to many famous sites including Noordeinde Palace, the Mauritshuis and the centre of the Dutch government – the Binnenhof.

If you want to enjoy more charming historical buildings and canals, head to Dordrecht, which is just a 15-minute train ride from Rotterdam.

You can also visit Gouda, the birthplace of delicious Gouda cheese, via a 20-minute train ride.

Did I miss any of your favourite things to do in Rotterdam?

Let me know in the comments! I hope you enjoyed this roundup of the best Rotterdam activities. Have a great trip!

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