I visited nine amazing European cities in three weeks, and to my surprise, Rotterdam was my favorite. I enjoy traveling to learn and explore but rarely do I find somewhere I could see myself living. Here’s why you will love visiting Rotterdam: it’s the perfect size of a city filled with fun neighborhoods within walking distance, beautiful towns easily accessed by train, countless local restaurants, bars, and boutiques, and most of all, NOT overcrowded with tourists. If you think it’s too good to be true, keep reading for the full breakdown of all my favorite spots in this Rotterdam Travel Guide!
In This Guide
Why I Chose Rotterdam
One of our top reasons for taking a trip to Europe was to visit our friend PJ who had recently moved to Rotterdam from New York City. Fun fact: She’s the one who introduced us — my boyfriend and I! Although fairly new to the area, she raved about the city and the surrounding towns. I always had an interest in visiting The Netherlands, especially Amsterdam, but was most excited for the day trips to less touristy, local spots.
To most people, Rotterdam is best known for having one of the largest ports in the world. It’s also the second largest city is The Netherlands. To me, it was so much more. From the modern architecture that’s very cool and sometimes puzzling how the structure even supports itself, to the sophisticated shopping and hip dining scene. As a born-and-raised Palm Beach girl, I also appreciated how much water there was in the canals all around. There’s no feeing quite like being by the water! With constant innovation and new openings, I genuinely believe big things are to come to Rotterdam. Go now before everyone else does!
The Netherlands uses the Euro as a form of currency, which is more affordable than the British Pound but more expensive than the U.S. Dollar. For more information on European travel as it compares to the U.S., read my post, 19 Things To Know Before Traveling To Europe.
Where We Stayed
We were incredibly fortunate to be able to stay at our friend PJ’s apartment during our visit. Not only was this the ideal way to spend the maximum amount of time together, but we also were able to save on accommodations — a huge bonus! We stayed for a total of 7 nights, which allowed us the perfect balance between relaxing and exploring The Netherlands. Her apartment was conveniently located in the Cool District – yes, that’s what it is called! It was a wonderfully central location as visitors, allowing us to walk almost everywhere mentioned below (or quickly hopping on to the metro when needed).
Getting Around Rotterdam
While Rotterdam certainly is a very walkable city, you can’t help but notice how many cyclists there are at every turn. The city is more accommodating to cyclists than anywhere I’ve ever seen before, with exclusive wide bike lanes, friendly cyclist-to-cyclist manners, and even bike turning lanes. Many residents own their bikes, but for those who don’t (such as visitors), there are plenty of bike share programs around the city that can be easily accessed via an app on your phone.
If we didn’t walk, we used their very clean and efficient metro system. As soon as we arrived at Rotterdam Centraal Train Station from London, we purchased Netherlands Rail Cards. What’s great about these is that they can be used for underground metro rides, above ground trams, and train rides within the country. You can easily refill them at most stations as needed. Similar to London, you have to swipe in AND out from any station – something that takes getting used to after living in New York City where you only ever swipe in.
When We Went
We were based in Rotterdam and exploring The Netherlands from September 16th to September 24th. The weather was a mix of mild, sunny days, and cold, rainy days. On average, I would say it was around 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. We soon learned that The Netherlands is known for quickly varying in temperature without notice during the day. It can be warm and sunny one minute, and turn cloudy with a cold breeze the next.
What To Pack
Due to the unpredictable weather, my top packing recommendation would be a packable windbreaker/rain jacket. Any time we left the apartment without a jacket, we always regretted it, as annoying as it can be to carry it around when it’s not needed. If you like to shop when you travel, I would also bring a collapsible duffle bag in your suitcase – they have the best stores here (more on that below)! The locals are dressed stylish but never fancy or glam, rather a chic street-style wardrobe that I happen to love. To see every single item I packed and how I packed it, check out my Packing for 3 Weeks in Europe with a Carry-On post!
Where We Ate
Bagels & Beans
We discovered this popular Netherlands bagel joint because of its highly-rated reviews and large menu, but we didn’t realize it was a chain until we soon saw them all over! We ordered the smoked salmon bagel (with all the fixings, of course), as well as a coffee for him and a tea latte for me. I was surprised to learn that Bagels & Beans grow their own coffee on a small-scale, family run plantation in Panama, making it apparently delicious and high quality. It’s worth checking out if you want a quick and satisfying breakfast on-the-go or to casually dine-in.
This rustic, urban cafe and coffee shop is filled with plants and couches inside, and a welcoming patio on the street corner outside. Lilith is known for their mini pancake stacks, pictured in the “blini” smoked salmon option. It’s one of many instances where we admired the European way of portion control, as opposed to the massive pancakes typically served here in the States! I ordered the Eggs Royale (also pictured) on a brioche bun but wish I had ordered the pancakes. We found the service to be very friendly here and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere for brunch.
While I liked the prior two breakfast spots, Bertmans was my favorite! Their focus is on serving pure, healthy, and seasonal ingredients that takes familiar comfort foods and prepares them in a creative, nutritious way. They were extremely accommodating to both dietary concerns (GF, DF, etc.) and restrictions (Vegetarian, Vegan, etc.). I loved every part of the Brunch Platter, which included a buckwheat pancake with banana slices and blueberries (to look like a monkey! adorable), coconut yogurt with chia seeds and nuts, avocado toast with a poached egg, and a crisp seed cracker with hummus and herbs. More places should offer something like it, I think! My friends who ordered something else from the brunch menu were also very pleased.
If you’ve never been to a Spanish pintxos bar, add it to your bucket list! A pinxto (pronounced peen-cho) translates to a pinch of food that is pierced together by a toothpick. Hailing from the Basque region of Spain, the pintxo is essentially a smaller version of a tapa. At Pix, you are given a plate to fill with as many cold pintxos as you’d like from the pintxos bar. Hot pintxos are ordered through your server. Once you are done, they collect your picks to calculate the bill. Different color sticks are equivalent to different prices, so it’s not hard to keep track of yourself. Two or three pintxos are enough for an appetizer, and five or six will fill you up like an entree. It’s a fun concept that allows you to try a lot of different things – my favorite way to eat out! We were pleasantly surprised by how delicious all of our chosen pintxos were, and also enjoyed the atmosphere.
Restaurant Nul 10
Conveniently located between the Euromast and and the Erasmus Bridge is this modern European restaurant serving upgraded classics. We sat outside on the street-side tables, offering a lively, city atmosphere that I love – or maybe that’s because an entire Dutch soccer team showed up! I ordered the seasonal tempura vegetables and beef carpaccio starter with truffle, which were tasty but not outstanding. We chose Nul10 because of it’s very close proximity to the Dr. speakeasy we had reservations for (details below), but I honestly wouldn’t go out of your way for it. For being such a populated area in town, I was surprised by the seemingly lack of appealing restaurants compared to the rest of the city.
Located within close walking distance from our friend’s apartment is this funky Latin American street food restaurant on Witte de Withstraat. It’s located on a busy street corner with a large, breezy outdoor seating area and refreshing cocktail list that practically transports you to the tropics. We ordered the fresh tuna ceviche with watermelon and simple tuna quesadillas, but the cocktails and the atmosphere are what would bring me back. I think it’s a fun spot for a group, a casual celebration, or to stop at on a Witte de Withstraat hop. However, I do have to wonder what it’s like in the winter (for having such a summer vibe).
Located near Rotterdam Centraal Station on the main road, Kruisplein, Ayla is a Mediterranean-inspired small plates restaurant offering an international vibe, romantic ambiance, and great cocktails. Some of the food lacked a little zest, but I loved my rose gin drink and admired the food presentation.
This loud, colorful restaurant in Hotel Bazar serves North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s huge inside yet still somehow crowded. The lights, the music, and the enormous, flavorful dishes will transport you to a busy market in a far away place. We ordered the Bizar Bazar meat special for two, which could have easily served at least four people. It was so delicious that we happily took it home as leftovers. Go early or make reservations!
On my must-try list were the gourmet frites everyone who travels to Europe comes back raving about, as simple as they are. On a rainy shopping day in the Cool District, we stumbled upon a Bram Ladage food stand and couldn’t resist. We stuck with the classic frites with frietsaus (“fries sauce”), which is similar to mayonnaise but sweeter, and they were honestly really, really good. I may never go back to ketchup or be able to eat fries without reminiscing about these! It’s worth noting, since I was initially confused about this, that Bram Ladage owns Bram’s Gourmet Frites (also in Rotterdam and around The Netherlands). Either one is great!
Translating to “the ice maker,” this yummy ice cream shop served perfectly creamy (almost gelato-like), homemade flavors you can mix and match. I appreciated for people who prefer a cup versus a cone like me that they put a piece of waffle cone in your cup! It’s the little things… Nowadays, it’s hard to find many good local ice cream shops so I was pleased to see one on my favorite street in Rotterdam — I’m talking Witte de Withstraat, of course. I loved the coconut macaroon and chocolate flavors together, a classic combination in my book. My friends oreo and pistachio ice creams were also delicious! It’s never too cold outside for ice cream, right?
If you are only in Rotterdam for a short time, my top food recommendations would be Bertmans, Pix, and Restaurant Bazar. If you’ve never had classic Belgian/Dutch-style frites, Bram’s is a must too!
Markets & Food Halls
Markthal was the first covered market floor in The Netherlands where you can shop, taste, eat, and drink. Enjoyable year-round, what’s not to love? The building itself is quite impressive (I’ll let my photo speak for itself – the number of bikes OMG), and the surrounding square feels inviting with a ferris wheel, awesome architecture, and even the longest street market in Europe on Blaak! We went here twice — once to walk around, only to feel completely overwhelmed, and a second time to decide on a place to eat. We chose Andalus Fish for some authentic local herring. It’s something I grew up eating on occasion with my Grandpa who was Norwegian and Swedish! Andalus Fish also has a terrace to sit at upstairs.
Fenix Food Factory
Located in an old port warehouse, this market meets food hall is great for shopping for artisan products to bring home or to dine-in. Whether you’re craving a beer, coffee, BBQ, cheeses, or stoopwafels, you can find it here. We ordered incredible stroopwafels from Stroop (get the lavender!), coffee from Stielman Koffiebranders and kombucha. Such a fun, casual spot!
New to Rotterdam in 2018 is this popular industrial-style food hall also located in Amsterdam. Foodhallen houses a variety of unique food stands such as burgers and bitterballen, Vietnamese, tacos, smoothies, pizza, tapas, and more. It’s great for groups, given there is plenty of seating and food options to choose from to match each individual’s craving. There is also a full bar and live music some nights. It’s important to note that most vendors are cash only, however you can expect to spend less here than you would dining at a restaurant. In comparison to the above markets/food halls, I would say that Foodhallen has the best selection and variety of food to eat-in, whereas Fenix Food Factory has the best atmosphere, and Markthal has the best food-centric shops to take out.
Where We Drank
Hotel New York
On a warm, sunny day, the Terrace Restaurant at Hotel New York located at the end of Wilhelmina Pier is the perfect setting for a cheap beer and some bitterballen to munch on. Built in 1901, the eye-catching hotel was once home to the offices of the Holland America Line — a cruise line now based in Seattle, WA. With so much traffic, it opened as a hotel in the 1990s. In addition to the Terrace is an indoor restaurant and charming basement bar. We didn’t have a chance to return to check it out, but looked like a cozy nightcap spot. We enjoyed walking around the pier towards the nearby Erasmus Bridge on our walk home. The skyline, the water, the breeze, oh my!
Prachtig is a modern restaurant/bar under the Erasmus Bridge – somewhere I’d recommend to anyone, for any occasion! It’s fun for a group outing, a date, grabbing drinks with your girlfriends, or going with your parents. The outside atmosphere, like the terrace at Hotel New York, simply cannot be beat.
Although I honestly can’t attempt to pronounce it, Proeflokaal Reijngoud is a welcoming and casual bar offering 24 beers on tap and over 200 craft beer bottles. We enjoyed the young crowd, large sunny terrace, and friendly bartenders. Plus, if you know me, I love trying new and interesting beers! It’s conveniently located on the corner at Witte de Withstraat, our favorite street.
This quirky bar on Witte de Withstraat is admittedly strange, serving unusual drinks with silly touches everywhere you look. I had fun trying some weird craft beers, like this Mongozo Coconut Beer brewed with quinoa, watching servers go from the bar inside to the outside tables via a small window, and of course, people watching! The bathrooms reminded me of the Insta-famous “pods” at Sketch in London, in a much less fancy way. I was also fascinated and overly excited by the steering wheels on the back of the indoor wooden booths that allow you to easily move them together and apart! Genius, really.
King Kong Lobby
While I can’t speak to the highly-rated hostel itself, we found the lobby bar’s street-front seating to be the ideal casual hangout. We simply stumbled upon it after seeing it’s artsy outdoor picnic tables, and were pleasantly surprised by the beer menu. Its central location on Witte de Withstraat and young atmosphere allows for prime people watching any time of day.
This British gastropub docked in the old City Harbor is on a bright red boat – you can’t miss it! It can be booked for special occasions, but if you’re a regular visitor like I was, it’s just as fun. They have a full kitchen serving everything from a Full English Breakfast to Sunday Roast to modern twists on other British classics, all made from local and sustainable produce. They also make their own V11 beers, which they have available on draft, in addition to a variety of craft beers. You can sit on their sun-drenched outdoor decks or inside the “pub.” On most nights, they have live music in the basement. We saw a heavy metal band setting up when we were there, but other nights they have DJs and dancing.
This lively cafe and bar is popular for good reason. For one, it’s located in a beautiful square in one of my favorite areas of the city (that is NOT Witte de Withstraat, shocking I know) with a large tree-covered, shaded patio. Bokaal also appeals to anyone, serving a variety of specialty craft beers, nice wines, good coffee, small bites to share, and individual entrees. The music is good, and the interior decor is both modern and rustic. We only had a drink here, but the food I saw go by looked absolutely delicious! If you come at a prime hour, or during the summer when the patio can best be enjoyed, expect it to be busy. They do not take reservations, but luckily there are other places nearby that we loved including Pix above and Backyard below.
This plant-based health food restaurant has an urban environment with a cute, backyard look and feel. They call themselves “Rotterdam’s backyard,” the quintessential place to pop in to meet a friend, grab a quick bite, or even for a date. I only had a drink here, but the food on the menu sounded really good! I remember saying how I thought it would be a great place to work on my laptop for its homely vibe. Next time, Backyard.
Located within Fenix Food Factory is this popular local brewery, Kaapse. In fact, they were the FIRST to introduce craft beer to Rotterdam, and Rotterdam to the world. They brew non-conformist beers with bold recipes and interesting flavors to keep their practices contemporary. We ordered the tasting flight of six beers to share, and were so impressed by how large of a flight it was for only 13 euro! If you’re looking for food, look no further than the Fenix Food Factory itself. It’s filled with a collection of culinary entrepreneurs with a passion for craft and fair products such as coffee, cheese, beer, and more that is produced and sold locally. The Kaapse kitchen serves affordable dishes from different Rotterdam chefs that vary weekly that you can bring into the brewpub.
Hidden away in a townhouse is this cocktail speakeasy bar that follows strict rules to ensure the guests all enjoy the doctor theme. If you seek any “treatment,” experienced mixologists will prepare a special “medicine” for you, in the form of super creative, thoughtful, and well-made cocktails. The menu changes regularly, but always offers an amazing variety – it was SO hard to choose! They can also make something from scratch for you. Reservations are required.
A few other places we went for drinks include Loos, a grand cafe located near the Euromast with a nice wraparound porch at a busy street corner, and Cafe LaBru, located on a side street from Witte de Withstraat. While both were fine, our experiences didn’t stand out in comparison to the above.
Where We Shopped
Funkie House is a streetwear style shop selling a mixture of authentic brands and new promising labels ranging from contemporary men’s and women’s fashion, sneakers, boots and all sorts of accessories including backpacks. It reminds me of what Urban Outfitters used to be (when it was better, in my opinion). I was very close to buying a few things but resisted because of my Carry-On only travel lifestyle. It’s also worth noting that they have a second store location in The Hague (more on that soon)!
Dille & Kamille
Across from Funkie House is a dreamy home, garden, and kitchen store with 30 more locations around The Netherlands and Belgium. Dille & Kamille (which funny enough automatically translates on Google Chrome to Dill & Chamomile) takes the quality of Williams Sonoma or Pottery Barn, but the simplicity and price point of Target, with a twist of Dutch style, and a lot of plants too!
Collectiv by Swan
Collectiv by Swan is a boutique with a carefully curated selection of fashion, jewelry, bags, prints, art, vintage, plants, pillows, stationary, and more located on Witte de Withstraat. In other words, so many cute things!!
Sweet Rebels is a small vintage boutique next to Supermercado (mentioned above) where I bought a fun pair of bright blue earrings (easy to travel with as they don’t take up much room). Like most vintage shops, they sell a random, or “curated,” variety of unique designer items that happened to resonate with my style more than most vintage shops I’ve been to.
This Netherlands-based chain focuses their branding on Dutch roots and a global attitude. They sell mostly fashion, accessories and home items. It reminds me of a slightly edgier and younger Anthropologie! We went into two different locations in Rotterdam and both were large, open floor plan stores with enticing displays. Again, I resisted buying anything because of the space issue, but my friend who lives there loves it!
What started as a pop-up shop by two girl bosses is now a permanent boutique selling more than 60 clothing and jewelry brands, with new inventory every week. I especially loved the beautiful displays of dainty jewelry at Unconventional Wardrobe, as well as some of their home items.
What We Did
Walk Over The Erasmus Bridge
I’m no bridge enthusiast, but the Erasmus Bridge is pretty cool! We liked walking over the bridge to go to Fenix Food Factory and Hotel New York. It’s very pedestrian and cyclist-friendly, but make sure you don’t forget that windbreaker I mentioned above with what to pack! The best view, in my opinion (also where the photo to the left was shot), is from the pier where Hotel New York is located! For a closer up view, Prachtig is another great spot.
The Euromast is the highest observation tower in The Netherlands with a brasserie restaurant and viewing deck offering 360 degree views over Rotterdam and its surroundings. There are various ticket options to choose from upon arrival. While there was a line to get in , I did find it to move pretty fast. The view is cool and makes you realize how much water there really is in Rotterdam, also giving you a good look at the famous port. Compared to other viewpoints I’ve been to like Top of the Rock in NYC, I found this one pretty unexciting, so I wouldn’t rank it high on your must-do list unless you want to dine at the restaurant or specifically get a rare aerial photograph of the city. If you do go, make sure to walk through Het Park afterwards!
Other Places To Consider
With any trip, it’s nearly impossible to make it to everywhere on your list. Based on my research, I wanted to include some other places to consider for your trip. If you go, I’d love to know what you thought…for next time!
- Spido Bout Tours – It takes you to the port and around the Rotterdam harbour for about 13 Euro. It runs almost every hour, and you can buy tickets at the box office at Willemsplein.
- Kralingse Plas – to walk, run, bike, or dine along the largest lake in the city
- Bagel Bakery – unlike Bagels & Beans, this is a local bagel cafe
- Ter Marsh & Co. – very highly-rated burgers
- Bier Boutique – an elegant craft beer bar on Witte de Withstraat
- Rotterdam Biergarten – near Rotterdam Centraal station and has a good happy hour
- Spikizy – speakeasy cocktail bar off of Witte de Withstraat
I hope you found this Rotterdam travel guide useful for planning your upcoming trip! Please let me know what you learned from this guide or found most helpful in the comments below.