The Netherlands (Holland) is a coastal country shoved between Belgium and a much bigger Germany. It’s roughly double the size of the state of Massachusetts and its population is 1/18th the size of the U.S.
When thinking about trips to Europe, Netherlands vacation plans isn’t often high on the list for Americans – mostly because it’s unknown territory. Many though have heard of the Netherland’s capital city of Amsterdam though for its canals, tulips and….extracurricular consumption activities.
Amsterdam is a blast, and somewhat a rite of passage when visiting the Netherlands. But sadly, the rest of this country can often be overlooked, especially by American travelers looking to check destinations off their bucket list. So, let’s dive into one of the country’s other chic and hip hotspots – Rotterdam. It’s about an hour on the train from the capital, easy to get to and well worth the visit.
You can find most of the best parts of what the Netherlands in known for in Rotterdam too – sweets, interesting architecture, nightlife, natural beauty and more.
Visit the end of the article to see our full list of Rotterdam’s highlights and tours throughout the Netherlands to help plan your trip!
I Scream You Scream for Rotterdam’s Ice Cream
Make sure you support local businesses when in Rotterdam! This isn’t tough to do though, as so many of the best restaurants, attractions and hotspots are owned in tradition and style.
For instance, one highlight of visiting Rotterdam on a hot day is stopping at de Ijsmaker. Owned by a Rotterdam native ice cream connoisseur, they pride themselves in making the best ice cream with the freshest ingredients. There’s no fillers and no fluff. In fact, de Ijsmaker is still importing things like Madagascar vanilla pods and making their own homemade caramel to ensure quality is always the best. Profits be damned!
Guests can choose from a wide variety of rotating flavors. While enjoying a cone, have a peek into the back through big, glass doors where the vintage ice cream making machine whirs. We had the pleasure of seeing a Stroopwafel flavor being made. It’s an iconic Dutch treat, kind of like a cookie, consisting of two flat waffle-like wafers and sticky caramel sauce on the inside. Throw bits of those into a dense ice cream base and it’s a winner.
By the way, the shop roughly translated to “The Ice Maker”. Apparently, in Dutch, the word “ice” is used to refer to ice cream, so prepare to be a little confused in translation if you ask for ice in your coffee – you might get vanilla soft serve instead!
Where to Get a Drink in Rotterdam
Rotterdam is perfect for dabbling in some nightlife without things get too crazy. Well, usually.
A lot of travelers are at a crossroad when they travel later in life. They might no longer want to stay in hostel environments – or simply can afford better accommodations. However, this does not mean the hostel life has to be avoided altogether.
You can have both! For this experience, we stayed on the other side of the water from all the ‘fun’ at the ART Hotel Rotterdam. It’s easily accessible via Uber or a quick metro ride downtown. Unlike some of the shared rooms in hostels, the ART offers classic, spacious rooms up to the 12th floor, overlooking the city. Indulge in a large bathroom with perfect water pressure and a kitchenette for snacks. Have breakfast or an Italian-style pizza in the restaurant downstairs, perfect for meals or getting some work done remotely.
Afterwards, it’s time to party!
So, here’s all the best things to do and see while in Rotterdam, including where to have a cocktail or three:
Beautiful, chic setting for an espresso martini and a foray of exceptional nibbles. They have a large menu of bubbles and beers on tap too. During the day you can experience HUGH tea to sample some local treats and relax for the afternoon.
It’s a space to sleep, for co-working, for chaos and for goodness knows what else. They have lots of indoor and outdoor space for mingling and offer food/drinks late at night. If you’re lucky, you may spy a special VIP gathering or two while there.
Tucked between bustling restaurants and bars, the laid-back King Kong has a great coffee bar and workspace, full of sun and fauna. Have a drink out on the street at night too to watch the world go by before heading to the late-night haunts.
Locals frequent this club for last call, as it’s open until 5AM. Drinks are wallet-friendly, music is loud and fun is endless.
Below are more tips on how to plan your trip to Rotterdam. Usually, people who visit will also stop through Amsterdam and other Holland cities, or even nearby Belgium. Have a look at your options for transport, food, fun and tours.
How to Get Around in Rotterdam
First, use Skyscanner to find the best flight rates to get to Rotterdam, no matter where you’re flying from!
Called RET, the metro and trams are simple to navigate. Get a traveler’s card at any major station for a day pass or load it with Euros. Each ride is usually under two Euros.
If you’re coming from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, you can also take a train in through the Rotterdam Centraal station. I use Trainline to book all my European train tickets for the best rates.
When traveling with your buddies to Rotterdam, a private transfer can be more convenient too. Viator offers a private car/van hire for about 30 euros per person.
Where to Stay in Rotterdam
As we said above, it’s cosy, comfortable, quiet, has great views of the city and is in a good location. The restaurant is lovely as well, and the staff is super helpful to point you in the right direction towards things to see. Each room number has its own funky art installation on the wall outside!
King Kong Hostel
Others in town for the travel conference said they had a pleasant time staying at the funky and central hostel. Book through Expedia or Booking.com.
A few others managed to snag a great apartment right next to the cube houses and the waterfront. There are tons of options in the center of the city so you can feel like a local and have access to all the amenities a homestay has to offer.
If you haven’t used Airbnb before, try our special link for $40 USD off your first booking!
Where to Eat in Rotterdam
Splash out and dine Dutch-style. Indulge a tasting menu and French wine pairing to sample a little of everything.
Lots of al fresco to enjoy this international menu. Small plates and fresh seafood are specialties.
Best ice cream in town. Hands down!
You can try a bunch of local eats and get a lay of the land with a walking tour of Rotterdam via Viator.
What to Do in Rotterdam
Iconic and funky, have a look at the city’s angular landmark.
World Port Centre
Lovely walking area, full of business venues and a few funky museums.
Prettiest bridge over the canal in Rotterdam for walking or to include in your ‘gram.
An old ship now used as a docked cruiser. It has a hotel, restaurant and event space.
Including Rotterdam in your Netherlands Trip
Rotterdam is awesome, as is the rest of the Netherlands. Here are some all-encompassing tours of the country and beyond if you and your friends would like to see more of this part of the world.
PS – I also enjoyed Belgium on this trip, so stay tuned for that guide too!
A 6-Day tour through the Netherlands in the summer months you can BOOK HERE, including excursions in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Delft, Kinderdijk, Haarlem, Volendam and Zaanse Schans. You stay based in Amsterdam.
A 7-Day tour with top highlights throughout the Netherlands, including Rotterdam and Amsterdam. You can BOOK HERE for this one to see a dozen different destinations via coach bus and have all your meals included.
Want to also pop over to neighboring Belgium? Try THIS TOUR that routes via Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Brussels and includes a fun river cruise too.
Let us know if you have any more questions about Rotterdam, Amsterdam and beyond – we loved the Netherlands and know you will too!