Admit it: when someone asks you to name a city in Holland, your first response is “Amsterdam.” It’s only natural, right? But your answer should be Holland’s youngest city, Rotterdam. Situated along the Maas River, South Holland’s largest city was leveled by bombing in WWII, but has bounced back fabulously & is well worth adding to any Holland itinerary. I loved exploring the city as a guest of Visit Holland. Here’s what you should do for 48 hours in Rotterdam:
How to Get There
Like many places in Holland, Rotterdam is easily accessible by both car & train. Only a 25 minute express train ride from Holland’s large international airport, Schiphol (take the Intercity Direct), once you’ve arrived in the city, Rotterdam Centraal is located within walking distance to many of the major sites & also right on the easy-to-navigate subway line. If the Intercity Direct isn’t an option (it wasn’t during my visit due to a transit strike), the Intercity train, which makes several stops along the way, takes about 50 minutes. Both painless!
The other option is to drive: the city is an easy 40 minute drive from Schiphol & about an hour from Amsterdam. You won’t need a car in the city center, so ditch it once you arrive to avoid city-priced hotel parking fees.
Where to Stay
Rotterdam has a variety of places to stay, including an expanding Airbnb market. Anyone who reads this blog, though, knows that I love luxury boutique hotels, so that’s where I stayed during my recent time in the city. The Mainport’s great location, comfortable rooms & fabulous style (travel themed rooms & floors!) make it the ideal place to lay your head in the city. My South American themed City XL Room was huge by European hotel room standards & featured a big soaking tub, complete with bath amenities, & a walk-in shower. A large “American style” king bed (not two twins pushed together, like most European hotels) faced a bay of windows which offered a sweeping view of the Rotterdam skyline.
Breakfast makes or breaks a hotel for me & Mainport definitely delivered with made-to-order eggs, platters of meats & cheeses & a yogurt bar with a variety of toppings, as well as more traditional American & British hot breakfast items. An automated espresso machine brews coffee to order, but the highlight was a large jar of self servcefresh mint for making hot int tea – something I’ve never seen before in a hotel. Indoor & outdoor seating meant a comfortable al fresco breakfast right on the waterfront. Other property amenities include a small pool & sauna on the 8th floor, which are free for guests (somewhat of a rarity in Europe), a decent sized gym & complimentary wifi throughout the property. There’s a watertaxi stop right outside & the front entrance mere steps from the Leuvhaven Metro Station.
Where to Eat
Rotterdam’s thriving food scene both surprised me & left me eager to return to continue eating my way around the city.
Where to Eat Lunch
Op Het Dak opened four years ago in a building that was slated for demolition but was saved by some enterprising residents before being into a space for artists & musicians. The rooftop now boasts one of the largest urban gardens in Europe & is the location of Op Het Dak, a small cafe focused on cooking what they grow. An army of volunteers cares for the garden, while the chef mans the kitchen, taking a two month break every winter to head to Mexico to cook, experiment & learn. This awesome women-owned restaurant serves up beautiful, colorful dishes of mostly vegetarian food with an occasional meat & fish thrown in. Highlights the day I visited included the bavette steak with grilled vegetables & crispy lentils, the seasonal salad bowl with grilled veggies & the buddha bowl, an overflowing rice bowl with local mushrooms, temph, kimchi & tahin dressing. I’m already plotting a return visit to brunch, where £17,50 gets you coffee, yogurt, a brunch entree & fresh juice – such a good deal. The menu changes seasonally to match what’s in the garden (or what they can get fresh in the winter months).
In the mood for a little afternoon dessert? Dudok has got you covered: they’re famous for their Dutch Apple Pie (there’s one in Schiphol if you need to grab a piece to go!)
Where to Eat Dinner
Dertien is located on a long street of restaurants in Rotterdam’s main entertainment district. But what sets them apart is their dedication to all things Holland: every ingredient is sourced from Holland & served seasonally. The chef believes in head-to-tail cooking & even vegetable cores are used in some way or another. Complimenting their menu is a collection of old world wines & special beers from Holland, Norway & Belgium. When I visited with friends, we ordered basically everything off the menu posted outside the restaurant (no printed menus here!). Highlights included sparking rhubarb wine, beets with beet foam & goat cheese ice cream (still dreaming of the ice cream…), white asparagus (a Dutch delicacy) with peanuts, white potatoes & prosciutto, lamb shoulder with polenta & green herbs & – as if we weren’t stuffed already – dark chocolate fudge caramel pie with a blood orange sauce. If the weather is nice, grab a table outside on the patio – it’ll make you feel like a local.
Where to Drink
Vessel 11, an old British lightship turned British pub, is straight out of a Wes Anderson fantasy. This rather authentic (at least in drink) gastropub can only be describe as funky. One thing that isn’t messing around, though, is their drinks: from their home brewed beers (try the sampler, which comes with four generous pours – my favorite was the red ale – & some nuts) to pages upon pages of gin & tonics, lemonades, rums, whiskies & cocktails (the Pimm’s Cup was delightfully traditional). Sipping beverages on the top deck on a sunny day in Rotterdam? You’ll be hard pressed to find anything finer.
What to Do
At the risk of making it seem like all there is in Rotterdam is great food (is that a bad thing?) the top thing on any Rotterdam itinerary must be a visit to Markthal & Fenix Food Factory. While they’re both indoor food halls, they couldn’t be more different.
Markthal, the largest indoor food market in Europe, is built on the site of Rotterdam’s founding in 1270. 96 vendors fill the space under an enormous arched building, under a canopy painted with over-sized fruits, vegetables & flowers (one of the biggest pieces of art in the world). In one of the most unique aspects of the market, apartments & condos line the outside walls, creating a unique mixed use space. Progressive snacking across various vendors would be the perfect way to spend the afternoon. Make sure & fill up at Cromwijk Kaasdok for cheese (which can be vacuumed sealed & brought home with you), a detox water (water loaded up with fruit) from Heavenly Smoothies & Bram Ladage for a paper cone stuffed full of french fries with mayo.
Fenix Food Factory, located in a developing part of the city across the river, is tiny in comparison to Markthal but has a big heart. The 12 vendors have all banded together into a co-op, supporting each other & their various businesses. Rent a big wooden board from the main booth & take it around to each stall, creating a meal consisting of a few bites from each vendor. This unique arrangement ensures that everyone gets a piece of the business. Waterfront tables are perfect for an afternoon of picnicking.
When you’re tired of eating, just across the water from Fenix is the sprawling waterfront lawn of the Hotel New York. This patch of green space is the perfect place to people & boat watch. The former Holland America Cruiseline headquarters is now home to a luxurious hotel & a great spot for napping, reading or sipping a glass of wine.
Got an Extra Day?
Head to Kinderdijk! This UNESCO World Heritage site of 19 famous windmills is only a €8, 30 minute waterbus ride from Rotterdam. Rent a bike for the day in Rotterdam & hop on the waterbus with it for tourist-free touring in Kinderdijk. It makes for a lovely afternoon! If you’re feeling especially adventurous, continue on the waterbus to Dordrecht – the oldest city in Holland (a 60 minute waterbus ride).
Or, if it’s warm out, head to the beach! Hoek van Holland Strand is only a 30 minute subway ride out to the end of the line.
Sometimes known as the “city without a heart,” since the main square was bombed in WWII, but Rotterdam has bounced back as a vibrant, modern, accessible, walkable metropolis. After two days of exploring, I found plenty of heart in Rotterdam & its residents.
Know if you go….
-U.S. credit cards which are chip & signature (vs chip & pin) do not work at the train station kiosks. Just head straight to the customer service center to purchase your train ticket.
– Amsterdam might get all the press for being progressive, but Rotterdam might take the cake: their current mayor is the first mayor of a large city in Holland who is both an immigrant & Muslim.
– Keep an eye out for the amazing public art & graffiti art around the city – it’s everywhere! A piece of public art was added in celebration for each completed street as the city was being rebuilt after the war.
Note: my time in Rotterdam was hosted by Visit Holland; however, all opinions here are my own. Rotterdam truly was lovely & when I return all of these places are definitely on my “must visit” list!