Often overshadowed by Amsterdam (they have an intense rivalry), Rotterdam is a funky little port town that prides itself on its unique architecture, port area, art, food, and modern city center. The city is one of the most multicultural in the country and has an array of free festivals and concerts throughout the year.
I really enjoyed Rotterdam – it was good modern contrast to the canal-laced historic streets of Amsterdam. Plus, the parks and markets here are stunning. Take advantage of the summer months, as most festivals and concerts occur from mid-June through late August.
This Rotterdam travel guide can help you plan your trip to what remains one of my favorite countries in the world. a really underappreciated destination.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Rotterdam
1. See the Erasmus Bridge
2. Walk the harbor
3. Go up the Euromast tower
4. Visit the Cube Houses
5. Walk in the park
Other Things to See and Do in Rotterdam
1. Attend the Rotterdam Summer Carnival
Rotterdam has a thriving community of local artists. That’s best reflected in the many festivals that take place in the port city, especially in the summer. The annual Rotterdam Summer Carnival, which is the last weekend of July, includes a full lineup of dancing, parties, and colorful parades. is the largest street party in the Netherlands with over 2,500 dancers, 25 carnival groups, and 30 floats on display in colorful parades. If possible, try to see the Battle of the Drums at the beginning of the carnival – the streets around the Hofplein become filled with Caribbean brass bands all competing for the “Golden Drum” award.
2. Visit the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
The museum, founded in 1849, houses a rich, broad collection of masterpieces such as Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s The “little” Tower of Babel (1563). In addition to a large permanent collection from the Dutch masters, there’s an important collection of surrealism, prominently featuring Salvador Dalí and René Magritte. While under renovation (expected to be completed in 2021), many items are accessible at other Rotterdam museums.
3. Stop by Rotterdam City Hall
Built in 1914, the Rotterdam City Hall is one of the few buildings to survive WWII. There are several large statues to see on the exterior just outside city hall, including the touching Memorial to the Fallen featuring four bronze figures meant to commemorate the victims of WWII. Most of the notable architecture and monuments are on the exterior, but if you’d like a tour inside, you can book one from the local tourist office. You’ll simply have to show up and ask about a tour.
4. Peek in the Oude Kerk
This is another one of the few areas that survived wartime bombings and destruction, and dates back to 1306. The Old Church, also called the Pilgrim Fathers Church, is one of the most major draws in the Delfshaven neighborhood – although it’s surrounded by the Red Light District, its interior is peaceful and quiet. It’s home to several artifacts, including a huge organ and the tombs of several noteworthy people, like Rembrandt’s wife. The church is said to be the site where the Pilgrims last prayed prior to leaving for the Americas. It’s €12 ($13 USD) to visit.
5. See the Rotterdam Walk of Fame
This walkway (similar to that in Hollywood, CA) is home to handprints of various stars and starlets from around the world and is located next to the Zuidplein Mall. Some of the international celebrities you’ll spot along the Walk of Fame include Bon Jovi, Ray Charles and Tina Turner.
6. Do a harbor tour
The harbor in Rotterdam is one of the largest and busiest in the entire world. Dutch history is inherently intertwined with the sea, so hopping on a Rotterdam harbor boat tour is a great way to view some of the action. You’ll see the beauty of the city skyline while also viewing the shipyards, docks, and the many giant containers. Tours cost €14 ($16 USD) and last an hour and a half.
7. Visit the Kunsthal Rotterdam
For fans of contemporary art, the Kunsthal Rotterdam museum hosts temporary art exhibitions. While there is no permanent collection at the gallery, the space regularly attracts well-known artists. There is also a nice restaurant and a small garden & grounds to explore. Admission is €14 ($16 USD) and the museum is open daily when exhibitions are on.
8. Grab a bite to eat at the Markthal
Besides its impressive exterior architecture in the shape of a horseshoe, the Markthal Rotterdam’s ground floor is a large indoor market hall. Inside, there are over 100 different food stalls and restaurants, with a supermarket and even a free historical exhibition space showcasing archaeological finds from during construction. The upper floors of the building are luxury condos and office spaces.
9. Discover design at the Het Nieuwe Insstituut
The Museum for Architecture, Design and Digital Culture presents a unique take on modern society. With exhibitions focusing on the three themes, it’s a great place to learn more about Rotterdam’s contemporary architecture. The Sonneveld House nearby, built in the modernist Dutch Functionalist style, is part of the museum’s collection and can be visited with the same admission ticket of €14 ($16 USD).
For more information on specific cities in the Netherlands, check out these guides!
Rotterdam Travel Costs
Hostel prices – If you want something centrally located, expect to pay between €20-40 ($22-44 USD) per night for a bed in a dorm with eight or more beds. A four to six bed dorm will cost up to €45 ($50 USD) per night. In the off-season, dorms with eight or more beds cost about €23 ($25 USD) per night. Dorms with four to six beds will cost between €26-32 ($30-35 USD) per night.
A basic private room with an ensuite bathroom costs from €82 ($90 USD) per night during peak season. In the off-season, private rooms are between €68-77 ($75-85 USD) per night.
Budget hotel prices – Centrally located 2-star hotels begin at €55 ($60 USD) per night for a double private room with a private bathroom and free wifi. Off-season prices start at €45 ($49 USD) per night for the same type of room.
Rotterdam has lots of Airbnb options, although it has become more tightly regulated in recent years. A private room can be as low as €40 ($44 USD) per night with a shared bathroom, even in peak season. An entire apartment averages about €40-70 ($43-75 USD) per night, with off-season prices between €5-€10 cheaper.
Food – Falafel and shawarma shops are your best bet for cheap food. Meals here will cost around €5-€10 ($6-$12 USD). Cheap meals at fast food joints or places like Maoz or Walk to Wok cost around €10 ($12 USD). Cheap Dutch fast food (like fries and burgers) at the famous FEBO kiosks are between €2-7 ($2.20-7.75 USD) but don’t expect anything fancy for vending machine food (FEBO is Dutch drunk food!). Other street food like pizza slices or falafel will cost between €3-5 ($3.30-5.55 USD).
Restaurant meals average around €15-€25 ($18-$30) for a main dish with a drink. In a high-end restaurant, a five to seven-course menu will cost between €70-80 ($76-89 USD), while a wine to go with it is about €6 ($6.65 USD).
The Markthal Rotterdam is a great spot to stop for a bite to eat. The indoor food market has over 100 different vendors serving a variety of delicious food, for any budget.
If you cook your meals, expect to pay up to €50 ($60 USD) per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs.
Backpacking Rotterdam Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Rotterdam, expect to spend about €70 ($77 USD) per day. This budget covers staying in a hostel dorm, public transit, cooking some of your meals, cheap local eats, free tours, and limited attractions.
If you plan on drinking a lot, I’d add about €20 more per day. You can lower this number with some of the tops below.
A mid-range budget of about €150 ($160 USD) will cover staying in a private hostel room or a budget hotel, eating out all of your meals, a few attractions per day, a bicycle rental, and some drinks.
On a luxury budget of about €333 ($360 USD) or more per day, you can get an excellent four-star hotel, any meal you want, drinks, tours, and a few Uber rides. If you want to spread out your budget, you can take a tour every other day and reduce your daily spend by about €23 ($25 USD). The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Rotterdam Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Though Rotterdam is not as well-traveled as Amsterdam, it’s increasingly popular for young travelers. Accommodation will probably be the biggest thing that will eat into your budget. If you keep that cost down, you’ll do OK. Here are some other ways to save money in Rotterdam:
- Rent a bicycle – The easiest and cheapest way to get around the city (besides walking) is to rent a bike. You can get one for around €10 ($11 USD) per day.
- Eat cheap – Rotterdam has a lot of cheap snack and gyro shops that cost around €5 ($6 USD). Buying food at the weekend market is a great way to stock up on groceries for the week.
- Get the Welcome Card – If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, get the city tourist card which offers discounts on most attractions as well as three days worth of travel on the train and bus system. It’s quite the bargain if you are going to stay in the city for a while.
- Use Couchsurfing – It’s a service that lets travelers stay with locals for free. Since a lot of travelers use this service, make your requests for hosts early.
- Take a free walking tour – If you want an overview of the city, take a free walking tour through AiroTour. This way you’ll get to learn about the city without spending money. This tour leaves daily from Rotterdam Centraal, the main train station of the city.
- Cook – Dutch food isn’t going to win any awards. Try a few places but cook often (or at least make lots of sandwiches). Eating out in the city isn’t cheap and if you’re paying a lot for your accommodation, your daily costs can shoot through the roof. Head to the supermarket and get some food to cook! You’re not missing out on anything.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
Where To Stay in Rotterdam
Rotterdam doesn’t have as many hostel options but there are still a handful of budget-friendly accommodations. Choosing where to stay can make or break your trip. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Rotterdam:
How to Get Around Rotterdam
Public Transportation – Rotterdam has an extensive public transport system of bus, tram, and metro run by RET. A single journey up to an hour is €4 ($4.30 USD), but it’s a lot cheaper to buy a day pass for €8.50 ($9.20 USD) if you’re moving around a lot. If you need a 2 or 3-day pass, it’s cheaper to buy the Rotterdam Welcome Card.
The Rotterdam Welcome Card is available in 1, 2, or 3 day passes for €12.50 ($13.50 USD), €18.50 ($20 USD) and €23.50 ($25 USD). The card only provides a 25% discount on local attractions, so it’s not necessarily worth the cost.
Note: you can’t buy public transport tickets or the Rotterdam Welcome Card with cash! The entire system uses an OV-chipkaart system like Amsterdam.
Bicycle – Like other cities in The Netherlands, cycling is one of the most popular ways to get around. You can rent bikes starting around €10 ($11 USD) per day (but most places require a deposit that is returned to you when you return the bike).
Taxi – It’s probably not necessary to take taxis to get around Rotterdam, as bikes, walking, and public transport are easy and will get you just about anywhere, unless you’re trying to get to the airport.
Uber – Uber is available in Rotterdam but again public transportation goes everywhere. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
When to Go to Rotterdam
Rotterdam’s peak season is July and August. However, the weather is always pretty mild (even in the winter months) and visiting during the off-season or shoulder season is much more affordable.
The average daily summer temperature in Rotterdam is around 72°F (22°C), but it can get a lot hotter than that during July and August. The average daily temperature in the winter is 45°F (7°C). The Christmas season is a really lovely time to visit as the city lights up with markets and festivities.
How to Stay Safe in Rotterdam
Rotterdam is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel, even if you’re traveling solo. Pick-pocketing is your biggest concern and it’s most likely to happen on public transit. Keep your belongings close.
There are a few common scams around as well, such as people trying to sell you public transit tickets that actually have already been used. Be wary of purchasing a really cheap bike from someone off the street as well as it likely means it’s already been stolen.
Always trust your gut instinct. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Rotterdam Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Rotterdam. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Rail Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – German based Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low €5 ($5.50 USD)! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, and up to three 3 free bags.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Rotterdam Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Rotterdam Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Dutch Wife, by Ellen Keith
In 1943, Marijke de Graaf is sent from Amsterdam to a concentration camp in Germany with her husband, where she faces a choice: death, or join the camp’s brothel. It is there she encounters SS officer Karl Müller. Keith’s ability to seamlessly combine different timelines and narratives as well as paint the emotions that come from tough choices is superb (and why this book topped the Canadian best-seller lists when it came out!).
Why the Dutch Are Different, by Ben Coates
Ben Coates got stranded at Schiphol Airport, where he called a Dutch girl he’d met a few months earlier and asked if he could stay over the night. He never left. Fascinated by his adopted home, this is a travel book wrapped in a history book wrapped in a memoir. It’s also a look at modern Dutch culture and society, as well as how it got that way and what the future holds for the country. It’s one of the better books on the Netherlands I’ve read!
Amsterdam, by Russell Shorto
Written by Russell Shorto, one of my favorite writers, this book covers one of my favorite cities in the world. Shorto moved to Amsterdam with his wife and children and — as he did in his book on Manhattan — has written a phenomenal tale of the city’s history, starting from its founding until modern times. I’ve read a lot of books about Amsterdam, and this book is by far one of the best, providing a wonderful overview of the city and its culture as told through the stories of its famous and not-so-famous residents.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
This is a definite must-read before you come to the Netherlands. Anne Frank’s diary was discovered in the attic where she spent the last years of her life. When the Nazis invaded the country in 1942, Anne was just 13 years old – and as a Jewish girl, her life was very much in danger. Her and her family fled their home and went into hiding in a secret annex in an old office building. They faced hunger, boredom, and the desperation of living in a confined space – until the horrible end. If you go to Amsterdam, you must visit the annex where she lived.
My ’Dam Life: Three Years in Holland, by Sean Condon
Australian comedian Sean Condon is married and living in Amsterdam…jobless, homeless, and completely careless. In true deprecatory humor, Condon dissects his expat experience of pure laziness and leisure. Condon takes us through a city of cannabis, high culture, canals, bicycles, and international cuisine. It’s a light-hearted read that most expats will relate to!
Rotterdam Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling the Netherlands and continue planning your trip: