10 Unique Things to do in Rotterdam

by Paul Joseph  |  Published October 27, 2022

The large, gritty port city of Rotterdam combines a rich maritime history with a wide array of contemporary landmarks and attractions

The imposing exterior of the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk church (Photo: Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Positioned in the Dutch province of South Holland, the city lays claim to being Europe’s largest seaport. It’s also renowned for its bold, modern architecture, as well as a diverse nightlife scene boasting a variety of bars, pubs and nightclubs. If you’re visiting Rotterdam and would like to start putting together an itinerary of unique things to see and do, here’s your starter for ten.

Witness a magnificent medieval church

One of the only remaining standing medieval buildings in all of Rotterdam, the magnificent Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk church (St. Lawrence Church) is not to be missed. Built between 1149 and 1525, the edifice is the perfect example of Late Gothic architecture, with its bronze doors, beautiful interiors and stained glass, is simply incredible to explore, turning the heads of everyone who enters its hallowed confines.

Grotekerkplein 27 / Tues-Sat 10am-5pm Closed Sun-Mon

Visit a top-class museum

Located in the most beautiful part of Rotterdam, the Tax & Customs Museum was founded in 1937 to teach students of the tax academy. Nowadays it is a cultural-historical adventure which contains special paintings and art pieces and interesting objects such as a smuggle bicycle, a smuggle dress, official uniforms, measuring and weighing instruments, confiscated smuggled objects and many more objects and paintings. Be fascinated by intriguing stories and objects that illustrate the history of tax and customs in the Netherlands. A temporary exhibition is currently available on the history of the Dutch in colonial times and the way they imposed tax in the ‘conquered’ territories. By the end of this year, a new exhibition will be opened where wildlife crime is brought under the attention. For children, there’s a customs for kids deck where the smallest can play and dress like a customs officer.

Parklaan14-16 / Tues-Sun 11am-5pm Closed Mon

Outside the Tax & Customs Museum (Photo: Tax & Customs Museum)

In many ways, Rotterdam itself acts as a museum for the city’s long-standing maritime heritage, but for those keen to really delve into this rich past can do so by visiting the Maritime Museum. Located in the waterfront district, the museum is home to a collection of one-million objects covering a period of more than five centuries. Highlights include a model of a naval ship dating back to 1868, and a dedicated children’s area packed full of interactive exhibits and displays. As well as its permanent collection, the museum also hosts regular special exhibitions, events and guided tours.

Leuvehaven 1 / Tues-Sat 10am-5pm Sun 11am-5pm Closed Mon

For many of us, there’s nothing that evokes childhood memories quite like pinball machines. A staple feature of arcades the world over, the long history of these adrenaline-fuelling games are celebrated in Rotterdam at the Dutch Pinball Museum. Opened in 2015, the museum is home to over a hundred pinball machines, many of which allow visitors to play on them. The venue is split by era and stages of development, with the latest versions on the ground floor and older ones on the first floor. Exhibit highlights include a pinball machine released in hour of the cult movie ‘The Big Lebowsky’, and what is thought to be the very first pinball machine, the Humpty Dumpty, which dates back to 1947.

Voorhaven 12 / Weds 12pm-5pm Sat 11:50am- 6.10pm Sun 11.50am-6.10pm  

Retro pinball machines on display at the Dutch Pinball Museum (Photo: Dutch Pinball Museum)

Admire Rotterdam from the top of a watchtower

Arguably Rotterdam’s most distinctive landmark, the 600-foot Euromast Tower is the highest watchtower in the Netherlands and offers those who reach its summit a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view over the city. To get to the top, you can either take the stairs or a lift, and you can enhance your experience by getting off hallway up to ride the rest of the journey aboard the heart-stopping Euroscoop, a rotating elevator that scales the tower on its outside. At the peak, there’s also a brasserie and two accommodation suites offering a unique overnight stay.

Parkhaven 20 / Mon-Sun 9.30am-10pm. You can book entry tickets for the Euromast Tower at GetYourGuide. Tickets are valid throughout the day, from morning to evening. 

The Euromast Tower looms large over a public park (Photo: Euromast Rotterdam / Courtesy GetYourGuide)

Marvel at a beautiful building that dodged the bombs

The vast majority of Rotterdam was turned to ashes during the destructive Rotterdam Blitz in WWII, but one building miraculously survived: the City Hall, aka the Stadhuis. Built between 1914 and 1940, it has an eye-catching symmetrical design and a sober Renaissance style and boasts a number of impressive features including several statues scattered around the grounds, each representing Rotterdam’s values and virtues. But perhaps the most striking part of the building is the 229-feet high tower featuring a clock, a bell, and an angel of peace. Daily public tours are available.

Coolsingel 40/ Mon-Fri 8.30am-5pm Closed Sat-Sun

Hit one of the city’s major foodie hotspots

Opened in 2014, the Markthal is among the more recent additions to Rotterdam’s landmarks, but has quickly grown to become one of its most popular. Housed in a visually arresting modern building are over 100 stalls, bars, and foodie joints, making it a magnet for the city’s office workers as a place to head during lunch hour. But as much as the sustenance on offer, the building itself is a major draw, with its  ceiling boasting the biggest artwork in the Netherlands called the “Horn of Plenty”- a five-layered artwork that mesmerises all who see it.

The fabulous ceiling at Markthal (Photo: kees torn via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Check out a truly unique housing project

Of all Rotterdam’s modern architecture, there’s nothing quite like the city’s iconic Cube Houses. Built across the 1970s and 80s, the houses are composed of a set of residential buildings shaped like an inverted cube tilted at a 45-degree angle to give them their unique appearance. To see what the cubes look like on the inside, visitors can pay to enter the “Kijk-Kubus”, a furnished show house complete with entrance hall, living room, kitchen, bedrooms and bathroom. All of the houses are located in the district of Blaak, an easy walk from the city centre.

Overblaak 70

Rotterdam’s iconic Cube Houses (Photo: Paul van de Velde via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

View Rotterdam from the water

Visitors can discover one of the world’s most innovative ports in all its glory by booking onto a Rotterdam harbour tour. During the one-and-quarter hour ride, you’ll get to admire the city’s skyline from the comfort of your vessel, passing numerous notable maritime landmarks along the way, including the shipyard, dock, and the hypermodern transshipping of thousands of containers. Last but not least, the tour will end with views of the steamship ‘Rotterdam’, the former cruise flagship of shipping company Holland America Line.

You can book this tour at GetYourGuide. Tours run throughout the day, from morning till late afternoon, and and last about 75 minutes. Food and beverages are available to purchase onboard.

A boat traverses the water during a Rotterdam harbour tour (Photo: Royal Spido BV / Courtesy GetYourGuide

Take a stroll through a charming neighbourhood

Unlike much of Rotterdam, the district of Delfshaven emerged from World War II relatively unscathed. As a result, with so many of its streets and buildings untouched by modernity, walking around the neighbourhood can almost give the impression that you’ve stepped back in time. An easy tram ride away, it’s certainly worth a visit if you’re keen to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Be sure to stop off at the Old Church while here, which can lay claim to being the point where pilgrims held the last service before sailing for the New World across the Atlantic.

Explore a tranquil botanic garden

A green oasis in the heart of Rotterdam, the Arboretum Trompenburg is the ideal antidote to the daily hubbub of urban life. A former country estate, the garden spans some 20 acres and boasts a magnificent collection of plants including very old beeches and oaks, 700 varieties of rhododendron, more than 100 varieties of holly, and the Dutch National Collection of hostas. Visitors have the choice of exploring the garden on their own, or joining a guided walking tour.

Honingerdijk 86 / Tues-Sun 10am-5pm Mon 12pm-5pm

The serene environs of the Arboretum Trompenburg (Photo: Onno de Bruin via Flickr)