One Day in Rotterdam: A Perfect Itinerary

Are wondering how to spend a day in Rotterdam?

Then you’ve come to the right place. I loved my solo trip to The Netherlands’ Capital of Cool and am excited to share my 1-day Rotterdam itinerary.

This is for you whether you are on a day trip from Amsterdam, visiting as part of a cruise or staying overnight. You can use this Rotterdam itinerary as a self-guided walking tour and I’ve included a map to help you on your way.

cube-buildings-and-pencil are some of the best things to do in rotterdam in one day

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ONE DAY IN ROTTERDAM AT A GLANCE
yellow geometric cube houses in rotterdam in front of pointed tall modern building

TOP 5 THINGS TO DO

  • Visit the iconic Cube Houses
  • Stop for lunch at Rotterdam’s market hall
  • Stroll around Rotterdam’s Old Harbour
  • Admire Rotterdam’s modern architecture
  • Walk along the Maas Riverfront

RECOMMENDED ROTTERDAM SELF-GUIDED WALKING TOUR: 3 miles (5 km)

RECOMMENDED GUIDED ACTIVITIES

RECOMMENDED HOTEL: citizenM Rotterdam Hotel

Why You Should Visit Rotterdam

Rotterdam is a city that rose like a magnificent phoenix from the ashes.

The Netherlands’ second-biggest city was flattened in a Nazi bombing raid on May 10th 1940. Only a handful of historic buildings survived the onslaught.

Enlightened town planners and architects used the reconstruction of Rotterdam as an opportunity to build a strikingly modern city that pushed the envelope of urban design. What we see today is an architectural showcase designed by the great and the good of contemporary architects.

There are boldly futuristic apartment buildings, office towers, libraries, bridges, market halls and subway stations. But as a nod to Rotterdam’s past, remnants of the city’s few surviving historic buildings are tucked between its more contemporary creations.

Better still, Rotterdam is one of the best European cities to visit as a solo traveller.

geometric yellow and grey blocks of cube houses of rotterdam
Rotterdam’s famous Cube Houses

Is One Day in Rotterdam Enough?

One day in Rotterdam is enough time to hit its highlights with ease. As most of its main attractions are grouped close together, this is a very walkable city. 

Stay for an extra day if you prefer a slower pace of travel or want to see a few places outside the city centre, such as Delfthaven.

Rotterdam Self-Guided Walking Tour and Map

You can visit the city’s key sights on my self-guided walking tour. This walk starts at the central railway station (Rotterdam Centraal) and ends at the Old Harbour. It is around 3 miles long.

To help you along your way, here’s an interactive map of this Rotterdam walking tour. If you need directions, simply click here or on the image.

rotterdam-city-walk-map
Rotterdam self-guided walking tour (click on image for interactive map) Map Data @ 2020 Google

If you would like to use public transport to help you see these sights, fast forward to my for tips on how to get around Rotterdam (-> here).

rotterdam walking tour opt in

My Suggested 1-Day Rotterdam Itinerary

1. Rotterdam Centraal train station

Our walking tour starts at Rotterdam Centraal train station, a modern architectural gem.

Opened in 2014, Rotterdam’s futuristic central train station is massive, spread over 430,000 square feet under a cathedral-like roof. Before you start your walk in earnest, you might want to pick up a city map from the train station’s Tourist Information Office.

When you exit the station into the plaza, turn around and look back at the station to admire its flying saucer-shaped roof, with its tip in harmonious juxtaposition with the adjacent buildings.

rotterdam-centraal-station rood against adjacent blue towers
Rotterdam Centraal Station

2. Rotterdam’s Shopping Zone

Korte Lijnbaan forms part of Lijnbaan, a fairly unremarkable network of pedestrianised shopping streets, but one with a claim to fame.

Lijnbaan was the first pedestrianised downtown shopping area to be developed in Europe. As such, it was a huge tourist attraction in the 1950s when such developments were novel.

Today, it has lost its shine and its shops are a little down market. Nonetheless, this cycle-free zone is pleasant and you don’t run the risk of cyclists approaching you from behind you like silent assassins!

When you reach the statue of the rasslin’ bears, take a right. When you reach the tram tracks take a left. You are now in Beustraverse, another shopping street.

bear-sculpture-in-shopping-zone-in-rotterdam

Carry on straight and you will reach Hoogstraat, which was at the heart of Rotterdam’s downtown area pre-1940.

Are you now ready for a pit stop?

If so, then grab a prized pavement table at Poffertjessalon Seth (Hoogstraat 147)  and order a portion of their tiny traditional pancakes, smothered in butter and dusted with icing sugar. They are like little sweet clouds of heaven.

Now on a sugar high, head toward the steeple of St. Lawrence Church.

3. St. Lawrence Church (Laurenskirk)

exterior of st lawrence church in rotterdam with tall bell tower at centre

St. Lawrence Church is one of the few buildings that survived the WW2 bombing raid. Completed in 1525, this imposing Gothic building is Rotterdam’s oldest.

I didn’t go inside, but if you fancy a peek it will cost you €3 (2023 price). You can check opening hours here. The church also hosts concerts.

If you have a head for heights, you can climb the tower from Tuesday to Saturday from March until October.

4. Erasmus

Have you heard about the Erasmus programme? This is a European exchange programme designed to enable students to gain experience in another country, either as part of their degree programme or as a work placement.

Meet the man who inspired this. The statue of Rotterdam native, Desiderius Erasmus (1469 – 1536) graces the plaza in front of St. Lawrence Church.

Erasmus was a Renaissance humanist scholar who studied extensively abroad to avoid the fate of his like-minded friend, Thomas More, who had his head chopped off by Henry VIII.

Erasmus Statue & St Lawrence Church, Rotterdam
Erasmus Statue & St Lawrence Church, Rotterdam

Other Rotterdam landmarks are also named after him. We’ll come across at least one other in this walking tour.

But, for now, continue to the end of Hoogstraat and straight ahead you will see a white building with yellow tubes. Head towards this building which is Rotterdam’s City Library.

5. The City Library

If you love funky architecture don’t skip Rotterdam’s City Library. Often compared to Paris’ Pompidou Centre, it is in keeping with the French building’s aesthetic of “form follows function”, celebrating the guts of a working building.

city library rotterdam interior staircase
The striking interior of The City Library, Rotterdam

I took the escalator all the way up to the top floor to fully appreciate this space and loved the funky 1970s-style lampshades.

Exiting the City Library, walk back across the plaza towards the modern dome-shaped building which is Rotterdam’s Market Hall. 

6. Rotterdam Market Hall (Markthal)

If you only have one day in Rotterdam, its Market Hall is a must-see.

It is not like any other market that I have come across on my travels. Gleaming and modern, this cathedral of food is covered by a spectacular 36,000 sq ft ceiling mural, featuring fruits, vegetables and other market goods.

market-hall-rotterdam
Market Hall, Rotterdam

Beneath this domed ceiling is an extensive food market with over 100 retailers, restaurants and fast-food stands.

If you are ready for lunch, this is one of the best places in Rotterdam to stop for a drink or a quick bite to eat.

Back outside, you will be able to spot the distinctive tower block dubbed “The Pencil” by Rotterdammers because of its shape. Make your way toward it and you will arrive at the Cube Houses.

7. The Cube Houses of Rotterdam

For many, the Cube Houses are the stars of Rotterdam’s architectural show. Designed and built in the late 1970s by the architect Piet Bloom, these innovative buildings have achieved iconic status.

This urban forest of 39 identical yellow cubes sits on hexagonal poles, their walls tilted at a precarious 54.7-degree angle. Each cube houses a single family on three levels. The lower triangular level is the living room; the middle level is for sleeping and bathing; and the upper level is an additional sleeping or living area.

cube-house-rotterdam-looking-up-towards-sky
Iconic Cube Houses of Rotterdam

For a closer look, follow the signs to the museum to enter a series of courtyards around which the Cube Houses are clustered. You can enter one of the houses themselves by paying to visit Kijk-Kubus Museum House.

Alternatively, if you are after a more immersive Cube House experience, you can stay in one at the Stayokay Hostel (Overblaak 85-87). Dorm beds and private rooms are available.

From the Stayokay Hostel, take the steps down to Rotterdam’s Old Harbour. This is the endpoint of our Rotterdam walking tour and we will return here. But if you want to refuel you can do worse than take a seat at one of the harbourside bars and restaurants.

If you want to carry on, walk around the left-hand side of the harbour, cross the main road and then go under the bridge’s flyover to reach the Maas riverfront.

8. Maas Riverfront

The red bridge to your left is the Williams Bridge (Willemsbrug).

With your back to the Williams Bridge, stroll along the riverfront boardwalk. In around 15 minutes you will arrive at the Parade of Flags, 200 of them representing the nationalities of those making up Rotterdam’s multi-ethnic population.

Remember Erasmus from earlier in our walking tour? Here is another Rotterdam landmark that bears his name, the spectacular 800-meter-long Erasmus Bridge (Erasmusburg).

The graceful shape of its 139-meter-high pylon has given it its nickname, “The Swan.”

erasmus-bridge-rotterdam
Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam

The Erasmus Bridge is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful bridges and it forms part of the city of Rotterdam’s logo.

To continue our walking tour, turn right to head away from the river and up Schiedamsedijk. Then turn right to reach the Maritime District.

If you fancy putting your feet up and relaxing for an hour or so, why not take a harbour cruise from Willemsplein? This will allow you to see Rotterdam from another perspective and you’ll learn more about the city, its shipyards and docks.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

9. Leuvehaven

A hundred years ago, Leuvehaven was a busy commercial port. Today it’s a harmonious blend of the old and the new, with a few remaining historic harbour buildings sprinkled amongst new tower blocks. It is an open-air venue for all things related to nautical history.

It is also home to Rotterdam’s Maritime Museum. In the plaza behind the museum is the symbolic De Verwoeste Stad (The Destroyed City) statue, commemorating the city’s WW2 destruction.

rotterdam-maritime-district
Destroyed City Statue, Rotterdam

Follow the road (Blaak) around to the right at the Maritime Museum and just past the Blaak metro station you will find yourself back at the Old Harbour.

10. The Old Harbour (Oudehaven)

Rotterdam’s Old Harbour is a modern recreation of what the harbour would have been like, had Hitler not had his way with the city. With its outdoor bars and restaurants and a handful of historic ships, it is a very pleasant area to stroll and sup.

Old Harbour with Williams Bridge and the Old Customs House in the background
Old Harbour with Williams Bridge and the Old Customs House in the background

It must be time for that cold drink now. You deserve it and where better to end your day in Rotterdam?

If You Have More Than One Day in Rotterdam

I recommend visiting Delfshaven and Luchtsingel. You will need to hop on the city’s metro system but they are both well worth the journey.

Time permitting, try to see the city’s street art and a few of Rotterdam’s subway stations.

Delfshaven

Mercifully saved from the destruction wrought by the WW2 bombing campaign, Delfshaven is a well-preserved area of Rotterdam and gives us a glimpse of what the city would have looked like in its golden age.

As its name suggests, Delftsaven was actually the port for Delft, six miles northeast of Rotterdam.

Lined by historic buildings, Voorhaven canal is crisscrossed by bridges and has a working windmill in the distance. It doesn’t get much more Dutch than this.

Buildings lining the canal of delfshaven shoud be seen if you have nore than one day in Rotterdam
Delfshaven

Don’t miss the Pilgrim Fathers Church (Oude de Pelgrimvaderskerk), near the main drawbridge. It was here that the Pilgrims prayed the night before they set sail for the New World on 1st August 1620. The rest, as they say, is history.

HOW TO GET TO DELFSHAVEN

To get to Delftshaven, take metro line A or B toward Schiedam Central, or line C toward De Aakers, and alight at Delfshaven.

Alternatively, tram #4 will take you there.

Luchtsingel

Images of this 390-metre-long footbridge, slightly east of the main train station, grace many an Instagram feed. This bright yellow walkway connects Rotterdam North to the central area and has revitalised a once-neglected area.

luchtsingel-rotterdam
Luchtsingel

Each of the 8,000 wooden planks forming Luchtsingel is inscribed with the name of the person who funded it, or with a message of the funder’s choice.

If you get a chance to visit, take a peek at the community area. It’s not often that you see sheep waiting for a train that will never arrive!

HOW TO GET TO LUCHTSINGEL

There are nine different entrances to Luchtsingel. I made my way to Rotterdam Stadhuis, one stop from Rotterdam Centraal (Lines D and E) from where it is a five-minute walk.

Rotterdam’s Instagrammable subway stations

Rotterdam’s architectural treasures can also be found underground. My favourites were Marconiplein and Blaak.

maconi-place-metro-station-rotterdam
Marconi Place metro station

If you visit Blaak station, look out for the remains of Rotterdam’s city walls which are suspended over one of its platforms.

Rotterdam’s street art & Witte de Whithstraat

The street art scene in Rotterdam is centred around Witte de Whithstraat, which is the city’s hipster central. This lively street is lined with restaurants that represent Rotterdam’s ethnic diversity, boutiques, art galleries and even a Dutch “coffee shop”.

rottterdam-street-art
Street art, Rotterdam

If you head to Rewriters Rotterdam, you can download a free downloadable Rotterdam street art map. An app is also available.

Getting There

Thanks to its superb connections, getting to Rotterdam is a breeze.

I flew to Rotterdam – The Hague Airport which is located 3km from the centre of Rotterdam. The flight time from London City Airport was a mere 45 minutes. The ice in my G&T barely had enough time to melt.  

To reach the centre of Rotterdam by public transport, take bus #33 from the terminal.  A bus leaves every 10 – 15 minutes during the day and it will take you all the way to Rotterdam Centraal. Buy a two-hour ticket from the machine as you exit arrivals.

Alternatively, catch the #33 bus going in the opposite direction to the nearby Meijersplein metro station, five minutes away, and then hop on Line E. The two-hour ticket will cover you for both journeys.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport serves a greater number of destinations. A direct train can whisk you to Rotterdam Centraal station is less than 30 minutes.

Rotterdam is also well-served by trains, including a Eurostar train from London St. Pancras. However, this direct train service is due to be suspended for up to 11 months starting in 2024.

Thanks to efficient rail connections, it’s east to visit Rotterdam as a day trip from cities in The Netherlands and Belgium, incuding Amsterdam, Leiden, Delft and Brussels.

If you arriving in Rotterdam on a cruise, reaching the city centre is a breeze.

Cruise Terminal Rotterdam is centrally located at Wilhelmina Pier, at the southern end of the Erasmus Bridge. The nearest metro station is Wilhelminaplein, a five-minute walk away. From here, it’s four stops north to Rotterdam Centraal on Line D or Line E.

The cruise terminal is also served by trams #23 and #25.

blossoms in front of large glass window with reflections

Getting Around

Thanks to its integrated and efficient public transport network, getting around Rotterdam is easy. Your ticket choice will depend on how much you anticipate using the city’s transport system over a set time period.

For a one-off journey, buy a two-hour ticket. If you plan to do a lot of travelling within Rotterdam during the course of a day then a day ticket is your best bet.

Tourist Day Ticket is also available. The difference between this and the day pass is that it gives you free travel within the South Holland region, from the tulip fields of Lisse in the north to Dordrecht in the south. 

If you are planning to use public transport in other Dutch cities, an OV-chipkaart may be more convenient. Similar to London’s Oyster Card, you preload this card with credit or add a specific travel product. 

There is also a tourist card, the Rotterdam City Card, which provides unlimited travel on all RET metro, tram, and bus lines and discounts for many of the city’s top museums and attractions. It is available for 1 – 3 days.

>>> CLICK HERE FOR FURTHER INFORMATION AND TO BUY

Guided Tours of Rotterdam

If you want someone else to take care of all the arrangements for you or want to benefit from the knowledge of a local guide, why not join an organised tour?

A tour can be particularly useful if you are travelling alone. Many solo travellers fear being lonely, and joining an organised activity can be excellent for making friends while you are travelling.

Here are a few highly-rated options to consider:

Rotterdam bike tour | BOOK HERE

Do as the locals do and explore Rotterdam on two wheels. This 2.5-hour bike tour takes in many of the attractions listed in this article in the company of a local guide.

Rotterdam Walking Tour and Harbor Cruise | BOOK HERE

Get the best of both worlds with this 3-hour guided walking tour followed by a harbour cruise.

Rotterdam Segway Tour | BOOK HERE

Conquer the bridges of Rotterdam on a fun-filled 75-minute Segway tour

Where to Stay in Rotterdam

Rotterdam offers a broad range of accommodation options to suit all budgets. As each district has its own charm and personality, there is no single best area to stay in Rotterdam.

The lively city centre, right in the thick of things, is divided into sub-districts. Here are a few areas that are worth considering:

  • The Cool District around Witte de Withstraat Street  – brimming with bars, restaurants, boutiques and galleries
  • The Triangle area, near Blaak Square and the Market Hall. From here, it is easy to visit most of Rotterdam’s attractions
  • Oude Haven – for a dose of Dutch culture and history

Mid-range

citizenM Hotel – I stayed at the funky four-star hotel in the thick of things, alongside the Old Harbour and across the road from Blaak station. Recommended.

two chairs and a lamp as part ofOne of citizenM Rotterdam's living rooms
bed in citizenm-hotel-rotterdam-room

READ THIS NEXT: citizenM Rotterdam Hotel: Affordable Luxury?

Here are other options that I have found that may suit different budgets:

Splurge

PREMIER SUITES PLUS Rotterdam – these stylish, serviced apartments near the central train station have garnered rave reviews.

Budget

Sparks Hostel – Close to Rotterdam Centraal station, this hostel offers dorm beds and private rooms.

>>> None of these places take your fancy? Discover other great accommodation choices in Rotterdam.


And That’s a Wrap!

I hope my guide helps you have the best day in Rotterdam. If you’ve enjoyed this article, take a look at my other Netherlands articles:

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.