From fresh local markets to windmills galore, here are nine things to do for a weekend trip to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Amsterdam is a right of passage for many study abroad students and backpackers — I know, I had quite the time there in my early 20s — but there’s so much beyond the Red Light District and, heck, Amsterdam in general. Of course, I do love the charming, canal-lined city, but when I had the chance to visit Rotterdam this fall, I jumped at the opportunity. I love exploring a country’s “second city” — the lesser-known (yet uniquely wonderful) second most popular city. It gives me such a great feel for a place and, equally important, the people.
Rotterdam has a much different vibe than Amsterdam. While Amsterdam is an old, winding maze of bikes and waterways, Rotterdam is newer and more modern. Of course, Rotterdam is an old city, but the majority of it was bombed during WWII, so they’ve rebuilt and made the most of their loss with innovative, trendy architecture and designs.
Can you tell I like Rotterdam? While it wasn’t technically a road trip — just a long weekend on foot and bike — it was definitely up my alley. Here’s how you can enjoy the city, too.
Come for the extra-large cheese wheels, stay for the free samples of said cheese. Markthal is a huge open marketplace with foods from all over the world. The market is housed in an artistic, ornate building, but be prepared — you’ll need an extra wide angle lens to photograph it. Markthal’s stalls are open all week with varying weekend and weekday hours. We spent about two hours exploring the variety of culinary offerings (and perhaps one hour of that was the cheese …)
2. World of Drinks
Connected to Markthal is a must-visit bottle shop, World of Drinks. You can select local, regional or global bottles of your choosing and enjoy them outside along the plaza. We had about six because there were too many to choose from (oops). If you do visit, ask for Lars! He’s extremely knowledgeable about his brews and super fun to talk to!
3. Natural History Museum Rotterdam
I’m not usually a huge fan of museums, but the Natural History Museum Rotterdam is an exception. We visited for Dead Animals with a Story, an exhibit that shows not only the animals, but the bizarre stories of how they got to the museum. (You can read more about this exhibit in my article for Mic!)
4. A La Plancha
Fresh fish on the water? Um, yes, I’m down! Despite the chilly September weather, we had our first meal at the seasonal outdoor restaurant, A La Plancha (which literally translates as “grilled on a metal plate”). They have a variety of fresh, local fish dishes and views of the Erasmus Bridge and Rotterdam skyline.
5. Cube Houses
I wasn’t lying when I said Rotterdam had interesting architecture. Case in point? The 38 yellow cube houses right next to Markthal. These unusual looking homes (no, really — people live there!) were designed to look like a forest in the city. I thought they looked half Willy Wonka, half Avatar, but hey — to each their own!
The one part of Rotterdam that didn’t get destroyed during the war — Delfshaven — is a must visit. This neighborhood has the old charm of Amsterdam, and it’s actually where the pilgrims first departed for America. There’s also a brewery with canal side seating here, so yeah… you must go.
By far my favorite way to see the city, the Rottertram — a new, delicious dining experience aboard a repurposed tram — takes you all over the city and beyond as you enjoy perhaps the best four-course meal of your trip. This 2.5 to 3-hour sunset journey is a great way to get acquainted with the ins and outs of Rotterdam; if you can, I’d recommend doing this your first night to really get your bearings (over absolutely delicious food, of course!)
8. Fenix Food Factory
A bit grungier than Markthal is Fenix Food Factory, a marketplace with local, organic eats and an on-site brewery that’s in the Katendrecht neighborhood of Rotterdam. The Fenix Food Factory definitely has some Williamsburg vibes (maybe that’s why I loved it?). They gather a big crowd on weekends so get there early and be ready to stay and enjoy at least a few hours of your (very delicious) day.
You’ll need a half-day to visit the Kinderdijk windmills (accessible by waterbus, which picks up by the Erasmus Bridge), but if you have the time, do it! This UNESCO Heritage Site has 19 windmills; visitors can walk on trails or water taxi through the canals to view the beautiful surroundings and, of course, the windmills. You can also visit the inside of several windmills if you’d like; we skipped this due to time.
There’s also a helpful and interesting visitor center that teaches you how the windmills work (I rarely say “visit the visitor center” but in this case, it’s really good!)
In terms of hotels, I was lucky enough to test out (and now highly recommend!) two: the Hotel nhow and Hotel New York. Hotel nhow is on the trendy, more modern side with great views of the Erasmus Bridge while Hotel New York is more classic and historic, situated in the former head office of the Holland Amerika Line.
All right! Now that we have the details out of the way, it’s time for you to grab that flight and go visit!