Nobody wants to be a tourist. This guide will steer you to some of the best local hangouts in Rotterdam, showcasing the city’s arts scene, culinary hotspots, and nightlife.
Learn like a local
If you want to dive right into the deep end, Rotterdam has several venues that celebrate contemporary art in the local context. TENT is one of them. Located along trendy Witte de Withstraat, the space provides artists with a platform to explore topics that matter in Rotterdam through exhibitions and performances.
On the same street, you’ll find Kunstinstituut Melly, another contemporary arts center offering creative reflections on timely issues, both local and international. And off Witte de Withstraat, there’s Garage Rotterdam, a cutting-edge exhibition space housed in an old VW garage.
For a more traditional cultural day out, Museumpark is the place to go. As its name suggests, this urban oasis is surrounded by the city’s major museums, including the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, which will offer access to the entire collection of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen when it opens in late 2021; the Het Nieuwe Instituut, which focuses on design; the Chabot Museum, dedicated to Dutch artist Hendrik Chabot; the Kunsthal, a contemporary and modern art museum that only displays temporary exhibitions; and the Natural History Museum. The park’s manicured gardens and sculptures alone make this destination worth a visit.
Tour like a local
Despite Rotterdam’s hearty embrace of modern living and shared mobility concepts (including, most recently, electric scooters), the humble bike remains king of the road. Those who don’t fancy navigating the city’s cycle lanes on their own could always join a tour. The good folk at Bike n Bite run regular excursions throughout the city, with a healthy emphasis on local cuisine.
Operating under the tagline ‘come a stranger, leave a local’ is Inside Rotterdam Tours. It runs cycling trips around the city, as well as tours on foot, all of which take visitors off the tourist trail to lived-in neighborhoods that aren’t featured on postcards, such as Katendrecht.
Acquainting visitors with the local street art is Rewriters Rotterdam. Though it offers guided tours of the city’s murals, you can also get the backstory behind local street art and creators from their app, which anyone can download to their phone for on-the-go info.
Escape like a local
It might surprise some to learn that Rotterdam has a beach. Hoek van Holland’s sandy shores are invariably at the mercy of the Dutch weather, but on sunny days, the beach throngs with visitors.
The journey is easy (a subway ride followed by a bike trip, aided by one of Rotterdam’s many bike-share apps), but some stay overnight, hunkering down in the ritzy Largo Beach Villas that line the shore. For a quirky stay, book a night at the old military bunker that’s been converted into a holiday home.
Hoek van Holland’s seafront restaurants have a strong emphasis on sustainability. Pele Surf Shack serves purely plant-based food and drinks in a setting that wouldn’t look out of place on a tropical island — until the breeze blowing off the North Sea reminds visitors that they’re a long way from the Caribbean, that is.
Then there’s PLSTK Cafe. Tucked away in the sand dunes, this cozy restaurant caters to carnivores, vegans, and everyone in between — and prides itself on eschewing plastic.
Expect to see a lot of British while you’re in Hoek van Holland — it’s the departure point for ferries to England.
Go green like a local
The green lungs of Rotterdam, Kralingse Bos is a forest on the northeastern outskirts of the city where locals like to go for fresh air and recreation. Its forest trails attract weekend hikers, joggers, and horse riders, while the gigantic lake in the middle — Kralingse Plas — is the preserve of rowers and sailors.
Leafy Het Park (known to locals as Euromast Park) is another cherished pocket of green, this one in the heart of the city. Overlooking the Nieuwe Maas river, it’s a place where falling leaves tumble into limpid waterways. Given the scenery, it’s no surprise that it’s popular for jogging, picnicking, and book reading. For a more quite Escape the crowds at lesser-known green gems such as Luchtpark Hofbogen, Dakpark or Historische Tuin Schoonoord.
Many Rotterdammers have embraced, to some extent, the concept of sustainability, a key tenant of which is buying local produce. There’s plenty of that at the Rotterdamse Oogst farmer’s market, where punters and purveyors of produce unite every Saturday over a love of local food.
Eat like a local
Rotterdam is a vital part of a veritable Dutch gastro revolution. Hotspots like the Fenix Food Factory and Deliplein — both in trendy Katendrecht — are helping drive the city’s culinary reputation forward, with artisan producers and casually brilliant restaurants.
There’s a growing emphasis on sustainability. Those keen to get on board (in more ways than one) would do well to reserve a table at Gare du Nord, an organic vegan restaurant that has taken over an old train carriage.
Rotterdam’s propensity for building upwards has given rise to a number of rooftop restaurants, where locals go to survey their city over dinner. Fontein Rooftop is one to note, as is Gastrobar ELVY and Teds, which serves an all-day brunch next to a vegetable garden.
There’s fine dining aplenty, too. Heroíne is a prime example of Rotterdam’s unstuffy contemporary culinary scene, and the Industrial Building it’s housed in is a local landmark.
Sometimes, the old dishes are the best. Cue the rijsttafel, an elaborate smorgasbord of spicy sides served with rice, imported from Indonesia during the colonial era. It is a special occasion meal, and you can find it at Dewi Sri.
For other Rotterdam standards, visit a traditional café for coffee or a drink. Popular spots to unwind include Melief Bender, open since 1876; Boudewijn, known for its extensive beer menu; or Jazzcafé Dizzy, a great place to find low-key live music. And, since beer is a tradition here, too, don’t miss the local breweries. Brouwerij Noordt focuses on simple but high-quality beers, Stadshaven Brouwerij draws on its location in a former fruit warehouse to create many of its brews, and Brewpub Reijngoud’s cool brewery space is a great place to enjoy a beer and some pub food.
Rotterdam is more than just beer, though. It’s a melting pot, and The Kruiskade area is a great place to find international cuisine, from Vietnamese to Caribbean to Javanese and everything in between. Or head north to De Toko for fusion cuisine that creates popular spins on Asian dishes.
Nightlife like a local
Most good nights take unexpected turns. If you want to get whisked away by fun-loving Rotterdammers, excellent areas to start are Witte de Withstraat, Pannekoekstraat and the Meent. All of these districts have a variety of bars to hop around.
Many of Rotterdam’s breweries have great nightlife scenes, too. The aforementioned Stadshaven Brouwerij is among the options to check out after dark.
Disused shipping containers seem to be a hallmark of cool these days, and Containerbar Noord has plenty of them. It’s another young and fashionable place to drink and dance to DJs.
In summer, take advantage of the warmer temperatures and look for one of the temporary pop-ups and beer gardens that open up throughout the city. For a garden atmosphere, try Weelde, an urban farm, grab a bite to eat at BIRD's outdoor space, or for music festival vibes stop by M4H’s Keilecafe.
If you haven’t got your dancing shoes on, Rotterdam has a clutch of stylish wine bars where languorous evenings are spent putting the world to rights over a good bottle. FOK and Bar Verward are among them. Walsjerot is a wine bar with dozens of options on tap- you're able to pour yourself however much you like, whether it's a taste or a full glass.