Many travellers' only glimpse of Rotterdam is through the train window en route from Amsterdam. But with a palpable energy, creative spirit and urban regeneration that are cementing its status as one of Europe's hippest, most happening destinations, the Netherlands' second-largest, skyscraper-filled city makes an eye-opening stopover. Discover this irrepressible port city's highlights on a 24-hour sojourn.
Striking architecture, cutting-edge art and hip dining spots makes Rotterdam a must-see city © Prasit Rodphan / Shutterstock
Coffee hit If you've hopped off the train at the city's striking stainless-steel-encased Rotterdam Centraal Station and are in need of caffeine, duck into Man Met Bril. Located in the Hofbogen, under the old Hofplein rail track, this place does the best coffee in Rotterdam. You can appreciate the whole coffee-making process here: from roasting and grinding to savouring an expertly made espresso.
Culture fix Once you've had your caffeine fix get cultured at Rotterdam's finest museums, all within a short stroll of each other. Masterpieces fill one of the Netherlands' richest art repositories, the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. Rembrandt, Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel the Elder are among the masters represented here, along with Van Gogh, Monet, Mondrian, Magritte, Dalí and a wealth of Renaissance art. Also check out the diverse art and design exhibitions that take place at the Kunsthal Rotterdam.
For an injection of culture, check out the the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen © Leonid-Andronov / Shutterstock
Architecture, design, digital culture and fashion fans will want to find out what's on at the Het Nieuwe Instituut, a merger of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion, and e-culture institute Virtueel Platform.
Breaking developments in contemporary art are showcased in experimental exhibitions mounted by the Witte de With, Centre for Contemporary Art. Its namesake street on which it's located, Witte de Withstraat, is easily Rotterdam's coolest, with an explosion of fashion and design boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bars.
Market lunch Serving up everything from Moroccan tapas and local charcuterie to pungent international cheeses and some very tasty fries, the Fenix Food Factory embraces its past as a port warehouse receiving the finest wares from around the world. For a taste of everything on offer, grab a Plankje van Katendrecht (food board) and fill it with nibbles from the most appetising vendors. Wash it all down with a Kaapse Brouwers beer or a nice glass of cider whilst taking in the view from the bustling port-side terrace.
People enjoying the sun at the Fenix Food Factory in Katendrecht, Rotterdam © Iris van den Broek / Shutterstock
Maritime explorations Europe's biggest, busiest port is a defining part of Rotterdam's seafaring heritage and raw industrial appeal. Discover the city's – and country's – maritime history at the Maritiem Museum Rotterdam, where displays include model ships. To see the real thing, just south of the Maritiem Museum, wander the quays alongside the Haven Museum's historic boats. And to really get a sense of the scale of the port's colossal cranes and containers, take a fascinating 75-minute harbour tour with Spido.
Borrel Segue from the afternoon to the evening in style by boarding a water taxi from Veerhaven or Leuvehaven across the Nieuwe Maas shipping channel to the Hotel New York, the Holland-America passenger-ship line's resplendent former HQ. Enjoy borrel (drinks) at its timber-panelled ground-floor bar, its panoramic terrace lit by oversized lampshades, or in its brand-new NY Basement bar/restaurant.
There's no better way to navigate your way around this maritime city than on a water taxi © mihaiulia / Shutterstock
Dinner with a view From the Hotel New York, it's a short stroll along the Wilhelmina Pier to the gleaming glass Rem Koolhaas-designed 'vertical city' De Rotterdam (you can't miss it; it's the Netherlands' largest building). Its street-level restaurant, HMB, is a highlight as much for its front-row views of Rotterdam's most recognisable bridge, the white cable-stayed Erasmusbrug, locally dubbed de Zwaan (the Swan), as it is for its boundary-pushing flavour combinations (sweetbreads with white beans and peanuts, for instance). Soak up more water views over a post-dinner drink on De Rotterdam's 7th-floor cocktail bar terrace.
Great entertainment For a night of good music, head to Bird, an intimate venue in a viaduct arch of the Hofbogen – the former station of the disused Hofpleinlijn railway (other cultural and creative spaces here include cutting-edge restaurants, design boutiques and Dutch experimental electronic dance music label and vinyl shop, Clone). De Hofbogen is connected over the train tracks to the city centre by the wooden Luchtsingel (air canal) footbridge, which was crowd-funded by the sale of inscribed planks.
Dance and theatre take to the stage at the Schouwburg, Rotterdam's main cultural complex. If clubbing is more your thing, head to legendary clubs like the 6000-capacity Maassilo, inside a century-old grain silo.
Take the Luchtsingel (air canal) footbridge to the cultural spaces under the arches of De Hofbogen © MarkoV87 / Shutterstock
Where to stay in Rotterdam
Rotterdam is awash with fantastic accommodation options across all price categories. For designer digs, try the harbour-side Mainport which promises amazing skyline views. Boutique jewels include the suite hotel Pincoffs in the former customs house, and A Small Hotel on uber-hip Witte de Withstraat, with six Tex-, Zen- and Coco-themed rooms. Amazing Dutch-design-meets-vintage-furnished hostels, including King Kong Hostel, also on Witte de Withstraat, with artist-created rooms and a roof garden, and hip Hostel Ani & Haakien, with a chilled, homey vibe (and adorable resident cat), just 600m from Rotterdam Centraal Station. The newly built Student Hotel also doubles up as a seriously cool student residence and the surprisingly suave CitizenM is just two minutes from Station Blaak.
Train Fast Thalys trains run to/from Paris (2½ hours), Brussels (1¼ hours) and Amsterdam (42 minutes), which also has high-speed Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) services.
Air Rotterdam is a breeze to reach by air. The Netherlands' huge international airport, Schiphol, is equidistant by train to both Rotterdam and Amsterdam (20 minutes each). Rotterdam The Hague Airport, serving over 40 European destinations, is less than 6km northwest of Rotterdam, accessible by bus or inexpensive taxi.
Ferry P&O Ferries operates an overnight ferry every evening (11¾ hours) between Hull, UK and Europoort, 39km west of central Rotterdam, linked by bus. Stena Line has daytime (8¼ hours) and overnight (9 hours) crossings between Harwich, UK and Hoek van Holland, 31km northwest of Rotterdam, connected by train.
Last updated in December 2017.