When I first moved to the Netherlands many many years ago, I initially set up home in Rotterdam. Back then I was a student and liked Rotterdam for it is nightlife and ‘big city’ feel. However I also thought it was industrial, rundown, uninspiring and sometimes I did not feel safe when walking home alone at night. In the last years Rotterdam has gone from strengths to strengths and it is nowadays a very inviting, young and vibrant city, which is well worth a visit. It has really cleaned up its act and our little family enjoys going to Rotterdam on our days off. From The Hague ,where we currently live, it is only about 25 minutes on the train and there is a train ever 15 minutes, while travelling from Amsterdam to Rotterdam by train takes takes about 40 minutes and they also run in 15 minute intervals.
TIP: Train travel in the Netherlands is easy and very well organized. All information is available in English, the trains have Wi-Fi and all ticket machines accept credit cards ( with pin!) and have multiple language options. You can also buy your tickets online. A day return ticket is valid from 00.00 until 04.00 the next morning. You can break your journey, provided you complete your journey on the same day. Children under 4 years travel for free. For children 4-11 years old special Railrunner tickets are available for 2,50 EUR → More information on Dutch NS Rail.
Visiting the Netherlands soon?
When people ask me which cities they should go and see in The Netherlands, I always tell them skip Amsterdam. It is generally overrated, expensive and full of tourist traps. The Netherlands is such a charming country and has beautiful cities and villages to explore. The ones that come to mind immediately and can all be reached from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport within less than an hour, by car or train are Delft, Leiden, Haarlem,The Hague, Utrecht and Rotterdam. And then of course the Netherlands has some unique countryside to explore, the famous tulip fields in the spring, windmils, dykes and castles. The Dutch all tend to have an excellent command of the English language, are great at signposting things and their public transport system is excellent – so it is hard to get lost in this tiny country. But let’s for today focus on Rotterdam!
Our 7 Rotterdam highlights when travelling wITH KIDS
Rotterdam has a lot to offer for families, architecture lovers and foodies. These are our 6 highlights that you should not miss out on when visiting Rotterdam.
#1 Blijdorp Zoo
The Rotterdam zoo is big award winning zoo which has been in operation for more than 160 years. Diverse animals, plenty of indoor and outdoor playgrounds and a great aquarium are all part of this well-maintained zoo. It can be enjoyed all year round. It is also one of the top zoos worldwide when it comes breeding programmes for endangered species. TIP: Buying tickets only will give you a discount and allow you to by pass the queues.
# 2 PlaswijckPARK
Plaswijckpark in Rotterdam is hard to describe. If I give it a try I would say it is a family park with playgrounds and rides for children (up to age 12), a boat tour, a zoo and petting farm, a rose garden and an outdoor swimming pool all in one. It is like someone decided to mix together all of my kids favourite activites in one park to guarantee a great day out for the entire family. The park is small but big enough to spent an entire day there without getting bored.
#3 Foodie Heavens – Fenix Food Factory and The Markethal
Rotterdam has plenty of great restaurants including some Michelin star ones. Our two favourite places in Rotterdam to enjoy with the little one are, the Fenix Food Factory and the Markthal. Both are host to an array of market stalls, artisan food shops and restaurants. From the Fenix Food Factory, which is housed in a former warehouse on a peninsular within easy reach of the city centre, you have a great view over the river and the city skyline. While next to the lovely colourful Markethal you will find one of Rotterdam’s most famous sights -the Cube houses. One of them is accessible to the public, it is a nice stop over if you have time and are interested in architecture.
#4 Maritime Museum
Rotterdam has some really nice museums for all ages. Our little one likes the Maritime Museum. It is all about shipping, its history, effect on our daily life and it has plenty of vessels, ships and harbour cranes to explore. It is interesting for the parents and fun for little ones. The museums top floor has a big playground area which we like to spent time at. TIP: If you stay overnight on the SS Rotterdam (see below for hotel recommendations) you can get a watertaxi to drop you off right next to the museum.
#5 Take a watertaxi
In Rotterdam all is about water and the maritime industry, so it should come as no surprise that apart from busses, trams and trains Rotterdam operates watertaxis. They have 2 types, there are black-yellow speed boats, which cruise along the Maas river at speeds of about 50kph and some old fashioned slower boats, which only operate on 2 set routes. The black-yellow watertaxis have 50 pick/up and drop off locations and are a cheap and fast way to get around the port of Rotterdam and to surrounding villages. You can also book a watertaxi sightseeing tour and book the boats to take you to local tourist attractions, such as the windmills of Kinderdijk.
#6 For adrenaline junkies: Ziplining of the Euromast
By now readers of this blog know that my other half is an adrenaline junkie and loves to challenge himself. Last year for his birthday I gave him a voucher to zipline down the Euromast. He utterly loved it. If you are into climbing over the barrister of a tower about 100 meters above the ground, while only being attached to a tiny harness, this is what you are looking for. You will fly down the zipline at 100 km per hour on the fastest zip-line of Europe! Within just 15 seconds you will be back on the ground with adrenaline flowing through your veins. During the summer months on every last Sunday of the month the Euromast organize a zipline day (reservations required!). For the non-adrenaline junkie members of the family, the Euromast has a great restaurant from which you can enjoy the panorama view of the city , there is a big park around the Euromast too, which our little one likes to explore.
#7 Exploring the harbour : Futureland and the Pancakeboat
Rotterdam is known for its massive harbour, which is the largest port in Europe. From 1962 until 2004 it was the world’s busiest port, but Shanghai has since claimed that title. It is impressive to take a harbour tour to experience the sheer vastness of the port area. There are various port tours organized in Rotterdam and these are easy to find.
The ones we like most with our little one is a boat tour through the harbour on a pancake boat, so in essence it is a swimming pancake restaurant with ball pit and playground on board. For older kids there is an information centre of the Port of Rotterdam called Futureland, which is all about the Maasvlakte 2 area of the port. The MV2 are is a manmade part of the harbour and houses one of the most modern container terminals in the world, they offer terminal tours by bus, boat and virtual reality- take a 3D trip through the MV2 port area with the FutureFlightExperience.
Rotterdam has so much to offer it will be hard to get bored. If you do want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city we would suggest to head south along the river to visit the city of Dordrecht.
DAYTRIP – Dordrecht
A really great way to combine your trip to Rotterdam with a traditional Dutch town, away from the tourist masses, is to visit Dordrecht. Dordrecht is Holland’s oldest city and well worth a visit. It has a lot of charm and a history as an important merchant city. The former wealth of this quintessential Dutch city is clearly visible in it is historic city centre. Parts of Rotterdam feel like Amsterdam with all its bridges and houses, but without the tourist masses.
For a daytrip to Dordrecht we would suggest you take the train from Rotterdam to Dordrecht ( approx 17 min) and then while there visit the Huis van Gijn museum (Huis Van Gijn is a beautiful home museum of an extremely wealthy family. It gives a glimpse how upper class lived in the late 18th and early 19th century)and enjoy a cup of tea in their lovely backyard lunchoom. Afterwards stroll through the old centre along the cathedral and old harbour and head over to the lovely Villa Augustus (a former Watertower, which is now a great hotel/restaurant). Then you can walk along the water to the Waterbus, which is just what the name indicated, a bus (ferry) which will take you back to Rotterdam within an hour.
It is a great boattrip and a good way to experience the busy waterways around Rotterdam and shows how the entire region is shaped by the maritime industry. The waterbus is used by many commuters and you will see school children get on and off, people with their shopping and plenty of bikes will be rolled on and off the waterbus along its route. If you got yourself an OV Cards (a rechargable public transport card used all over The Netherlands), you can just swipe in using your card. The Waterbus also has routes from Rotterdam taking you to some beautiful touristic sights, such as Kinderdijk.
Where to sleep in Rotterdam
For a unique location, which is also fun with kids, we highly recommend the SS Rotterdam. It is a bit out of the city centre at a quiet quay. The hotel is actually a decomissioned former flaghip of the Holland-America Line. Sleeping on a permanently moored cruise ship which has been carefully restored to its former 1950s style glory is a really fun experience. There is a museum on board and you can get to and from the city centre within 10 minuted by car or watertaxi!
If you are travelling to Rotterdam without the kids,stay at the NHow overlooking the Erasmus bridge. It is a very modern hotel within the De Rotterdam building (architecture lovers will appreciate the location and building!) with a great rooftop bar and fabulous views; overlooking the river and famous Erasmus bridge. It is within walking distance to the Fenix Food factory and the famous historical landmark/hotels/restaurant Hotel New York. It is from this small island in the Maas river that the emigrant boats started their journey to the West towards Ellis Island.
TIP: Rotterdam-The Hague airport has daily flights to big hubs such as Berlin and London. The airport is small and very easy to navigate and waiting times are short. It is often easier and hassle free to fly out of Rotterdam-The Hague airport than to fly out of Amsterdam Schiphol airport, which can get very crowded with long waiting times at security.
Have you ever visited Rotterdam? Tell us more about it in the comments.
Want to read more of our travel stories, visit our ‘where we have been’ page to see all of the travel adventures we blogged about.