Last month I was invited by Stena Line to visit Rotterdam for a day trip by taking the overnight ferry. I’d never taken a ferry to mainland Europe, so I was curious about travelling this way, and I love Rotterdam so much that I jumped at the opportunity. So here is a summary of my experience, together with a guide of what to see in Rotterdam in one day for those of you who are short of time or are visiting Rotterdam on a day trip.
Table of Contents
- 1 Rotterdam in One Day – The Best Itinerary
- 2 How to get around Rotterdam
- 3 Taking the ferry to Rotterdam with Stena Line
- 4 Got some extra time? Take a tour in Rotterdam!
- 5 Like this post? Pin and save for later
Rotterdam in One Day – The Best Itinerary
You will most likely arrive in Rotterdam at the Centraal Station, the main railway station in the city. A state of the art building, it was originally constructed in 1957 and recently completely overhauled into an ultra modern design that will give you an idea of what to expect of one of the coolest cities in Europe. The new station building was officially opened in 2014.
Centraal Station is the only railway station in The Netherlands not to have the name of the city – it’s simply Centraal Station. When it was built it was decided that it didn’t need it, as when you are in Rotterdam, you know you are in Rotterdam.
There is a small Tourist Information booth in the main hall of Centraal Station, so this is a great place to get maps or other city information before you start exploring. You can also buy the Rotterdam Welcome Card here if you haven’t ordered one in advanced. It gives you discounts to attractions, museums, as well as cafes, bars and restaurants. And it also includes a travel pass for unlimited travel. A one day Welcome Card is €12.
Rotterdam was pretty much destroyed in WWII, which means that the historic centre has disappeared. This has given the city the opportunity to reinvent itself, which has done in an amazing way, but it means that the old Rotterdam in no longer there. Or is it…?
Delfshaven was originally part of the city of Delft, 6 miles inland, as Delft was not located by a major river. But in time, it was annexed to Rotterdam. It is one of the few areas of the city that survived the 1940 bombing, so it gives you an idea of what Rotterdam looked like before the war.
It was the departure point from which the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to America. Oude Kirk (or Pelgrimvaderskerk) was where the last sermon was given before they set sail to the New World. You can visit the church on Fridays and Saturdays.
If you enjoy pretty views from up high, then visiting the Euromast observation tower is a must. At 185 metres high, the observation deck gives you a 360-degree view over Rotterdam and its surroundings. When I went up the weather wasn’t great, so I didn’t expect the views to be that great. However, despite it being grey and rainy, the views were pretty clear and you could see really far.
On one side you have the city, with The Park directly below the Euromast and the Erasmusbrug in the distance, and the port on the opposite side, with its impressive architecture. You can also clearly see SS Rotterdam, which looks like a miniature ship.
There is a brasserie at the top that is open for lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, and if you fancy staying overnight, there are two suites at 100 metres high. Imagine waking up above the city!
The Euromast is open from 9.30am (summer) / 10am (winter) to 10pm, and entry is €9.75 with a 25% discount with the Rotterdam Welcome Card. Or you can book your ticket in advance here.
Whenever I visit a new destination, I always try and visit a local market, and Rotterdam was of course no exception. Markthal was built in 2014 to replace the original open air market, so it’s pretty new, but it is a market with a difference. Not only is it a piece of striking architecture, it is also innovative, combining the use of a market with luxury apartments. The horseshoe shape that acts as a cover for this exciting market contains 228 apartments.
Once you are inside, you will be wowed by the ‘world’s largest painting’. The artwork that covers the ceiling is called the ‘Horn of Plenty’. Some people refer to the Markthal as the Dutch version of the Sistine Chapel, and you will see why as soon as you walk in.
But let’s talk about the food now. In De Markthal you can find over 100 food stalls that include traditional Rotterdam and Dutch food as well as fish, sweets, charcuterie, ice cream and lots of other delicious options from all over the world.
And if you would like to know more about the ancient history of the city, there is an exhibition in the underground car park of archeological items from medieval Rotterdam, that were found on the site during the market’s construction. The exhibition free to view.
To make the most of the market, you could incorporate it into a food tour of the city.
Cube Houses (or Kijk-Kubus)
The Cube Houses are very likely to make you stop to try to understand what is going on here. The first thing that came to mind when I saw them was the word ‘bonkers’, because my brain kept telling me that it just didn’t make sense.
The Cube Houses, also known as Tree Houses, were designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom. He designed them with a forest in mind, and if you look at them, you will see that the houses or cubes resemble the top of a tree, the canopy, which are propped up on concrete poles which make up the trunks. So when you look at the whole complex, you will see that it is actually a forest.
The outside is very striking with its geometric shapes and its bright yellow panels, and you can walk through this ‘forest’ and imagine what it’s like to live there. But to get a better idea of what the houses are like, I would recommend visiting one of the houses inside. The Kijk-Kubus has been set up so people can appreciate what it would be like to live in one of these houses. It does take a bit of getting used to, but there is actually quite a big living space in them. The only thing is that with walls at such odd angles, you would need to have your furniture made to measure.
The Kijk-Kubus is open every day from 11am to 5pm and the entrance fee is €3.
One of the Cube Houses is a hostel, so you could stay in one of them overnight if you’d like to experience what it’s like to wake up in room with wonky walls.
The Erasmusbrug or Erasmus Bridge links the northern and southern parts of Rotterdam. It’s an 800-metre long suspension bridge with a pylon that is 139 metres high and it’s secured by 40 cables. It is the shape of this pylon that has given the bridge the nickname of ‘The Swan’.
It has become an icon of the city, so it is a must on your list of what to see in Rotterdam in one day. Cross it on foot to get the full scale of it and you will also get some great angles for your photos.
Fenix Food Factory
The Fenix Food Factory is an indoor market for fresh food located in the Fenixloods, an former quayside warehouse in Katendrecht. You can find a great variety of artisanal food and drink here – the bread is freshly baked and the coffee is roasted and beer brewed on site.
Some of the highlights are Jordy’s Bakery, selling delicious artisan bread, Stielman Koffiebranders, who pride themselves in bringing the coffee straight from the farmer to the drinker, and Stroop Rotterdam, the go-to place in the city for the best and most exciting flavours of stroopwafel (try the lavender or the Indonesian spices ones!).
Fenix Food Factory is open from 10am to 7pm Tues-Thurs, 10am-8pm on Fridays, 10am-6pm on Saturdays and 12pm-6pm on Sundays. It is closed on Mondays.
The SS Rotterdam is a former flaghip of the Holland–America Line. It is the biggest ocean-going steamer built in The Netherlands and has sailed across the world since 1959. The ship is now permanently moored in the Katendrecht peninsula and has been lovingly restored keeping its original 1950s interior and artwork. The ship is now a hotel, with rooms that offer all the facilities of a regular hotel with the novelty of being on a historic ship.
The restaurants and general areas on the ship are open to the public, and you can also take tours that let you know what life used to be like on board.
The Luchtsingel Bridge is a 400-metre long pedestrian bridge and is the first crowdfunded public infrastructure project in the world. The idea of building this bridge came about because Rotterdam North felt disconnected from the rest of the city, so this bridge solved this problem my linking this area to the city centre, contributing to the revitalisation of an area that had been neglected. You will notice names engraved of the wooden boards on the bridge. For each €25 donated, sponsors could have their name on a board.
If you enjoy photography and architecture, be sure to add this really cool bridge to your Rottterdam one day itinerary!
How to get around Rotterdam
Rotterdam has an excellent public transport system that makes getting around the city really easy. You can travel around the city by bus, tram and metro.
For one day in Rotterdam I would recommend getting a RET 1 day travel pass, which you can get from Rotterdam Tourist Information in Centraal Station and Coolsingel. It costs €8 and you can use the bus, tram and metro for 24 hours after activation (remember to always check in and check out every time you travel).
If you are planning to include some attractions on your Rotterdam day trip, it will be more cost effective to get a Rotterdam Welcome Card for €12, which includes 25% discounts in attractions, museums and cafes and restaurants, as well as a travel pass for Rotterdam for one day.
You can also move around the city by waterbus or water taxi. The waterbus costs €1 and it follows a schedule, which you can check here. The water taxi is on demand and you call it from the pick up points that you will see around the ports. You can find the telephone number on each pick up point. Unfortunately, neither the waterbus nor the water taxi are included in the RET 1 day travel pass, but I would recommend trying them out, as it’s great fun to get around the city by water.
Taking the ferry to Rotterdam with Stena Line
A great way to see Rotterdam in one day is to take the overnight Stena Line ferry from the UK. It was my first time taking the ferry to Rotterdam from the UK, or anywhere to be honest, and it was a really pleasant surprise. It was a very relaxed way to travel, and I loved that when I woke up I was already in The Netherlands.
The check-in process was super easy. You go through security the same way you would at an airport but without the long queues, and once you board you will be directed to your cabin. I travelled in Comfort Class and I was really impressed with my room. It had a double and a single bed, a TV, tea and coffee making facilities, a complimentary mini bar, and a pretty nice en-suite bathroom. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t something as good as this. It was like a proper hotel room.
On board the Stena Line ferry
Once you are settled in your room you have the whole evening to relax and enjoy yourself until it’s bedtime. And not only is the ship pretty fancy, it has plenty of amenities to keep you entertained, so I can guarantee you will not get bored.
On board you will find a buffet and an a la carte restaurant, a bar, a shop, an entertainment area with video games, and a cinema. Also, if you are a member of the Stena Line Extra loyalty club (free to join), you can upgrade to Stena Plus for a small fee, which will give you access to the Stena Plus Lounge. The Lounge offers a choice of complementary nibbles, hot and cold drinks, wines, free newspapers and magazines, and a nice and quiet area to relax in.
For dining, I went to the Metropolitan Restaurant, which has an a la carte menu. The food was delicious and the service couldn’t have been better, always with a smile and making sure everything was right. I would recommend trying the mouthwatering smoked duck salad. You can thank me later.
Getting to and from the ferry terminals
The ferry departs from Harwich, in Essex, which you can reach from London’s Liverpool Street Station in approximately 1 hour 15 mins, and it arrives at Hook of Holland (or Hoek van Holland). With the Rail & Sail option that Stena Line offers, I didn’t have to worry about booking rail travel at either end, as it was all included in one package.
From Hook of Holland to Rotterdam, you take the shuttle bus 711 to Schiedam Centrum for €3.50, and from Schiedam Centrum it’s a 10 minute train journey to Rotterdam’s Centraal Station.
Got some extra time? Take a tour in Rotterdam!
- Rotterdam Harbour Tour
- Architecture Walking Tour of Rotterdam
- Rotterdam Highlights 2-Hour Walking Tour
- Rotterdam Highlights 2-Hour Bike Tour
- Guided Walking Tour of Rotterdam Icons
- Rotterdam Private Tour with a Local
- More tours here
Is there anything you would include if you were to explore Rotterdam in one day?
Let me know in the comments.
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Disclosure: A big thank you to Stena Line who hosted me on this trip. As always, all views are my own.
Teresa is an award-winning travel blogger based in London. She’s on a mission to explore the world through responsible cultural and adventure travel, and through deeper, more meaningful local experiences. She’s a lover of adventure, the outdoors and everything food related, and she’s always looking for ways to make a positive impact through sustainable travel.