Looking for free things to do in Rotterdam in 2019?
Is Rotterdam your next destination and you’re trying to do it on a budget? Or do you just love a freebie? Or are you another Rotterdam resident victim to the high rental costs and looking to explore the city for free? Just looking for free things to do in Rotterdam – because, why not? Whatever your reasons, we’ve got ya covered! Luckily for you, Rotterdam has plenty of free things to enjoy.
So, without further ado, here are 21 best and free things to do in Rotterdam in 2019 (yes there really are that many)!
By Emma Brown and Kavana Desai
1. Explore the Markthal
The Markthal is home to all of the amazing food that you can possibly imagine. This indoor market, housed in a typical Rotterdam crazy-yet-cool building, is a must-see if you are in Rotterdam! Inside you’ll find a variety of different food stands, shops and restaurants. Many of these stalls have upstairs seating, so you can look down on all of the crowds stuffing their faces (perfect for people who like people watching – GUILTY).
The Markthal also has a variety of different living spaces along the outside. Yup – people live in there! Thankfully, the ceilings are so high that you can’t actually peer into the houses like we’re used to, but they sure as hell can spy on you.
Oh, and if you walk into the Markthal, don’t forget to look up at the ceiling – the place is so impressive.
2. Walk along Rotterdam’s harbour
Okay, so not ALL of Rotterdam’s harbour, it’s pretty damn big (the biggest in Europe in fact), but some of it is really beautiful. If you start at Oude Habour and cross the road, you can walk all along the front, past all of the world flags and all the way to the Erasmus bridge. Once you’ve crossed it, you can then walk all the way along the edge when the cruise terminal and all the way up to Hotel New York, even from there you can carry on walking along the front all the way up to the SS Rotterdam.
Not only is it free, but it keeps you fit and it’s a beautiful walk on a summers day. You can even cycle it instead if you prefer.
3. Visit the Cube Houses
If you’re on your way to the Markthal, then it would be hard to miss these. The iconic cube houses of Rotterdam dominate your vision when in the area. It’s the perfect insta shot and the perfect place to take a wander. Take a walk up the steps and go for a walk up there – you’ll find a few cute shops, a museum, a hostel and people’s houses. Uh-huh, people actually live in these.
To see what it would be like for yourself, you can visit the cube house museum, which is essentially a showhouse, showing you what the inside of the cube houses actually looks like. You pay a few euros at the door and then you can go and look around. Personally, I could NEVER live somewhere like that, the whole place completely spun me out and made me feel dizzy and weird, but it is totally cool to go and see for yourself.
4. Walk along the Erasmus Bridge
“The swan” as it’s known, considering its swan-like shape, is the iconic bridge of Rotterdam, connecting the north and the south. I love walking across the bridge because of the view. If you walk from the north to the south, you’ll have a great view of “The Rotterdam”, the huge and disjointed skyscraper in Rotterdam. At night it’s especially nice as the bridge lights up and so do the houses and offices around it.
Prewarning: if you’re looking to check these sights out by bike, make sure that it’s not too windy on that day as riding your bike across the Erasmus bridge, reeeaaalllyyy isn’t fun. 😉
5. Go to ‘Het Park’ (The Museumpark by the Euromast)
If you’re looking for some big open space, then there is actually no shortage in Rotterdam. Het Museumpark by the Euromast is just one of those places and the walk to and from the park is just as nice (if you’re lost, just head for the Euromast – you can’t miss it). There’s plenty of green, plenty of places to sit down and read a book or sunbathe and you can even feed the ducks on the lake. It’s a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of the city, which is much needed.
6. Catch a train at Rotterdam Centraal Station
Rotterdam central station, in my opinion, is the most impressive part of Rotterdam — it’s an architects heaven. The inside is impressive enough, but then when you walk outside the front entrance and literally all around you is all different and funky skyscrapers. Then when you walk out and turn around, you’ll see Rotterdam Central Station in all its glory. The area all around here is beautiful and the perfect place to go for a wander. There are some cool graffiti and architecture in the area, along with plenty of terraces to get that much-needed beverage after your walk.
7. Get on board the SS Rotterdam
The SS Rotterdam is another absolute icon of Rotterdam. It was launched back in 1953 by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. The SS Rotterdam sailed for 41 years until it stopped in 2000. She was then restored and was brought back to Rotterdam, where it opened as a hotel, restaurant and event venue. You can enter completely free to have a look around.
You can also take a bite to eat on the inside or outside of the SS Rotterdam and it’s the perfect place to go on a summers day. Afternoon tea? You can do that. Fine dining? You can do that. Greasy nachos and a beer outside? You can do that too. It’s certainly the go-to place in Rotterdam and a real piece of history.
8. Check out a food hall
There are a variety of food halls here in Rotterdam and there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of window shopping! However, if you think you’re going to cave in and buy half of the place out and you’re short on money, then maybe skip this one and avoid it like the plague. 😉 The reason why the food halls are pretty damn sweet is because there’s a lot of history behind them.
Fenix Food Factory, the most hipster place ever, is housed in an old port warehouse in Kadendrecht. Overall, the place has been maintained to look just like it was from an old warehouse, but it’s been revamped to look trendy and up-and-coming, with cute little fairy lights and a nice outside space to have a beer and a burger. It’s really nice in the summer and also somewhere to escape to if it’s pouring with rain and you’re feeling sorry for yourself.
Another is the reasonably new Foodhallen Rotterdam, Pakhuismeesteren has a lot of trading history, as it was home to the Pakhuismeesteren van de Thee company, where tea and nuts were stored from the former colonies. Since then it has been left unloved, despite it being a pretty cool building. Now it houses many different food stalls… just when you thought the Markthal was the only good food place we’ve got. 😉
9. Visit Hotel New York
Hotel New York is the former head office of the Holland Amerika Line and here is where many people left for North America, hoping to find a better life. A lot has changed since then, as it transformed into a hotel and a restaurant/bar. Hotel New York is THE place to stay in Rotterdam and while the hotel certainly isn’t on the cheap side, the building and area around it are lovely. If you have any spare euros at all, grab a drink and sit on the terraces, it gets busy in the summer and it’s hard to find a seat, but it’s so worth it.
10. Go to Festival TREK – Food festival
Yup, it’s gratis and I’ve decided to mention it as I go every year and it’s really funky. Found near Blijdorp Zoo in a beautiful park, festival TREK happens. Its a festival full of really cool food trucks, with performances, cocktails, shisha pipes, fairy lights and a really chill ambience. Of course, it’s not totally free if you’re going to want to buy something (which you are), but you can make it as cheap or as expensive as you’d like.
11. Visit the Historical Delfshaven and Pelgrimvederskerk
If you know about the history of Rotterdam, you will know that a lot of the old city got flattened by bombs in 1940. The neighbourhood of Delfshaven is one of the few parts that actually survived. Visiting this neighbourhood, you are treated with old Dutch canal houses and a beautiful yacht marina. You can visit antique stores, beer breweries, small galleries and art studios, and restaurants here!
But the most interesting part of this borough of Rotterdam is its history: It was originally Delft’s harbour before becoming a part of Rotterdam in the 19th century. The people who lived there survived by fishing for herring and making the famous distilled gin of the Netherlands, jenever.
This neighbourhood is also home to the Pelgrimvaderskerk or Pilgrim Father’s Church, which dates back to 1417. It was originally a Roman Catholic Church, which later turned into a Protestant church in 1574, because of the Reformation. Also, this neighbourhood’s port was also from where the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to Southampton in England on Speedwell, and then boarded the Mayflower that “discovered” (🤨) the Americas.
12. Go and see Het Havenmuseum (The Harbour Museum)
You might have heard of the Maritiemmuseum at the harbour (which you should seriously consider exploring), but did you know there is an open air, freely accessible part called Het Havenmuseum? It is located at Leuvehaven 50, and it is right next to the Maritiemmuseum. You can see the history of the port of Rotterdam from 1850, all the way to 1970. You can walk into most of the ships docked there, and discover what they look like from the inside!
13. Save the dates: Free festivals in 2019
With the coming of the summer months, you also have free outdoor festivals coming up! The city comes alive with live music festivals, food festivals, theatre festivals and more! One of the biggest ones is Rotterdam Unlimited happening for 5 days (23 – 27 July) everywhere in the city. You can enjoy art, dance to some amazing tunes, and take over the streets! There’s a festival within a festival with the last two days for the Summer Carnival, which finishes with a parade which has more than 2500 dancers, and 25 carnival groups! Keep an eye on their website closer to the dates to know the route of the parade so that you don’t miss out the best acts.
But your summer is not done without these other free festivals:
- Roparun (8 – 10 June): relay race of 500 km from Paris and Hamburg to Rotterdam to raise money for cancer
- ZigZagZuid (to be announced): an architecture festival that takes you through the south (Zuid) of Rotterdam
- Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival (21 – 23 June): a must-see for all bluegrass music lovers
- São João Festival (sometime in June): a midsummer festival in the honour of John the Baptist and give you a little taste of Cape Verde
- Eendracht Festival (to be announced): a day full of exploring the best Rotterdam has to offer in music, spoken word, and more
- Baroeg Open Air (14 September): happening at the “sub-cultural” pop-venue of Baroeg in Rotterdam Zuiderpark
- Metropolis Festival (to be announced): for emerging local and international music artists in Rotterdam Zuiderpark again
14. Attend World Harbour Days
The World Harbour Days or the Wereldhavendagen in Rotterdam happens every year that lets you experience one of the world’s biggest harbours in a very personal way. It’s a three day festival with demonstrations and tours to companies that operate from the harbour. There are activities for the visitors of the festival to enjoy, like the Royal Dutch Navy helicopter shows, boat races on the river Maas, diving presentations and more! The Dutch Police and Fire brigade also participate, showcasing everything they have to show off.
15. Relax at Luchtsingel
If you look on the satellite overview of Rotterdam, you will be able to spot this bright yellow line running from Rotterdam North to the center. It is right around the corner from Central station, and you walk around the 390m long wooden pedestrian bridge. It connects the Central Station with the North and the North with the Binnenrotte.
Besides the wooden bridge, there is the DakAkker, a harvestable roof where vegetables, fruits and herbs are grown; the Roof Hofplein which acts as a small public venue space for events; and the park at Pompenburg where you can relax when the sun is shining.
16. Purchase a Rotterdam Pass
This one is a little too hard to believe: buying this pass lets you do almost 750 free or discounted things around Rotterdam. You can go play a game of laser tag, or go to one of the many museums at a discounted price, or even grab some pancakes! And the best part is that it’s valid for a whole year, where it starts on March 1 to the end of February of the NEXT YEAR! You pay only 60 euros for the whole year, or 12.50 euros if you’re a student. We all love our discounts, don’t we? Check out their blogs on what other people have done with this pass for some ideas, or just go to their shop to know what’s on discount or free! You can get this pass at the central library at Blaak or order it online.
17. Discover the Kabouter Buttplug
One of my most favourite public art pieces in Rotterdam: the Kabouter Buttplug. This one deserves a special mention, not because of its aesthetic prowess (I am not the best judge for that), but the idea behind why the artist Paul McCarthy made it. The L.A. based contemporary artist is known for his provocative art pieces which send the faint-hearted into a frenzy. This sculpture is nothing less: it is supposed to be a tribute to Christmas, with Santa Claus holding a bell in one hand, and what is supposed to be a Christmas tree on the other hand.
But, as you can see in the picture below, it looks far from a festive tree.
This statue has travelled all around the city, where it was first supposed to be displayed near the De Doelen building, then moved on to the courtyard of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen following resistance from many people due to the sexualisation of Mr.Claus. Finally, it moved to Eendrachtsplein because of renovations that were happening at the museum courtyard.
18. Admire the street art in Rotterdam
Exploring the city through street art in Rotterdam is one of the best ways to see the city. Rewriters Rotterdam has come up with an app which guides you through the city, giving you the context and relevance of each street art piece. The whole city becomes sort of an open-air museum you can walk through to enjoy some amazing pieces. You can download the app for just 99 cents, and this gives all the information you need to truly enjoy the streets of Rotterdam! If you want to see the main route before you actually spend those cents, they offer a free downloadable map you can use as well!
19. Go on a free walking tour
If you don’t particularly care about street art, you can join this free walking tour of the city that starts at the Markthal. You are taken around the city by true Rotterdammers who will tell you a little bit about everything you need to know about the city: Erasmus of Rotterdam, World War 2 bombardment, the quirky architecture, and Rotterdam’s port. There is no better way of getting to know the city because it is conducted by volunteers who truly love living here. You can book a spot for a tour at their website where you can see just why it is worth taking it! The testimonials from people who have already participated are all glowing, and the tour guides are all very happy to help you to get to know the city better!
20. Visit Leeszaal Rotterdam West
One of my favourite places in the city, only because I am a total bookworm. The Leeszaal or the Reading Room hopes to keep the spirit of a public library alive, where you can go there to read, write, or meet interesting people from the neighbourhood. You can borrow books without applying for a library card. Did you love the book you borrowed? You can keep it! You are under no obligation to return it, but you do have the option of leaving behind any book you have already read.
21. See the Floating Forest
You can spot this floating forest at Rijnhaven, where there are miniature trees floating on the Maas. There are as many as 20 trees right now floating around on the river, waiting for you to grab a seat at the many benches on the riverside (when the weather permits it), watch them float around! This has been around since 2016, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re definitely missing out on a very fun FREE thing to experience in Rotterdam! So, what are you waiting for?! Get to Rijnhaven already!
Things to do with kids in the Netherlands
Stuck for things to do with kids in the Netherlands? Apart from some of the things listed below, there are plenty of parks and walks that you can do with children in and around Rotterdam.
Check out the full list of parks you can visit in Rotterdam here.
There’s also plenty of cinemas in Rotterdam too, so maybe you could catch a movie with your kids? Rotterdam also has an amazing zoo (Blijdorp Zoo) and also plenty of museums with child-friendly sections.
Things to do in Rotterdam when it rains
So, it’s raining. What a surprise. You know there’s a ton of things to do outside, but what about inside? Like we said above, Rotterdam has many museums (think the Museum pass!) and this is the perfect place to go on a rainy day.
Check out the full list of Rotterdam museums here.
You can also go shopping. Rotterdam has Zuidplein Mall and Alexandrium Mall, along with plenty of shops in the city centre. Here you can also take a bite to eat in one of Rotterdam’s many restaurants. Who doesn’t love a bite to eat and a shopping spree?
Looking for things to do in the summer in Rotterdam? We have that covered too. 😉
Phew, that was a lot to get through! So, as you can see, there is certainly no shortage of free things to do in Rotterdam. So quit with your ‘…but I have no money’ excuses and get out there and explore it.
Where’s your favourite place in Rotterdam? Know of any other free things to do in Rotterdam? Let us know in the comments!