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How to See the Best of Rotterdam in Winter

Discover why Rotterdam in winter is a great alternative to Amsterdam. Explore Rotterdam in December. Learn about things to do in Rotterdam in the winter months.
We traveled to Rotterdam in December for a city break between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Why visit Rotterdam in winter? 

Why not simply go to Amsterdam for the weekend, one of the top cities in Europe or one of the myriad of other places to visit in the Netherlands? There are many reasons to spend some time in the second city of the Netherlands even when it's cold outside. 

Hotel accommodation is much cheaper for one. It takes less than 30 minutes to get to Rotterdam on the Intercity Direct train from Schiphol Airport. 

Why Visit Rotterdam in Winter? Art inside the Rotterdam Markthal

Rotterdam features some amazing architecture. Read on to find out what there is to see and do in and around Rotterdam in the middle of winter. 

Tour a Forest of Cube Houses in Rotterdam

Why Visit Rotterdam in Winter? Cube Houses in Rotterdam, Netherlands
Did you ever wish you had a tree house as a child? 

Rotterdam features an architectural experiment. Designed by Piet Blom in 1984, this series of 38 homes comprised of pillars with cubes rotated at 45 degrees on top, looks a bit like a forest of tree houses. 

One of the cube houses is open to the public and can be toured for a small fee. Beware if you are claustrophobic. The cube houses are quite small and popular with visitors to Rotterdam so it can be quite crowded inside.
Cube House in Rotterdam, Netherlands

Rotterdam's Eclectic Architecture Shines in Winter

Why Visit Rotterdam in Winter? Rotterdam apartment building
It would be easy to draw the conclusion that a city known for cube houses has some cool architecture generally. You wouldn't be wrong. A walk around Rotterdam reveals all sorts of buildings of unusual shapes, sizes, and materials.
Why Visit Rotterdam in Winter? Modern architecture and bell sculpture in Rotterdam

Classic Dutch Touches in Rotterdam

Stained glass windows and shutters in Rotterdam
At the same time, Rotterdam is distinctly Dutch. Some of the more historic buildings feature colorful shutters and statues of knights in shining armor. 
Knight in Armour sculpture in Rotterdam

Rotterdam's Stunning Street Art

Why Visit Rotterdam in Winter? Street Art in Rotterdam
Rotterdam also features an innovative collection of street art. Just have a wander around town near the central station and steep in the atmosphere. 

Granted, when we visited Rotterdam in December it was quite cold and foggy so we didn't see as much of the local street art as we would have liked. Still, the pieces we did see on our trip gave the city an interesting edge.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that European Capitals of Culture have been designated since 1985 and that Rotterdam was one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2001? Here are our top picks of other former European Capitals of culture to visit.

  1. Visit the Christmas markets in Berlin, Germany (1988)
  2. Spend 2 days in Glasgow Scotland (1990)
  3. Explore 23 ways to do a day in Dublin Ireland (1991)
  4. Spend a weekend exploring Luxembourg with a Luxembourg Card and don't forget to do some day trips from Luxembourg City (1995, 2007)
  5. Spend a day in Stockholm Sweden (1998)
  6. Steep in a gentile yet gritty atmosphere with 3 days in Porto Portugal (2001)
  7. Learn about awesome things to do in Cork City Ireland (2005)
  8. Head to the Baltics and visit Riga Latvia (2014) or Vilnius Lithuania (2009)
  9. Get off the beaten track with a day in Mons Belgium (2015)
  10. Explore Bulgaria’s Roman past with a bus ride from Sofia to Plovdiv for a weekend (2019)

                    Artsy Surprises Await You in Winter in Rotterdam

                    Street Sculpture in Rotterdam
                    City breaks are all about walking around and getting a sense of a place. We really enjoyed the public sculptures dotting various street corners. Some pieces seemed satirical while others were pure whimsy.
                    Street Sculpture in Rotterdam

                    Rotterdam's Air Canal

                    Rotterdam's Luchtsingel (Air Canal)
                    Rotterdam's ingenuity expands in other directions as well. Rotterdam studio ZUS built the Luchtsingel (Air Canal) connecting three previously disjointed areas of the city that were separated by trafficky thoroughfares. 

                    Rotterdam studio ZUS describes the endeavor as "the world's first crowdfunded public infrastructure project." Taking a walk on Rotterdam's Luchtsingel is a great way to get above it all and view the city from a new perspective.

                    Rotterdam's Hipster Coffee Scene

                    Why Visit Rotterdam in Winter? Hopper Coffee in Rotterdam
                    We also discovered that Rotterdam has a great coffee scene typified by Hopper Coffee. Drop in for a well prepared single-origin cuppa combined with a hearty or healthy breakfast and warm up from the cold winter outside.

                    A World-Class Food Hall in Rotterdam

                    Rotterdam Markthal
                    Rotterdam's Markthal is world-class. Not only is the food hall an impressive architectural achievement featuring front and back panels of glass with apartments running up and over the structure and a whimsical food-themed mural inside, it's also a great place to grab something to eat.
                    Mural inside Rotterdam Markthal
                    We were especially mesmerized by the homemade Dutch stroopwafels being constructed within; a perfect winter treat.
                    Why Visit Rotterdam in Winter? Homemade stroopwafels at the Rotterdam Markthal

                    Harbour Walks in Rotterdam

                    Rotterdam Harbour
                    Rotterdam has a reputation for being a gritty port city. We took the opportunity to walk along the harbour. Since we visited during the holiday season, we had the path along the water practically to ourselves. This was a great spot to get a breath of fresh air and a scenic brisk winter walk.
                    Rotterdam Harbour

                    Get Your Geek On at the Dutch Pinball Museum

                    Dutch Pinball Museum in Rotterdam
                    The path along harbor also leads to one of my favorite discoveries in Rotterdam: the Dutch Pinball Museum. You pay a fixed price and can play all the pinball you want. At the time of our visit it cost 10 EUR for 3 hours. We visited shortly before closing time and paid about 5 EUR to play until they closed.
                    Why Visit Rotterdam in Winter? Dutch Pinball Museum in Rotterdam
                    The Dutch Pinball Museum features at least 50 different machines. Pro-tip: if you are visiting with someone, it makes more sense to split up and play different machines rather than playing 'doubles' on a single machine. This way you avoid any downtime and make the most of your entrance fee.
                    Creature from the Black Lagoon at the Dutch Pinball Museum in Rotterdam
                    Rotterdam's Dutch Pinball Museum also features kitschy decor like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
                    Pac-man jacket worn by Gerard Van de Sanden at the Dutch Pinball Museum
                    Owner Gerard Van de Sanden even presides over the premises in a Pac-Man suit. So much awesome!

                    Craft Brew at Fenix Food Factory

                    Fenix Food Factory in Rotterdam
                    The Fenix Food Factory is right next door to the Dutch Pinball Museum and is a great place to unwind after some intense gaming. We popped in for a beer or two at Kaapse Brouwers and the place was buzzing.

                    Experience Olieballen

                    This was the first time we'd visited the Netherlands in winter and I'll admit there were trade-offs. It was definitely cold when we visited Rotterdam which meant we couldn't walk as far without popping in somewhere to warm up. 

                    On the other hand, visiting between Christmas and New Year's Eve meant that we discovered oliebollen. 
                    Oliebollen in the Netherlands
                    Oliebollen are deep fried balls of dough doused in powdered sugar. You can get them with raisins or without. Oliebollen are traditionally eaten on New Year's Eve. 

                    We broke with tradition and tried one in the middle of the day on December 29th. :-) We also brought some home with us and ate them for breakfast on New Year's Day, a lovely reminder of our winter city break in the Netherlands.

                    Memorial to a Port City

                    Delft Gate in Rotterdam
                    The Delftschepoort (Delft Gate) was built at the entrance to Rotterdam in 1764. It was rebuilt twice in the intervening centuries. Rotterdam Port itself was destroyed in the Spring of 1940 during World War II. 

                    Half a century later, the Delft Gate was reconstructed in steel on the original site and there are artifacts of the old port inside the skeleton of the structure. Fascinating...

                    Rotterdam is a Great Home Base for Day Trips to Gouda and Den Haag

                    Town Hall in Gouda
                    The many cities and towns in the Netherlands as a whole are well connected by a speedy train system. We discovered that Rotterdam is an excellent home base for exploring. 

                    We spent a day in the quaint town of Gouda, a place first referenced nearly 1000 years ago. Gouda is a great spot to steep in traditional Dutch architecture not to mention a great place to sample some world-famous cheese.
                    The Hague
                    We also stopped in The Hague (Den Haag) while en route to Rotterdam from Schiphol Airport. We visited on a foggy winter day but were particularly impressed by how well the new modern architecture of the city and more historic-feeling elements manage to harmoniously co-exist.

                    You'll Pay Half the Price to Stay in Rotterdam as You Would in Amsterdam

                    We love Amsterdam but really enjoyed the change of scenery that came with visiting the Netherlands with our home base in Rotterdam. As you can see, there are many reasons to take a trip to Rotterdam as a great city break alternative to Amsterdam in the winter. 

                    Another advantage of staying in Rotterdam over the Christmas period is that you'll pay half the price that you would in Amsterdam for accommodation. 

                    Speaking of accommodation, check out Bunch of Backpackers recommendations of inexpensive places to stay in Rotterdam. We love great value especially if it comes with the excuse to see new things.

                    Map of Things to Do in Rotterdam in Winter

                    Click on the map below to access an interactive Google Map of the things to do in Rotterdam in winter highlighted in this post.

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                    Why Visit Rotterdam, The Netherlands' Second City in Winter

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                    Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: How to See the Best of Rotterdam in Winter
                    How to See the Best of Rotterdam in Winter
                    Discover why Rotterdam in winter is a great alternative to Amsterdam. Explore Rotterdam in December. Learn about things to do in Rotterdam in the winter months.
                    Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog