We only had one day in Rotterdam when we visited on a cruise, but managed to pack in plenty of cool things to do in our short visit. If you want to know what to see in Rotterdam in one day, there’s lots to visit that’s within an easy walk of the Rotterdam cruise terminal. We managed to fit in a Spido harbour tour, visit the famous Rotterdam cube houses, take in an architecture walking tour, and visit several museums, yet still be back on board by teatime. So if you plan to visit Rotterdam in one day, here are some of the things that we enjoyed on our cruise day ashore.
Our Rotterdam day trip was part of our 4 day European Sampler Cruise on board Crown Princess was one of the most enjoyable days of the cruise. The sun shone as we stood on deck and the ship glided through the canal that led to the port of Rotterdam, the second city of the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. On the skyline were rows of windmills – the modern white kind rather than the picturesque old ones you get on every postcard, and the canal was lined with industrial buildings.
What to do in Rotterdam in one day
1. Spido Harbour Tour in Rotterdam
To take a Rotterdam boat tour, we walked from the cruise terminal across the Erasmus bridge, known locally as the Swan for the sculptural effect of its supports, and from the jetty on the other side we took the Spido Harbour Tour, lasting 75 minutes. We were lucky to have bright and sunny weather for our Rotterdam harbour tour, but the large boat would be suitable for all weathers with indoor and outdoor seating areas, and a café to buy coffee and snacks.
We settled on the open, upper deck from where the boat tour of Rotterdam gave us a great view of all the interesting buildings alongside the Maas River. The commentary in English and other languages informed us about the modern buildings, many by notable architects, as most of the older buildings of Rotterdam were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. We toured up one side of the harbour, past the Euromast tower and around the working shipyards where cranes were loading goods and colourful containers were stacked along the quay.
Returning along the other side of the harbour we made a detour to pass the old cruise liner SS Rotterdam, the Hotel New York and the Crown Princess moored on Wilhelmina Pier, before being dropped off beside the Erasmus bridge again. This is definitely one of the cool things to do if you only have 1 day in Rotterdam.
Need to know: If you’re visiting Rotterdam in a day, the Spido Harbour tour lasts 75 minutes and cost €13.25 per adult €8 for children. The tours run all year round and in the summer there are around 10 sailings a day, with less in winter.
Stay nearby: Suite Hotel Pincoffs – dating back to 1879 this 4 star hotel offers stylish rooms and historic charm.
2. SS Rotterdam
We passed the SS Rotterdam on our harbour tour, but unfortunately we didn’t have time for a proper visit. This Rotterdam cruise ship was the biggest passenger ship ever built in the Netherlands under the Holland America line and is now a hotel and museum. In her heyday she welcomed celebrities like Frank Sinatra and European Royalty like Crown Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and Princess Margaret of England, but now anyone can eat in one of the restaurants and cafes or have a cocktail in the bar. You can take a 1 hour audio tour around the ship to see behind the scenes in the charts room, bridge and captain’s cabin.
3. Schmidt Zeevis
Once we completed the Spido Harbour tour, it was getting close to lunchtime so we asked a local shopkeeper for a recommendation of where we might find some pickled herring, my husband’s favourite. We were directed to Schmidt Zeevis, a fishmonger’s and deli which had apparently won awards for the best in the city and was just a 5 minute walk away from the Erasmus Bridge. The chilled counters were full of fresh seafood as well as ready-to-eat dishes to take out, but there were tables by the window where you could stand and eat your lunch selection. In the open kitchen we could see large pieces of fish being sliced with great precision and the sharpest of knives. Display counters doubled as table tops and groups of local businessmen were eating anything from Japanese raw fish with dipping sauces, to battered fish goujons, all washed down with a glass of chilled white wine. We joined the lunchtime diners standing at a counters and Guy ordered a selection of herring and roll-mops from the deli counter, while I had the lunchtime special, which cost us around €10 per person
Need to know: Schmidt Zeevis, Vasteland 60 – 3011 BM Rotterdam
4. HavenMuseum (Harbour Museum)
Strolling down the Leuvehaven area of the harbour full of old boats, we were invited on board one that was part of the Haven (Harbour) Museum. This Dutch barge named Geertuida or Gertrude, after the wife of the owner, was built in 1906 and was used to transport building materials like stone and gravel to Brussels travelling along the many canals. Even more fascinating, as the volunteer guide explained to us, was that the barge had housed a whole family who lived on board. The children continued to manage the boat until they were too old, when it was given to the musum.
We were taken into the boat to see the old-fashioned living room, bedroom and kitchen, with the childrens’ bunks down below. The rooms were small but cosy and well fitted, and in days when many people lived in poor housing conditions, would have been a very pleasant place to live. There were also many other boats that you could look at as part of the Havenmuseum, with walkways between them. We found the Havenmuseum was one of the fun things to do in Rotterdam to get a more local flavour of its maritime history.
Need to know: Havenmuseum, Leuvehaven 50, 3011 EA Rotterdam. Entry is free although donations are welcome. Open Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday 11am to 5pm although you can look at the boats from the quayside at any time.
Stay nearby: Mainport Hotel: this luxurious 5-star hotel has individually decorated rooms, a spa and a waterfront terrace with private jetty.
5. Maritime Museum
Walking further along Leuvehaven we reached the Maritime Museum where we found the Mainport Live spectacle on the ground floor, with a model of the port and a light and sound video presentation to give you the feel of the life and vibrancy of Rotterdam. Upstairs there was the Sea Palaces Exhibition with examples of cruise ship interiors since the 1920s. The exhibition showed how cruise ships had developed from luxury liners that only the very wealthy can afford, to the holiday playgrounds of today that everyone can enjoy. If you want to wallow in the nostalgia of towels folded into animals, dressing up for dinner at the Captain’s table and leather trunks full of finery, you will love this exhibition.
Need to Know: Maritiem Museum Rotterdam is open every day except Monday, Adults €7.50, Children €4. Address: Leuvehaven 1, 3011 EA Rotterdam
6. Rotterdam Architecture tour
At the tourist information stand in the cruise terminal, we had picked up a leaflet for the Architecture Walking Tour. As Rotterdam was heavily bombed in the Second World War, much of the old centre was destroyed, but the city has more than made up for this with some striking modern architecture. We crossed the Erasmus Bridge with the 139m steel pylon which earn it the nickname of The Swan. Our Rotterdam walking tour along the canal took us past the “Red Apple” residential tower which gets its name from the colour of the exterior and the apple market that once stood here. Further along was the Art Nouveau Witte Huis or White House, an attractive eleven story building which was considered the sky scraper of its day, and one of the few older buildings to survive the bombing. The walking tour continued through the city centre with over 30 buildings of architectural significance to see, although we ran out of time to see them all.
Need to know: Pick up a leaflet for the Architecture walking tour or Rondje Rotterdam at the Rotterdam info tourism office or in the cruise terminal. There are also Black street signs marked Rondje Rotterdam to guide you. More information about Rotterdam architecture on Rotterdam.info
7. The Rotterdam Cube houses
A little way beyond the White House were the famous Cube Houses of Rotterdam designed by Piet Blom, looking like a forest of cubes, each on its own trunk, containing the staircase. The houses are one of the top places to see in Rotterdam and overlook a small harbour area with a couple of bars which were a pleasant place to have a drink on the quayside. If you fancy staying in one of the houses there is a hostel in two of the cubes joined together run by StayOkay. As the residents apparently got fed up of curious tourists wanting to have a nose around, one of the houses is now open as the Kijk-Kubus museum and I took a look around.
The concept of Piet Blom was to create an urban village that included living space at the top level and small shops, businesses and play areas on the ground level between the houses, with each cube house being one of the trees in the forest. Having looked around the small show house, I decided that the houses are better to look at than to live in, with very small rooms and slanting ceilings tucked into the cube shape, but certainly an interesting insight into modern architecture in Rotterdam.
Need to Know: The Kijk-Kubus museum is open every day 11.00-17.00 Adults €2.50, Children €1.50
Stay nearby: Citizen M hotel: a stylish contemporary hotel in the Old Port of Rotterdam, with trendy bedrooms that feature ambient lighting and a touchscreen tablet.
8. A Water Taxi back to the ship
By the afternoon, we were a little foot weary and so we took one of the yellow and black water-taxis from Leuvehaven, near the Havenmuseum to speed us back to Crown Princess. We’d spotted the water taxis from the deck of the cruise ship in the morning when we docked and thought they looked rather fun – you could imagine yourself in one of those James Bond moments, weaving through the harbour with the baddies in hot pursuit. There was a crowd of people waiting but we all managed to squeeze in and I got the front seat beside the boatman as we left the harbour under the bridge, and then he pulled back the throtttle across the open water. In no time we were passing Crown Princess and Hotel New York on the end of Wilhelmina piers to be dropped off by the little boathouse jetty nearby.
Need to know: Water taxis run from Leuvehaven and Veerhaven on one side of the river, to Hotel New York and SS Rotterdam on the other. They are normally running around every 10 minutes from 9am to midnight and our trip from Leuvehaven to Hotel New York cost €3.80 per person one way.
9. Hotel New York
Our water taxi from Leuvehaven dropped us at Hotel New York, at the end of Wilhelmina Pier, and before we made the short walk back to Crown Princess, we had to stop for coffee at this legendary hotel and cafe. The historic building was once the office of the Holland America cruise lines and the place where emigrants from the Netherlands left for New York to start a new life. Now the building is a buzzing hotel with bar, restaurant and outdoor terrace. Of course there’s plenty of seafood on the menu and a relaxed, brasserie atmosphere. We sat at the reading table, full of books and international magazines, under an enormous crystal chandelier, for a coffee an enormous slice of Dutch apple cake. The whole of Wilhelmina Pier is being redeveloped as a happening place with a photography museum and old warehouses being converted into residential apartments. The terrace café in front of the hotel was also busy and a great place to sit in the afternoon sunshine, with views of the harbour and boats going by.
There was far more of interest to see in Rotterdam than I had expected, and it was easy to walk to many of the sights from the cruise terminal. Other guests used the free shuttle bus to take them to the central shopping area and the station, and I heard that some just stayed on the bus and used it as a mini-sightseeing tour. Another option that was very popular was to take the free bus to the station and catch the train to Amsterdam which I gather was a quick and inexpensive journey. There were also many excursions available to see various things in Amsterdam if you prefer to have transport and activities arranged for you.
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My 4 night European Sampler Cruise with my husband was hosted by Princess Cruises who offer cruises to European and Worldwide cruises to allow you to explore fascinating destinations and escape completely on board their elegant and spacious ships. Our cruise took us from Southampton to Rotterdam to Guernsey before returning to Southampton. You can keep up with latest updates for Princess Cruises on their Twitter page @PrincessCruises and on the Princess Cruises Facebook Page.
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