When people think of Rotterdam, they envision Amsterdam, like they're right next door. A cruise port stop in Rotterdam invokes visions of canal streets, tulips, windmills and little wooden shoes, but this is not Rotterdam. Rotterdam is a modern city, through and through.
If you want Amsterdam, take an organized ship tour. If you've been there, done that, and want to just see Holland in its modern form, then consider skipping the shore excursion and spend your one day in Rotterdam shopping and dining right in Rotterdam's city center, just walking distance from the cruise ship dock.
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Where You'll Dock
Learn more about the port location here.
This link will take you directly to the Rotterdam Cruise Terminal information page.
How To Get From Rotterdam Cruise Port to City Center
Rotterdam is connected well with public transport through its Central Station, and offers trams, water taxis, ferries and even bike rentals to get around. For this itinerary, simply use your legs to propel you!
Walk 15-20 minutes across the Erasmus Bridge from port into town (it's a bit of an uphill haul, but doable in good weather), or venture just five minutes over the Rijnhavenbrug bridge from the ship to get to a cool little food hall called Fenix Food Factory.
Are you a fan of bridges and architecture? Want to see the famous Dutch cube houses or marvel at Dutch building? Try out this architecture walking tour of Rotterdam.
Take the Tram
The ship is also conveniently located close to the tram line and subway, a matter of steps from the dock.
Consider taking the tram and using your contactless credit card to tap your fare once on board. Tap on to ride, tap off to depart. You can only tap one person per card, from what we could tell.
The tram takes you over the bridge, saving your legs and exposure to the elements, and drops you in the center of a very busy shopping area.
Tram 23 or 125 will get you there, but you can also rely on Google maps to lead the way if you have a destination in mind.
Taxis and Bike Tours
Taxis are also a great way to move around, but generally not needed.
If you are particularly keen on blending in with the locals, consider renting a bike for the day or taking part in an organized bike tour, where you'll see sites from the World War and hidden gems around every corner.
Bikers get dedicated lanes in Holland, so pedestrians best be careful not to step out of line!
This is important to note when walking from the central Rotterdam cruise port, because pedestrians will need to take note of both cars and bicycles to avoid getting sideswiped!
What To Do With In 1 Day in Rotterdam
Your Rotterdam itinerary likely includes a ship excursion or day trip away from the city, but I find it much more relaxing to just explore a port on foot. Below, discover popular spots in the city center that I think are worth getting off the ship for. From shopping to very unique dining, you'll get a good taste of Holland before having to get back on the ship. This relaxed and unfussy day is sure to be a good one with a few of these ideas up your sleeve.
Discover Old Rotterdam
Take a taxi over to the Delfshaven old quarter where you'll be met with quaint streets and canals and even a windmill (ok, so you can still get a little bit of that old Dutchness here).
Stop into a coffee shop before grabbing the tram towards Markthal.
Consider at stop at the Oudehaven old harbor for similar views and nice strolls.
Suggested Private Tours
Spend the Day Shopping In Rotterdam
Markthal is a giant food hall and market, great for perusing local goods, souvenirs and grabbing some snacks from the food stalls. You'll find traditional Dutch cheeses, meats, produce and more.
Related: Take a guided food tour of Markthal and beyond. Book here.
I enjoyed browsing the Asian supermarket and the Dutch supermarket on the lower level. I find that food souvenirs (like stroopwafels) are always the best souvenirs.
You can get a stroopwafel just about anywhere, like Starbucks (located by Primark)! They have a good bathroom there too, if you need one. The ones at Markthal require coin payment (I think it was 50 cents).
Back to stroopwafels...If you are unfamiliar with this wonderful souvenir from Holland, it is simply a waffle wafer with typically a sweet caramel in the center, perfect for warming slightly over a warm beverage before enjoying.
Pro tip: If you really like stroopwafels, I suggest trying some stroopwafel liquor from the Goudstroop vendor at Markthal (they hand them out for free but you'll want to take a bottle home!)
Outside the Markthal, the downtown area is very modern and also has stores like Primark, H&M and others to shop at along the tram route.
The mall areas operate like a dual-level strip mall, meaning entries to storefronts are on the outside, so bundle up if the weather is dreary.
Find interesting housewares and clothing at HEMA, or shop at European favorite C&A for good deals on women's and children's clothing.
Visit a Hip Hotspot for Lunch
Visit the Vessel 11 red lightship, which is a cool decommisioned British lightship turned restaurant for snacks, drinks, coffee, or British pub food. If you're unfamiliar with lightships, it's basically a light house that sets its mooring out in the water instead of on land.
If you are there on a particularly cold day, there's nothing better than hot tea and familiar hot breakfast foods to warm you up in the morning. Slide the photos below to see more!
Vessel 11 is also a live music venue, bingo hall, and so much more. Check out their website for events.
You Must Try...
Be sure to also try something called bitterballen, which are akin to Spanish croquettes.
Filled with a bechamel style yumminess and the chosen flavor of the establishment, the bitterballen is a popular pub snack across Holland, and for good reason. It's delicious.
Try making these at home with this recipe for Dutch Meatballs (bitterballen) from Jo Cooks.
If you want a full traditional Rotterdam meal, try a stop at restaurant De Ballentent.
You may feel that these things barely scratch the surface of a day in the Netherlands and that there wasn't enough time to explore. Nonetheless, I think it's enough to have just the 1 day in Rotterdam, and then you can always plan a return visit to see Amsterdam, the tulip fields, windmills and beyond.