Netherlands Travel: Visiting Rotterdam with Kids
It's no secret that I think Amsterdam with kids is a great idea (I mean, I've chosen to raise my two boys in this city) but what about other cities in the Netherlands? Well, spoiler alert, the whole country has a lot to offer for family travel, and it makes sense that I should start with the country's second city and today share with you why visiting Rotterdam with kids is also a fantastic idea.
And if you're not planning on visiting Rotterdam with children, good news! The city is still awesome for you too - here's my city guide of the best ways to spend a weekend in Rotterdam, although of course many of these activities will also be great for a visit with kids too.
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Guide to Visiting Rotterdam with Kids
This post is going to share all the reasons why visiting Rotterdam as a family is a great idea, where you should stay, how to get around, and finally, the best things to do in Rotterdam with kids of all ages.
Getting to Rotterdam with Kids
You may not know this but Rotterdam does indeed have an airport. It's about the size of a family room toilet in Schiphol, but it does exist! There are flights landing and leaving there from a handful of European countries so it's worth checking out if you can fly directly to Rotterdam.
But most people who are flying into the Netherlands will fly into Schiphol (Amsterdam and the Netherlands' main airport) and you can then get a direct train to Rotterdam Centraal straight from the airport train station. This train, and the quicker trains from Amsterdam Centraal, take around 40-45 minutes, but there are other trains that make more stops and take longer, but are cheaper too. Remember that Eurostar recently started offering direct trains from London and Paris to Amsterdam, so if you're a train travel fan, it's getting easier and easier to get to the Netherlands by train.
Another way to get to Rotterdam that is a really fun thing to do is to get the ferry there. This is VERY doable if you're coming from the UK as the ferry terminal at Hoek van Holland is a 35 - 50 minute train into Rotterdam Centraal. I have done the overnight ferry from the UK a few times and it's a lot of fun and really makes you feel like you're on a bigger journey than you really are.
You can also drive to Rotterdam, of course, but as it's a big city in the Netherlands, city parking will be limited and expensive. (Most cities in the Netherlands try to keep vehicle traffic to a minimum.) You would then probably need to use a Park + Ride scheme or find a hotel with affordable parking.
There are also buses that can take you to Rotterdam, but I have next to no experience taking buses further than a few miles so I can't really recommend any bus service but I know that for international arrivals, and travelling to Rotterdam from Amsterdam and other Dutch cities, MegaBus do offer very affordable tickets.
Where to Stay in Rotterdam with Kids
Picking a family-friendly hotel in Rotterdam may feel a little overwhelming as there happen to be A LOT of different hotels, hostels and self-catering apartments in Rotterdam too. But my experience is that you should expect most hotels in Rotterdam to be kid-friendly, unless they really specify otherwise.
When I stayed in Rotterdam with my 5-year-old son recently we stayed at Hotel New York, which is one of the most iconic and famous hotel in the city, and possibly also in the Netherlands. It's the former headquarters of the Holland-America Line which was the biggest shipping company that ferried Europeans over to the USA to begin their new lives there.
It's a national monument and a truly beautiful building inside and out. Much of the building's original features have been preserved and inside you feel like you're on a ship, especially in the restaurant area.
I will do a full review of the hotel very soon, but I would say that it's a great place to stay with older kids (age 3 or 4 upwards) who can appreciate the boat-themes and features, but may be wasted on younger kids. However, the hotel catered very well to my son and the breakfast was very kid-friendly (with Hagelslag - chocolate sprinkles that a typical Dutch breakfast spread on bread), and cannot fault their service, warmth and friendliness.
The hotel is also in one of the best locations, surrounded by water and in the middle of the city with good connections by Metro and bus to the rest of the city. Below you can read more about how to get around Rotterdam while visiting with kids, but on my most recent visit, I took my bike and could get everywhere we wanted to go in 20 minutes (despite the knackering effort that is cycling over the Erasmusbrug).
You can read my full review of Hotel New York, Rotterdam here.
Other cool hotels in Rotterdam that would be super fun for kids to stay in would include the following:
SS Rotterdam is a former ship that used to sail families across the Atlantic to the United States. Since the 1990s the ship was converted into a luxury hotel that offers guests a really unique place to stay and is one way to really immerse yourself in Rotterdam's harbour as it's located on the cusp of where the River Maas opens up into the vast harbour area. SS Rotterdam is definitely a place to stay with kids in Rotterdam if your children want to feel like they're sleeping on a boat - because they are!
Nhow Rotterdam is definitely one of my favourite hotels in Rotterdam and I base that on staying there twice. Admittedly, this was without my kids, and it is indeed a great hotel if you're kid-free, but the hotel rooms are spacious, the breakfast is delicious, and the views are exceptional as you're very high up and looking out over the famous Erasmusbrug and the rest of the city. If your kids like good views and like watching boats go by, Nhow Rotterdam is a great place to stay.
Suite Hotel Pincoffs is a family-owned independent boutique hotel that I loved staying in before I had kids, but would definitely like to go back now with my boys. Yes, because the hotel has great-sized rooms and family-friendly breakfast and staff, but also it's in a great location in another historic building of Rotterdam, the former customs office for the port of Rotterdam, built in 1879.
There is a lot of history to uncover in this building and about Pincoffs family the hotel is named after - so much so I wrote a (fictional) short story inspired by it all, which you can find in my short fiction collection Nine Women - so Suite Hotel Pincoffs is definitely worth staying in with kids who are interested in history.
Bruno Room Mate is a fairly new Rotterdam hotel that offers a design hotel attention to detail with a lot of colour and character. Again located one the same street as Hotel New York and Nhow Hotel, there are Suites and Family Rooms to choose from if staying with kids.
Just over the other side of the Erasmusbrug, Mainport Hotel is a new hotel that I stayed in just after it opened. I think the location is great as you have a view on one side of the River Maas and Erasmusbrug, and on the other side is one of the older harbours in Rotterdam and part of the Maritime Museum. It's also one of the few Rotterdam hotels that have swimming pools so worth knowing about if you want one of those!
A fun and design-focused mid-range hotel that claims to accommodate families well is Hotel The James. With family rooms and lots of other room options to choose from, and a great location close to the City Hall (Stadhuis) and main shopping area, this is a great family-friendly Rotterdam hotel if you plan on exploring the city by foot.
Moving on to some more budget options, the Student Hotel is a great option to consider for families visiting Rotterdam as they have large rooms with kitchenettes, and budget prices too. We stayed there before we had kids but with a games room, a library area and rooms that were more like studios, the Student Hotel would be a great choice for families.
These communal areas and facilities that would be a big hit with teens or older kids (as the name suggests they also offer student accommodation). The location is close to Kralingse Bos which is listed below as one of the best things to do in Rotterdam with kids, so also a great place to be, and they do offer bike hire (but not for bikes with kid seats, or children's bikes, I'm afraid).
Tips for Visiting Rotterdam with Children
Here are a few things I think are worth knowing before you visit Rotterdam with children. Some are things that apply to visiting the Netherlands with kids, in general, and some are specific to Rotterdam.
Some museums and attractions are closed on Mondays! This was my biggest oversight on my recent visit to Rotterdam (which was Sunday - Tuesday) as I booked my hotel and days before realising that most of the museums we wanted to go to were closed on the one full day we had there! Oops. While the Zoo and Spido Tours are still open and available on Mondays, it definitely didn't make life easy that I had to try squeeze in other things on travel days. So try to plan your trip to not be over a Monday or just be aware that museums are closed on Mondays!
There is A LOT of water in Rotterdam - no surprises! - and as per many Dutch cities and towns, not all waterfront walkways have fences or barriers between you and the water. This isn't dangerous per se, just something you need to be aware of, especially if you're travelling with younger children.
Most of the city in Rotterdam (and the rest of the country!) is very flat and therefore super easy to navigate with a wheelchair or pushchair, but you may need to check about each attraction's accessibility before going. It should be good, but I don't want you to end up disappointed and as yet, I haven't visited Rotterdam with a pushchair so can't comment on precise accessibility. I will say if you're planning on walking over Erasmusbrug (which is well worth doing for spectacular views!) expect it to be quite a bit of effort with some elevation and a total length of over 800 metres.
Getting Around Rotterdam with Kids
Moving around Rotterdam with kids is very easy depending on your needs and the amount of time you have to spend in the city. Walking is a great option if you are able to, but it's worth knowing that the city is bigger and more spread out than other Dutch cities like Amsterdam thanks to all the water and bridges. But honestly, walking over the bridges and admiring the architecture everywhere, is part of the charm of Rotterdam so it's worth clocking up the steps.
Alternatively, yes, you can cycle! As with most Dutch cities, there are cycling paths everywhere to take you all over the city, and you can easily rent bikes too from hotels or bike shops. One tip for cycling in Rotterdam - they still allow mopeds in bike paths (which they stopped in Amsterdam in 2019) so that may come as a shock if you're used to cycling in Amsterdam or just without the roar of scooters coming up behind you. I wrote these cycling tips for riding a bike in Amsterdam but I think they apply to Rotterdam too, based on my own experience cycling there at least five times now.
If cycling or walking aren't an option for you, there is always public transport which is excellent in Rotterdam. The Metro is very well connected, and there are trams taking you all over the city. It's just as reliable and easy to understand as public transport in Amsterdam, and it's a little cheaper too. You can get 24 hour, 48 hour or longer cards to make the most of the public transport.
Best Things to do in Rotterdam with Kids
Now let's get to the fun part, or rather all the fun things to do in Rotterdam with kids. These activities are all kid-friendly, or have kid-friendly options within them, and have either been tried and tested by me (and my son!), or they have come highly recommended to me from families living in Rotterdam (and they are now sitting and waiting patiently on my own list of reasons to return to Rotterdam with my kids!).
The Spido Harbour Tour is a great thing to do with kids at the beginning of your trip as it gives you a quick introduction to the city and how its harbour is really the city's biggest - but not only! - story. Not only do you get to go into the working harbour and see container ships being loaded and unloaded, as well as many other fascinating parts of the port, but you also find out more about the city's history through narration given in four different languages (Dutch, English, German and French).
Kids will receive an activity map and colouring pencils to keep them busy too, and they can watch the journey on screens showing a map and moving image of the boat. Booking in advance is strongly recommended to ensure a sailing at your chosen time!
My second best recommendation for Rotterdam things to do with kids would be the Maritime Museum. I'd visited before I had kids and found it really interesting and nicely done (as someone who isn't particularly interested in maritime history, I'll be honest) but the museum really does come into its own when you're visiting with young children.
There are three areas in Rotterdam's Maritime Museum that kids will love most, the Professor Plonds (Professor Splash) area which is more of a soft-play meets interactive playground set-up both indoors and outside. Here kids can explore boats, climb on and off old ships, and also take on many different roles that keep a working harbour going. My son loved loading up different containers using a trolley, pulleys and cranes, all the while wearing a hard hat!
Then there is the super interactive section about sea monsters which is equal parts fascinating and, terrifying (for adults too!), and finally, kids will love exploring the waterfront area outside on the ground floor that is on the banks of one of the city's oldest harbours. Depending on when you visit kids can board ships and try out old shipping knots, and do other hands-on activities.
If you are planning on visiting Rotterdam or the Netherlands in September, you should definitely try to time your visit to coincide with Wereldhavendagen, or World Port Days, which is a very family-focused festival in Rotterdam that celebrates the city's port history. Read more about Wereldhavendagen here.
While not a long-lasting activity, you can't go to Rotterdam with children and skip looking at the Cubed Houses. We cycled past them a few times on our recent trip and my son was amazed by them.
He couldn't get his head around them, and to be honest, even though I've been inside one, neither can I still no matter how many times I've seen them. Yes, you can indeed look inside one and find out all about their history and design at Kijk-Kubus, and you could even stay inside one at StayOkay Hostel Rotterdam.
Also in the Cube Houses is the Chess Museum, which is surely a must-visit for any kids that have just learnt how to play chess or are really into the game. It's just a couple of Euros and is a quick and fun way to spend an hour inside if you need to!
Another cool museum that kids would enjoy visiting in Rotterdam is the Dutch Pinball Museum. I am saving this one for when my boys are older but it looks like so much fun and a really unusual thing to go see.
One free thing to do that is very cool and will be fun for kids who love travel, is going to see the flags on Boompjeskade, which runs along the River Maas.
The so-called Vlaggenparade (Flags Parade) features all the national flags of nations in the UN, and they also have regularly changing flags to support local and world causes. The flags are also a symbol of the city's multi-cultural make-up - it is the most multi-cultural city in the Netherlands - and a sign that everyone is welcome.
While we're also talking free things to do in Rotterdam with kids, if the weather allows, walking over the Luchtsingel (which roughly translates as Air Boulevard) is a great way to see the city from a very different angle.
Considered Rotterdam's answer to New York City's High Line, this community-built and -supported project saw the construction of a raised pedestrian walkway to connect the centre of the city with the once overlooked Rotterdam North.
I visited it before it was complete (and before kids!) and already it was great fun to walk along - and bright yellow! - and look at all the names of people who donated to the project. It also takes you to the green open space of Park Pompenburg, which has also been recently landscaped to provide more recreational and community spaces so could be a great spot for a picnic
Villa Zebra was another place we missed out on visiting because it was closed on the Monday, but it really does sound perfect for kids as it is a museum/learning space just for children. It's possible some of the exhibits and organised activities will be mostly in Dutch, but by the looks of it and some reviews, it won't bother your kids much. Definitely book in advance to secure your date and time for a visit. This is a great place to visit if you are in Rotterdam with kids of different ages have they have separate activities and displays for different ages.
The Pannenkoekenboot - Pancake Boat - sounds like a bit of a tourist trap but a good one if you wanted to combine a water tour with eating pancakes... and now I've written that all out I want to delete the bit about tourist trap because frankly, that sounds like a lot of fun!
You should definitely book the Pannenkoekenboot in advance and be sure to arrive hungry. The tour can also include a visit to S.S. Rotterdam which was mentioned above, where you can have a look around this famous steam boat. I haven't done either of these things yet but both are on my list for when we visit Rotterdam with both kids.
One must-do Rotterdam things to do is getting a Water Taxi to criss-cross the city's water. While it may sound a little boring, it's anything but. These water taxis are effectively speedboats and they have the run of the city's many waterways which are wide and open for good views and a little adrenaline rush!
If the weather is kind and you have plenty of time, a visiting to Kralingse Bos (Kralingen Woods) is definitely worth doing. This public park is located in one of Rotterdam's prettiest neighbourhoods and in addition to open green spaces, playgrounds and lots of benches for picnics, there's a petting zoo which kids will love and the Forest Fun highline adventure area for bigger kids. You can get there easily by bike or by walking and on the way you can see the flags on Boompjeskade, but there are Metro stops too.
I stumbled across the most amazing children's shop, De Kleine Kapitein, by accident when meeting up with a friend during our last visit and WOW! It's the most amazing place for kid's toys and books and more. We spent a lot of time and far too much money in there, and it really was a nice place to just browse for a while. They also have a cafe but it was closed due to current restrictions.
One thing that I was desperate to do with my son during our recent visit to Rotterdam was go to Blijdorp Zoo, but sadly the weather just wasn't good to us and we also ended up with less time than I originally planned so we will just have to do it another time. It's located a short bike ride or Metro ride outside of the city centre and this out of town location makes it a much bigger and more Safari-style zoo than other city zoos, like ARTIS Royal Zoo in Amsterdam. Locals tell me it's brilliant but that you need a lot of time to really see it all, and likewise, a lot of energy (kids and carers!). Again, it's essential you book tickets in advance to ensure a spot.
Another spot that we missed out on because of the weather is Plaswijck Speeltuin, a huge park and playground complex that is basically a haven for kids to run around, climb, explore and more. There are multiple playgrounds, a miniature train, water features and splash pools for warmer days and much more including some indoor playzones for when the weather isn't so kind.
Euromast is another great Rotterdam activity for kids that I'm saving for when my boys are older, mostly because not only does this landmark offer great views over the city that I'm not sure they'll appreciate now but also because when they see you can actually abseil down the top of the mast, I want them to be old enough where that may actually be a possibility for them to do it WITHOUT ME because no way am I even thinking about doing that! Again, book visiting Euromast in advance to head up to the viewing tower so you know for sure you'll get up to the top!
Another Rotterdam attraction for kids that came highly recommended to me was Miniworld Rotterdam, which is a great indoors thing to do in Rotterdam with kids, and something I had on my radar if we had a rainy day. Essentially it's a miniature model of the city of Rotterdam all displayed at child-height so a perfect way to either start or finish your stay in Rotterdam with your children.
Kids Marina wasn't open during our stay but it looks perfect, and a great accompaniment to a marine-themed visit to Rotterdam. It's exactly what it sounds like - a harbour for children - including a 15 minute boat ride in a small boat where kids will feel like a harbour master. It's only open during weekends or school holidays so be sure to check in advance when it is open.
I'm going to leave you with two things I recommend for those visiting Rotterdam with kids and those visiting Rotterdam without kids, and they are must-dos if you love food, or if you get hungry; De Markthaland Fenix Food Factory.
They are two indoor food markets, featuring lots of different types of food to eat on the spot or to take home, and both are in very interesting areas of Rotterdam. De Markthal architecture needs to be seen to be believed, and Fenix Food Factory is in the Katendrecht neighbourhood which has lots of history (as it's where sailors used to head to indulge their vices during stays in Rotterdam!) and has great views across the city.
And that's it for my guide on what to do in Rotterdam with children! If you'd like to save or share this post, here are some images you can pin:
Frances M. Thompson
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