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Rotterdam vs Amsterdam: What’s the Difference?

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If you plan on visiting the Netherlands, you may wonder about the differences between Rotterdam and Amsterdam. These very different cities each have their draws, which can make it difficult to decide which one to visit.

There is a long-standing rivalry between the Dutch capital of Amsterdam and the major port city of Rotterdam. This rivalry dates back to the 13th century when the two cities were granted city status.

So, if you’re wondering whether to visit Rotterdam or Amsterdam, we’ll help you understand the similarities and differences between these great Dutch cities.

Why Visit Rotterdam?

Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, Netherlands
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Rotterdam is a major port city located in the province of South Holland. Located an hour southwest of Amsterdam, Rotterdam is a trendy yet family-friendly city. The popular city is a fun destination for all ages with contemporary architecture, excellent shopping, great nightlife, numerous attractions, and diverse cuisine.

Rotterdam is a very modern city with a unique architectural landscape, as much of the city was demolished during World War II. So, unlike many European cities, Rotterdam has many modern skyscrapers dotting the sky.

Iconic Cube Houses, one of the best tours in Rotterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

One of the most popular ways to see and appreciate Rotterdam’s architecture is the Architecture Highlights Walking Tour, which takes you to the Erasmus Bridge (designed by Ben Van Berkel), the Rotterdam Central Station, the Markthal, and the Lijnban. Or, if you’d rather enjoy the skyline from the Maas River, this harbor cruise is an awesome way to experience Rotterdam!

If you like architecture, you’ll love visiting Rotterdam’s cube houses (Kubuswoningen), which are interesting residential developments. These unique homes are tilted 45 degrees on their sides to make the most of the space. You can also stay in one of the cube homes at the Stayokay Hostel Rotterdam.

The city offers many tourist attractions that make Rotterdam worth visiting. Near the city center, visitors will find museums like the Maritime Museum, which showcases the city’s seafaring history, and the Municipal Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, one of the city’s most impressive art museums, with works from Rembrandt to Rothko. You can also visit the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam to learn about cultures worldwide.

Rotterdam has many family-friendly attractions, from the Euromast (if you’re not afraid of heights!) to the Rotterdam Zoo, where you can see King Penguins, giraffes, polar bears, and sharks!

If you want to experience a foodie’s paradise, a guided trip to the Market Hall (Markthal) should be on your itinerary. This utopia will water your mouth before you even set foot inside, with everything from coffee shops to cheese, delicacies, restaurants, and sweets.

Most people find the summer months the best time to visit Rotterdam, with great weather, many festivals, and a lot to experience. And with only a ten-minute drive from The Hague airport, it’s an easy destination.

See Related: Holland vs Netherlands: What’s the Difference?

Why Visit Amsterdam?

Amsterdam canal scene with historic Dutch architecture, boats, and serene waterways
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Amsterdam is the Netherland’s capital, located in the North Holland province. As the most populous city in the country, Amsterdam is a destination for art enthusiasts, architecture lovers, history buffs, and culinary aficionados. It’s also one of the Red Light District’s best cities for adult fun.

The capital city retained most of its centuries-old architecture, as it was spared from destruction during World War II. Visitors to Amsterdam will appreciate the 17th-century narrow houses in the Canal Ring and the Royal Palace.

You can learn the history of this 17th-century building with this Royal Palace entry ticket (including an audio guide). Those passionate about history will appreciate this highly-rated small-group tour, which gives you a history of Anne Frank and her family’s hiding place in Amsterdam.

The Museum District in Amsterdam is one of the best in the world, with the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, and the Rijksmuseum. You’ll find avant-garde art at the Stedelijk Museum, great Dutch artists like Vermeer and Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum, and an amazing collection of Van Gogh at the aptly named Van Gogh Museum.

With numerous bike paths, exploring the city is easy and safe. A guided bike tour of Amsterdam is a fun way to explore historic drawbridges, artist studios, the Vondelpark (Amsterdam’s largest park), and other cool sites in Amsterdam Centraal.

The A’DAM Lookout is a fun attraction for those not afraid of heights. You can enjoy the view of Amsterdam from the observation deck, but the real thrill is riding on the highest swing in Europe!

Heineken in the Red Light District, Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Amsterdam has some of the best nightlife in the country, with dance clubs, bars, and adult fun in the Red Light District. Because the Red Light District is known for its strip clubs and live sex shows, you’ll find the area full of tourists.

Amsterdam is home to some of the best restaurants, including Spectrum and Rijks at the Rijksmuseum. These Michelin-starred restaurants are just the beginning of Amsterdam’s exciting culinary scene.

Most visitors find Amsterdam’s peak season to be the summer months, but it’s a year-round destination full of fun, art, culture, and food.

See Related: Best Restaurants in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Rotterdam vs. Amsterdam – How Are They Different?

AspectRotterdamAmsterdam
Population645,000872,000
ArchitectureModern, innovativeHistorical, traditional
VibeUrban, edgyCozy, charming
AttractionsCube Houses, Erasmus BridgeCanals, Anne Frank House
NightlifeUp-and-coming party sceneLively night clubs and bars
Cost of LivingLower than AmsterdamLively nightclubs and bars

Size

Towers of Amsterdam Along with Canal Houses
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Amsterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands, with almost a million residents. As the second largest city, Rotterdam has just over 650,000 inhabitants. Rotterdam is larger than Amsterdam in size, however, by approximately 40 square miles.

See Related: Things Amsterdam is Famous For

Port

Historic Rotterdam Lift Bridge and Waterfront Architecture - Dutch cityscape with iconic lift bridge, Maas River, and townhouses
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

While these two famous cities have a seaport, Rotterdam is known as the “gateway to Europe.” Rotterdam’s port is the largest and busiest in the Netherlands and Europe.

Cost

Canal Scene with Historic Windmill in Delftshaven, Rotterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Rotterdam is significantly cheaper than Amsterdam, with many day-to-day costs that are less expensive. It’s also less expensive to stay at a hotel or vacation home in Rotterdam vs. Amsterdam.

Architecture

Maritime District in Rotterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The striking modern architecture of Rotterdam is completely different from Amsterdam’s historic center. Unfortunately, the city of Rotterdam was accidentally bombed by friendly fire during WWII. This demolished the city’s historic buildings, giving way to modern design and architecture.

Amsterdam, however, still has much of its 17th-century architecture, with its narrow canal houses and other historic buildings. Although just an hour apart, Amsterdam’s historic city is strikingly different from Rotterdam’s cutting-edge architecture.

Types of Tourists

Charming Amsterdam canal houses and daily life scene (source: [HubSpot](https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/image-alt-text))
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

While Amsterdam is more touristy, it’s not as good for family-friendly travel. Rotterdam is much more family-friendly, and some consider the city safer than Amsterdam. However, both cities are good for group travel and couples.

See Related: What Does a Tourist Look Like? Tips to Not Look Like One

Rotterdam vs. Amsterdam – How Are They Similar?

Diversity

People in Amsterdam City Centre
Brother’s Art / Adobe Stock

While there is a famous rivalry between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, they have many similarities. Because of their liberal attitude toward immigrants, both are multicultural cities. Amsterdam has over 175 cultural backgrounds, while Rotterdam has ethnic groups from Morocco, Turkey, Surinam, and Cape Verde.

Canals

Zuiderkerk at Night from Staalmeesterbrug, Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

One of the obvious similarities between the two great Dutch cities is that they were built on canals. These canals were built for transportation, defense, trade, drainage, and sewage.

If you decide whether to visit Rotterdam or Amsterdam, some visitors say that Amsterdam has more picturesque scenery around their canals, but Rotterdam locals may disagree!

See Related: Best Canals in Amsterdam You Need to See

Bike-friendly

Cyclist biking near historic Amsterdam architecture on sunny day
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Rotterdam and Amsterdam are bike-friendly, allowing easy travel to attractions and museums. It’s obligatory to bike in any town in the Netherlands.

Public Transit

A man waits in front of a yellow and blue NS train at Amsterdam Centraal Station.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

One of the best things about European cities is the awesome public transportation. Rotterdam and Amsterdam offer public transit from buses, trams, metros, and ferries to get around the cities.

Food

Traditional Dutch snacks and craft beer at 't Blauwe Theehuis, Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you’re trying to decide between Rotterdam or Amsterdam, the extensive food choices in both cities may make your decision more challenging! Amsterdam has many options, from fine dining to food carts, but you may pay more in touristy areas. Rotterdam is quickly becoming a hot spot for foodies, from small ethnic restaurants to large popular chains.

See Related: Different Types of Traditional Dutch Food

Nightlife

Inside Our House Museum Amsterdam showing the dance floor
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Both cities offer incredible nightlife, although Amsterdam has considerably more bars, clubs, and concert venues. However, this is likely due to the city’s tourism rather than local demand.

If your idea of nightlife is a live sex theater show, you’ll likely want to head to Amsterdam, but Rotterdam offers plenty of pubs, clubs, and restaurants.

There are also awesome night activities in Rotterdam, like the Witte de Withstraat, where you can visit all the local galleries for free. Amsterdam offers something similar, Museumnacht, where you can enter the local museums for free.

Museums

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you’re considering whether to visit Rotterdam or Amsterdam, the choice of museums may make your decision challenging. You’ll find the country’s best art, culture, and history museums in Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

Art museums in Amsterdam, like the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk, and Rijksmuseum, attract art enthusiasts worldwide.

But you can also find incredible art in Rotterdam at the museum district Museumpark and on the gallery-lined Witte de Withstraat. Museumpark includes the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen and Kunsthal Rotterdam.

What’s Better About Rotterdam?

Rotterdam is a big port with many attractions, museums, and nightlife. This trendy city attracts many visitors for its modern architecture and welcoming feel.

Modern architecture

Rotterdam Cube Houses, Dutch architecture, urban landscape, geometric structures
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

While the reason for Rotterdam having modern architecture isn’t great, it’s made the city a destination for architecture junkies. The famous Cube Houses growing out of concrete pillars are a sight!

You can also see the Meuse Tower (the second tallest building in the Netherlands), the Erasmus Bridge (the longest bridge at 808 meters), and the Rotterdam Market Hall (a gorgeous architectural wonder).

See Related: Tips to Plan an Amazing Girls Trip to Amsterdam

Lower cost

Scenic View of Rotterdam's Maritime District with Historic Boats
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Rotterdam is considerably less expensive than Amsterdam, with plenty of options for cheap eats, budget accommodations, bike paths, and free street art. You can also listen to live music on Witte de Withstraat on the weekends or take a cheap water taxi to see Rotterdam from the water.

Fewer Tourists

Alt-Text: Euromast Tower overlooking Delftshaven with leisure boat, trees, and moody clouds.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

While Rotterdam has its fair share of tourists, it’s nothing like the craziness of Amsterdam. Rotterdam has many attractions, but the city is more spread out, giving it a more laid-back city vibe than a tourist magnet.

More Family-Friendly

Ze Hielden Koers Park with Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam - Serene urban greenery and iconic architecture
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

There are more family-friendly attractions in Rotterdam than in Amsterdam. While some nice playgrounds and parks in Amsterdam are good for kids, most of the city is focused on nightlife. However, Rotterdam has an excellent zoo, the Maritime Museum (with a kids’ marina!), and the Euromast, to name a few kid-friendly attractions.

See Related: Things to Do in Amsterdam (From a Local)

What’s Better About Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is a big city with a small-town feel. As the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam has a lot to offer visitors. It’s one of the most multicultural cities in Europe and offers delicious cuisine, world-class museums, and historic architecture.

One of the main differences between Amsterdam and Rotterdam is the Red Light District. This adults-only district in Amsterdam is a huge draw for tourists who want to see risqué theater or live sex shows.

Historic buildings

Oude Kerk steeple under a moody sky in Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Unlike Rotterdam, Amsterdam still has much of its 17th-century architecture. The centuries-old architecture draws many visitors, including the Oude Kerk, Rijksmuseum, and the Royal Palace. All buildings were constructed between the 13th and 18th centuries, many of which are in Dam Square.

Beautiful city center

Canal in Jordaan Neighborhood of Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

While both Rotterdam and Amsterdam are built around canals, Amsterdam’s city center is much more beautiful. Amsterdam’s city center is pedestrian-friendly, with a network of canals and small neighborhoods.

Day trips

People stroll among festive wooden chalets at the Dusseldorf Christmas Market, surrounded by holiday decorations and seasonal delights.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

When you stay in Amsterdam, you are in the perfect spot to take quick trips across the Netherlands and Europe. You can head to Zaanse Schans to see windmills and wooden clogs, visit Bruges (in Belgium) to see the medieval bell tower and the Markt, or drive to Düsseldorf, Germany, for boutique shopping.

See Related: Day Trips from Amsterdam, Netherlands

Red Light District

Red Light District in Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Although it may not be a perk for everyone, the Red Light District is one of the most unique aspects of Amsterdam. Often popular for bachelor and bachelorette parties, the Red Light District has strip clubs, sex theaters, and legal prostitution.

Lax attitude about marijuana

Amsterdam's The Jolly Joker coffeeshop on Zeedijk street
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Again, this may not be why you visit Amsterdam, but it’s one of the more popular reasons that younger tourists go. The coffee shops in Amsterdam allow soft drugs, so you can order an Americano coffee and some weed. However, smoking in public is not legal, so you must finish your joint in the coffee shop.

Who Should Visit Rotterdam?

Euromast Tower overlooking Delftshaven with leisure boat, trees, and moody clouds.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Rotterdam is the perfect city for families, couples, and groups. There are also a lot of things to do for a romantic getaway. Rotterdam is a cultural and architectural destination with plenty of museums, festivals, and events.

Who Should Visit Amsterdam?

Iconic Canal Houses along the Damrak in Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Amsterdam is a fantastic town for groups like bachelor and bachelorette parties, couples, and friends. This city is known for its nightlife but is also great for history buffs and art lovers—backpackers like Amsterdam for its proximity to other cities in the Netherlands and budget accommodations like hostels.

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