If there is one place in Northern Europe high on your bucket list, it’s got to be visiting The Netherlands.
Amsterdam is easily one of the most iconic cities on the continent. With its picture-perfect canals, cannabis-friendly legislature, and buzzing nightlife scene, it’s almost a right of passage for youth from across the world to visit this city.
Just a short train ride away, Rotterdam is a major economic hub located just inland of the North Sea coastline. While Amsterdam takes most of the tourism attention, this city is a dynamic metropolis home to Europe’s largest seaport. It’s known for its world-class university, riverside setting, and rich maritime heritage.
If you only have a few days to spend in the Netherlands, it can be tricky deciding where to spend your time. Although located close to one another, each of these cities has its own unique charm and is worth visiting in its own right. However, continue reading if you’d like to know our recommendation; Amsterdam or Rotterdam.
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Amsterdam vs Rotterdam
Although geographically close to one another, there are some significant differences between these two cities. Let’s find out which one is better suited to you when visiting The Netherlands.
- Amsterdam is the most populous city in the Netherlands, spread across 84 square miles. It is compact and built around a well-designed network of canals.
- It is best known for its picturesque canals and Dutch Baroque architecture featuring skinny but tall houses along the waterways. It’s also known for its vibrant red-light district and for being the first city to legalize cannabis, which can be enjoyed in coffee shops around the city.
- Amsterdam Schiphol is the region’s major international hub and the base of the country’s leading airline, KLM. Multiple flights fly into this hub from across the world.
- Transport is run by GVB and includes metros, buses, trams, ferries, and trains.
- Amsterdam has some modern high-rise hotels, boutique guest houses, and iconic hotels in historic buildings. It’s also packed with hostels, Airbnb’s, and self-catering accommodations for rent.
- Rotterdam is geographically the largest city in the Netherlands, home to 650 thousand people across 125 square miles. Located on the coastline of the North Sea, you’ll find Europe’s largest seaport in Rotterdam.
- Rotterdam is most famous for its incredible university and the lifestyle that comes with it. It’s also known for its massive port, modern architecture, and multicultural population, home to over 180 nationalities.
- Rotterdam The Hague Airport is Rotterdam’s main airport, servicing mostly local and European flights. The city is just a 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam Schiphol. It also has a huge port that welcomes boats from across the North Sea.
- Transport is run by RET and includes buses, trams, and metros. Public transport is easy to use, affordable, and runs extensive routes.
- You’ll find all the leading hotel chains in Rotterdam. Other than hotels, studios, apartments, houses, and houseboats are available to rent via Airbnb.
Is Amsterdam or Rotterdam Better
Amsterdam gets so much attention that some travelers visit just this one capital city without exploring the rest of the country. However, there is so much more to see in The Netherlands, which is also conveniently small and easy to travel around. Continue reading if you’re trying to decide whether to visit Amsterdam or Rotterdam.
For Things to Do
The main difference between the two cities is the overall ‘feel’ or ‘vibe.’ Rotterdam has a distinct city atmosphere, while Amsterdam feels more like a town. With its centuries-old architecture and iconic canal, Amsterdam is easily one of the most unique cities in the world, with only a small high-rise CBD to speak of. On the other hand, Rotterdam looks and feels more like a modern city, with incredible contemporary buildings stretching across the skyline.
Because of the city’s history, including its involvement in World War II, Amsterdam is flooded with exciting museums and centers dedicated to learning about the past. The Anne Frank Museum is one of the most popular. However, the city also houses a massive art museum – the Rijksmuseum, a Van Gogh Museum, and the NEMO Science Museum.
Both cities have an abundance of parks and green spaces. However, Amsterdam’s Vondelpark is one of the region’s most impressive. The Rotterdam equivalent is called Het Park and is also one of the most gorgeous parks in the country.
When it comes to outdoor activities, there is more to do and see around Amsterdam, with the main activity being cycling throughout the city. You’ll have to venture outside the center for watersports; however, when you do, you could enjoy a SUP along the least busy canals or Amstel River, swim at public pools, roller skate in the parks, or even go horse riding in Amstelveen.
Rotterdam has its fair share of outdoor activities too. One of the best things to do is cycle through the Island of Ijsselmonde, a forested farm area just outside the city. The city also has a bunch of public swimming pools.
If you’re wondering whether Amsterdam or Rotterdam is better for young families, those with kids might prefer Rotterdam, which has all sorts of child-friendly museums, entertainment parks, and facilities.
With a big international community, both Amsterdam and Rotterdam have tons of options for international cuisine.
For Budget Travelers
The Netherlands isn’t typically a very affordable country on a global scale. However, compared with some European countries, there is a lot to do in this country if you are on a tight budget.
Since Amsterdam is one of the most desirable cities to live in Europe and a popular tourist location, the city is a lot more expensive to travel around than Rotterdam. On the other hand, Rotterdam is a much more local city with more Dutch residents.
- If you choose to stay in a downtown Amsterdam hostel, you can expect to pay €32 per night for a bed in a dorm room. In Rotterdam, a similar quality hostel bed would cost you from €25 per night. Airbnbs are also available in both cities but are often overcrowded in Amsterdam during summer.
- Both cities blend the use of buses, metro, train, and trams. Amsterdam transport costs €9 for a full day of transport, while a day ticket in Rotterdam costs €7.50.
- The cost of a budget meal will set you back €21 in Amsterdam vs Rotterdam’s €16.
- A local beer will cost €1.80 from a bottle store in Amsterdam and around €5 from a restaurant, and the same would cost €1.80 and €4.50 in Rotterdam.
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Where to Stay in Rotterdam: Hostel ROOM Rotterdam
Hostel ROOM Rotterdam is a beautiful option for a budget stay in the city. Just a fifteen-minute walk from the central station, the hostel features a trendy common living area with a bar serving a selection of food and snacks.
While both cities have their assets for couples, Amsterdam is undoubtedly the more romantic option. With many buildings built in the 17th century and architecture dating back to the 12th century, Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Made even more romantic by the picture-perfect canals, bridges potted with flowers, and narrow streets lined with trees, there is historical beauty in every direction you look in this city. Rotterdam is gorgeous in its own right but offers a much more modern atmosphere.
Amsterdam is also packed with canal-side restaurants and cafes, where couples often sit and admire their surroundings as locals cycle on their bicycles. Speaking about bikes, cycling is a major mode of transportation in the Netherlands, and riding around the Amsterdam canals is one of the most incredible activities to do as a couple.
When comparing Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Amsterdam is best for culture and art-loving couples, as well as those fascinated by history. With many outdoor activities on offer, it’s also the best option for adventurous couples, who can cycle, swim, SUP, and enjoy the parks together.
Young couples would prefer Rotterdam, which is undergoing a youthful transformation and becoming a hip and trendy center of the country. With free outdoor galleries, exciting market halls, and incredible nightlife, you won’t find a cooler city as a young couple. There’s even a district called the ‘Cool District.’
Where to Stay in Amsterdam: Hotel Estherea
One of the most beautiful hotels in Amsterdam, Hotel Estherea, is set along the Singel Canal, just a short walk from Dam Square. Located in a peaceful area and decorated with classical interiors and wooden features, this hotel was designed for luxurious romantic living.
For Getting Around
The cheapest way to get around both Rotterdam and Amsterdam is by walking. Most major sights and attractions are relatively close to one another, making both cities super walkable destinations.
However, suppose you don’t have time to wander the streets. In that case, I recommend renting a bicycle from your accommodation and exploring the city by cycling. Just make sure to mark your bike so you don’t lose it in a parking-lot ocean of bicycles!
Between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, both cities boast an impressive public transport network featuring metros, buses, trains, and even ferries. Regardless of which city you choose, I recommend taking advantage of these systems instead of renting a car. In fact, with canals and narrow roads dominating Amsterdam, having a car here can be more of an inconvenience than an advantage.
When it comes to public transportation, Amsterdam’s networks are super easy to navigate, connecting all major areas to the suburban outskirts. The city’s public transport system is managed by GVB. Ticket prices to use the metro, trams, and buses are as follows:
- 1 hour – €3.40
- 1 day – €9
- 2 days – €15
- 3 days – €21
- 4 days – €26.50
- 7 days – €41
A trip from Amsterdam Centraal to Schiphol Airport will cost €6.50.
Rotterdam’s public transport is managed by RET, which runs the metro, trains, trams, ferries, and buses. Costs are slightly more affordable than in Amsterdam:
- One hour – €3
- 1 day – €7.50
- 2 days – €12.50
- 3 days – €16.50
Winner: Rotterdam and Amsterdam
For a Weekend Trip
If you only have a few days to visit Amsterdam and Rotterdam and have never seen either of the cities before, Amsterdam is one of the most iconic cities in Europe. Although the city is enormous, much of it is made up of residential suburbs, and the inner city is pretty compact.
This makes it super easy to explore Amsterdam on foot or bike, seeing most of the main attractions within a few days. It’s also right by the international Schiphol Airport, where you’ll likely arrive in the country. On the other hand, Rotterdam is a bit more spread out, and it can take you longer to move between sights.
During a weekend in Amsterdam, you could get a feel for the canal living, visit some of the most incredible art galleries and historical museums, eat excellent Dutch delicacies like the stroopwafel, and spend some time outdoors exploring Vondelpark and Oesterpark. The city is easy to navigate and affordable to get around using public transportation.
Not far behind, Rotterdam is undoubtedly the next city you should explore if you’ve already visited Amsterdam. There are tons to do and see in this bustling city, which is growing exponentially.
Wherever you decide to go, you’ll have to pick and choose which activities and attractions you want to see most, as you’ll be short on time with just a weekend in Amsterdam or Rotterdam.
For a Week-Long Trip
If I’m going to be perfectly honest, a whole week in the Netherlands is enough time to visit both Amsterdam and Rotterdam – especially since the cities are less than an hour away from one another by train or car.
However, if you’re set on visiting either Amsterdam or Rotterdam for the entire week, there are many exciting places to see and activities to do in Rotterdam. Amsterdam might have better tourist attractions, but Rotterdam is packed with exciting events, trendy restaurants, and bars. A week is enough time to see the major attractions and experience a more local side of the city.
Among some incredible events, Rotterdam is home to the Rotterdam Marathon, North Sea Jazz Festival, Summer Carnival Street Parade, and the Rotterdam International Film Festival. It’s also one of the most multicultural cities in Europe, with over 170 nationalities living in the diverse city.
Another main reason to spend a long time here is that it’s a lot cheaper than in Amsterdam. So, you can treat yourself to tasty meals, nights out, and entrance tickets to museums and attractions without overstepping your budget.
While you could pack all the major attractions and tourist sights into your first three days in Rotterdam, I recommend spreading them throughout the week and enjoying a slower-paced vacation where you can admire the modern architecture and take in all the sights, sounds, and tastes of the electric city.
Visiting Amsterdam and Rotterdam
If you’re lucky enough to have the time to visit both cities and don’t need to choose Amsterdam vs Rotterdam, you’ll be pleased to learn that the cities are just a short train ride from one another. They’re so close, in fact, that the main Schiphol Airport outside Amsterdam is the primary airport for both of these cities (along with The Hague, Haarlem, and Utrecht).
A train from Amsterdam Centraal will take around 40 minutes to get to the city center of Rotterdam. With only a couple of stops, this journey will cost just €17.80 in each direction for a standard class ticket. Trains run multiple times every day.
Alternatively, driving from one city to the other is another good option that takes just under an hour, depending on traffic.
I would highly recommend visiting both cities because of how easy and affordable it is to get from one to the other.
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FAQs About Amsterdam vs Rotterdam
Although just a short train ride from one another, both Rotterdam and Amsterdam have an entirely unique vibe and atmosphere. The cities have often been pitted against each other in an old rivalry referred to as the 010 vs 020 (Rotterdam vs Amsterdam) – which are the city’s original telephone codes.
With its massive port and dynamic city center, Rotterdam is known as the Gateway to Europe. It’s a hotspot for young students and is packed with modern architecture, vibrant nightlife, and incredible museums. It’s ideal for young travelers and couples, as well as those with families.
On the other hand, Amsterdam is a charming European city that occupies a spot on just about every Europe bucket list. The ancient city flourishes during springtime, with its gorgeous canals, narrow Dutch houses, and incredible history attracting culture-loving tourists and couples seeking romance from across the globe.
While your best bet would be to spend two or three days in each city, if it is your first time in the Netherlands and you have to choose, I would opt for Amsterdam as your primary destination.
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