Which city should you give a… dam about? We know that you know that the Netherlands is having a bit of a moment right now. However, whilst there are some awesome cities and towns to check out, if you truly want to see the best of the Netherlands in one trip, it really does come down to two cities – Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
Hands up, both cities are great choices and offer so much, when it comes to making a choice between the two cities. It’s a close call at times. Of course, you can do both – it’s pretty easy to travel between the two, but if time is not your friend, then let’s draw a line in the sand and decide via this comparative guide – Rotterdam vs Amsterdam – which city is for you?
Rotterdam vs Amsterdam - Architecture
When it comes to an overall vibe, both Rotterdam and Amsterdam have that cool vibe that is a prerequisite for many visitors. It’s all about that feeling that will stay with you long after you have left the city and you can’t stop talking about how great a place is to all your friends.
In the whole Rotterdam vs Amsterdam ‘battle’, without doubt you get the ‘feels’ for both and whilst Rotterdam and Amsterdam have many similarities, they are distinctly different. There’s more history in Amsterdam, but Rotterdam is at a disadvantage here as it was sadly flattened in bombings during WW2 which subsequently destroyed all of the historic buildings in the city.
However, despite this sad turn of events, this also resulted in a complete rebuild of the city – think of it as a phoenix from the flames moment which has given way to the Rotterdam that we know and love today. Think cutting-edge architecture and uber cool modern high-rise buildings. Stand out buildings to explore as part of your ‘things to do in Rotterdam’ list include perusing the likes of the Euromast tower, the Maastoren and the Erasmus Bridge.
Amsterdam, on the other hand has a more traditional style of buildings that is synonymous with the Netherlands which includes sweet canal houses, charming gabled facades and iconic historic buildings like the Museum Van Loon, the Trippenhuisand and the Westerkerk. Of course, there have been clusters of modern architecture that have popped up over the years, but largely Amsterdam has remained relatively unchanged since the 17th century.
For those looking for age-old architecture and a rich history should head to Amsterdam where as if you prefer striking, contemporary architecture then Rotterdam is an ideal destination.
Result – A tie – it really comes down to personal choice.
Rotterdam vs Amsterdam - Food
Whilst Amsterdam has some pretty incredible restaurants, we have to say that Rotterdam is fast becoming the choice for foodies. Is there a foodie battle when it comes to Rotterdam vs Amsterdam? Perhaps!
In the last five years, there’s been an explosion of great restaurants popping up all over this port city. FG Food Labs which features in our best restaurants in Rotterdam round up, opened up his critically-acclaimed restaurant in Rotterdam and has previously said “Cooks who have guts choose Rotterdam.” – it might be in jest, but there’s a seriously good restaurant scene in Rotterdam which is putting this compact Dutch city really on the map.
Result: Rotterdam – for international cuisine at affordable price points that everyone can enjoy.
Rotterdam vs Amsterdam - Museums and Galleries
You might expect when it comes to museums and art galleries that in the battle of Rotterdam vs Amsterdam that this will be a closely-fought battle – and you would be right!
Take Amsterdam for example, we give you The Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk and Rijksmuseums which are all must-visit attractions in the city and can be found in the ‘Museumplein’. However, Rotterdam has got game when it comes to all things cultural too. Namely, how it is not only a key destination for design (just look at the many fantastic examples of architecture) but it also has some amazing art galleries and its very own museum district – the aptly titled Museumpark.
It’s here you will find both the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen and Kunsthal Rotterdam (although the former is temporarily closed, but you can find some of its works at other Rotterdam museums within the city) which focuses on historical artwork and revolving modern exhibitions respectively. Previous exhibitions have included the likes of Viktor & Rolf’s stunning fashion creations.
If the old masters aren’t your thing, then contemporary art is superbly-represented in both Rotterdam and Amsterdam at various art galleries in Holland. Rotterdam slightly wins the day when it comes to contemporary art though and most of these galleries can be found at the world-renowned Witte de Withstraat.
Result: Rotterdam- by a smidge, purely for the contemporary art treasure trove alone.
Rotterdam vs Amsterdam - Things to Do
There’s lots of things to do in both cities, but if you are looking purely at the top-notch attractions for Rotterdam vs Amsterdam, Amsterdam does slightly have the edge. There are some great things to do in Rotterdam without doubt, the port, the intriguing modern architecture and of course the myriad of amazing museums and art galleries, however if you are looking to fill your Dutch days with lots of touristy things to do, then Amsterdam is the best place to go. From the Anne Frank and Van Gogh museum and all the other art galleries and museums and the quirky nine streets to taking a canal tour and people watching in the lush expansiveness that is the Vondelpark, you won’t be left wondering what to do in Amsterdam.
Result: Amsterdam – both cities come close, but Amsterdam just outshines Rotterdam when it comes to things to do.
Truly, it’s hard to compare the two cities when it comes to nocturnal activities – the nightlife in Amsterdam is rather different than Rotterdam. But, when we are looking to do a round up of Rotterdam vs Amsterdam. It’s feasible to admit that if you are looking for big nights out, then Amsterdam is probably a slightly bigger draw. It has considerably more clubs, bars, gig venues than Rotterdam, but you can still have a fantastic night out in both cities.
From our experience, Rotterdam has slightly more chilled out vibes on a night out in comparison to Amsterdam, but both offer a great night out – whatever your budget, taste or vibe.
Result: Amsterdam – just! Purely for the expansive range of bars, restaurants and nightclubs alone.
As the pundits say ‘it’s neck and neck’, if this was a football match (and let’s not go into the footballing rivalry of Ajax (of Amsterdam) and Feyenoord (of Rotterdam) or we will really be here ALL week, but every showdown and in particular between two Dutch masters will always hold a degree of personal preference.
Whilst it’s a closely fought battle, we think that Rotterdam just about has the edge, not just with regards to the foodie and museum scene, but also the overall vibe. It feels like it’s just a smidge more authentic and a place to experience the ‘real’ Netherlands and it lacks some of the more tourist spots that Amsterdam is renowned for. However, both Dutch cities are worthy contenders for a fantastic European city break and why not try and carve in time to visit both destinations?