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Netherlands: Rotterdam Family Vacations – Shopping, Windmills, and an Awesome Zoo. This spunky seaport city offers plenty of things to for families of all ages to enjoy including an eclectic combination of art and architecture, history and shopping plus an amazing seaport.

Here’s the scoop.
Holland's most cosmopolitan city has embraced the sea since the 13th century. What began as a fishing village is now an energizing seaport with classic Dutch-style houses and remarkable futuristic art and architecture often combined in one panorama. Travel tip: Perhaps the best time to vacation in Rotterdam is during one to the music festivals or city wide carnivals - Ortel Summer Carnival, Metropolis Festival, and the North Sea Jazz Festival are at the top of the list. Each September the city hosts World Harbor Days with seaport demonstrations and spectacular fireworks displays. In reality anytime of the year the city will be rewarding because the atmosphere is eclectic and edgy, a combination that makes any family vacation rewarding. Our list highlights the best and provides trip planning inspiration.

Go wild. The Rotterdam Zoo is one of Europe's most beautiful, and is a great place to check out with kids. Divided into zones by continent, the zoo offers visitors a chance to travel the world without ever leaving the zoo. The zoo has a great playground, and lovely grounds, complete with winding roads and even a lake. One of the definite highlights of the zoo is the fully covered Oceanarium, which takes you on a magical journey across the bottom of the sea and along coastal regions, offering face-to-face encounters with sharks, puffins, snakes and even a group of king penguins. Other especially fun attractions include the Crocodile River, a decking path that winds in and around a large family of crocodiles (all from a safe distance, of course!) and the opportunity to see hyenas, kudus, ostriches and zebras. Need to Know: The zoo is open year round, eith extended hours during the summertime. The zoo is easily accessible by public transport and by car. Children under the age of 3 are admitted free, young children's tickets (ages 3-12) are € 16.50; tickets for those over the age of 12 are € 21. (Rotterdam Zoo/Diergaarde Blijdorp, Blijdorplaan 8, 3041 JE Rotterdam, The Netherlands. +31 900 1857 or

Explore the waterways. Spido offers various excursions in and around Rotterdam Harbor year-round, as well as various daytrips designed to showcase the waterways around the city of Rottermdam. The Seven Rivers and Deltaworks daytrip takes passengers on an adventure through the river landscape of southern Holland, past picturesque harbor towns and past 18th-centiry mills, under historic bridges and through beautiful countryside. Harbor tours focus on the historic port of Rotterdam, and in the summer extended tours, including a sunset tour, take passengers to the interesting Botlek portion of the harbor. Bonus points: Children are provided with a maritime coloring book, or encouraged to make use of the on-board PlayStation if they become too restless with the leisurely pace. Additionally, there is a “Kids Only” section of the website which features trivia and printable coloring pages. Need to Know: The departure point for all tours is accessible by public transport (tram and underground) and there is ample space for parking nearby. Boarding for tours is at Willemsplein 85 (next to the Erasmusbridge, centre side. +31 10 275 99 88 and

Watch the wind. Windmills are a truly iconic Dutch image – and 40 minutes from Rotterdam, in the tranquil village of Kinderdijk, there is a wonderful collection of nineteen authentic 18th century Dutch windmills, inviting visitors to catch a glimpse of 18th century Holland. In the shadow of these toweringly beautiful icons is the Kinderdijk World Heritage Site. Families visiting the site should take the half-hour guided boat tour along the canals before touring the inside of one of the historic windmills and settling in for a snack at a café hidden in an old pump house. Getting to the site is easy, as families can hope on one of Rotterdam’s two-daily Waterbus ferries, departing from Erasmus Bridge. (Nederwaard 1, Kinderdijk.  +31 6 22248427 or

Living sideways. One of the more funky sights in Rotterdam is that of the Kubuswonigen, or Cube Houses. Designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom, the Cube Houses are an apartment block of stacked yellow and white cubes which arc over a wide street. The entire structure’s exterior is built on a dramatic tilt, giving the impression that the living spaces behind them must be topsy-turvy, although upon closer inspection, through one of the public tours available daily, reveals this is not the case. (Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen) Overblaak 70 Rotterdam +31/(0)10/414 2285 or

Experience history. The Hotel New York is the site of the original Holland America Line offices, built around the turn of the century. The gabled, red-brick structure still has its original Jugenstil ornamentation, and the functions as a hotel and restaurants. Visitors to the Hotel New York can purchase unusual shipping and maritime-themed souvenirs, sample afternoon tea, and admire the numerous historic photographs of the golden age of passenger cruising. Bonus points: Outside you can find the Monument to Left Luggage, which is a climbing structure/sculpture composed entirely of oversized bronzed suitcases, purses, sacks of grain, dishware and other personal belongings, symbolizing belongings left behind by decades of emigrants who departed from the port of Rotterdam in search of a new life.  (Hotel New York. Koninginnenhoofd 1. 2072 AD Rotterdam. +31 (0)10 439 05 00  or

Have a sweet time. Koekela creates cakes, muffins and awesome retro cookies, tasty shortbread, and oversized chocolate chip cookies meant to be sampled on site and enjoyed or taken away for a picnic. (Koekela Cake 7 Bake Shop Ninieuwe Binnenweg 97A 3014 GG Rotterdam. +31(0)10 436 47 74 or

Imagine food as art. Proef Rotterdam is a lunch stop with an edgy attitude. They serve honest seasonal food with creative style. Enjoy breakfast, lunch or teatime each presented in a different way and inspired  owner/artist/chef Marije Vogelzang. Earth-friendly and family friendly this is the place to meet the chickens; listen to song birds and definitely order dessert. (Proef Mariniersweg 259 (front of store / Pannekoekstraat 120 (back of store) 3011 NM Rotterdam. +31 (0) 10 280 72 97 or

Best part: Rotterdam Tourist Board has created a series of eight special shopping routes each with a unique theme and insider tips. The old Rotterdam stock exchange is now a fashion center with a myriad of shops, pedestrian lanes and stylish cafes. One culinary highlight is Staal, which has a truly delicious dish of small thick pancakes with sugar and jams, called poffertjes. Kids will love Yendor, which has a great collection of comic books and games, while Kleine Kapitein has marvelous children’s books and toys. 

Location on the planet. Rotterdam is in southwestern Netherlands along the North Sea. It is the country’s second-largest city and the largest seaport in Europe. 

Make it happen. The first thing to do is to secure a Rotterdam Welcome Card which includes useful discounts throughout the area. Depending on your family’s adventure quotient, it is feasible and affordable to rent a flat or apartment and discover the city at your leisure. For more tourist information go to 

Content and images by Amanda Nelson-Duac. Copyright 2012. 

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