Amsterdam and Rotterdam are the two biggest and most famous cities in the Netherlands. If you ask Dutch people which one they prefer, they are going to say their favorite is the one they have spent the most time in. Basically, the more time you spend in each of this cities, the more time you actually want to spend in them, they both have many things to offer.
Amsterdam and Rotterdam are very different cities. Both cities are big and international but Amsterdam is more touristic. If you are looking for history and historic buildings, Amsterdam is better. If you are looking for modern and new, Rotterdam is your city. Keep in mind, living in Amsterdam is more expensive!
Down below, in this article, I will compare both cities so you can have a general overview of which one is better for you: what about prices? Where is it better to live? Is Rotterdam worth visiting? Is it equally easy to find a job? If I am visiting Amsterdam, should I also visit Rotterdam? Which one has the best nightlife? If you are interested to know my experiences and what I think, keep reading.
Is Rotterdam better than Amsterdam?
First of all, I wouldn’t say that one city is better than the other, I would say that one city is better for YOU than the other. This depends on a lot of facts: what do you like to do? how much do you earn? what are your interests?
What makes these two cities so similar is how international both are. What makes them so different is history and how facts have developed in a way that these two cities that used to be so similar are now so different.
Rotterdam was completely destroyed…
If you didn’t know, during the Second World War, the city of Rotterdam was bombed by friendly fire during an accident, and during that attack, all its historic city center was completely destroyed. Since the postwar, Rotterdam had to reconstruct itself from the ruins, adopting all the architectural movements and tendencies that raised during this time of empowerment and avant-garde.
Which city is better according to Dutch people?
This is very hard to say, but funny enough, people who live closer to Rotterdam and therefore go more often to Rotterdam, think this is the best city in the Netherlands. Those who live in Amsterdam or in the surroundings, or who have spent there, most of their time, definitely prefer this city.
This means that the best city is the one you get to know, the one you explore and where you discover the best places, the best activities, the best cafes, and the best restaurants.
How can you know which one is better for you? Are you planning to move to the Netherlands and you are undecided about Rotterdam or Amsterdam? Are you coming on a holiday and you want to know where to spend most of your time? Here there are some important factors compared:
Architecture: Rotterdam vs Amsterdam
Which one is better? If you are into modern architecture, Rotterdam is better. If you are into historical buildings, Amsterdam is your place.
As I was saying before, due to an accidental attack that destroyed the city centre of Rotterdam, this developed in a very original and different way than Amsterdam and most European cities. Some of the most interesting features that you can’t miss if you go to Rotterdam are:
- Cube-Houses: Dutch architect Piet Bloom created these 40 small yellow titled cubes that grow out of concrete pillars creating an architectural “tree”, shaped like tilted cubes, are each perched on concrete pillars, giving the impression of architectural ‘trees’ clustering together to make a yellow forest.
- Maastoren: are the tallest building in the Netherlands. The tallest one of the bunch measures 181m and it has 44 floors. The outside is outstanding and it can be admired by the River Mass.
- Erasmus Bridge: possibly the most iconic building in Rotterdam. It is a 808 meters long bridge that closes the River Mass from North to South. Built between 1994-1996 and designed by Ben van Berkel, it is the tallest bridge in the Netherlands.
- Rotterdam Market Hall is also a must! Among other amazing buildings.
If you are planning on visiting Amsterdam and you are more into historic buildings, you can’t miss walking around the canal ring and exploring all the private houses that were constructed during the most wealthy period of the Netherlands, the Golden Ages, during the 17th Century. You can’t miss:
- Royal Palace: the Royal Palace is a building constructed during the Golden Ages in the Netherlands, belonging first to the Royal family and now to the Parliament. It is located in the centre of Amsterdam, right in Dam Square, and it is a must for those who are into Dutch architecture and historic buildings.
- Rijksmuseum: located in the Museum square, the Rijksmuseum building is probably the most iconic building in Amsterdam. It is an 18th Century building, created with the purpose of holding the national art pieces inside. It is definitely worth visiting from outside and inside.
- Oude Kerk: this 13th Century building is one of the oldest ones in Amsterdam and an example of its many churches, all of them belonging to a different historic period. Definitely worth visiting.
Although Rotterdam has better modern pieces, Amsterdam also has some amazing modern buildings such as the new part of the Stedelijk Museum, the Van Gogh Museum, NEMO and Eyefilm Museum. Therefore, if you can only visit one, I would say Amsterdam.
Affordability: Rotterdam vs Amsterdam
Which one is better? On a budget? then Rotterdam!
Amsterdam is a more populated and also more popular city than Rotterdam is. Therefore, living in Amsterdam is more expensive than living in Rotterdam.
The basic law of demand and supply makes Amsterdam more expensive because there are more people who want to live there and space to live there.
For example, according to Pararius, renting a studio in Amsterdam can cost at least 900 euros, whereas in Rotterdam you can find one from 600 euros on. This applies to all type of accommodation, so if you are on a budget you may want to consider living in nearby cities or choose Rotterdam over Amsterdam. If you want to know more about it, read this article about the cost of living in Amsterdam.
The rest of the expenses, transportation, food, restaurants, nights out and health insurance, are almos the same in the whole country. The Netherlands is quite a homogeneous country, both for expenses and for salaries.
Bike-friendly City: Rotterdam vs Amsterdam
Both cities! Don’t forget, we are talking about the Netherlands, absolutely the whole country is bike-friendly.
I remember the first time that it snowed when I was there, and the bike paths was cleaned up before trains and cars could keep circulating. That is how much priority bikes have.
Cycling in Amsterdam has its challenge: cycling against tourists.
Cycling in Rotterdam has its challenge: cycling agains the wind that comes from the harbour and the see.
Night-Life: Rotterdam vs Amsterdam
I am not a party person, which makes it hard for me to tell, but most of my friends prefer partying in Rotterdam.
Which one is better? Rotterdam has more local and Dutch-oriented pubs and bars, whereas Amsterdam is more touristic.
Both cities are very modern and always looking to innovate. Both of them organise a lot of festivals during the summer, something that happens all over the Netherlands. Both of them have cool night activities: in Rotterdam, my favourite activities are free-exhibitions at the Witte de Withstraat, where once a month you will be able to enter all the galleries of the street for free and have a drink and chill; and, in Amsterdam, Museumnacht, when you can enter all the museums at night and party in them is definitely a favourite.
In general, even though this is the case for the whole Netherlands, for the LGBT+ collective, Amsterdam is a better place with more options. Read more about it here.
Which one is cheaper? Maybe drinking in Rotterdam is a couple of cents cheaper, but nothing very significant; again, standardise prices in the whole country.
Museums and Galleries: Rotterdam vs Amsterdam
Which one is better when it comes to museums and galleries? In my opinion, Amsterdam. It has it all.
Ok, Rotterdam is a very cool artistic and modern place. You will be able to find amazing architecture, cool places to hang out and great museums. This is what Rotterdam has to offer:
- Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: if you are into the avant-garde and you like artists like Monet, Dali and Van Gogh, this is a great museum to visit. The building is one of the few ones that survived the attack, since it was constructed in the 19th century. Check it out here.
- Kunsthal: if you are looking for the unexpected, this is your museum. Kunsthal changes its exhibitions constantly, up to 20 times a year, without any permanent collection.
- Kijk-Kubus: once again, the architectural tree comes to say hi. This time is for mentioning that besides being an attraction on its own by the outside, it holds also a museum on the inside. You can visit the interior and see the design from inside.
- Nederlands Fotomuseum: another Museum with visiting both outside and inside. The Nederlands Fotomuseums is a photography museum with over 5 million photographic objects. Paradise for photography lovers.
- Witte de Withstraat: as I mentioned before, this is a street with plenty of galleries, cafes and restaurants. The neighbourhood of artists in Rotterdam. Very pretty, mostly at night!
What is there to see in Amsterdam? Well, there are over 75 museums in Amsterdam so I am sure you will find something suitable for you. These are the most popular ones:
- The Rijksmuseum: this is one of the most popular museum in the Netherlands and my personal favourite. The Rijksmuseum is the National Museum with the biggest collection of the country, including the biggest collection of the star of Amsterdam, Rembrandt. If you are visiting Amsterdam you can’t miss it, both from the outside as well as from the inside.
- Van Gogh Museum: this is another popular one. The Van Gogh museum is definitely the most visited one. Both the amazing building and the amazing collection of Van Gogh’s paintings make it a must-visit when you are in Amsterdam. Tip: book your ticket in advance, online.
- Anne Frank House: another favourite! Anne Frank’s House is definitely something you have to book as soon as you know you are coming to the Netherlands because it sells out in seconds. It is the most popular sightseeing attraction in the city and one of the most historical places.
- Stedelijk Museum: my second most favourite museum, the museum that made me fall in love with modern art and performance art. It is a whole experience to live more than a museum. You get free audioguide to help you understand more what is going on, it’s big, not very crowded and it constantly changes, giving you a new exhibition at least once a month. Much recommended for those who want to see beyond the classics (it also has some Van Gogh’s and some Mondriaan)
- Amsterdam Museum
- NEMO Science Museum
- Rembrant House
It is important to know that the prices of museums are also standard in the whole Netherlands. If you have a Museumkaart, it doesn’t matter because it is free. If you don’t, expect to pay 10-18 euros for a ticket in any of these cities.
Job Opportunities: Rotterdam vs Amsterdam
Which one is better if you want to find a job? Amsterdam is a much more popular city and has more international companies. However, it depends on what sector you want to work. Rotterdam has the biggest harbour in Europe and the second biggest in the world.
It is important to know that if one wants to work in the Netherlands, finding a job is relatively easy. Finding a job that you like and suits your career expectations can be a little bit harder. If you speak English, it is almost sure that you will find a job. These are the differences between Amsterdam and Rotterdam:
- Tourism: Amsterdam is way more touristic than Rotterdam, which means that there are many job opportunities in hospitality, retail, restaurants and more. If you are good with languages you can get a job almost anywhere, part-time or full-time.
- Part-time jobs: it is easier to find a part-time job in Amsterdam, once again because of the big demand due to the crowds of tourists coming every day. For jobs in international restaurant companies, fast food, supermarkets and so on, both of them are equally as good to find a job.
- Airport: Amsterdam
- International Companies: Amsterdam, since it has ING, Nike, KLM, Booking, Heineken, Adidas, Uber, Oracle, TomTom, Philips, Netflix, and many many others. Amsterdam is a city where the headquarters of big companies want to be.
IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that if you live in Rotterdam because it is more convenient for you, you can still work in Amsterdam and commute for those 30-40 minutes that it takes to go from one city to the other.
The whole Netherlands is perfectly well-connected thanks to their train system. This means that if you live in any other city of the Randstad (Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Leiden, Den Haag, Utrecht, etc), you will be able to go to work or spend your weekends whenever you want, no worries.
Families: Rotterdam vs Amsterdam
Which city is better if you have a family? Probably Rotterdam is a better city because you can live in a bigger place on a smaller budget. In any case, both cities are very safe.
The first concern I had before choosing a city to live in is safety, something that also concerns parents. In any case, both cities are pretty safe, I have never felt uneasy in any of them, not even walking at night or coming back home alone.
Moreover, both of them have good schools and both of them have many activities to do during the weekend and so on (of course, it always depends on the neighbourhood).
Universities: Rotterdam vs Amsterdam
Which ones better? no doubt, Amsterdam has the second best university in the Netherlands, which stands on the top 50 according to the QS World University Ranking.
Amsterdam is the ideal place for students who want to follow a research-oriented career, at a higher education institution. Rotterdam has great schools, such as the Erasmus University Rotterdam, but the UvA wins.
To Sum Up
Both cities are big metropolis in one of the best countries in the world. This makes them some of the best cities to live in. Each of them has its pros and cons, nicer and less nice things, like any other city. However, it is fair to say that most people prefer Amsterdam to live in and spend their free time (if you can afford it).