Dutch cities are well known for being exceptionally friendly to cyclists, and Rotterdam additionally has a very well developed public transport network, but can this also be a good base for getting around by car?
- Because you can – it’s a British myth that cities with lots of bicycles cannot also be car friendly. Rotterdam is an exceptionally car friendly city, with a vast network of motorways and dual carriageways providing easy connection between the airport the city centre, the docks, the suburbs and neighbouring cities. Although a car hire in Rotterdam itself is not especially cheap in the Netherlands, fuel prices are reasonable if you hire a diesel, and parking is usually readily available in most places.=
- No direct airport link – if you are previously flown into Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, then Rotterdam The Hague airport is a much smaller affair, with no direct rail link. Although buses are available to both Rotterdam and The Hague, service patterns are nowhere near the vast range of public transport that is available from Schiphol, which is hardly surprisingly given the airport’s compact size. On the other hand, hire cars are readily available outside the airport terminal (as are taxis if you’d prefer that option).
- Rotterdam as a base – Rotterdam is a useful base from which to explore the rest of the Netherlands or neighbouring Belgium, and possibly then to continue to Luxembourg. Although a car isn’t really necessary for venturing into the centre Rotterdam (your hotel will probably have some rental bikes for this), it can be very useful for exploring elsewhere, especially if you’re visiting a lot of places which are outside of the main city centres. The Netherlands might have an excellent public transport network, but if you are based in the suburbs and travelling to locations outside city centres, then public transport can still involve a lot of changes.
- There is still no need – Rotterdam has been extensively redeveloped since World War II, giving it a feeling that might be slightly faded in places, but ultramodern in others. I’ve made 2 or 3 brief trips to Rotterdam in the last decade, and each time I come back I discover somewhere new and exciting to explore, and next time this will include the impressive new indoor market. The bottom line is that Rotterdam has plenty of attractions which are within easy walking distance from the main central station, and even if you do wonder further off, you can easily return back by tram, underground or mainline train, and even that is assuming you haven’t already hired a bike! So within the city and its immediate suburbs, there’s just no need for a hire car in Rotterdam.
- Hire a bike – hiring a bike makes obvious sense in Rotterdam, just as it does in any other Dutch city. Just because Rotterdam has superb public transport and is also very easy to drive around, that doesn’t make it any less pleasurable to hire a bike. The only minor barrier is that you will sooner or later need to cross the Rhine River or one of the other various waterways which criss-cross the city. Be prepared to dive down into a cross river tunnel or make a windswept river crossing – but this is all easy stuff compared to cycling on British roads! Many hotels will be able to provide you with a bicycle on site, but if this is not an option, then there are numerous other places around the city where you can hire a bicycle, including at the main Rotterdam Central Station. However, before hiring a bicycle, it is worth noting a couple of points: firstly, there is no equivalent of the “Boris bikes” system in the Netherlands. You will need to pick up a bike from one location and return it to that point. The only automated cycle hire facilities are the ones run by the Dutch Railways (OV-Fiets), and they require local registration and identification. Even these facilities will charge you €10 for a one-way hire. We also do not advise taking a bicycle on Dutch trains – you will have to pay €10 for a day ticket, and even then you cannot take your bike on peaktime trains. Instead, it is much easier to hire a bike at the local railway station each time you need one.
- Efficient public transport – Rotterdam really does have an amazing network of public transport, and this expands into neighbouring Delft and The Hague. More locally within the city of Rotterdam, there is also a broad network of trams and of course buses.
- Arriving from Amsterdam – whether you are flying into Schiphol airport or just arriving in Rotterdam by train from Amsterdam, it really is very easy to go almost anywhere you need in the city with no more than one connection via Rotterdam Central Station. A is only really useful if you plan on staying out of the suburbs and travelling to locations which aren’t readily accessible by public transport – as per advice above.
Rotterdam without a car – beyond the city:
- Visit Amsterdam – the Dutch capital might get the lion’s share of the tourist trade, and many people choose to base themselves in Rotterdam but make at least one trip to Amsterdam. The 2 cities are less than an hour apart by train, and this journey time can be compacted further by taking the fast NS High Speed link and paying a supplement of €3.50 each way. It’s a natural given that there is just no point in driving to Amsterdam – even though there are several fast road options available, these roads tend to get busy at various times of the day, and parking in Amsterdam, whilst cheap by London standards, is still an unnecessary expense. By contrast, the train takes you straight to Amsterdam Centraal station, which does almost as its name suggests, by taking you right to the edge of the city centre, if not quite the heart of it! Even if you want to visit places around Amsterdam, this is easy to do with local public transport connections, so check online first if there is a more direct route to where you’re planning on going without going through the centre of Amsterdam.
- Visit Delft – Delft might be famous for its pottery, and that same said pottery is so often based on the type of historical buildings that can easily be seen around the city. Delft isn’t just next door to Rotterdam, it’s part of the same regional transport system. The city is easy enough to walk around, but to enjoy a bit more of it, you might well prefer to pick up a bicycle when you get there.
- Visit Utrecht – a no other classically historic Dutch city, Utrecht has an amazingly attractive heart that can be reached just beyond the main station complex. Don’t be fooled by the ugliness that greets you when you first arrive in Utrecht – all the good stuff is just a 10 minute walk away. The centre of Utrecht itself is particularly compact, and you can easily walk round it without even needing to hire a bicycle. Visitors to Utrecht who are fans of Miffy might also want to include a stop in the Dick Bruna house.
Rotterdam is about as close as it gets to a large city which offers residents and visitors a complete choice between the convenience of the private car, the efficiency of public transport and the personal enjoyment of cycling or walking. In this respect, Rotterdam is a complete all-rounder, and although the redevelopment of the city since World War II has of course been meticulously planned, it is as if Rotterdam still allows users a complete balance of options for determining how they get around.
Is it worth hiring a car in Rotterdam? Given that there is a wide range of flexibility about how to get around, it would be easy to say that the best option is simply to use public transport and then to cycle or walk for more local trips, and anybody visiting Rotterdam who wants to do this will have no problem at all getting around. However, it is equally worth pointing out that getting a hire car in Rotterdam is a perfectly sound choice for people who want to do this, and that if a strict comparison was made between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, given that drivers in Amsterdam face many more restrictions, because of the tight historic city core, it’s perfectly reasonable to lean towards saying that a hire car in Rotterdam is a fair choice.