Rotterdam vs Amsterdam: A friendly comparison of two Dutch cities

Rotterdam vs Amsterdam: A friendly comparison of two Dutch cities

The two biggest cities in the Netherlands have a lot in common but are also very different. Neither gives you the full Dutch experience, not even together do they do that, as there is more to the country than its big cities. So where should you go for the Netherlands trip you are looking for?

To properly compare these two major cities, we can explore similarities, differences and for fun the rivalries. Comparing Rotterdam and Amsterdam is not straightforward, and some might even say it is like comparing apples and oranges. We think both cities are amazing places to visit no matter how similar or different they are.

The similarities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam

The biggest similarity between Rotterdam and Amsterdam is, of course, that they are both major Dutch cities. They share the Dutch culture, with its love for stroopwafels and apple pie, the bike-in-all-weather attitude, and no-nonsense mentality.

Both cities have been built around water, in fact both started with the damming of a river. The Rotte for Rotterdam and the Amstel for Amsterdam. For Rotterdam, its relation to water has made it the largest port in Europe, while Amsterdam has become famous for its iconic canals. No visit to the Dutch capital is complete without a canal cruise, offering a unique perspective of the city's charming gabled houses and historic bridges. 

Both Rotterdam and Amsterdam have excellent public transport and dedicated cycling infrastructure. Neither city requires a car for exploration, a car would actually make your time in the city less enjoyable as finding parking can be difficult. For both cities, walking, biking and public transport are the best ways to get around, and of course, public transport is also a great way to explore places outside the cities.

Amsterdam and Rotterdam both have numerous green spaces for when you want to escape the city sounds and enjoy some nature. In Amsterdam, you’ll find Vondelpark, Westerpark, Rembrandtpark, and Oosterpark in the city centre, and the Amsterdamse Bos on the edge of the city. Rotterdam’s city centre features Het Park, the Trompenburg Arboretum, and Polder De Esch, while the Kralingse Bos sits just outside the centre.

The differences of Rotterdam and Amsterdam

Exploring how the two cities are similar is interesting but might not help you choose where to go for your next city trip. So let’s explore some differences that might help you decide. Though of course, we highly recommend visiting both cities.

While both cities were founded around 750 years ago, their histories are wildly different and have resulted in cities that look nothing alike. Where Amsterdam looks and feels historic with its 17th-century canals and gabled houses, Rotterdam is modern as much of its historic centre was destroyed during bombings in WWII. Rotterdam is known as the Dutch architecture capital, with its striking buildings like the Cube Houses, Markthal, Central Station, and many skyscrapers.

Rotterdam vs Amsterdam: A friendly comparison of two Dutch cities

This difference is also noticeable in the city’s museums. Not that Amsterdam has no modern museums or Rotterdam has no pre-modern museums, each city has both. But Rotterdam is more known for its modern art museums (like the Kunsthal Rotterdam), while Amsterdam is more known for its museums that feature art and history that predate the modern age (such as the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum).

While Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, it is more compact than Rotterdam, this too can be explained by the city’s history. With Rotterdam’s city centre destroyed, the city grew more outside the original city limits where construction was easier. As the centre of Amsterdam remained intact, the city only grew when there was no more room in the city centre.

A difference that can’t so easily be explained by history is the lifestyle and vibe of each city. Rotterdam feels like a more youthful city with a more dynamic energy, trendy bars, street art and is less crowded than the capital. The locals of Amsterdam tend to enjoy a bit of a slower pace, with relaxed cafes, canal-side strolls, and the city is more crowded so rushing around is not as easy.

Rotterdam vs Amsterdam: A friendly comparison of two Dutch cities

Rotterdam vs Amsterdam: the rivalry

The biggest rivalry between Amsterdam and Rotterdam is between their major football clubs Ajax (Amsterdam) and Feyenoord (Rotterdam). When the two clubs play against each other it is referred to as the Classic (Klassieker), and fans from the opposing team are not welcome in the other city’s stadium. But for most people the rivalry between the cities is mostly good-natured and light-hearted.

Beyond the football rivalry, poking fun at each other has been a long held tradition between locals. Landlines in Rotterdam start with 010 and in Amsterdam with 020, which could indicated that Rotterdam came first. But Amsterdam is the capital so it always comes first.

Rotterdammers might note that Amsterdammers are too laid-back, wondering if they are sleeping on the job instead of hustling and getting things done like they would in Rotterdam. At the same time, Amsterdammers might say Rotterdam smells like fish from its port, while Amsterdam offers pretty canals instead. And so the playful jabs have gone back and forth for centuries and likely will continue to do so for centuries to come.