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Here Is Why Historic Delfshaven In Rotterdam Is Worth Visiting

Here Is Why Historic Delfshaven In Rotterdam Is Worth Visiting

Not sure what to expect in Delfshaven? With this Old Delfshaven Travel Guide, you won’t miss any of the must-see spots and historic attractions.

Nestled within the bustling city of Rotterdam in Holland lies the quaint and historically rich Old Delfshaven. It plays an important role in world history as it was the starting point for the Dutch Pilgrims, who sailed from Delfshaven to England on the Speedwell and on to America, the New World, aboard The Mayflower.

Steeped in maritime history and boasting picturesque canals, original Dutch architecture, historic wooden boats, and a windmill, Old Delfshaven offers a delightful escape into the past while being a stone’s throw from Rotterdam’s modern attractions.

After spending two days in Rotterdam and exploring all its attractions, Old Delfshaven became my favourite place in the city. For this reason, I want to share it with my readers. It has an old-world charm and feels slightly lost in time, exactly the kind of destination that appeals to me and, I hope, will appeal to you.

Traditional Dutch buildings beside a canal in Delfshaven.

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A Journey Through Old Delfshaven

Walk along the historic harbour

Remarkably, during the Second World War, this area was largely spared from the bombings that devastated much of the city, meaning a stroll along the historic harbour is a must when visiting Rotterdam.

With its charming old buildings and traditional Dutch boats, this picturesque area is a haven for photography enthusiasts and anyone looking to immerse themselves in the scenic beauty of Delfshaven.

The tranquil canals, historic houses, and warehouses remind us of the neighbourhood’s bustling past as a centre for herring fishing and gin distilling.

modern and ancient boats line the canal in Delfshaven, Rotterdam.
Two buildings in Delfshaven.

See the restored canal boats

Many of the canal boat enthusiasts in Rotterdam are skilled at restoring heritage boats, and here in Delfshaven, you can see examples of this craftsmanship. Similar ones can be seen in the city centre in Rotterdam’s old harbour (Oude Haven), close to the iconic yellow cube houses.

The restored boats have information plaques next to them that tell you about their history and sit beside more modern vessels. If you ever happen to be in London and are interested in boat restorations, a 120-year-old restored Dutch barge in Hackney Wick has been transformed into a high-end restaurant and bar. You can read about it in my Barge East Review.

Long boat anchored in Delfshaven canal.
Day cruise boats harboured in Delfshaven.

Step inside Pilgrim Fathers’ Church (Pelgrimvaderskerk)

The Pilgrim Father’s Church is at the heart of the picturesque harbour of Delfshaven on Aelbrechtskolk.

It is where the Dutch Christian Pilgrims held their final service before embarking on their journey to the New World in 1620. They boarded The Speedwell and sailed to England. The ship took in water, so they had to stay in Dartmouth for it to be repaired before finally sailing to Plymouth to join The Mayflower. The rest, as they say, is history!

The church’s exhibition on the Pilgrim Fathers makes it a must-see for history buffs and those interested in early American history. This historic site is open Fridays and Saturdays from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and admission is free.

Pilgrim Fathers Church viewed from across the canal.
Brass plaque stating that the pilgrims left for America from here.

Enjoy a beer at Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim

After seeing the church, pop next door into Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim, a local microbrewery named after the Pilgrims and situated in the Old Delfshaven Town Hall. Take a quick tour to learn about the brewing process and sample various locally brewed beers in a beer flight.

Pair your drinks with a hearty lunch, making it the ideal spot to relax and enjoy the ambience. If the weather is good, you can also sit outside to enjoy your favourite tipple.

five small glasses of different types of beer are on a rack with a candle saying Pelgrim Rotterdam next to them.
Angie sitting beside the canal in Delfshaven.

If you want to try another pub, head to Cafe de Oude Sluis (The Old Lock), the distinctive Dutch building on the corner of the harbour. Here, you can relax on the back terrace overlooking the water and enjoy the lovely views.

Row of Dutch style brick buildings beside a canal in Rotterdam.

Locate the historic buildings in Delfshaven

As mentioned earlier, Delfshaven was the only place in Rotterdam to evade bombings, so its buildings are old and have had many uses. Plaques with a brief timeline can be found on the walls.

One such building is number 57, erected in 1762 in the Louis XV style as a posh private house. In 1873, the Protestant Orphanage was officially opened in it. From 1952 to 2010, the building housed the community centre. It was named Piet Heyn, after the Dutch Admiral who sailed in the Spanish Armada. The building is now listed as a national monument.

Brick house with two floors and 14 windows.

Another building to see is the one below. J H Henkes was a distiller of korenwijn (grain wine) and jenever (gin), which is believed to predate English gin. Royal Stork was the brand name of the gin, hence the stork statue above the doors. As for the gold coins – who knows!

Brick building with large gold coins hanging from its outer walls and a statue of a stork at the top of the building.
Brick building with sign B H Schellings Oliehandel on the front.
B.H.Schellings supplied the harbour with boating commodities, from oil and fuel to cleaning.

Visit Zakkendragershuisje (The Bag Handler’s House)

This important building was at the mouth of the harbour and was where boats arrived with their cargo.

The bell in the tower was rung when a ship was to be unloaded. The porters could identify the kind of cargo by the number of bell strokes (e.g., 3 strokes meant grain). Until 1943, the cargo was carried to the warehouses from the water’s edge on porters’ backs almost 300 years after the building was erected.

Later, Zakkendragershuisje also served as a prison, watchhouse, and fire station. Today, it is a cultural centre hosting musical and theatrical events.

Building with flag flying at its front in Delfshaven.
brick buildings lining the canal in Delfshaven.
Zakkendragershuisje is visible from the canal thanks to its bell tower.

Step inside a Dutch Windmill

A trip to Delfshaven wouldn’t be complete without seeing a traditional Dutch windmill. Molen De Distilleerketel dates back to the 18th century and is still operational. It offers a captivating insight into the milling processes once used to grind malt for the gin (jenever) distilleries. You can go inside for a small fee (or free with the Rotterdam Card).

You can also get tea and coffee here, or why not pre-book a kayak for collection at the windmill and paddle down the river?

A windmill with door open and yellow chairs outside it.
A Dutch windmill beside the canal in Delfshaven.

Have fun at the Pinball Museum

I wasn’t expecting to find something so modern tucked inside one of the historic warehouses in the harbour, but here was the Pinball Museum!

Unlike traditional museums, this one is highly interactive. Visitors can play on over 100 pinball machines, ranging from vintage classics to modern-day designs. This hands-on approach makes it a hit with both children and adults.

The museum provides an insightful look into the history of pinball, showcasing machines from different eras and highlighting significant developments in design and technology. You’ll learn about the cultural impact of pinball and its journey from the 1930s to the present day.

Discover Street Art

While Delfshaven is primarily known for its historical sites, wandering away from the harbour through the backstreets reveals a few street art pieces that add a contemporary touch to this multicultural neighbourhood. Rotterdam will never make it onto my list of best street art cities in Europe, but the few pieces dotted around Delfshaven brighten up otherwise dull spaces.

Mural in tones of green and blue depicting animals.

You will also find several small art galleries in the historic part of Delfshaven.

Building on the corner of Delfshaven with sign saying Galerie.

Time to Eat

There are many good places to eat in Delfshaven. I recommend Soif, where we had the most delicious goat’s cheese salad and chicken satay skewers. The restaurant also has views of the main river that runs through the Delfshaven neighbourhood. This viewpoint reminded me of Hackney in London, which has a similar industrial landscape minus the windmill!

A brick building with the name SOIF above the door in Delfshaven.
Goats cheese salad and meat skewers on two plates.
River running past industrial buildings in Rotterdam.

Conclusion: Is Delfshaven Worth Visiting?

Absolutely! it’s a must for history buffs and culture lovers alike, so when visiting the Netherlands, ensure that Delfshaven is on your travel itinerary. It is one of the nicest places to visit in Rotterdam, is easy to reach and plays a big part in American history. Take metro lines A, B, or C towards the “Delfshaven” stop, or do as the Dutch do and cycle!

If you are looking for a nice hotel in Rotterdam, I recommend Le Marin Boutique Hotel. It is comfortable, reasonably priced, and close to Rotterdam Central Station, also home to Eurostar. I returned home to London from Rotterdam on the Eurostar in 3 hours, making it a fantastic place to head for a weekend break.

There is also a tram stop by the hotel, which takes you into the city centre. The hotel is a pleasant 20-minute walk to Delfshaven Harbour.

Please PIN for Future Travel to The Netherlands

Do you need to arrange travel insurance, car hire or accommodation? Please check out my travel resources page to help you plan your trip.

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Friday 31st of May 2024

I love this. I am excited to add this as a place to visit. I am most excited about the pinball museum and street art!


Friday 31st of May 2024

I love Delfshaven street art and in general, Delfshaven is a beautiful place to explore.

Jazmarae Beebe

Friday 31st of May 2024

As a girlie from Rotterdam, it's refreshing to read about Delfshaven from an outside perspective. Thanks for visiting and making such a lovely blog.


Friday 31st of May 2024

Thank you for your kind words. It is great to hear that as a Rotterdam local you have found my blog interesting to read.


Thursday 30th of May 2024

What a beautiful and interesting place! I'd love to rent a kayak, as you suggest, and use that for some sightseeing!