There’s no better spot to watch the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam’s canals than the city’s bridges. And with new project SWEETs Hotel, Amsterdam-lovers can get one step closer to the water.
This new initiative has transformed the tiny buildings dotted along the city’s bridges – known as bridge houses – into luxurious hotel suites, each with their own distinct character.
First built along the city’s viaducts in the 1600s to monitor boat traffic in and out of the city, today most of these historic buildings lie vacant.
Now, thanks to a collaboration between innovative architects Space and Matter and the founders of Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy, the buildings have been re-imagined, each with their own distinct character to enchant those who travel here.
Tiny but luxurious – they’re the perfect place to while away an evening on the water.
Space and Matter and the Lloyd Hotel Amsterdam team have been working on the project for seven years.
“Space and Matter […] knew us as, let’s say, extreme concept makers and hoteliers. They went to us and together we started this plan of making a hotel,” co-founder Suzanne Oxenaar tells CNN Travel.
The aim was to transform a total of 28 of the bridge houses into luxury two-person suites – revolutionizing their interiors while keeping their distinctive, historic exteriors intact.
The result? A unique experience that allows guests to stay in a slice of Amsterdam history. The oldest bridge house suite, Amstelschutsluis, dates from 1673.
“That is really old,” says Oxenaar. “That’s the only one where you can only come by boat.”
Back in the day, of course, everyone approached the bridge houses by boat. The city’s bridge-keepers were based there and it was their job to open and close the bridges, ferrying people in and out of the city.
“In the old times people would enter the city and they would have to pay at the bridge house there, but also the bridge watcher would open and close the lock for them,” explains Oxenaar.
Amsterdam has a phenomenal 1.281 bridges, scattered across the city. Staying in a bridge house allows tourists to see a different side to the city, away from the conventional haunts.
“It’s amazing because they’re all over the city, in any neighborhood you could think of: east, west, north, south,” explains Oxenaar. “It’s not only the house, but it’s also putting the tourist up in other neighborhoods than where they would usually go.”
The story of Amsterdam
Ranging in architectural styles and dating from different periods, each bridge house has a different flavor: from a three-story bridge in north Amsterdam to a 1950s house in Jordaan, in the late “Amsterdam School” style.
“These houses are from such different architectural periods,” says Oxenaar. “[They] tell the story of how Amsterdam was actually built.”
Of course this variation in style means renovating each property was its own challenge.
Oxenaar says historic restoration is all about asking certain key questions:
“What is the architecture giving us? How can we continue with that? How can we take the value out of the architecture that’s already existing?”
Each time they get hold of a new property, the team decamp to the building to work out how they’re going to make the bridge house livable and luxurious.
“We call it design picnics,” says Oxenaar.
The result is each bridge house is different. “They all have a totally different character, both outside and now also inside. Not one is the same at all,” says Oxenaar.
There are some recurring obstacles – fitting in a bathroom is always tricky. There’s no kitchen, but there’s a mini fridge, coffee and tea facilities and crockery.
The idea is it’s a hotel – the rooms are just spread across the city.
So how do you choose which room to stay in?
“Sometimes people from Amsterdam like to choose one in a neighborhood where they grew up,” says Oxenaar. “Or people somehow like the period of the house, or they like the view, or they like the inside.”
Some bridge houses are quieter. Others thrust guests into the middle of vibrant Amsterdam. There’s something for everyone.
Oxenaar says guests enjoy the experience and find its idiosyncrasies charming.
“People use the word ‘gelukkig’ in Dutch, and that word means happy, but, like, really happy,” she says.
Oxenaar notes that renovating historic or unusual buildings into accommodation is becoming increasingly common – particularly in the Netherlands.
“I think we have a very long tradition in restoring monumental buildings,” she explains.
Oxenaar also says the general trend for staying in historic properties is linked to our collective thirst for distinct vacations:
“Where can you experience something better than in a place that has a kind of history?” she says. “Whether it is a personal history or in this case a more, let’s say, functional history?
“I think people are looking for experience – not only to sleep somewhere but also to experience something.”