Beyond its tulip fields, bike lanes, and liberal attitude, Amsterdam is best known for the iconic canals that snake through the city. Dug in the 17th century, over 60 miles (100 km) of waterways criss-cross through the capital of the Netherlands, resulting in 90 islands and 1,500 bridges keeping the city connected.
So what better way to mark your trip to Amsterdam than by staying in a historic bridge house right on the canals?
SWEETS hotel is a collection of independent hotel suites scattered around the city. What connects these 28 (and counting!) suites is that each is a retired bridge house, once lived in by a bridge keeper whose job was operating the adjoining bridge, opening it for boat traffic on the canals. However, once a centralized bridge control system was implemented, the bridge keepers became redundant, and their houses deserted.
In 2012, the co-creators of SWEETS brought their vision for an urban space project to the city. Rather than allow these bridge houses to remain empty relics of an outdated transportation system, they proposed turning them into hotel suites for visitors to experience an authentic piece of Amsterdam.
A decade later, SWEETS hotel has expanded to 28 unique addresses across the city, connected by their shared history as bridge houses. All of the hotel suites were designed by architects Space&Matter in 2017 and are suitable for 1-2 guests on a double bed. They vary greatly in size (from a 113-square-foot tiny house to a three-story 635-square-foot suite with separate living room), age (from a 1673 lock house to a 2009 modern build), noise level (from bustling city center streets to peaceful lakeside retreats), and style (from Japanese-inspired interiors to Dutch Classical architecture).
Honeymooners looking for luxury and seclusion are encouraged to check out Amstelschutsluis (bridge house #206), located on a private island and only accessible by boat. Night owls craving a space-age vibe should consider contemporary Wiegbrug (#307), while those seeking an unbeatable view might prefer Kortjewantsbrug (#202), complete with 360-degree windows and a circular bed to match.
After pouring over the options and comparing locations, layouts, and features, I selected the Willemsbrug bridge house (#303), located by the trendy shopping street Haarlemmerdijk and grassy Westerpark.
Willemsbrug bridge house was built in 1928 and converted into a SWEETS hotel suite in 2017. While the entryway, bathroom, and mini kitchenette were certainly on the small side, they were well-designed and practical. But it was the panoramic views over the Singelgracht canal that sold me on Willemsbrug. The main bedroom is flanked by three walls of ribbon windows, complete with a wraparound bench perfect for watching boats glide under the bridge and down the canal.
While most boats passed under the bridge without incident, every so often, a beeping noise would start, signaling the approach of a taller boat. Guard rails would come down—halting pedestrian, car, and bike traffic—and the bridge would raise to allow the boat, usually a tall and long cargo vessel, to pass through. While this happened multiple times during my stay and was likely annoying to commuters, I marveled every time at the efficiency of the bridge system and the size of the boat coming through. After a few exciting minutes, the bridge would come back down, the guard rails would lift, and regular traffic would resume.
Bikers, drivers, and pedestrians would raise an eyebrow every time I left or entered what couldn’t look further from a normal hotel or apartment. While some of the SWEETS houses host a cheeky banner proclaiming, “You can sleep here,” it’s easy to miss, leaving most people to wonder how I came to live in the little bridge house. I found myself with a proud smile, thinking, “How lucky am I to have the best view in the city at the foot of my bed?”
Whether strolling along them, crossing them on bridges, or taking a boat ride down them, you can’t visit Amsterdam and not admire the canals. They are the city's lifeblood, used practically for transportation, irrigation, and water removal, and aesthetically to create the fairytale image of Amsterdam we all have in our heads.
Save perhaps Venice, nowhere else are canals more important, iconic, and embedded in a city’s identity. By staying at a SWEETS hotel bridge house, you get one of the most unique accommodation experiences in the world and one intrinsically connected to the history and heart of Amsterdam.
- Getting there: The nearest airport is Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), just eight miles from the city center. From Schiphol, you can take a sprinter train connecting you to Amsterdam Centraal Rail Station in less than 20 minutes. From there, all of the SWEETS hotel locations are a short drive, bike, or ride on public transit away.
- Average Going flight price: $495 roundtrip
How to do it
- Best time to go: Amsterdam is a year-round destination, with SWEETS hotels being a wonderful accommodation option any time of year. All the bridge houses have air conditioning and heating, meaning you will be comfortable whatever the temperature. To catch the Netherlands’ iconic tulip bloom and be in the middle of the party on the country’s national holiday, King’s Day, plan your visit for mid-April.
- Cost: Stays at SWEETS hotel start at €125 per night.
- Tips and considerations: SWEETS hotel bridge houses are adults-only (over 21), and each house accommodates up to two guests; children and pets are not permitted. Unfortunately, due to their historical nature and location over bridges, the bridge houses are not wheelchair accessible. For more information, check out their FAQs.
Photos courtesy of SWEETS hotel / Lotte Holterman