Every European city boasting a canal or two gets dubbed the Venice of the north. But Amsterdam can claim the title honestly.
Its historic liquid core, a checkerboard of intersecting canals, received formal UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage site in 2010 and is now marking its quadricentennial.
“This year is the 400th anniversary of our canal district,” says Brita Röhl, general manager of the Hotel Seven One Seven. “And the city’s most renowned art museum, the Rijksmuseum, reopened in April after a major renovation. So Amsterdam will be celebrating itself this year.”
As part of the citywide salute, Röhl’s hotel has joined with other canal-ring hotels, restaurants, and museums in a loose union dubbed Amsterdam Canals 2013, to showcase the city’s canal-centric charms and vibrant past.
“We want to make sure visitors know that they can eat traditional dishes in canalside restaurants, visit the special exhibits on canal history, and tour the area on luxury canal boats,” Röhl says. And, of course, sleep in one of the gabled, waterside mansions that Amsterdam’s merchant burghers built when their city boomed.
In recent years, these treasure houses have been converted into hotels, so you can wake up to the same views of waterways and arched brick bridges that the city’s pioneers did.
Nooks and Books
Among the first to be converted was the Ambassade (from $330), a row of 11 adjoining 17th-century canal houses overlooking a graceful curve of the Singel canal. A recent renovation resulted in upgraded marble tile bathrooms. But the hotel’s deft blend of Dutch classicism and coziness remains intact: The maze of halls and stairs that would confuse M. C. Escher; the French reproduction furniture that defies split-second trends; and a handsome library bulging with some 3,000 books, signed by well-known authors passing through town.
The newer, fittingly named Canal House hotel (from $317), a trio of 17th-century canal houses around a watery corner from Anne Frank’s house, pays a more playful homage to golden age aesthetics. The 23 rooms feature a sensuous array of silks and velvets that could pass for the backdrop in a Dutch still life. At night, the two garden houses surrounded by Japanese maples open for private, candlelight dining.
The stylish Dylan (from $363) started life as a theater and morphed into Amsterdam’s first canalside boutique hotel. Renovated in stages over the past decade, the hotel offers guest rooms ranging from Asian-style havens with black lacquered four-poster beds to beamed loftlike duplexes.
The hotel’s Michelin-starred Vinkeles restaurant features French cuisine and excellent views of the canal. If you prefer to skip the formal dining room, you can sample the same menu and view Amsterdam’s cityscape by eating on board the hotel’s wooden salon boat as it floats down the canal.
A New Take on Tradition
Nearby on the Prinsengracht (the city’s longest canal), the recently opened Andaz (from $430) is the canal belt’s newest “it” hotel (and the Dutch debut of the Hyatt chain’s Andaz brand). Formerly the city’s public library, the hotel was revamped by local designer Marcel Wanders, who turned the hotel into a tribute to Dutch icons.
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Oversize photos of herring hang above beds; clogs are nailed to walls; delft blue wallpaper printed with gabled houses covers the bathroom walls. Guest can wheel out on the hotel’s complimentary bikes or relax in the dark wood Bluespoon Bar, sipping wines from southwestern Holland.
Cheaper options on the pricey canal belt don’t necessarily mean sacrificing canal views or style. The Toren (from $106) on the Keizersgracht, outfits its traditional rooms with a sea of damask and ornate glass chandeliers. Dikker & Thijs Fenice Hotel (from $118), located on the Prinsengracht, began as a gourmet food shop famous for its caviar and now houses an art gallery hosting wine pairings and revolving photo exhibits.
The family-run Hotel Estheréa (from $138) keeps things classic with a 17th-century facade on the Singel canal and a garden aesthetic of flowery wallpaper and brocade dressing up the elegant guest rooms.
This piece, written by Raphael Kadushin, appeared in the May 2013 issue of Traveler magazine.