Perfectly located Canal House hotel packs contemporary chiaroscuro decor into a brace of 17th-century merchant's houses, channeling the dramatic light, natural textures and rich fabrics of the Dutch Old Masters. Bedrooms are seductive, the breakfasts are delicious, and the courtyard garden's a romantic hideaway. You don't have to go far to see great art: not only is the Museum District a short tram ride away, the hotel has its own neck-craning array of antique ceiling mouldings, cabinets of curiosity, contemporary design and modern art.
Double rooms from £184.02 (€215), including tax at 9 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of 7% per room per night on check-out.
Rates usually include a breakfast box with a croissant, muffin, yoghurt, muesli, fresh fruit and juice.
If you're feeling sociable, an extra bed for an adult guest can be added to larger rooms for €75 a night.
At the hotel
Courtyard garden, small fitness room, DVD/BluRay library, free WiFi throughout, private dining rooms. In rooms: LCD TV, Blu-ray/DVD player, Bose iPod dock, minibar, free bottled water, coffee- and tea-making kit, full-size Green & Spring bath products, hairdryer, slippers and robes.
Our favourite rooms
Good Rooms make up in style for what they lack in size, with the same luxury trappings, twin sinks and contemporary photography as the higher room categories – 18 overlooks the garden. Exceptional Room 12 has an ingenious sink/entertainment island and our favourite photography, including two Kevin Best showstoppers. The aptly named Best Room is an enormous top-floor suite with a freestanding bath, shower for two, two seating areas and canal views. If invisible ablutions are a non-negotiable for you, Great Room 3 and Exceptional Room 15 both have entirely separate bathrooms (the rest have in-room baths and sexy glazed shower stalls).
Pack light, and hit the boutiques in the nearby Nine Streets to pad out your wardrobe with cutting-edge designer or upcycled vintage pieces. Save stilettos for the bedroom: the Dam is all about Converse, cobbles and canalside walks.
In-room spa and beauty treatments can be arranged, and personal trainers can be booked via reception, where you'll also find jogging maps, tram tickets and other helpful extras.
Welcome, although this is a getaway for grown-ups. Cots or extra beds are €75 a night; a highchair is available in the breakfast room. Babysitting can be provided with a local nanny.
Get comfortable on a leather banquette in the lounge for aperitifs or a coffee with the Sunday papers. In the Great Room, get a window table for two; when the frescoed, four-seat Summer House is open, it will be an über-romantic spot for private dining.
Fashion-savvy APC, Opening Ceremony, Dagmar and Rodebjer.
Bridging the two merchant's houses is the Great Room, a decadent but intimate space looking out across the garden behind the hotel. A light menu of snacks (local meats and cheeses, croquettes, smoked salmon, toasties, spring rolls and some sweet nibbles, too) is served in the Great Room, lounge and in-room in the afternoon, to accompany drinks.
With brushed steel stools lined up around theatrically lit counters and a separate lounge area, the Bar at Canal House is atmospheric and attractive. Multiple mirrors, matt black walls and gilded Napoleonic plasterwork set the scene for seduction. Sip wine, sink highballs or sup cold draught beer.
The bar-slash-reception desk serves until the last guest has headed to bed.
Have breakfast brought to your room, or order light snacks after 11am.
Schiphol airport is 12km – less than 30 minutes by taxi – from Canal House (allow 45 minutes if there's heavy traffic); the ride will set you back around €50 and you can jump in a cab outside the terminal. Direct trains leave Schiphol for Amsterdams Centraal Station every 10 minutes between 6am and 1am; the journey takes 15–20 minutes.
Centraal Station has high-speed links with Paris (in four hours), Brussels (in three hours) and further afield, as well as national connections to cities like the Hague and Rotterdam. A taxi from Canal House to the station is about €15.
Parking in Amsterdam is a headache, so driving is best avoided; do as the locals do and rent a bicycle once you're there. Public transport is also very efficient, with trams and canal buses linking up all over town: visit GVB for timetables and tickets (www.gvb.nl).
Worth getting out of bed for
You're just a short stroll from one of Amsterdam's biggest tourist attractions: the Ann Frank House at 263–267 Prinsengracht. Hop on tram 2 or 5 from Dam Square, 10 minutes' walk away, to the Museum District, for the Rembrandt and Vermeer-packed Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. Book a private guide through the hotel for an insider tour of the sights (from €35 an hour). Tour the city on the water: the nearest canal bus stop is steps from the Anne Frank House on Keizersgracht. Tickets for 24, 48 or 72 hours allow you to hop on or off at more than 20 stops around Amsterdam. Alternatively, with 24 hours' notice, Canal House can arrange a private boat from a fleet of restored sloops, complete with captain, full bar and food if you wish. On yer bike: see the city the way the Dutch do, from the saddle of a push bike. Canal House has plans to provide a fleet of smart cycles – until then, MacBike rents two-wheelers; you'll need photo ID and a credit card. The neighbouring Nine Streets district is chock-full of quirky shops and designer stores. We're sure you'll find your own, but our favourites include fashion-forward womenswear boutiques Nummer 9 at 226 Prinsengracht, and Laundry Industry at 10 Huidenstraat; vintage-style store De Maagt & De Leeuw at 32 Hartenstraat; and the inspiring creative-industry bookshop Mendo at 11 Berenstraat.
A 10-minute amble along Keizersgracht will get you to the highly regarded Vinkeles restaurant at the Dylan hotel, 384 Keizersgracht. Set in the 18th-century bakery of a Catholic hospice, the elegant room has original brickwork, floors and ovens. Chef Dennis Kuipers dazzles with signature dishes incuding roasted Anjou pigeon with five spices. At 11 Reestraat, smart little Nooch has a menu of teppanyaki, sushi, Vietnamese noodle soup (pho bo), and other Asian delights. Jansz is the Pulitzer Hotel's upscale all-day diner and is ideal for grown-up lunch or dinner.
Koffehuis de Hoekis a laid-back neighbourhood café that's great for brunch and people-watching. Find it at 341 Prinsengracht. Kadijk de Winkel at 26 Huidenstraat is the little-sister outpost of Kadijk Café, with tasty twists on Indonesian snacks (like Nasi Goreng), and drinks on offer from noon till 8pm. For laid-back lunching, try unassuming but wonderful Raïneraï at 252 Prinsengracht, an Algerian deli-traiteur-café on a quiet canal crossing. Try couscous, tagines and baklava to take away or wash it down with mint tea while perched on a bench outside.
As Mrs Smith and I approach the huge and age-blackened oak doors of Canal House on Amsterdam’s pretty waterway the Keizersgracht, we’re not sure what to expect. After all, the things that usually lurk behind such forbidding portals are liable to go bump in the night. Bracing ourselves for an encounter with one of Dr Frankenstein’s shuffling henchmen, we are relieved when welcomed by the altogether friendlier figure of the hotel’s concierge. After checking us into the hip 23-room hideaway, he leads us through the former 17th-century merchant’s house – all high ceilings, tastefully faded repros of Dutch Golden Age paintings, swathes of silk and velvet, and Gothic-luxe design touches – and up to our suite.
On the way, we glimpse a man who I will describe here as only an Incredibly Famous Rock Star (I'm not a writer given to, um, careless whispers). He sits contentedly sipping coffee the Great Room, a majestic space that functions as Canal House’s all-day restaurant and chill-out spot for guests, who can while away the hours leafing through an impressive range of kooky, and occasionally kinky, art, photography and design books, or simply staring (as the IFRS did) out of the windows into the large, beautifully tended back garden – a rarity in built-up central Amsterdam. Mrs Smith shoots me a look that seems to say ‘Well, if he is staying here this place must be pretty good’. She’s right: with its air of discreet decadence, Canal House is the kind of hotel that can make anybody feel like a rock star for a night or two.
As we enter our room on the hotel’s top floor, we almost have to squint to see the bed. Not, of course, because of its Lilliputian dimensions (it is vast and deeply comfortable), but because the room is so very long that it takes a moment to determine quite where it ends. Before we finally flop down on marshmallow-soft duvet, we pass a lounge area with a sofa and large LCD screen, a purple-tiled ‘wet space’ with a freestanding bathtub big enough for two and a shower cubicle that could take easily twice that number, a dressing table set with all manner of Green & Spring products (approving murmurs, here, from Mrs S.), and an entertainment station complete with board games, copies of GQ, Vogue, and Wallpaper*, and another even bigger LCD screen and Blu-ray player, on which we later watch one of the comfortingly trashy Hollywood movies available to hire, free of charge, at the front desk.
When we finally slot an iPod into the bedside dock and crank up – who could resist? – the IFRS's biggest hit, we feel pleasantly exhausted. Time to pour a glass of something great from the minibar, see just how bubbly a bath we can run using the complimentary unguents, and marvel at the huge and glossy Nicole Marnati photograph above the bed, in which a Nicki Minaj look-a-like poses in a gold Marcel Wanders gown, a cross between an 18th-century princess and a dayglo hip-hop queen. When the Canal House's design team said that their aim is to combine influences from the building's past with a 21st-century aesthetic, they weren't messing around.
Toes and fingers wrinkled from a long soak, and having watched dusk settle over the city’s gabled rooftops from our canal side window, we repair to the hotel’s bar. It’s a space that marries mercantile grandeur and darkly romantic styling with an atmosphere that a Dutch person might describe as gezellig – an untranslatable word that connotes something close to cosiness. Mrs Smith orders an excellent cucumber martini, while I plump for a ‘Green and Spring’ – not a cocktail of the Canal House’s excellent bath products but rather an enticing mixture of Grey Goose vodka, orgeat syrup, lemon juice and muddled pear. Mrs Smith takes a sip from my glass, and pronounces that it tastes like ‘a really delicious pond’. Our tipples are just what we need to put us in the mood for a night out with friends in Amsterdam’s hip de Pijp district, home to the city’s thriving young art scene. We return late, all too glad to sink into the great cloud of our bed and await another crisply beautiful Amsterdam winter morning.
After breakfasting in the Great Room on perfectly poached eggs, fresh fruit, and creamy jong kaas (young cheese), we hire bicycles from the nearby Bike City, and set out to explore the surrounding streets. Cruising along the canals of the Jordaan neighbourhood, home to everything from traditional brown cafes to world-beating design store Moooi, we get to wondering whether the IFRS is doing the same. Amsterdam, after all, is one of the world’s most famously relaxed cities, where even the spectacle of a pedaling music idol would do little to faze its easygoing inhabitants. Perhaps, though, he was still holed up in the splendid Golden Age meets Third Millennium fantasia of the Canal House. As Mrs Smith points out, when a hotel is this beguiling, why bother stepping out of the door?