When in Harlingen, on the Dutch coast an hour’s drive from Amsterdam, you’ll need to crane your neck upwards to spot two of the three coolest hotels in town. One of those hotels is atop an actual working crane. The other is in a lighthouse. And the town’s third cool hotel? That’s on street level—or, more accurately, water level—inside a lifeboat.
Our reviews of each . . .
The Harlingen Lifeboat Hotel
Most people imagine a “life boat” to be one those dinghies that the Titanic didn’t have enough of. The Lifeboat Hotel is not in one of those. Instead it’s in a vessel 47 meters long that served as a British rescue boat until 1979 and saved more than 45 lives in the 25 years it patrolled the English Channel.
The Lifeboat Hotel is still an operational ship though the interior has been made considerably more swanky since the days it ran rescue missions. The aft cabin has a lounging area with plush arm chairs, a DVD player and an HDTV set. A portion of the cockpit has been partitioned off to make a sort of dinning room—the hotel staff will serve you breakfast here in the morning, making this B&B is a Boat & Breakfast ( . . . sorry, we couldn’t resist.) As for the bedroom, it has a full sized heart-shaped bed and a two-person wooden tub. It also has toilet, right there in the room, without any dividers. So, um, we hope you don’t feel shy around your boatmate.
Rates for an overnight stay start at €229. For an additional €238 a ship captain will take you and your boat-hotel out on a three hour tour . . . a three hour tour.
The Harlingen Lighthouse Hotel
Between this hotel’s front door and its top room there are more than 80 stairs. These, shall we say, conveniently eliminate the need for a hotel gym.
After the first set of stairs guests reach the bathroom level. The next set of stairs brings you to the sleeping quarters with a bed custom made to fit along the lighthouse’s curved wall. The final steep stair ascent ends at the former lantern room and its 360 degree panorama of windows. There’s a complementary pair of binoculars here for you to take in the view. Harkening back to the days this was a working lighthouse, the lantern room has a panel that reveals the current wind speed and direction; a VHF radio lets you listen in on chatter of the boats in the harbor. There’s also a table here perfect for enjoying the hotel’s complimentary breakfast. But don’t worry—the hotel staff will climb the stairs and bring your breakfast up to you.
Rates start at at €319.
The Harbour Crane Hotel
This is our favorite of Harlingen’s three unusual hotel offerings. It’s the only accommodations we know of inside what was once a massive piece of construction equipment; as recently as 1996 this crane was used to unload timber from ships.
Here’s the coolest part: The crane still works! And hotel guests can play around with it!! No, you can’t go taking stuff off of the ships that still bring cargo into the harbor. But you can point the crane in any direction and operate its two lift motors.
For guys who grew up with Playmobil construction sets this is a dream come true.
For the wives and girlfriends of guys who grew up with Playmobil construction sets you should probably choose either the lifeboat or lighthouse hotel (above) if you don’t want to spend your romantic weekend watching your significant other, um, playing with his crane.
That said, there is something romantic about the panorama view from atop this crane 49 meters (160 feet) above the sea. Getting up to that view involves two elevator rides: one that brings you up to the base platform and another that zooms you up through the center of the crane. Your living quarters at the top of the crane includes a bedroom with a flatscreen TV and DVD player, a sort of parlor/sitting area and an outdoor balcony that’s perfect for enjoying the complimentary breakfast on warm days.
Rates start at at €319 per night.
All three properties are run by the same company. Book well in advance—each hotel can accommodate a maximum of two guests at once.