Born and raised in the U.K., Cecily Layzell hopped the pond to Amsterdam a decade ago and has been keeping it continental ever since. When she’s not scoping out the latest restaurant and bars in the Dutch capital for her website, Eat Amsterdam, the food and travel writer spends her time freelancing for publications all around the globe. Here are a few of her favorite things about the Venice of the North.
Amsterdam Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is Café Papeneiland. More of a bar than a cafe, the establishment has sat at the intersection of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht, two of the city’s most beautiful canals, since 1641.
Early summer is the best time to visit my city because the warmer weather fills Amsterdam with an expectant buzz. Terraces reopen, the first outdoor festivals get going, and cycling becomes a pleasure again.
There aren’t many places to get high—vertically, that is—in Amsterdam, but you can see my city best from the Zuiderkerkstoren. Climb the 70-meter church tower, whose carillon bells chime every 15 minutes, for views of the Jewish Quarter, the Red Light District, Dam Square, and beyond.
The De Pijp neighborhood is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs. Trawl Albert Cuyp Market for cheese, stroopwafels (syrup waffles), and other edibles, or head to Hutspot on Van Woustraat for contemporary fashion and design pieces.
My city’s best museum is the FOAM photography museum because it’s small enough to be manageable but attracts some really big names. And the canal-side setting is stunning.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that while you have to try riding a bike at least once, you’ll see more on foot. Distances are short and you’ll want to keep stopping to admire the view.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is undoubtedly on the water. There are numerous rondvaart boat tours, but for a slower, more intimate experience, let Coen van den Akker guide you around Amsterdam in a kayak.
My city really knows how to celebrate New Year’s Eve because the streets become a cacophonous fireworks free-for-all.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they are fearless on two wheels and never come to a complete standstill, even at red lights.
For a fancy night out, I drink cocktails at Bar Oldenhof, said to be the country’s first crowd-funded bar, then order the tasting plates—which might include smoked eel, foie gras with tangerine, or pan-fried langoustine—at RON Gastrobar.
My city is known for being rude, but it’s really just to-the-point. Think of it as time-saving, and try not to take it personally.
The best outdoor market in my city is the Saturday organic market on Noordermarkt. It can get crushingly busy, but it’s a great place to pick up regional produce and you can usually “try before you buy.” In the winter, warm up after a visit with hot chocolate and apple pie in Winkel 43.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read A Mag, an English-language magazine that’s available around town and online, or Overdose.am, which lists upcoming art, music, fashion, and cultural events. Alternatively, search for #amsterdam on Facebook and Twitter. Many smaller venues don’t have websites and advertise their events via social media.
If Ajax, the local football team, hasn’t made it to the final of the national championships, my city’s biggest sports event is the Amsterdam Marathon. Watch it along a course that starts and finishes at the Olympic Stadium, flowing by the Rijksmuseum, Vondelpark, and the River Amstel along the way.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I go to the Stadsarchief (the Amsterdam city archives). Housed in an ornate white-and-brown brick building designed by Karel de Bazel, it often has free exhibitions on the ground floor.
To escape the crowds, I cycle along the river to the village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel.
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Sophia Loren because its allure hasn’t faded with age.
The dish that represents my city best is stamppot, potatoes mashed with fresh greens, often including endive—and jenever (Dutch gin) is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at Greetje restaurant and Wynand Fockink tasting room, respectively.
The modern, angular EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam Noord (North) is my favorite building in town because it is such a dramatic counterpoint to the gabled facades and diminutive scale of the central canals.
The most random thing about my city is the multistory parking lot that’s exclusively for bicycles found next to Central Station.
Permitting a church, a day care center, and a brothel to coexist on the same square could only happen in my city.
In the summer you should pack a picnic and find a spot in one of Amsterdam’s many parks. It stays light until well after 10 p.m. and the people-watching is fantastic.
In the fall you should explore the city’s world-class museums. Don’t miss the Rijksmuseum library, a quiet corner in this vast complex that wouldn’t look out of place in a Harry Potter movie. Fun fact: Refurbishment of the museum, which took a staggering ten years, was delayed by a dispute with the Fietsersbond (the Dutch cyclists’ union) over the popular bicycle path that runs through the middle of the building. The cyclists won and the museum’s east and west wings are now joined by an underground passageway.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the NEMO science museum. Most of the exhibits are designed to be touched—and the green, hull-shaped building is pretty cool, too.
The best book about my city is The Book of Revelation, by Rupert Thomson, because it combines beauty, creativity, and sex—arguably Amsterdam’s trademarks—in one dark, thrilling read.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Let’s Get Lost,” by Chet Baker. In a morbid coincidence, he died in Amsterdam, but the song’s title could also apply to me every time I visit the Jordaan district. I still haven’t mastered the neighborhood’s jumble of narrow streets.
In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because small really is beautiful. Where else can you find looks, charm, and well over 1,200 bridges in such close proximity?