Cecily Layzell

Correspondent

  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands, EUR

Cecily Layzell is a correspondent who lives in Amsterdam and covers the city for Forbes Travel Guide. Born and raised in the U.K., Layzell traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia while earning a bachelor’s degree and journalism diploma. A freelance writer and editor, Layzell has contributed to Time Out Amsterdam, Zagat, Condé Nast, CNN.com, Holland Herald and others. She specializes in food and travel writing and shares some of her culinary adventures — including a mild obsession with finding wine bars in a city dominated by beer — on the website Eat-Amsterdam.com.

  • On May 17, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What are some things to know before visiting Amsterdam?

    The bicycle is king in Amsterdam. Cycle paths are ubiquitous and generally well-marked but that doesn’t mean that cyclists always use them as they were intended. The Dutch drive on the right, but it is advisable to look both ways before crossing a road as cyclists frequently flaunt the rules, riding the wrong way up streets or running red lights. If in doubt, always give way to a two-wheeler. That said, Amsterdam is a pedestrian-friendly city and the compact center makes it a joy to explore on foot.

    The currency in The Netherlands is the euro. The majority of shops, restaurants and hotels accept cash, credit and debit card payments (although some foreign debit cards may not work—check with your bank before traveling). A small number of establishments do not take cash—they say for safety reasons—but this should be clearly indicated on their website or at the payment point. VISA and Mastercard are undoubtedly the credit cards of choice, which can be limiting for American Express cardholders.

    Tipping taxi drivers, waiters, bellhops and so on is customary. Ten percent on top of a restaurant bill is standard but rounding up in coffee houses and bars is also common. If a glass of beer costs €2.30, for example, it is usual to leave €2.50.

    The level of English in Amsterdam is generally high. There is thus no need to learn any Dutch before you arrive, unless you are particularly keen to try wrapping your tongue around the sometimes alien letter combinations and guttural “g.”

    However, some visitors are surprised by the direct way in which the Dutch express themselves. The Dutch would argue that they are simply getting to the point, but other nationalities, notably the British, are often taken aback by the lack of what they regard as linguistic niceties. In few cases is this directness meant as rudeness, though, so don’t take offence. You may even want to give it a try yourself—it can be very liberating!
  • On May 17, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What should I pack for a trip to Amsterdam?

    There are few specific things you should pack for a visit to Amsterdam and, if you do forget something, everything you need for a city trip is available locally.

    Having said that, bear in mind that the weather in Amsterdam is changeable and can be wet and windy all year round. The best protection is a windproof raincoat with a hood—the gusts off the North Sea tend to destroy umbrellas in minutes. Similarly, pack waterproof shoes or an extra pair to change into if your feet do get wet.

    Summer temperatures do occasionally top 20 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit), so be prepared with sunscreen and a hat, particularly if you plan on exploring on foot. The city’s numerous waterways are an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Although the biting insects are a nuisance, they are not dangerous. However, you may want to bring insect repellent.

    Electrical outlets in Amsterdam require standard continental European two-pin plugs. If your appliances use different plugs, you will need an adaptor.
  • On April 29, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What’s Amsterdam’s dining scene like?

    Amsterdam's dining scene was for a long time dominated by French and Italian cuisine. In recent years, however, chefs have rediscovered their own backyard, sourcing local ingredients and reinterpreting traditional recipes.

    In Restaurant Greetje, for instance, you'll find Dutch ingredients appearing in unexpected places: pollock is poached in buttermilk, mustard becomes a crust for chicken, and licorice delicately flavors ice cream.

    Location and ambience are inching up the list of priorities too. While these are no guarantee of good food of course, De Kas (situated in a greenhouse), Pont 13 (on a boat) and Open (occupying a section of railway bridge) have successfully combined all three.

    As in other countries, an interest in small producers and seasonal foods is reflected in the growing number of farmers' markets. The two largest are held on Noordermarkt and Nieuwmarkt every Saturday. One Sunday a month, professional and amateur chefs showcase prepared foods—from Spanish pintxos to Chinese dumplings—at NeighbourFood Market in Westerpark.

    Pop-ups are popping up everywhere. Transient and temporary by nature, they are energizing Amsterdam's dining scene and broadening diners' gastronomic horizons. Look out for My Table and Salotto Rosso, both of which use Facebook to advertise upcoming events.

    LoveFood, which started out as a brunch pop-up, was so successful that the initiator quit his day job in marketing and opened a permanent restaurant. You can still order brunch at weekends (reservations are essential), but the menu has been expanded to include dinner and cocktails.

    Amsterdam still lags behind other European capitals in culinary inventiveness and choice, but it is catching up fast. The dining scene is in flux, which makes it an exciting time to catch it.
  • On April 29, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What are the best local dishes in Amsterdam?

    Local dishes in Amsterdam tend to be simple — a reflection of the Netherlands’ agrarian past — but are no less tasty for it. A number of delicacies are seasonal while others are available year round.

    In spring, asparagus appears on restaurant menus. White asparagus, in particular, is prized for its tenderness, and is often served with slices of ham, boiled eggs and clarified butter — a wonderfully simple combination.

    In early summer, street stalls start selling fresh raw herring. Known as “Hollandse Nieuwe,” its arrival is eagerly anticipated. Try eating it the traditional way: hold a whole herring by the tail, tilt back your head and lower the fish into your mouth.

    As the weather gets colder, food gets more comforting. Look out for dishes made with pheasant, venison and wild boar, thick pea soup served with rye bread, and a perennial favorite, “stamppot” — mashed potatoes prepared with chopped vegetables, usually endive, curly kale or carrots, and topped off with meat, such as stew or smoked sausage. During the winter months, IJscuypje, which sells some of Amsterdam’s best ice cream, changes its name to Stamppotje and sells the potato-based dish at a number of branches around town.

    For a taste of local dishes available throughout the year, refuel on deep slices of cinnamon-laced apple pie at Winkel 43; grab a table at Pancakes! for one of their eponymous round treats (we recommend the bacon with syrup); or feast on “rijsttafel,” a Dutch colonial adaptation of an Indonesian banquet involving numerous small dishes. Restaurants Blauw and Blue Pepper both get our votes.
  • On April 29, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What are the best local dishes in Amsterdam?

    Local dishes in Amsterdam tend to be simple — a reflection of the Netherlands’ agrarian past — but are no less tasty for it. A number of delicacies are seasonal but others are available year round.

    In spring, asparagus appears on restaurant menus. White asparagus, in particular, is prized for its tenderness, and is often served with slices of ham, boiled eggs and clarified butter — a wonderfully simple combination.

    In early summer, street stalls start selling fresh raw herring. Known as “Hollandse Nieuwe,” its arrival is eagerly anticipated. Try eating it the traditional way: hold a whole herring by the tail, tilt back your head and lower the fish into your mouth.

    As the weather gets colder, food gets heavier. Look out for dishes made with pheasant, venison and wild boar, thick pea soup served with rye bread, and a perennial favorite, “stamppot” — mashed potatoes prepared with chopped vegetables, usually endive, curly kale or carrots, and topped off with meat, such as stew or smoked sausage. During the winter months, IJscuypje, which sells some of Amsterdam’s best ice cream, changes its name to Stamppotje and sells the potato-based dish at a number of branches around town.

    For a taste of local dishes available throughout the year, refuel on deep slices of cinnamon-laced apple pie at Winkel 43; grab a table at Pancakes! for one of their eponymous round treats (we recommend the bacon with syrup); or feast on “rijsttafel,” a Dutch colonial adaptation of an Indonesian banquet involving numerous small dishes. Restaurants Blauw and Blue Pepper both get our votes.
  • On April 27, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    Where is the best nightlife in Amsterdam?

    Amsterdam by night is as varied as by day. A church, dairy factory and boat all double as music and clubbing venues. Here are our recommendations for the best places to go after dark.

    1. Paradiso. Located in a former church, this is quite literally Amsterdam’s pop temple. In spite of its limited capacity, Paradiso has hosted some of the world’s biggest names, from the Rolling Stones to Pink Floyd. The smaller stage upstairs is reserved for emerging talent. 

    2. Melkweg. A cultural behemoth housed in an old dairy factory, Melkweg (“milky way”) programs live music, theater performances, movies and photography exhibitions. If you visit Amsterdam at the weekend, check out the popular club nights on Friday and Saturday.

    3. Bimhuis. In a black box jutting from the state-of-the-art Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, Bimhuis is the place to catch world-class jazz and improvisation performances.

    4. Jimmy Woo. Things get going late at this plush, Oriental-themed club off Leidseplein. From around 1 a.m., the stylish local crowd leaves the suede couches and intimate booths upstairs and trickles downstairs, where DJs spin a mix of house, RnB and techno.

    5. Supperclub. More a sensory experience than anything else, Supperclub combines music, art, food, drink and the occasional offbeat performance. Recline on one of the sleek white couches in the venue behind Dam Square, or hit the dance floor on the Supperclub Cruise that plies Amsterdam’s waters.
  • On April 25, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What’s new in Amsterdam?

    The Observatory on the roof of Felix Meritis has reopened to the public — and this time its telescopes are not pointing towards the skies.

    Housed in an imposing neoclassical building on Keizersgracht, Felix Meritis has been an independent center for arts, culture, and science since it was founded in 1788. In celebration of its 225th anniversary in 2013, the center has reopened its astronomical Observatory, the oldest of its kind in the Netherlands.

    In addition to offering superb unimpeded views, the lofty vantage point is the setting of an installation by Amsterdam-based artist Joseph Semah. Positioned on a specially designed granite floor, telescopes are no longer focused on the heavens but on quotes by leading thinkers, writers, artists and philosophers written in lights on 10 of the city’s most significant buildings. Titled “Amsterdam of Above, Amsterdam of Below,” the installation aims to connect past and present, stars and city.

    The Observatory and art installation can be visited daily (except Sundays) until the end of October 2013. Admission is €6.50 per person and includes a guided tour that starts every half hour. Check the website for opening times, as these vary according to the season.
  • On April 21, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What is the best thing to bring home from Amsterdam?

    Amsterdam is famous for its trading history and enterprising spirit. The Dutch East India Company, often considered to be the world’s first multinational, was founded here in 1602 and introduced spices to the Dutch capital. Cheese made with cloves and chocolates flavoured with peppercorns reflect this history and make unusual souvenirs.

    The last remaining traditional distillery in Amsterdam is the family-run De Ooievaar. It is most famous for its genever (the precursor of gin), but also produces a range of liqueurs and old-fashioned bitters with evocative names like Rose Without Thorns and Bride’s Tears.

    As distillers have moved out of the city, craft brewers have moved in. The best known is still Brouwerij ’t IJ, which produces around a dozen light, dark, and seasonal beers. These are available in the brewery itself or at De Bierkoning behind Dam Square.

    For something more enduring, snap up a piece of Dutch design. Characterised by  minimalism, innovation, and humour, Dutch design has been on the rise since the 1990s. Both Droog and Moooi sell products by established (Marcel Wanders, Richard Hutten) and upcoming talent. You’ll find clothing by Dutch fashion designers on the racks of SPRMRKT.
  • On April 21, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What is the best way to see Amsterdam in one day?

    Start your day in Amsterdam on foot. Explore the historic Canal Belt and the Nine Little Streets that connect them. Or wander into the Jordaan, being sure not to miss the beautiful Brouwersgracht canal. Recharge at one of the many cafes in the area, such as Gebroeders Niemeijer, Screaming Beans or Winkel43 (the apple pie is legendary).

    After lunch, rent a bicycle and head across the Skinny Bridge spanning the River Amstel into the Plantage neighbourhood. Stop at the pretty Wertheim Park opposite Hortus Botanical Gardens. In one corner of the park, six cracked mirrors commemorate the six million victims of the Holocaust. Continue past Artis Zoo on Plantage Kerklaan and admire the row of old warehouses on Entrepotdok.

    Using De Gooyer windmill to guide you, pedal towards Brouwerij ’t IJ, a craft brewery established next to the windmill in 1985. Brouwerij ’t IJ offers tours, tastings, and "borrelhapjes," small snacks served with alcoholic drinks, such as peanuts, cheese, and salami. In the evening, rest your feet at Hotel Okura, where the bar on the 23rd floor offers superb cocktails and city views.
  • On April 21, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What is the best new restaurant in Amsterdam?

    Rijsel is what the Flemish call Lille, an industrial city near the Belgian border in northern France – a somewhat unlikely name for a new restaurant in Amsterdam, you might think. It was chosen, according to the owners, to reflect the establishment's culinary approach: passion for the French kitchen with a nod to Flanders.

    Situated in a former school building with high ceilings and wooden floors, Rijsel is unpretentious yet elegant. The compact menu is equally unpretentious, offering a choice of classic dishes made with quality ingredients (smoked fish terrine, poached egg with homemade mayonnaise, côte de boeuf, tarte tatin). But the restaurant’s stand-out offering is the rotisserie chicken, which is cooked to tender perfection on a spit in the open kitchen.

    With a three-course meal priced at €31.50, attentive service and many of the wines available by the glass, Rijsel is the perfect place to spend an evening. Reserve in advance to avoid disappointment.
  • On April 21, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What are the best bars in Amsterdam?

    Bars in Amsterdam range from cozy wood-paneled pubs to speak-easy-style cocktail bars. Here are our tips for the five best places to raise a glass.

    1. Tales & Spirits. Tucked away on alley behind Singel canal, Tales & Spirits is the most recent addition to Amsterdam's cocktail scene. At the bar, decorated with Prohibition-era paraphernalia, order the signature What If...? cocktail. A refreshing mix of white rum, lime, and pineapple-ginger shrub, it was created by award-winning bartender Boudewijn Mesritz to celebrate the moments when great ideas are born.

    2. Also serving cocktails — and a fine selection of champagnes and wines — is Twenty Third Bar. The setting however couldn't be more different. Take the lift up to the 23rd floor of Hotel Okura and enjoy panoramic views of the city as you sip a mixed drink or vintage wine. Exclusive bites including caviar and oysters can be ordered from Ciel Bleu, the hotel’s two Michelin-starred restaurant.

    3. Wijnbar Divino. This charming wine bar in the Jordaan is an ode to all things Italian. Some 25 wines, sourced from small producers, are available by the bottle and glass. We recommend the unusual Terpin Pinot Grigio. Ostensibly a white wine, the traditional production method which uses the whole grape and vine, means the result is almost amber in color and bursting with aroma. Simple antipasti complete the Italian experience.

    4. Cafe ’t Papeneiland. At one of Amsterdam's most photographed spots on the corner of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht, this 17th-century "brown cafe" attracted international attention when Bill Clinton dropped by in 2011. When former US presidents aren't disturbing the peace, the music-free pub is a laid-back place where locals catch up over an old genever or half glass of draught beer known as a "vaasje.”

    5. Proeflokaal Arendsnest. Unlike other beer bars in Amsterdam, which are dominated by Belgian brews, Proeflokaal Arendsnest serves only Dutch beers — some 100 in total, excluding seasonal and bock beers.
  • On April 19, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    Where is the best shopping in Amsterdam?

    The best shopping in Amsterdam is spread across a number of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character and, sometimes, specialty. Here are the Forbes Travel Guide editors' top five.

    1. Dam Square. Rivaling the Royal Palace opposite in grandeur, De Bijenkorf (“The Beehive”) is Amsterdam's largest department store. Six floors are filled with everything from international designer labels and cosmetics to clothing, kitchenware, books, and electronics.

    2. Negen Straatjes. The aptly named “Nine Little Streets” are a pleasant warren of nine narrow streets that link the central canals. Packed with quirky fashion, design, and knickknack stores, they are one of the best places to hunt out unique souvenirs.

    3. Hazenstraat. Cleverly nicknamed “The Tenth Little Street” by shopkeepers to profit from the popularity of the nearby Nine Streets, Hazenstraat is worth a visit in its own right for the specialty food and couture shops.

    4. Spiegelkwartier. The “Mirror Quarter” is a treasure trove for art and antique lovers. Peruse the shelves for old maps, African masks, Dutch delftware, and Art Deco jewelry. Or pick up a piece of contemporary art at one of the many galleries.

    5. Staalstraat. There are two main reasons to visit Staalstraat. The first is Puccini Bomboni, a chocolatier known for its delectable handcrafted candies flavored with sometimes unexpected ingredients, including rhubarb, lemongrass, and pink pepper. The second is Droog, a store that collaborates with home-grown and international designers on innovative products and projects.
  • On April 19, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What are the best restaurants in Amsterdam?

    Restaurants in Amsterdam are often overshadowed by their southern neighbors in Brussels and Paris. This is a shame as the Dutch capital has plenty to offer discerning diners. We uncover five local gems.

    1. Open. Perched in a section of disused railway bridge that has been given a second life as a glass-encased restaurant, Open is worth a visit for the setting alone. Food is seasonal European with a Dutch touch.

    2. Lastage. Located in a modest 17th-century building, Lastage serves creative Dutch/French fare that earned the restaurant its first Michelin star in 2011. Despite the accolade, prices have remained surprisingly reasonable. Chef Rogier van Dam heads the kitchen, while sommelier Elise Moeskops presides over a well-curated wine list that includes cellar finds bought at auction and wines made from lesser known grapes such as Nerello Mascalese and Treixadura.

    3. Bussia. This is widely regarded as one of Amsterdam's best Italian restaurants. Flavors are pronounced but not overbearing, with a dinner menu that features sautéed sweetbread, North Sea crab and homemade ravioli stuffed with celeriac and thyme.

    4. Blauw. Celebrating the culinary influences of the Netherlands' colonial past, this restaurant offers a modern take on traditional Indonesian dishes, including chicken satay with peanut sauce and spicy beef stew. For a real taste of the cuisine, we recommend the “rijsttafel,”  a sort of Eastern version of tapas made up of small portions of a number of dishes.

    5. Rijsel. Located in a former school, Rijsel is a lesson in simple food done well. Its signature dish is the rotisserie chicken, which can be seen browning on a spit in the open kitchen, cooked with lemon and aromatic rosemary.
  • On April 19, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What are the best restaurants in Amsterdam?

    Restaurants in Amsterdam are often overshadowed by their southern neighbors in Brussels and Paris. This is a shame as the Dutch capital has plenty to offer discerning diners. We uncover five local gems.

    1. Open. Perched in a section of disused railway bridge that has been given a second life as a glass-encased restaurant, Open is worth a visit for the setting alone. Food is seasonal European with a Dutch touch.

    2. Lastage. Located in a modest 17th-century building, Lastage serves creative Dutch/French fare that earned the restaurant its first Michelin star in 2011. Despite the accolade, prices have remained surprisingly reasonable. Chef Rogier van Dam heads the kitchen, while sommelier Elise Moeskops presides over a well-curated wine list that includes cellar finds bought at auction and wines made from lesser known grapes such as Nerello Mascalese and Treixadura.

    3. Bussia. This is widely regarded as one of Amsterdam's best Italian restaurants. Flavors are pronounced but not overbearing, with a dinner menu that features sautéed sweetbread, North Sea crab and homemade ravioli stuffed with celeriac and thyme.

    4. Blauw. Celebrating the culinary influences of the Netherlands' colonial past, this restaurant offers a modern take on traditional Indonesian dishes, including chicken satay with peanut sauce and spicy beef stew. For a real taste of the cuisine, we recommend the “rijsttafel,”  a sort of Eastern version of tapas made up of small portions of a number of dishes.

    5. Rijsel. Located in a former school, Rijsel is a lesson in simple food done well. Its signature dish is the rotisserie chicken, which can be seen browning on a spit in the open kitchen, cooked with lemon and aromatic rosemary.
  • On April 18, 2013
    Cecily Layzell answered the question: Cecily Layzell

    What are the best things to do in Amsterdam?

    Although small, Amsterdam offers plenty to do. Here are five things not to miss in the Dutch capital.

    1. Rent a bicycle. With more bikes than people and an extensive network of cycle lanes, Amsterdam is a cyclist’s paradise. The roads are generally very safe — you’ll notice that few locals wears helmets — but one word of advice: stay away from the tram lines, and if you need to cross them, do so diagonally; they are exactly the right width to get your wheels stuck in.

    2. Visit Albert Cuyp market. Transecting De Pijp neighborhood, Albert Cuyp market sells everything from clothes and cosmetics to fresh fruit and vegetables. It is also one of the best places to find Dutch street food. Some of our favorites are “poffertjes” (tiny pancakes often sprinkled with powdered sugar), “stroopwafels” (syrup waffles), and cones of thick fries topped with mayonnaise. The market is open daily except Sunday.

    3. Cross the IJ. Take the free ferry behind Central Station across the IJ. One of the most striking buildings dominating this upcoming slice of waterfront real estate is the EYE Film Institute. Under the glistening white roof are four screening rooms, interactive installations, an exhibition space and café with a spectacular terrace.

    4. Say cheese. The Netherlands has a grand cheese tradition and it’s quite normal to try before you buy. Kaashuis Tromp carries an impressive selection of hard and soft cheeses made from cow, sheep, and goat’s milk. For something a little different, ask to taste the cheeses flavored with spices, including cumin, pepper, and cloves.

    5. Sip genever. Made from malt wine and juniper berries, genever is a precursor of gin. Increasingly popular in cocktails, it can also be consumed neat. On a narrow alley behind Dam Square, Wynand Fockink offers tastings in its charmingly old-fashioned bar. Genever is traditionally served in a tulip-shaped glass filled to the brim. Bend over to take your first sip before picking up the drink.