The Danish capital had been high on our list of places to visit for the last few years thanks to its status as a world-class design city, its wealth of restaurants following in the footsteps of Noma’s fame, and a buzz as one of the more exciting cities right now in Europe. Easily navigated by foot or bike, the city is home to many sights within the city center and fun neighborhoods to explore beyond the old town. Perfect as part of a more extended Scandinavian trip or for a long weekend, especially during the summer months, here are highlights of our trip.
When to Go: No question--go during the summer months! Winters are cold with daylight hours strictly rationed, but locals get their revenge in the summer when the sun sets as late as 10 pm. That means you can capitalize on a short trip by theoretically getting two days in one. Plus the weather is ideal for biking everywhere, sitting outside along the canal for cocktails, and renting a Go Boat to get out on the water.
Stay: We checked into the Sanders Hotel, the talk of the town since it opened in 2017. The pet project of Danish ballet dancer, Alexander Kølpin, this boutique hotel has an excellent location in the heart of the old town, just down the street from the Royal Danish Theatre and the Opera House, and right off of Kongens Nytorv, the city’s largest square. Nyhavn is just around the corner, the iconic street of colorful houses alongside the canal, and the city’s most photographed site. The Sanders is chic, a muted melody of mid-century Danish design—rooms are minimal but cozy. But it’s the common areas that make this hotel special –the stylish living room where guests gather to read the paper by the fire or enjoy breakfast, the ground floor restaurant with an outdoor courtyard, the Tata lounge for a pre-dinner cocktail, and a rooftop Conservatory, a lovely spot or breakfast or afternoon tea. Service was excellent—the concierges helped steer us to the best places for meals, sights, and shops. If you prefer a full service, in other words, you like having a gym and spa, then head to the Hotel D’Angleterre, the city’s legendary grand dame hotel, fresh off a significant renovation and a world-class property.
Getting Around: Do as the local dos and jump on a bike, Copenhagen may just be the most bike-friendly city in the world. Bike lanes run alongside most major streets, so if your wimps like us, you’ll still feel safe from traffic. You can cover a lot more ground on wheels in a short visit—a big plus.
Water, Water Everywhere: Copenhagen sprawls across several islands, and the best way to get a sense and an overview of the city is to go on a harbor boat cruise. Skip the more prominent (more touristy) boats and book a seat on the small, 12 passenger max, Hey Captain. This is a smart eat first activity to do upon arrival, especially if you’ve flown overnight from the states—you get your bearings, it is close to the Sanders and its great to be outside on the water for jet lag.
Sightseeing: After you embark, your left right by Amalienborg Palace where the Danish royals still live. Though not allowed inside the building, the impressive square where the guards stand watch is still worth a peek. You can then walk over to see the Little Mermaid Statue, a bit of a yawn, but you’ll probably feel as we did that’s it’s a must-see. (It’s not) The small 4 ft high bronze sculpture does sit prettily alongside the water, but there will be tons of people milling around snapping photos, a distraction for sure. If you’re an early riser, we hear its best to go at sunrise before the crowds and when the little lady is all lit up from the early morning sun.
City Center: Copenhagen's historical and cultural heart is a labyrinth of old streets, and, new architectural wonders. Strøget, Europe’s longest pedestrianized shopping street has two noteworthy design stores you must allow time to see: Illums Bolighus and Hay House, we were in awe and wanted to buy everything. Wander off the main thoroughfare to find interesting boutique shops on the side streets. Another lifestyle shop worth seeing, not far from Stroget is Stilleben.
More Noteworthy Sights: Popular attractions and museums include; Christiansborg Palace home to the Danish Parliament, Thorvaldsens Museum, The National Museum of Denmark, The Round Tower, the Danish Royal Library fondly known as the Black Diamond, the Jewish Museum inside the library, and the Danish Museum of Art and Design.
Morning Meal: We sat waterside for a morning cappuccino, a delicious pastry, and a sourdough bun and butter at The Corner at 108. Next-door is their lauded restaurant 108, which despite its acclaim well-respected friends told us to skip. Another morning we had a delicious breakfast at Union Kitchen right down from Nyvahn with lovely stores nearby to shop in after your meal. You must order a coffee, which comes with a snappy message stenciled on top. (ours said Instagram me now) The charming Café Atelier September is another top choice to start your day. Right in the city center, it features simple and healthy food—we had to try their avocado toast on Danish rye, a signature dish charmingly served on mismatched china, but even better was the yogurt with zucchini jam and homemade granola.
Drinks and Dinner: Start at Brus, one of the city’s coolest brewpubs in Nørrebro. It’s a brewery, bar, bottleshop, and restaurant all in one super cool industrial space—lively and fun! Everything is brewed on site, with interesting flavor infusions and compositions—the bartenders’ recommendation might be the best beer I have ever had. (Pity it's so far away.) With delicious plates of Korean chicken wings, burgers with fried spaetzle and glazed pork belly going by us we were tempted to stay and eat, but our reservation at Baest right down the street was too good to pass up. Heralded as serving some of the best pizza in Copenhagen from chef Christian F. Puglisi, a Noma alum, Baest is more than a pizzeria but the best Italian around and provided a highly memorable meal. (Take note, Puglisi’s other restaurants, Relae and Manfreds are also among the top tables in town.) Everything here is organic and made from scratch with incredible cheeses from their cows, meats cured in the in house charcuterie and vegetables from Baest’s farm--all super local and absolutely delicious. Order the “Best Experience menu” a tasting menu for the table where can sample a little of everything –we loved our meal and are still dreaming of the stracciatella dressed in herbs and lemony cucumbers and radishes.
Fine Dining: Typically we are not fans of long fussy tasting menus, but you have to venture to at least one of the Nordic temples of gastronomy while in town. We couldn’t get a table at Noma but were very happy to secure a seat at hot spot Amass. A little outside the city center, less than a 15-minute taxi, located in a former warehouse, the huge industrial space is striking with large murals and views overlooking the onsite garden and harbor. California native chef Matt Orlando helms the kitchen after years cooking at Noma. Our meal was both delicious and a wonderful experience. The tasting menu showcases the best of Danish ingredients.
More Eats: We asked the hotel concierge for suggestions for our last night dinner stating we wanted “nothing fancy or formal just fun—with a buzzy atmosphere and good food.” They said that all the staff agreed that their favorite is Pluto, a hip hangout where the dishes are served family style. It was packed with locals when we arrived, many with Pluto’s signature cocktail in hand. From the service to the food to making friends with our neighbors, we had a blast. Other suggestions we sadly didn’t get to try were F-I-A-T, for Italian where you can sit both inside and outside…popular Fiskebaren, primarily a seafood restaurant, in the very trendy Meat Packing District. French bistro Pastis and lastly Palægade, a long time classic in the heart of the historic centre for traditional Danish fare.
Must Try: You can't leave town without trying at least one smorrebrod, the traditional open-faced sandwich—one of the most famous places to sample one, served with a side of history is at one of Copenhagen’s oldest restaurants Schønnemann.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: In the neighborhood of Christianhavn, there’s nothing quite like a visit to Freetown Christiania, the city’s controversial ‘druggie’ commune. Once an abandoned military area it was taken over by squatters in the early ’70s to create a utopia within the city. Part hippie haven with a known drug culture, and part libertarian community experiment, it’s like Europe’s version of San Fran’s Haight-Ashbury. There’s a list of rules posted at the entrance, next to a sign that states 'You are now leaving the European Union. Once inside there’s art galleries, music venues, and cafés, all making for a unique, colorful and unusual wander.
Food and Flowers: Go to Torvehallerne for lunch, the fabulous food hall located in the city center and a must-visit during your stay. You can graze amongst the 50 plus stalls, located in two glass buildings with everything from local specialties such as pickled herring and gravlax, to open-faced sandwiches to great tacos at Hija de Sanchez, a stand run by former Noma pastry chef Rosio Sanchez. After, make your way nearby to the Copenhagen Botanical Gardens, which boasts one of the world’s most beautiful greenhouses. From there continue across the street to Rosenborg Castle, where a wander in the King’s Garden is a lovely way to spend an hour.
Theme Park: Tivoli Gardens is the second-oldest amusement park in the world, dating back to 1843. Rumor has it Walt Disney got his inspiration here to create Disney World. Indulge your inner child with a spin on a roller coaster with awesome views of the city or a cruise on the vintage carousel. There are lush gardens, and interesting architecture including the NIMB Hotel set right in the park. Tivoli is a magical place to feel nostalgic for your younger days. We hear nighttime is a fun time to visit with all the lights and sounds creating a fairy tale atmosphere. If you’re hungry, venture afterward to Tivoli Food Hall, right outside the park, a foodie emporium of global food stalls perfect for a snack.
Favorite Neighborhood: We spent an afternoon in Nørrebro, starting on hip, cobblestoned Jaegerborggade Street. The area, once seedy like Brooklyn’s Williamsburg or London’s East End is now trendy, known for excellent restaurants and creative, independent boutiques, in other words, good shopping! Fuel up at Coffee Collective, for some of Cope’s best coffee or head to Meyers Bageri for a cinnamon roll. But don’t miss either breakfast or lunch at GRØD, known for their sweet and savory porridges. We were obsessed and bought a cookbook so that we could recreate their magic at home. (We checked, its not available in the states.) No tour of the Nørrebro district would be complete without a stroll through the Assistens Cemetery, a beautiful park where we embarked on a hunt to find the graves of Hans Christian Anderson and Kierkegaard.
Half-Day Excursion: Located on the north coast of Sjaelland, The Louisana Museum is one of the worlds most respected art venues. It’s a 40-minute drive from downtown with an incredible sculpture garden and more than 3,000 works of modern art.