Copenhagen is regularly voted one of the world’s most livable cities with some of the planet’s happiest inhabitants – plus it has superb art and design museums, gorgeous contemporary buildings and innovative food. House and Leisure‘s deputy editor Robyn Alexander rounds up the very best of København – what to eat, where to stay and how to shop.
eat & drink
It’s difficult to believe now but just 15 years ago, Denmark was not regarded as a country to which you travelled for excellent – or avant-garde – food. Then, in 2004, came the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto. Conceived and written by a group of young chefs from the Nordic countries, it saw them jointly making commitments to 10 points on seasonality, ethics, health, sustainability and quality in food. Not only was it a harbinger of trends that have changed the way people around the world think about eating, but it has also transformed the restaurant scene in Copenhagen.
From being a city with just one Michelin-starred restaurant in 2004, Copenhagen currently has 13 establishments with one star, one restaurant with two stars and one with three. (And that’s before Noma’s new incarnation – which opened in February – entered the picture.)
One of the recent recipients of a star is 108, which boasts a harbourside location, industrial-chic interiors and delectable contemporary food. From the opening salvo that is the most delicious sourdough rye bread ever (well, until you get to Manfreds) to the plethora of small and ever-changing dishes on the menu, the restaurant’s focus on Nordic ingredients and total commitment to seasonality means that the food is both ultra-fresh and excellent. A simple-sounding dish called ‘courgette flowers and summer greens’, for example, sports a divinely subtle dressing featuring almond oil that has been hand-pressed in house, and is exquisitely presented to boot.
Fans of all things vegetable-related should not miss Manfreds, an eatery that focuses on a ‘hero’ ingredient in each dish, and offers a tasting menu of seven innovative veggie-centric courses. Order the delicious beef tartare on the side – it’s the dish for which Manfreds is, amusingly, most famous. Everything on your plate (and in your glass) is certified 90-100% organic. (If it’s genuinely vegan – and raw – food options that you’re after, be sure to check out SimpleRaw.)
Rooftop restaurant Gro Spiseri is an all-round sensory experience – arrive in time to take in a breathtaking sunset (fingers crossed, as it does rain rather a lot here) from the on-site rooftop kitchen garden, then eat a set menu composed largely of the fresh produce that is grown on that roof at a communal table in the greenhouse. As at many other cutting-edge Copenhagen establishments, it’s also all about natural wines (broadly defined as wines to which nothing is added and nothing taken away).
For more casual dining options, check out the redeveloped Meatpacking District in Vesterbro, where all manner of hip spots to drink craft beers (such as Warpigs Brewpub) and share gourmet grilled meat dishes (try Restaurant Kul) are located. A special mention goes to Mother, where the pizza is excellent and the sourdough starter for the bases – the ‘mother’ of the restaurant’s name – is now more than 10 years old.
Then there’s traditional Danish fare. You have to try smørrebrød – the Danish open sandwich on dark seeded rye bread that is, arguably, the world’s most perfect lunch. For a more old-school smørrebrød experience, try Restaurant Schønnemann; for authentic-with-a-twist, head to one of several branches of Aamanns, Restaurant Palægade or Royal Smushi Cafe.
There are at least two sweet treats that every visitor should sample: first, a slice of sportskage cake, the house speciality at Conditori La Glace. Expect a heavenly slice of crushed nougat in whipped cream on a macaroon base, decorated with caramelised choux pastry. And you have to sample a flødebolle – a classic Danish chocolate-covered marshmallow confection that is essentially the fanciest, freshest and most delicious version of a Sweetie Pie you’ll likely have tasted. Find a branch of chocolatiers Summerbird for special seasonal and organic versions that make great gifts to take home.
A visit to Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen’s famous amusement park, is a must even if you don’t have children travelling with you. From the verdant gardens and lawns to the rides, old-fashioned pantomime performances and more, there is so much to enjoy. Even the most cynical person is likely to get a thrill from the vintage rollercoaster, which dates back to 1914.
Copenhagen is probably the most bicycle-friendly city on earth, and a cycle tour of top tourist spots around the compact urban centre is a brilliant way to take in key sights. Cross several of the city’s design-forward cycling- and pedestrian-only bridges, pedal past the royal palace and make your leisurely way to the legendary statue of the Little Mermaid (which commemorates Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic fairy-tale character) with Cycling Copenhagen.
One of the city’s latest innovations is the GoBoat boat rental service, which has its headquarters alongside the Islands Brygge Harbour Bath. (This is Copenhagen, so the water in the harbour is genuinely clean enough to swim in and the harbour bath is a designated swimming area that’s in use by locals year round.) Hire a GoBoat for up to eight passengers – complete with a solar-powered electric outboard motor – for a few hours, and cruise the waterfront and canals at your own pace.
If you like a little history with your travel, one of the most charming places to find it in central Copenhagen is at Rosenborg Castle – where the Danish crown jewels are on view – and the lush King’s Garden, in which the petite palace is set. And if you are a serious history buff, head to Frederiksborg Castle, where you get the full overview of Danish history in the very location in which large swathes of it actually played out.
The Designmuseum Danmark features innovative exhibitions that go way beyond mere chairs and tables, such as the recent Learning From Japan show, which explored the influence of Japanese design on its Danish counterpart.
A food tour is always a good idea, and a half-day excursion with Copenhagen Food Tours will take you to Aamanns deli for a smørrebrød tutorial, then on a stroll through the Botanical Garden (complete with a stop at some of the urban beehives of the Bybi project), followed by a full tour through the Torvehallerne food market.
Art lovers simply cannot miss the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The permanent collection is superb, the temporary exhibitions are outstanding (during our visit there was a remarkable Marina Abramović retrospective on show) and the Mid-Century Modern buildings are as good as the art. There’s a sculpture garden that leads down to the seashore, a bustling café where you can take a break on a Series 7 chair by Danish design legend Arne Jacobsen, and the sort of museum shop where you’ll want to buy everything. Although Louisiana is a short distance outside Copenhagen, it’s easy to take the train there from the city centre – plus, on the same line you can also go a little further north to Kronborg, the castle that inspired Hamlet, and right next door, one of youthful starchitect Bjarke Ingels’ most remarkable buildings, the Danish Maritime Museum – which, again, is worth a visit in its own right (Vikings, y’know).
For thought-provoking contemporary art, go to Arken Museum of Modern Art, south of Copenhagen. Here you will be greeted by another brilliant contemporary building that’s perfectly geared for its purpose, as well as a remarkable collection that includes artworks by Ai Weiwei, Olafur Eliasson and Damien Hirst.
Lastly, if the weather is fine and you want to check out a couple of Ingels’ recently completed apartment buildings, head over to the Ørestad area on the Metro system. They’re a huge source of inspiration for anyone interested in what contemporary urban development can be.
Few stores in the world showcase modern and contemporary furniture and interiors better than Illums Bolighus. A treasure trove of shoppable design, it has a lighting department that is nothing short of epic.
If you don’t find the perfect gift at Illums Bolighus for that one person back home who already has everything, pretty much right next door are both the Georg Jensen silverware and Royal Copenhagen porcelain flagship stores, both of which are breathtaking. Also close by is the Hay flagship store, where two floors of the very best in current Danish design await.
It rains a lot in Denmark, so it’s not surprising that raincoats and jackets by homegrown brand Rains are some of the planet’s best – and most stylish – ways to take cover. Visit its flagship store in central Copenhagen (at 4 Klareboderne) when taking a turn through the city centre’s pedestrianised shopping streets, which also feature all the big international fashion and beauty brands you’d expect to find in a European city.