Copenhagen offers old-Europe history and sophistication, cutting-edge contemporary cool – and some of the best meals in the world.
The Nordic states have long been hailed as the coolest kids around the globe, and right now Copenhagen is the prom king. It has that magical air of old-Europe, thanks to its quaint harbor, majestic castles and renowned museums, yet that all mingles perfectly with its contemporary design scene, striking architecture and unique fashion.
And then of course, it’s the ultimate foodie capital. Copenhagen is synonymous with Noma. With two Michelin stars and a handful of Restaurant magazine “best in the world” nods, the place has practically singlehandedly launched a culinary revolution. The tasting menu’s esoteric take on Scandinavian cuisine is legendary—and so is the battle to get a table. Luckily, the former sous chef at Noma, Christian Puglisi, is now the owner of Manfreds & Vin, a more casual—but still creative—take on Nordic gastronomy. The ideal lunch spot is known for its tasting menu filled with local and seasonal vegetables and meats, and perfectly poached eggs. Another spot to take in traditional cuisine in a cool space is Paté Paté, housed in—you guessed it—a former pâté factory. The restaurant and wine bar has a menu that changes daily, but look for staples like burrata with roasted peach, pesto, chili and browned butter, and pan-fried chicken liver with tomatoes, chili, spring onion, garlic, coriander and vinegar.
For an even more laid-back option, hit up the food market Torvehallerne, with more than 60 stands offering everything from gourmet chocolate to spices to fresh fish, along with bites to eat on the spot — don’t miss the delectable cinnamon buns. Torvehallerne is a quick walk from Nyhavn, the 17th-century waterfront and entertainment district lined with brightly colored houses and historic wooden ships. In other words, the canal is sure to nab you plenty of likes on Instagram. The former commercial port was once home to Hans Christian Andersen, and it’s where he penned many of his most famous fairy tales. Nowadays it’s a great spot to meet for a canal tour.
Not far away you’ll find Lidkoeb, housed in a three-story former 18th-century apothecary lab and now serving a different type of medicine, specifically whiskey and superbly mixed libations. Flock to the courtyard in the warmer months, while winter means cozy leather banquettes and working fireplaces. Throw back a few more at Ruby, one of the most talked about watering holes in town. Its unmarked door can make it tricky to find, but it’s worth the hunt thanks to the famed craft cocktails, like Rapscallion, their take on a Manhattan with a smoky twist, and the Sloeberry Margarita, featuring a rim of vanilla-infused mountain salt with sloe gin and sugar syrup. Housed in a townhouse dating back to 1740 that overlooks the parliament buildings in Nybrogade, Ruby has homey décor with a Nordic vibe.
If you’re looking for a grand experience, Marchal, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Hotel d’Angleterre, does the trick. The Nordic cuisine with a French twist is plated so beautifully that you’ll pause before indulging in every dish. The opulent dining room features an open kitchen so that you can watch the chefs at work on entrees with unexpected pops like beef tartar with horseradish, radicchio, peaches and figs, or the chanterelle ice cream with honey, blackberry and pistachio. For a swanky nightcap, head over to Balthazar, also in the hotel, which has the distinction of being the first champagne bar in Denmark. You’ll feel like you’re in an underground lounge in Paris while sampling more than 160 variations of bubbly, champagne cocktails and classic libations. Don’t want to go far to your room? The Hotel d’Angleterre—an iconic landmark built in 1755—is a dreamy place to rest your head. The elegant neoclassical building boasts an impressive art collection, with prizes like a vintage oil portrait of the young Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter and a limited-edition Andy Warhol silkscreen of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. The lobby overflows with striking floral arrangements that play off of the unexpected color scheme of lilac and silver.
Walk off all of those scrumptious Nordic eats by venturing over to Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world. Since 1843, the seasonal attraction has been immensely popular with visitors near and far - it even inspired Walt Disney’s visions of Disneyland. Tivoli includes everything from theaters and bandstands to an aquarium, restaurants and cafes, a railway, gardens and concert halls. And of course there are the rides, which range from the nostalgic—like the wooden roller coaster Rutschebanen, built in 1914 and that still has a brakeman on board every train to keep it from gaining too much speed downhill—to the modern heart-pumpers. Tivoli Gardens is illuminat ed at night and fireworks shows are regular during the summer.
Walt Disney likely wouldn’t have known what to make of Christiania, aka Freetown Christiania, a semi-autonomous hippie haven with a population of about 850. Established in 1971, the former military barracks contains makeshift houses, workshops, art galleries, music venues and eateries with plenty of vegetarian options
Culture lovers can get their fix at one of Copenhagen’s many museums. Consider SMK, the National Gallery of Denmark, a must-see for museum nerds; the largest in the country, it spans seven centuries of artwork. Or you can soak in that famous Scandinavian design at the Denmark Design Museum. Once the first public hospital in Denmark, the building is now home to decorative arts, crafts and design from all over the globe. Just down the block is the Medical History Museum, a fascinating spot that isn’t for the faint of heart. The joint museum and research unit at the University of Copenhagen has one of the largest collections of medical artifacts in Europe. The Louisiana Museum of Art is a striking contemporary art space outside of the city, known for events like concerts and lectures.
At Rosenborg Castle, you can explore 400 years of Danish splendor surrounded by a moat. Built by Christian IV, one of the most famous Scandinavian kings, in the early 17th century, it houses the crown jewels, coronation thrones (one is crafted from narwhal horn for the ultimate statement piece), tapestries illustrating battle between Denmark and Sweden, and the king’s private writing cabinet. And walking the grounds and garden is an excellent way to spend the afternoon. Another veritable time machine is the Rundetårn, aka The Round Tower, a 17th-century tower that was built as an astronomical observatory by Christian IV. Now it not only offers fantastic views of the stars but of the town as well, giving you a perfect perch to look out over an elegant city with an edge.