Copenhagen! We came, we ate, we lived. After my way-too-long recap of our time in Portugal last month, I decided to skip an overall recap and instead list out my top ten recommendations for a Copenhagen visit.
This city has a special place in my heart, especially considering my grandmother was born and raised in the small town of Præstø, less than an hour from the heart of Copenhagen. Therefore, every time I’m here, I feel her presence with me. It’s also why I see everything in this city through rose-colored glasses, as BL pointed out to me several times. So, disclaimer: everything about this place is a fond memory and also, my favorite.
Regardless, you should book a trip. Our flights were less than the cost of flying from California to Virginia, so adding this adventure to our summer schedule seemed like a no-brainer. (See also- how to travel internationally on a budget)
1. Visit a food market
The Copenhagen food scene has come a long way, baby. From the best restaurant in the world to the several that have opened in inspiration, it’s a good place to be hungry. However, one of my favorite things to do is head to the various food markets. There are quite a few, depending on your appetite, preference and time of day.
We grabbed coffee and fruit most mornings at Torvehallerne, the perfect first-stop for people watching, snacking and deciding our plan for the day. If you like food markets, you’ll love this one; a perfect mix of ready-to-eat food and food shops.
Copenhagen Street Food is a must-visit stop for any food lover. We enjoyed our time here so much, we ended up canceling our dinner reservations on the third night and headed here instead. Located on paper island, it’s the perfect place for grabbing a drink, a meal and heading outside to watch the sunset. Or! Stay inside and jam out to the live DJ on Friday/Saturday nights. Great for lunch, afternoon snack or a relaxing dinner.
Dare I say one of the best meals of our trip was in a fast food court? My cousin told me that I needed to check out WestMarket, and after confirming that the #1 restaurant on trip advisor was a Pakistani food cart, I was excited and intrigued. It’s essentially a giant food-court/market, with a trendier feel than Torvehallerne.
I bee-lined to Zahida to see what all the fuss was about and it completely lived up to the hype. I had a giant bowl of dal, rice and naan that sounds simple but was so complex in flavoring. The owner was incredibly nice, coming over to chat about the baby and offer us some type of special pickle sauce to dip our naan in before the dal, an explosion of sweet, sour and savory. Go here, go here, go here.
2. Eat Hansen’s Soft Is (soft ice)
When I first told BL that my fondest memory of visiting Copenhagen included soft-serve ice cream, he was more than a bit skeptical. So, when I ordered my first cone, at roughly 10AM on our first morning in town, he decided to pass on grabbing his own. Wrong move bud. After one bite of mine, he ran back to the stall to grab one of his own. No, sorry, I can’t share this.
I read somewhere that Danes eat more ice cream than anywhere else in the world and whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t matter. It should be true. I will gladly trade soft is for even the best gelato in Italy, which sounds ridiculous until you try it.
Make sure to grab Hansen’s brand soft is, the others just don’t compare. And, cover it with rainbow sprinkles. Trust me on this.
3. Drink a beer on Nyhavn Street (preferably on the canal)
When most people think of Copenhagen, I imagine they picture this colorful street lining a canal. And, it’s one of my favorite places in the entire city. I don’t consider Copenhagen to be very touristy, especially compared to other European cities like Rome or Paris. But, if it was to have a touristy section, this would be it.
Therefore, I’d skip on most of the restaurants that line the street and grab a take-away beer instead. Have a seat on the sprawling pedestrian walkway, drink your beverage and take in the city! We did this almost every evening either before or after dinner.
4. Eat Smørrebrød
Growing up, I thought the traditional Danish rye bread was awful. Especially served the way my grandmother did, with a slab of butter, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. Now that my taste buds have matured, I can appreciate the hearty, dense bread that’s the base for one of Denmark’s famous imports, the open-faced sandwich (or, smørrebrød).
You can find smørrebrød all over the city, from food-stands in the markets to upscale restaurants. For my fellow vegetarians, it’s not impossible to find plant-based versions. I enjoyed one piled high with avocado, tomatoes and a microgreen salad.
5. Dine at a Michelin star (or Noma inspired) restaurant
Thanks to Noma, I think it’s fair to say that Copenhagen has become quite the foodie destination, especially over the last few years. While nordic cuisine isn’t my favorite, I can appreciate the dedication to local cuisine and the foraging that put Noma on the map. That being said, even though Noma is closed for the rest of the year, there are numerous places housing previous Noma chefs or those inspired by their work.
Our first night in town, we dined at Manfred’s, a vegetable-focused restaurant that has received praise from everyone from Bon Appetit to the Times. Which, is just one of the many restaurants led by ex-Noma employees (here are eight more to try).
P.S.- While our meal at Manfred’s was good, I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to recommend it. I liked it, BL hated it, which doesn’t poll very well in an overall rating. But, if you’re looking for an incredible veg tasting meal, check out Veve instead. I haven’t been, but my cousins raved about how incredible it is.
Whatever place you decide to try, I think Copenhagen is the perfect destination to splurge on an incredible meal.
6. Explore a castle
I’m fairly certain that Ed Sheeran’s Castle on a Hill was on repeat the entire time on our road trip up north to explore a few castles. And, if you haven’t completely overplayed the song by the time you visit, I recommend doing the same.
Denmark, like most of Europe, has some awesome castles. Thankfully, they are all relatively close to Copenhagen and can be reached either by train, bus or in a rental car. Copenhagen’s public transportation system is pretty great, so take advantage of it while you are there.
We decided to head to ‘Hamlet’s’ castle, Kronburg, for a morning after we heard that they were doing live reenactments of various scenes throughout the summer. While I didn’t get there this trip, I’m also a fan of Frederiksborg Palace, less than an hour from the city.
7. Walk through Free Town (Christiania)
After you’ve had a beer on Nyhavn or grabbed a meal at street food, head south to Free Town for an eclectic people-watching stroll, especially down Pusher street.
Free Town is essentially that, a small part of Copenhagen that abides by it own set of rules and is independent from the Danish government. It’s fairly small, but fun to walk around and see the various homemade houses and street art. Even with the open drug dealing, I’ve always felt safe walking around, even at night (though, this is true for most of Denmark).
8. Drink a beer at Carlsberg brewery
Gosh, I really love the taste of Carlsberg beer and had to sneak in a few sips during our time there. If you’re also a fan, then book a tour for the Carlsberg brewery or make a point to stop by and grab a pint. It’s located fairly close to the city center, and close to the WestMarket food hall.
Headed to Copenhagen on a Friday in the summer? Get to the brewery around 4PM for live music, food and beer on the patio.
9. Spend an evening in Tivoli gardens
I tried explaining Tivoli to BL like this: “Busch Gardens meets State Fair meets City Park.” Tivoli is essentially a mixture of all three: rides, games, food and a sprawling park space. As a bonus, it’s located right in the middle of the city- a perfect get-away when you’re tired of fancy dinners. It’s one of my favorite places to spend a summer evening, especially since it’s open fairly late (and, as a reminder, the sun doesn’t go down until past 10PM most nights).
Since ticket’s aren’t super cheap, I say come here in the early evening and plan to stay (especially if you like rides). While the food is mediocre amusement park food, it’s still worth it to plan your time to include a night here.
10. Rent a bike an explore a small town
Danes are my favorite. I could go on and on about how much I envy their quality of life, especially after getting another up-close look at the way my family lives. No wonder hygge has become a hot cultural trend; who wouldn’t want to enjoy life’s simple pleasures the way the Danes do?
To me, the quintessential way of doing this is renting a bike and exploring a small town outside of Copenhagen. A little over an hour away are plenty of northern beach towns that completely embrace this way of life. We spent a few days in Smidstrup and honestly, the time there was some of my favorite of the entire trip. I loved getting up each morning, heading to a local pastry shop for breakfast, then leisurely heading out for a walk or down to the beach. With plenty of breaks for soft ice in between.
You don’t have to head too far out of the city to get away from it all, but if you’re spending more than a few days in Copenhagen, especially in the summer, then try to explore at least one small town during your time.
I hope you get the chance to visit this incredible city soon. And! If you need any more tips on where to go or how to plan your trip, let me know.