Why Copenhagen Should Be On Your Bucket List
Copenhagen was never on my travel bucket list. I’m not really sure why, but it just never made it there. But a decision to take a family trip there last summer has proved to me why it should have been there all along.
So why am I suddenly so enamored of Copenhagen?
First of all, it is absolutely beautiful! The city is clean, and its people are conscientious about picking up litter around you. Its buildings are full of character and history, as well. You will definitely not see a lot of skyscrapers in this city, as they have a height restriction, and most of its buildings are old places that have been restored. The spectrum of colors these buildings come in is amazing to see, particularly in Nyhavn, which has an added bonus of being close to the water.
Nothing feels cramped in Copenhagen, as everything seems to have its own space and then some. Copenhagen is also home to quite a few castles and parks that you can visit. Picnicking at a park is a popular pastime in this Danish city, although sadly I wasn’t able to do this because of our packed schedule. Design Museum Denmark is also a great place to see more of the innovative and beautifully simple designs of the Danes.
Everything in Copenhagen is also very accessible. Almost any place there is about 15-20 minutes if you take a bike, which you can rent at practically every corner through a convenient booking app on your phone, by the way! Everyone is on a bike there! If you choose to walk, though, you will be rewarded with amazing sights as well. We had decided to walk from the Amalienborg area, which is where their Royal Family lives, back to the shopping area where Magasin du Nord is, and I kept stopping to take pictures of the skyline and the quaint scenes around us.
Shopping is also a great pastime in Copenhagen, albeit quite an expensive one. They have the usual favorites like COS, Sephora, Acne Studio, and other familiar brands, but they also have their own homegrown brands like HAY House, which has great pieces for the home, and Hust & Claire, which is a baby clothes brand. Magasin du Nord and Illum are their main department stores, and they carry most of the usual brands we are all familiar with. I also loved stopping in at Illums Bolighus, a store that featured a lot of Scandinavian design and products, and has a royal warrant from the Queen of Denmark as well. Oh, and did I mention LEGO is from Copenhagen?
When I found out we were headed to Copenhagen, I started asking those I knew had been to share their favorite food finds. The internet was a wealth of information as well. Did you know that there are actually so many Michelin-starred restaurants in Copenhagen? All I really knew was that Noma, once named #1 restaurant in the world, was located there. But since I didn’t get to prepare too early on for this trip, I didn’t get to book a table there (it takes months to book). I did find other amazing restaurants—Michelin-starred and otherwise—and I feel like I definitely ate well during my five-day stint.
The first thing I have to point out about Copenhagen is that they know their burgers. As soon as our ship docked, and we dumped our bags at our hotel, we made our way to Gasoline Grill, which is a chain of burger joints around Copenhagen. Luckily, there was a small branch about 10 minutes away from the hotel. The menu is straightforward—they have 4 variations of a burger, fries, and a ton of dip options for the fries. You can get a combo of a burger, fries, and a drink for 110DKK (or around €15), or opt for just the burger at 75DKK (roughly €10). Their patties are their own blend of organic beef, and everything is ground fresh daily. They grill the burgers on a skillet to order, and I have to say that they grill them pretty well! I like my burgers a little pinkish inside, and this was done perfectly. The burger was juicy and flavorful, and a teeny bit greasy—which is just the way I like it! I don’t trust a burger without a little grease. Their fries were good, too, but I think what I enjoyed the most was the fact that I could get them with truffle mayo, truffle salt, chili mayo, etc. Seriously, when I bit into my burger, I was blown away, I thought it could give Shake Shack a run for its money. It’s no wonder then that Bloomberg had included it in its list of 27 top burger joints in the world last year.
Copenhagen also has what they call their meatpacking district, or Kødbyen, where a lot of good restaurants, bars, and art galleries are located. One rainy night after hearing mass, we headed over there to explore the area and grab something to eat. We ended up at a place called Warpigs, which actually reminded me a lot of Fette Sau, one of my favorite barbecue places in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. At Warpigs, you line up at the front with your tray, and when you get to the guys at the meat table, you basically tell them how many grams (of kilos, I won’t judge) of meat you want, and which cuts you’d like to try. You then move on to choosing your sides, before you head off to pay for your order and then find a seat at their many picnic tables. At the cashier, you also have the option of choosing a fountain beverage, or one of their many many choices of beer. I picked the beer option, of course. Anyway, so what did I love at Warpigs? Their brisket is absolutely to die for! It was moist and juicy, and so very tender. We got a big chunk of the brisket, as well as some ribs, mac and cheese, and coleslaw. We loved the brisket so much, we ended up ordering even more.
Torvehallerne is what I would call Copenhagen’s answer to Cape Town’s V&A Food Market, or Florence’s Mercato Centrale, except with a twist. As far as food markets go, this place is pretty awesome as you can find various types of cuisines under one roof. Some of their more well-known stalls are Hija de Sanchez for great tacos, the Coffee Collective for amazing coffee, and Sushi Lovers for that Asian craving. Aside from these, there are stalls for tapas, steak frites, and tons of seafood. We checked out Sushi Lovers, as we were at the point of craving Asian food already. The rolls were creative and tasty, and their aburi dishes were to die for! We definitely enjoyed our meal there. We capped our lunch at Torvehallerne off at the Coffee Collective, where I had the most amazing coffee soft serve (or soft ice, as most of the Europeans call it).
Nyhavn is probably one of the most iconic areas of Copenhagen, distinctly identified by the colorful houses that line the canal. Shops, bars, and restaurants line its northern (and sunnier) side. For Father’s Day, we decided to eat in this area, at a restaurant called Hummer, which means lobster in Danish. It had a nautical theme, and featured outdoor seating that looked out onto the canal. Since summer in Copenhagen meant 10PM sunsets, we opted to sit outside and bask in the sunlight, although thank God they had heat lamps surrounding us, as it was still a little nippy despite the sun.
So, what did we order? Well, the restaurant’s name meant lobster so, of course, we opted for that for our mains, as well as their monkfish dish. We started with some Belgian caviar and French oysters first, though, and washed everything down with a bottle of sparkling Riesling (my favorite!). Everything was delicious! The caviar was great, and the oysters were so sweet and juicy. The monkfish was cooked perfectly, and the grilled lobsters were just amazing! Lemon butter accompanied my lobster, and I had to ask for extra as I wiped out the little bowl they gave me. The only thing I didn’t really appreciate at dinner was the fact that everything came out so slowly, we ended up having a three-and-a-half-hour dinner! The wait was definitely worth it, but I think next time I will prepare my tummy so I don’t get "hangry!"
While we didn’t book Noma, some alumni from the Noma kitchen had set up their own restaurants, so we decided to book there. We picked two restaurants that sounded promising from our research—108 and Relæ, each boasting a Michelin star, as well as a somewhat farm-to-table experience of food distinctly Copenhagen.
Christianshavn is home to 108. The restaurant sits at the very edge, close to the new harbor bridge that actually connects it to the Nyhavn area. Housed in an old revamped warehouse, 108’s casual façade belies its culinary treats. The place is industrial chic at its finest, with bare columns and an exposed ceiling, and gorgeous light fixtures, chairs, tables, and even cutlery. Natural light comes streaming in from its floor-to-ceiling windows that line an entire side of the place. We were seated at a corner table at the back, with a perfect view of the entire restaurant.
At 108, you have a choice of the full eight course tasting menu, a slightly shorter five course menu, or an a la carte menu. We opted for the five course, and decided on our own drinks versus the wine pairing. My father, whose version of water is a diet Coke, was very disappointed that they did not have soda, so if that’s a make or break for any of your companions, be forewarned!
All of the dishes at 108 were very innovative and unique, and made from simple ingredients. My first course consisted of white asparagus that they had sliced so thinly, they were able to weave the strips together to for a sort of mat. My mom’s first course, simply called green peas, was this amazing and tasty dish of a bunch of green pease in a light cream sauce, topped with edible flowers. Their lobster claw, our second dish, was a smorgasbord of taste as it included white currants that popped in your mouth. The tempura of brown beech mushrooms dipped in a smoked egg yolk sauce was a perfect blend of tastes, incorporating seaweed powder and a light breading with the decadent texture of the egg yolk. Perhaps my most favorite dish of all, though, was their dessert of black trumpets—simply a sorbet made of black trumpet mushrooms, topped with slivers of the same mushroom, this time candied. Had I not known I was eating mushrooms, I probably wouldn’t have realized it. The dish was refreshing and definitely unique.
Whereas 108 was all bright and industrial, Relæ is what I would call more homey and intimate. Located in the outer Noerrebro area, the restaurant is housed on the bottom floor of an old building in a cozy, quiet street called Jægersborggade, which has lately been known as the more “hipster” street of Copenhagen, for lack of a better term. On this same street, you’ll find a branch of the Coffee Collective, as well as quaint little boutiques selling things from dinnerware to shoes. Relæ’s subterranean level gives you the feeling of entering someone’s basement for a night of fun.
Dinner at Relæ was one of my favorite experiences. We were again seated at a corner table at the back of the restaurant, affording us a view of the entire place. The tables were simple wooden things, set with nothing but napkins and glasses. A hidden drawer in the table houses all the cutlery you’ll need for your meal, as well as the menu. Again, we were given a choice between the full tasting menu, called the Relæ experience, and a shorter one, called the Relæ menu. This time, we chose the full tasting menu.
Relæ is all about a no-nonsense approach to fine dining. They take a simple ingredient, and find ways to enhance its flavor, instead of overgarnishing or overseasoning it to make it tasty. They also have a strong focus on vegetables, which they grow out at their farm nearby—thus giving us a truly farm-to-table experience; about 90-100% of their food is organic as well. Their menu changes depending on what is available or in season. My father, the meat-eater, was not impressed; I think that had a lot to do with the fact that they didn’t serve diet Coke there too, though!
However, I had a great time tasting the various offerings, surprising even myself when I enjoyed their zucchini dish, as I am not fond of zucchini. All the dishes were artfully, if simply, presented. The salad was served as a bunch of lettuce leaves that you rip apart and dip into the dressing. Their simple dish of baby potatoes and barley just about blew me away with how rich it tasted, really bringing out the flavor of the potato. My favorite dessert was their strawberries and cream dish, which was basically a bunch of really sweet wild strawberries set in a bowl of cream.
For our last meal, my mother insisted on trying Kiin Kiin Bao Bao, which, as I’m sure you’ve surmised from the name, is an Asian restaurant. It belongs to a group of restaurants with variations of the name Kiin Kiin, and is known as a place to get really good Asian-inspired tapas. One of their two chefs is Filipino, and he came out to say hello to our big group of 30 people. The restaurant reminded me of someone’s lanai where tables were scattered; there was an elevated little “room” or alcove which housed a small sitting area outside the door to the bathroom. The whole place had a nice homey feel to it.
Our meal at Kiin Kiin Bao Bao was definitely everyone’s favorite. A lot of the food was familiar, but done so with a twist. Their baos were definitely a crowd favorite, particularly the soft shell crab bao with garlic mayo—that was right up my alley! The deep fried Jerusalem artichokes with chili mayo appetizer was amazing as well; total burst of flavors. The best dish I had though was the rare-grilled beef with soya butter and fried garlic. The meat was tender, tasty, and so juicy; the soya butter was the perfect complement to the dish, and the fried garlic was just the kick it needed. Their desserts were quite good as well; they used familiar dessert bases and added a twist. The two we ordered were quite refreshing; we had the bingsu with mango sauce, lychee, and strawberry compote, as well as the salted coconut milk ice cream with caramel and coconut cookie. They were the perfect end to our delicious meal. And the meal itself was a great way to end a wonderful trip.
From not really having much of an opinion about Copenhagen, I’ve now added the city to my list of must-return-to places. Despite the wonderful culinary experience I had there, I feel like there are a lot more restaurants I need to try. The vibe of the city is something I really enjoyed as well; it was a great place to just walk around and relax. The people were also easygoing and friendly. I’m already planning for the next time I have a chance to visit!