Good vacations make you want to return to the destination someday soon. Great vacations make you want to move there now.
A recent week in Copenhagen had me ready to pack my bags for a permanent state of hygge — the Danish term for the inherent coziness that finds its way into everything there, from design to food. The people are friendly, the streets are clean, the food is otherworldly, and everyone manages to get on just fine despite the fact that Uber doesn’t exist in Denmark.
The easiest way to get there is Scandinavian Airlines’ nonstop flight from Miami, which puts you in Copenhagen in less than nine hours. And the most luxurious ride may be in the newly upgraded business-class cabin of SAS’ Airbus 330, where meal services feature cold-water lobster and Norwegian gin, and the lie-flat seats get a dose of hygge from Hästens bedding.
Where to eat in Copenhagen
Copenhagen spent most of 2017 without the restaurant that put it on the world’s culinary map: Noma by Chef René Redzepi. He closed it, took it on the road for some far-flung pop-ups, and is reopening it this winter in a different neighborhood than its original location.
In that original Noma space is now Restaurant Barr, an ode to rustic-refined Nordic and North Sea cooking, in collaboration with Redzepi. Chef Thorsten Schmidt shows his German-Danish roots through dishes like pork schnitzel that sizzles under a brown butter caper sauce, and sourdough pancakes with caviar and wood ants — yes, ants — that taste remarkably like lemon zest. An in-house brewmaster elevates beer pairings to a degree usually reserved for wine and cocktails.
Chefs who put in time at Noma have gone on to open lauded restaurants throughout the city. One of the most well known is Christian Puglisi, whose mini-empire includes Michelin-starred flagship Relæ, bakery Mirabelle and organic wine bar Manfreds. Although vegetables and fish are the main focus of Manfreds’ kitchen — as evidenced by a bracingly fresh salad of mackerel and just-peeled fava beans — Puglisi’s beef tartare is a showstopper. Raw beef dressed with watercress, rye croutons and aioli, the dish is a simple delight of contrasting textures and balanced flavors.
Another Noma alum, San Diego native Matt Orlando, is the chef-owner of the hot-and-getting-hotter Amass. His tasting menu is a tour de force progression based on what’s in season — menus are completely overhauled several times a year — and what’s growing in Orlando’s garden, where he regularly hosts local school kids to teach them about food. One thing that never comes off his menu: fermented potato bread, an addictive starter that he serves with a herbaceous oil dip. (Click here for the recipe.)
While caraway-infused aquavit may be the spirit of choice throughout Scandinavia, Denmark has a proud beer history that carries into today’s brewers. Mikkel Borg Bjergsø was a physics teacher before his homebrewing experiments led him to create Mikkeller, which has morphed into one of the most sought-after craft breweries in the world. He has more than a dozen brewpubs and bottle shops all over Copenhagen, but two of note: Mikkeller Baghaven, which pours barrel-aged beers and is located a stone’s throw from Amass (and from the city’s famous Little Mermaid statue), and War Pigs, a barbecue-meets-beer collaboration with U.S. brewer 3 Floyds.
Amass’ tasting menu is a tour de force progression that changes every season, but one thing that never comes off the menu: fermented potato bread.
In the same meatpacking-turned-hipster district as War Pigs, Kødbyens Fiskebar was one of the city’s first fish restaurants when it opened in 2009. That’s surprising in a nation surrounded by water and where pickled herring is in every home-cook’s repertoire. But owner Anders Selmer, a former sommelier and manager at Noma, and British-born chef Jamie Lee have lured in locals and visitors with stunning dishes that show a sense of place: seared squid with pine and celeriac, Norwegian king crab with red cabbage and roasted koji.
My favorite place to sit at any restaurant is a counter overlooking the kitchen. So Bo Bech’s Geist won me over immediately with its seats surrounding a spotless, low-volume, perfectly choreographed kitchen. His food ranges from out-there combinations (scallops with chicken wings in lobster sauce) to simple elegance (meticulously cut avocado with caviar). The avocado dish’s conception and execution gets 87 full pages in Bech’s recently released cookbook-memoir, What Does Memory Taste Like?
Top-tier Copenhagen luxury hotels
D’Angleterre is Copenhagen’s five-star grande dame of luxury hotels, and it cuts no corners: Rooms are immaculate, location is ideal, spa is exquisite, restaurant is world-class. D’Angleterre can wrap guests in serenity at its Amazing Space Spa, then shower them in euphoria at its Michelin-starred Marchal restaurant. A bowl of squid noodles dancing in Champagne butter and spooned with caviar is a taste memory I’ll carry with me forever.
Across town, the newly renovated Skt. Petri has design-minded touches throughout, and a breakfast that’s not to be missed. Among its 26 suites, the all-new penthouse Star Suite is equipped with a private sauna and an oversize terrace with an endless city view.
Even the museums in Denmark have amazing food
You really can’t go far in Copenhagen without eating well. At the indoor-outdoor Torvehallerne market, near Skt. Petri, more than 50 vendors sell open-faced smørrebrød, pristine produce (I’d never seen fresh hazelnuts before) and more. Rosio Sanchez, a Mexican-American former Noma pastry chef, runs the market’s Hija de Sanchez taco stall, where a daily-changing menu could include rich beef tongue or crispy-edged pork al pastor.
In the heart of the city, the landmark and whimsical Tivoli Gardens is home to the world’s oldest amusement park. On your way in, grab a from-scratch hot dog with everything on it (including Mikkeller beer-infused hot sauce) from John’s Hotdog Deli, a noted food cart across the street from the main entrance. Inside, go for a twirl on the carousel, then recharge with tea and sweets at Cakenhagen, a bakery that overlooks the grounds.
Even museums know how to impress with food. The Maritime Museum of Denmark, a feat of architecture built within a dry dock, puts out exemplary, locally sourced fish cakes with seaweed salad and rye bread at its café. It’s neighbors with the Kronborg Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site immortalized in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Both sites are included in the cost of a Copenhagen Card, which grants free access and discounts to all sorts of museums, attractions, public transportation and more. Your mileage may vary, but favorites included the modern-art Louisiana Museum, Designmuseum Denmark and the Viking Ship Museum, which is an easy 25-minute train ride west of the city.
Whether you visit for a week or move there forever, Copenhagen is the kind of city that makes you feel at home.
If you go:
Restaurant Barr, restaurantbarr.com.
Mikkeller Baghaven, mikkellerbaghaven.dk.
War Pigs, warpigs.dk.
Kødbyens Fiskebar, fiskbaren.dk.
Skt. Petri, sktpetri.com.
Hija de Sanchez, hijadedesanchez.dk.
Tivoli Gardens, tivoligardens.com.
John’s Hotdog Deli, facebook.com/johnshotdogdeli.
Maritime Museum of Denmark, mfs.dk/en.
Kronborg Castle, visitdenmark.com.
Louisiana Museum, en.louisiana.dk.
Designmuseum Denmark, designmuseum.dk/en.
Viking Ship Museum, vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/en.