This seaside city of Copenhagen was on my short list of places to visit because (a) I’d never been there before, (b) it was small enough to catch the major sights in 2-3 days, and (c) it was loaded with gourmet restaurants and trendy bars. While I’m sure the Danes will disagree with me that a weekend is long enough to get to know the city, it was plenty of time for me to get a sense of what all the hype is about.
Before I left the US, I downloaded the free iFly app (check it out if you don’t have it). It made it very easy to figure out how to get from the airport into the city. (Yes, a free app that actually works!) It’s about $7 to take the train into town and no one checked for tickets (not that I’m advocating you forego buying one). If you opt for the 24 hour pass (good on trains, metro or buses), it’s around $15. Thankfully, I did, and it really came in handy when my feet hurt after I’d walked all around the city for hours. When you get on a bus, you just show it and no one really checks the time stamp (again, not that I’m saying you should cheat the Danes). But those Europeans are just so trusting…
A good place to start exploring is right in the center of the city. There’s the Christiansborg palace complex and the Ny (new) Carlsberg Museum area with some Rodin sculptures.
Or head over to Carlsberg Brewery for a cold beer that will surely make your feet feel better. The M-24 bus goes across most of the city and can get you there in just a few minutes. The price of admission (about $15) covers a self-guided tour of the Brewery’s history, entrance to the stables, the sculpture garden, the largest beer bottle collection in the world (really) and two beers. The Carlsberg family started a lot of social programs to help the Danes and really focused on the quality of the beer and had a great respect for the process, even when there was a dispute between the father and the son on how best to run the business. I also had no idea that Carlsberg had plants in so many places, like Malawi.
Of course, I tried to get advance reservations for dinner at Michelin-starred restaurants. Silly me, thinking I could get into Noma at the last minute just because I was dining alone on a holiday weekend (for those of you that don’t know, it’s arguably the top restaurant in the world). Um, no.
Their website allows you to attempt to find a spot on the waiting list, as do many of the other top restaurants in Copenhagen. Unfortunately, I was never taken off any waitlist.
Trying in vain to find a seat at Noma, I ended up with a recommendation for Fiskebaren (aka Kodbyens Fiskebar) in the meatpacking district, where there’s more fish than meat being packed. An up and coming neighborhood filled with locals, I was luck enough to grab a seat at the bar.
The lumpfish roe with smoked cheese, a cucumber gelee and pea shoots was unusual and sublime. There was even bacon in the crackers that accompanied it! Then I had the pan-crisped brill with braised celery, cucumber and oyster sauce and spinach puree. Outstanding.
After my very satisfying meal, I decided to go on a bar crawl to have the best cocktails in the city. I was only in town for 2 nights and one was Sunday when everything would be closed so I had no choice but to fit it all in one night!
My first stop was 1105, which was recommended to me by the people at Noma and widely acknowledged as one of the best spots for a well-made cocktail. This little place is by the Stroget, the major pedestrian shopping area, and was the furthest from my hotel so it made sense to start there and make my way back. Although it was a Saturday night, many locals were out of town for the holiday so I was again lucky enough to get a seat at the bar. I chatted up the mixologist, originally from Scotland who’d come to Copenhagen by way of Vancouver (a strange path indeed).
He recommended the Snap Fizz, a gin-based cocktail with sugar snap peas in it, which was one of their signature drinks and an award winner (of some award I’d never heard of). It was topped with burnt sugar bay leaves. Pretty fantastic, and at almost $20 a drink it needed to be. Tried a gin drink with eucalyptus oil and egg white, also great, and then moved on.
Next was Ruby: a bar in a townhouse. It looked perfect, just the kind of place I would go to back home, except there was a line out front. You may not believe it, but I actually waited in the line. And it was a pointless line so that it could give the bartenders time to make drinks for the larger party that had just gone in…not because they were overcapacity. I know this because I kept trying to get the bouncer to let me in, since I was just one person and only wanted one drink. I was on a tight schedule!
Downstairs, there were funky couches and dark, mood lighting. Upstairs, it was younger, lighter and livelier. But the drinks were nothing special. I had a “hangover cure” with all manner of alcohol and fake absinthe in it. It took painstakingly long to make. I was getting a hangover while I waited. But the funniest, and my favorite, part was the location of the Georgian Embassy as its neighbor. Must really annoy them to have a bar there.
I asked the bouncer about my next stop, Salon 39. He’d heard of it but wasn’t sure if it would be open because it was more of a local place. I wasn’t going to let him dissuade me. So I hopped in a cab to try to make it before closing time (if it was even open).
This place apparently had bacon-infused tequila…how could I not attempt to go there?! Fortunately, it was open and I had the infamous Spotted Pig I came for (sniff, sniff, tear for you ex-pat New Yorkers), and then tried another drink, the Ox Blood, that was like a Bloody Mary with ox bouillon. I had them leave out the tomato juice so basically it was just a spicy tequila drink. Yum! Drinks at Salon 39 were the most interesting, cheaper and larger than the other places. A perfect spot to end the night.
Of course no trip to Copenhagen is complete without a stop at Tivoli, the amusement park that is said to be Disney’s inspiration. I can’t think of a better way to spend a sunny day than roller coasters, upside down spinning rides and vertical drops! It was no Six Flags, but the lines were shorter. After riding everything once (well everything that was not for kids under 6), I grabbed a beer before heading to a fabulous dinner at Nimb Brasserie.
The bar has a spectacular fireplace (with drinks as equally good as the service). There’s an open kitchen, and the chef may even bring out your dishes. From succulent, fresh oysters to local veggies, everything was fabulous.
When I asked how my lovely lamb was prepared, I learned that they don’t use gas stoves because they can’t get them hot enough. So odd! And I’ve never seen any chef actually break down a kitchen and thoroughly clean it. A very cool experience indeed!
If you visit Copenhagen, I also suggest Rosenborg Castle, which houses the jewels, the Botanical Gardens (free but only worth a trip if flowers are blooming), the infamous Little Mermaid statue and Amalienburg Palace, where the Royal Family currently lives. (The combined museum ticket for the castles saves you money but Amalienborg was very limited, so if you don’t have a lot of time, I’d skip it.)
While I didn’t get to try Noma, I had no regrets about my time in Copenhagen. And should you be lucky enough to visit it, I don’t think you will either.