What a difference a decade can make. Copenhagen today is a city transformed, a polestar across creative fields from art to architecture, design to dining. No longer a sleepy Scandinavian capital, this good-looking city found success by tinkering with expectations. Cyclists own the avenues even in the depths of winter. The near-barren land gave birth to a culinary movement. And despite its distance from Europe’s vineyards, the Danish city is considered among the best in the world for natural wine. The only problem for travelers visiting today, faced with new and noteworthy openings nearly every week, is keeping up.
Your introduction to the evolving nature of the city is Inderhavnsbroen (Inner Harbor Bridge), a cycling-and-pedestrian bridge that connects the Nyhavn and Christianshavn districts. Completed in 2016, the structure is the final link of the Harbor Circle, an eight-mile route for cyclists and pedestrians traversing this maritime city’s myriad waterways. Although the bridge itself is unremarkable, the impressive panorama spans both the past and future: historic Nyhavn with its colorful rowhouses and 17th-century canal; influx Papiroen island; the gray stone building that formerly housed Noma (the acclaimed New Nordic restaurant reopened nearby in February); and modern architectural landmarks, including the neo-futuristic Opera House and the Royal Library with its angular black facade.
Danes are known for their design savvy, but the innate sense of style also extends to their wardrobes. To appropriate an understated Scandinavian look, visit Project 4, a small Latin Quarter shop packed with functional canvas Sandqvist backpacks, woolen Klitmoller Collective sweaters, and leather jackets from the Copenhagen-based label Ventil Studios. The spinoff store downstairs, Concept 4, is stocked with durable Rains raincoats and interior items ranging from Kinfolk tomes to cork-bound Nomess notebooks. Then browse the showroom of Hofmann Copenhagen, a niche brand for women, known for high-neck blouses and wide-leg trousers.
After transforming a once-derelict stretch of Jaegersborggade into a culinary destination with the Michelin-starred restaurant Relae and the eco-bistro Manfreds, the chef Christian Puglisi turned his attention to a forlorn stretch of Guldbergsgade. Today the lively block is home to two Puglisi-run establishments as well as Brus, an enormous new brewpub opened by the local brewery To Ol in an old iron foundry. Start there, at one of the smooth wood-paneled booths, with a glass of The Boss, a double-dry-hopped I.P.A., and an order of fermented fries with mushroom mayonnaise (55 Danish kroner, or about $9.10). Later, stumble across the street to Baest, Puglisi’s version of an Italian trattoria serving house-cured charcuterie and artisan cheeses made with milk from the restaurant’s herd of Jersey cows, like creamy stracciatella that’s dolloped on the simple but sublime tomato pizzas (110 kroner) with perfectly blistered crusts from the wood-fired oven.
In a city filled with excellent watering holes, one of the most impressive newcomers is Himmeriget, an unassuming bar in a former butcher shop. At this all-are-welcome neighborhood hangout, the cocktail list is handwritten on the white tile wall and ten taps pour well-chosen craft beers (one owner is Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso of Evil Twin Brewing). If wine is what you’re after, look for the neon-pink teardrop marking the entrance to Gaarden & Gaden, a nearby bar specializing in natural wines with some 300 bottles in the cellar.
Whatever you wake up craving, it’s likely being served at Moller Kaffe & Kokken, a bustling Norrebro cafe favored by locals serious about their morgenmad (breakfast). From the menu of two dozen or so small dishes (all under 50 kroner), create your ideal smorgasbord: maybe Danish porridge with sea buckthorn jam, tart apple slices with lime and sea salt, fried eggs with herbs, crushed potatoes with yogurt and parsley, and waffles with marmalade and crème anglaise. A basket of homemade bread — sourdough, dark rye and whipped butter — is a must. Afterward, stroll through Superkilen, a half-mile-long urban park whose colorful, eclectic design mirrors Norrebro’s multicultural diversity.
From midcentury modernists to today’s inspired innovators, Denmark’s design roots run deep. At Hay House, a two-story showroom and flagship shop for the acclaimed Danish design firm, resist the urge to buy everything, from brass scissors and lilac toothbrushes to canary yellow armchairs. At Stilleben No. 22, which opened last year, find geometric wall lamps, oak-and-leather trays, and dreamy works from Copenhagen-based artist Anne Nowak. And at MK Studio, a ceramics workshop that supplies discerning local restaurants, shop for hand-thrown cups, plates and bowls that blur the line between tableware and art.
Bredgade stretches from Nyhavn canal to the moats of Kastellet, but this street is more than a convenient thoroughfare. It’s also home to a cluster of world-class contemporary art galleries, including Galerie Mikael Andersen, where exhibitions regularly feature noteworthy Danish artists, like Kristian Touborg and Elisabeth Toubro. Across the street, find art of a different form at Designmuseum Danmark, where graphic design and fashion are spotlighted alongside an exhibition of the 20th-century Danish chairs that solidified the country’s reputation for outstanding design (admission, 115 kroner).
What’s all the fuss about natural wines? To understand the drinking trend that has swallowed this city whole, descend a half flight of stairs to Den Vandrette, a harborside wine den that feels like a sommelier friend’s living room, with flickering candles and flowers in bottles with artsy labels. Here, enthusiastic servers sing the natural wine gospel, pouring tastes from a magnum of Bodega Cueva’s Tardana Orange and urging you to poke around the wine cellar. Order a jar of olives and stay a while, or continue a wine pilgrimage to the under-a-bridge locale of Rosforth & Rosforth, an influential wine importer that hosts weekly tastings and summertime pop-ups on the quay.
There’s no escaping Noma’s influence on the local dining scene, where nearly every top chef has logged time with René Redzepi. But no restaurant is as closely tied as 108, the first Noma spinoff that opened in a spacious stone building in 2016. The chef and co-owner Kristian Baumann (formerly of both Noma and Relae) adheres to the foraging-pickling-fermenting culinary philosophy, serving blue mussels with salted gooseberries and roasted yeast oil, peas with a dollop of caviar encircled by edible petals, and an astoundingly beautiful bouquet of zucchini flowers and summer greens. What distinguishes 108 is its accessibility: There’s an à la carte menu, prices are comparatively modest (most dishes are under 200 kroner), and there are seats for walk-ins in the lively, laid-back dining room.
Atmosphere is paramount in a country so adept at making things cozy that the Danish term — hygge — became a worldwide trend. Down a half-flight of stairs on Boldhusgade, CUB Coffee Bar nails the concept, with fur pelts draped on chairs, an adorable bear-cub logo and aromatic roasts from Copenhagen Coffee Lab. Order a croissant and a frothy cappuccino to savor in one of the homey nooks lit by candles and classic Poul Henningsen pendants. For a different brand of hygge, visit the fashionable Café Atelier September, which serves light-roast coffee from Sweden’s Koppi roastery and the city’s most photographed avocado toast.
A 17th-century Baroque brick palace on tourist-thronged Nyhavn doesn’t look like a venue for daring contemporary art, but the exhibition space located inside, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, is just that. The elegant palace hosts ambitious temporary exhibits, such as a recent Ai Weiwei installation that barricaded the palace windows with thousands of refugees’ life vests salvaged from the Greek island of Lesbos. After touring the galleries (admission, 75 kroner), visit the excellent bookshop and cross the brick-and-ivy courtyard to peek inside the museum’s buzzy year-old cafe, Apollo Bar.
There’s no better place to laze away an afternoon than La Banchina, a waterside cafe where you can sip sparkling rosé on a wooden pier with views across the harbor. This endearingly ramshackle refuge — the name means “the pier” in Italian — is on the northern island of Refshaleoen, a long bike (or quick ferry) ride from the center in a former industrial area now colonized by fine-dining establishments and moored houseboats. The all-day cafe offers coffee, baked goods, Nordic-Mediterranean meals, natural Italian wines, a superb “organic spritz” made with biodynamic Italian vermouth, and — if things weren’t blissful enough — a private wood-fired sauna.
There’s a theatrical ambience at the Hotel Sanders, a boutique property opened last November by an acclaimed Danish ballet dancer. Expect elegant interiors, from the 52 rooms to the velvet-draped cocktail bar and rooftop conservatory, all located steps from the Royal Danish Theater. (Tordenskjoldsgade 15; 45-4640-0040; hotelsanders.com; from 2,340 kroner.)
A perennial favorite of design-conscious travelers, Hotel SP34 offers 118 rooms ranging from snug singles to spacious suites in a central Latin Quarter location. There’s also a private movie theater, rooftop terrace, complimentary wine during a daily Wine Hour, and three dining locations, including a greenhouse-themed Nordic bistro. (Sankt Peders Straede 34; 45-3313-3000; brochner-hotels.com/hotel-sp34; from about 1,600 kroner.)
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