Grey skies, old brick buildings, bicycles whizzing past you, and the smell of warm cinnamon rolls wafting through the air as you approach a giant golden pretzel suspended almost mid-air—a symbol that tells you there’s a bakery right underneath.
Copenhagen, you stole my heart.
Two months ago I traveled to Copenhagen for the first time. It was my stop-over choice on a more adventurous trip to Iceland. I’d always wanted to go to Denmark, largely because of Noma*, but also because I’d heard and read things about the food culture there, and how it was just so different from anywhere else. And it didn’t disappoint, not one bit.
* I didn’t get to go to Noma on this trip. They were doing their pop-up in Japan while I was in Copenhagen.
The food scene in Copenhagen is vibrant, to say the least. There are wood-paneled cocktail bars tucked away in little alleys, brightly-lit bakeries with street-facing displays filled with row after row of warm pastries, and restaurants with chalkboard signs listing the day’s smørrebrød offering. There’s Michelin-starred restaurant after Michelin-starred restaurant to pick from, and then there’s the giant indoor market in hip Vesterbro where you can pick up the city’s best coffee, artisanal porridge, delicious smørrebrød, cold-pressed juices, and the freshest produce imaginable.
Read on for my Copenhagen food recommendations—places I ate at and enjoyed—and please know that this is in no way a comprehensive list: there are so many places I didn’t make it to that I’d love to go back and try. If you’ve been to Copenhagen or, better yet, live there then please leave a comment with your recommendations on where you like to eat.
Grød is a locally-grown dining concept that specializes in porridge. Yep, you read that right—porridge. They make both sweet and savory porridge dishes, and sell different porridge blends (and toppings). Their restaurants are warm and welcoming, and are a great choice if you’re looking to fuel up for a busy day in Copenhagen. I visited Grød in Torverhallerne a few times, and the service was friendly and informative and the porridge bowls abundant. I highly recommend their cookbook (available in English) which is packed full of delicious porridge recipes for any meal of the day.
The Coffee Collective is home to the best coffee in Copenhagen. Despite boasting three separate locations around the city, they always seem to be packed to the gills with people typing furiously away at their laptops, having meetings, or catching up—all with a perfectly brewed cup of coffee in hand. Their ethos focuses primarily on quality and the link between farmer, roaster, and barista. I grabbed coffee from TCC twice on my trip, and it was perfect each time. The baristas were chatty but not overly-familiar, and recommended (both times) that I stay and have their coffee there rather than to go. Their Godthåbsvej location serves breakfast.
A hidden gem in Copenhagen, this little coffee shop is small and cozy, and they brew a mean cup of coffee. Food options are limited, but what they do serve is great; there’s toast, croissant, and yogurt with granola. The service was brisk yet friendly, but they have wi-fi (not to be taken for granted) and are happy for you to sit down and take your time with your breakfast.
I read somewhere, before my trip, that Sankt Peders Bageri is home to the best cinnamon rolls in all of Copenhagen. So I booked us into a hotel just up the road (a 30-second walk away) so that I could indulge in fresh out-of-the-oven pastries whenever I felt like it. Their cinnamon rolls are delicious, and they even have ones with gooey chocolate in the center (get those, trust me). It’s the oldest bakery in the city, and it doesn’t disappoint.
If you’re after a traditional Danish meal, this is the place to go. Wood-paneled walls, old oil paintings, and chandeliers set the scene for a very Danish meal. We went because Schønnemann’s kept coming up as the chef’s favorite for typical Danish cuisine; case in point: Rene Redzepi has a smørrebrød named after him (which I ordered— delicious). Order that, or the scrambled egg and smoked eel smørrebrød. If you’re partial to a little tipple, order the dill schnapps (made in-house) and the house beer—it’s rich and amber in color but tastes quite delicate.
Aamanns offers a contemporary take on smørrebrød. There are only a handful of options to choose from each day, and you can pick two or three, depending on how hungry you are. My husband and I each had two, and we were full. The flavor combinations are really interesting, while still paying homage to traditional Danish flavors and produce. They also have a deli/cafe next door.
This was my favorite meal of the entire trip. Relæ has a set menu that changes daily. You can pick either the four-course menu (vegetarian or omnivore) or the seven-course menu. We had the four-course menu plus the cheese course and wine pairings. It was all delicious—the food, the wine, the bread (sourdough, of course), and the service was attentive and informative, friendly and prompt. I want to list out everything we ate, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you—not exactly. I was too busy enjoying the meal, the company, the setting. My main had sunchoke. Something else had samphire in it. I ate the best mashed potatoes of my entire life (with candied citrus and brown butter). Dessert was ice cream with dried olives on top(!) It was all delicate, and nuanced, and thoughtful. All I can say is go, go, go. Right now.
Located just across the road from Relæ, Manfreds has a completely different feel to it. It’s very Parisian: the space is small and cozy, it has low ceilings, and the tables are all so close together that at moments you feel like you’re part of someone else’s meal. The menu is simple and rustic, and focuses heavily on seasonal vegetables prepared simply. There’s meat too, but it doesn’t seem to be the main focus. We had the tasting menu with wine pairings, and it was very good. The lamb with spring vegetables and the lemon sorbet with olive oil breadcrumbs were the standout dishes of the night, for me. The service felt a little brusque and rushed, but our waitress was knowledgeable and generally cheerful.
Italian on the surface, Bæst is the newest of Stefano Puglisi’s restaurants (Relæ and Manfreds are the other two), and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s big, it’s loud, and like the other two, it’s relaxed. At first glance the menu looks decidedly Italian: pizza (wood-fired, no less), burrata, lots of salumi, polenta. But when the food arrives, it’s not typical Italian—everything is a little bit Danish, a little bit different. The pizza, for example, is a little chewy; the dough feels layered and has some give that is reminiscent of Indian naan. I’m a die-hard traditionalist when it comes to Italian food, but this light fusion—Italian recipes and Danish ingredients—was delicious.
Good-looking, slightly surly bartenders. Amazing selection of wines— most natural (it seems to be a thing in Copenhagen right now), amazing cheese & charcuterie platter (no menu, just tell them you’re hungry). No bookings, you’ll likely have to stand at the bar by a bunch of boxes (new deliveries?) and chat to the bartender while seats free up. It’s everything anyone could possibly wish for in a good wine bar.
Tucked away in a random alley behind a bicycle parking lot. They have a fireplace! Weird, but interesting cocktails. There played a LOT of Bob Dylan (and I liked it). Three floors worth of bar, with one floor dedicated to whiskey. It’s a lot of un with friends, just make sure you don’t get there too early. In winter, they have a fireplace. Oh, and their bathroom plays a soundtrack of birds chirping. Do with that information what you will.
Hip and happening. Bartenders with flair (is that what it’s called?), drinks that are set on fire, and the most incredible lime margarita you will ever (ever) drink. They serve dinner too, and it’s good: lots of little dishes perfect for sharing. But—the drinks are better and it’s worth a visit just for that.
ON THE GO
Organic hotdog stand, with their own sourdough buns. They’ve got really interesting meat options (goat, anyone?) and also the best vegan hotdog I’ve ever tasted. They also do really cool plates with things like parsnip mash, kale, and beetroot. Whatever you do, make sure you get all (and I do mean all) the toppings.
Nordatlantens Brygge (aka Café & Store next to door to Noma)
Get the waffles! And buy the arctic thyme. And look at some art! And take the obligatory photo outside of Noma, by the sign. It’s a gorgeous little coffee shop, and although the selection is limited, you’ll feel really happy knowing you’re sitting next door to the best kitchen in the world (unless of course, you have a reservation at Noma, in which case: lucky you!).
Juice and sandwich chain. It’s not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but: there’s one on pretty much every corner, the juices are good (my favorite is Joe’s Green Kiss, which has apple, spinach, and ginger in it), the sandwiches definitely hit the spot, and there’s free wi-fi. I definitely recommend it at the airport, as a place to sit back and relax before your flight (there are other good places, but they don’t have wi-fi).
It’s an incredible indoor/outdoor market. It’s got coffee (The Coffee Collective, among others), Grød, and dozens of food stands, flower stalls, deli counters, butchers, cheesemongers, and all manner of food establishments. You’ll find a dizzying array of edibles to choose from. If I had to pick one place (and that is so incredibly difficult to do), I’d say definitely get the smorrebrod at Hallernes Smørrebrød. Just walk right up to the counter, use all your willpower not to press your nose up to the glass, and order a couple (or if you’re like me, half the display) of smørrebrød.
It’s funky, it’s modern, it’s always got an art exhibit on of some kind, and it looks like someplace all the cool kids would Instagram. What’s great about it: you check in at the bar, and 5 o’clock is, in fact, wine o’clock (free vino for all guests). They do an all-organic breakfast, it’s a 30-second walk to Sankt Peders Bageri, a 5-minute walk from Torvehallerne KBH and Restaurant Schønnemann, and ten minutes from Ved Stranden 10. Ask for a room on the first floor—the newly renovated part of the hotel. It’s simple and gorgeous, and features wonderful Danish design. The toiletries are Ren (so you don’t even need to pack shampoo), and the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful.