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Copenhagen: A beginner's guide

I have a habit when it comes to visiting new cities –  always look up their history to learn about the local’s past and how the city evolved.

So here’s a quick and short historical background on Copenhagen. Founded in 1167, Copenhagen for the longest of time acted as a Merchant’s port, in fact, in the middelages it was called Køpmannæhafn which in old danish meant “merchandise harbour”. Castles, Forts and many other grand edifices decorated the city during the 17th century. The city was attacked by wars, fires and plagues throughout history but during the 19th and 20th century, the city flourished, expanding it’s cultural diversity and developing a reputation for the arts. Copenhagen experienced dark times during WWII and the economoic but soon got out of this period. After numerous riots and protests, inspired by world wide movements in the early 70s, Copenhagen welcomed Bohemians and artists alike.

This, however, has not stopped Copenhagen from developing and maintaining it’s culture that encompasses delicate beauty and recently, a great interest in the culinary arts. There is plenty to find in Copenhagen but if you’re going on a culinary mission, then I suspect you would only need to spend most of your time around the Nørrebro district. Coffee shops, cafes and restaurant fill the streets with mouth-watering aromas of delightful culinary delights.

Getting familiar with surroundings

Jaegersborggade is a little village within the Nørrebro district that particularly celebrates such rumours. Its residents remind me a little of locals in Brooklyn/Greenpoint. They are equally eco-friendly as they are artistic and with a fantastic gastronomy and design scene. Not so much a hipster vibe, the village is cluttered with cute establishments ranging from antique shops to fancy restaurants and bars.

If you’re thinking of an area that comes to close comparison with Chicago’s trendy West Loop or New Yorks meatpacking district, head to Vesterbro. This area has that gritty but glamorous feel with artisans, artists, mixologists, designers and restauranteurs calling this area their hood. Don’t expect it to be as polished as American meatpacking districts, here it continues to retain it’s rough charm. Walk around nearby and you land at Værnedamsvej for cool shopping and hip cafes to check your emails from.

Copenhagen has no shortage in affordable boutique or design hotels. One hotel that lives up to this reputation is The SP34, a hip and cozy boutique hotel favored by design enthusiasts and aesthetes. Check out this link for a list of Boutique hotels.

Once you’ve checked in, you’re ready to explore.

Cafés

I will start with a few things to do when in Copenhagen by day. I head out first and look for my morning coffee. My husband is usually very particular about his coffee, so I made sure I did my research before listing these spots. Three places I recommend that understand the science of coffee making are the following:

GRANOLA in Vesterbro has serious coffee, for serious coffee connoisseurs. The cafe is decorated in 1950’s charm with locals that visit to hangout.

COFFEE COLLECTIVE in Jægersborggade is a café that is recommended by Noma’s Rene Rezepi- no questions asked!

VERDENS MINDSTE KAFFEBAR, Vesterbro – This is probably the tiniest café you will see. The quality of their coffee is exceptional despite their lack of space. You’ll also enjoy their decor.

Don’t want coffee but you’d like a bakery instead? Head to the Bo Bechs Bageri Store in central Copenhagen serving traditional rye or sourdough bread- simply yum-tastic!

Culture

The first thing I normally to is visit museums for a little background in the city’s history and ancient culture. A little north of Copenhagen in Hillerød, you will find an impressive Renaissance castle- the Frederiksborg built in the 17th century by the Danish King Christian IV. The palace is located on three small islands in the middle of Palace Lake Slotsøen and adjoined by a large formal garden Baroque style. Majestically decorated rooms that are rich in renaissance culture transport you back to the 17th century. An impressive collection of art is housed under this castle, called The Museum of National History where you will find a great collection from epoch times. Stone age & archaeological finds from the Vikings are also a treat.

There are also boat tours offered, scenic walks, a skeleton of an actual mermaid, Churches and plenty of cultural experiences. It is also the largest Palace in Scandinavia!

Lunch dining

Time for lunch! Usually for this time of day, I look for simple and light local food. These spots will not disappoint:

AAMANNS, Østerbro is one of the many foodie establishments in Copenhagen- wow. It’s known for it’s Danish style open sandwich and promises that you leave satisfied. If you can, try and make reservations to avoid disappointment.

MANFREDS, Looking at the website alone before visiting made me hungry. An intimate restaurant with a wide variety of wine. Their food plates are small but packed with flavour and joy. I highly recommend!

Kødbyens Fiskebar in Vesterbro is a fish bar run by ex-Noma chefs, really committed to their fish quality with the same suppliers as Noma! Great fish, atmosphere and surrounding.

Art & Shopping

Next, I check out contemporary Copenhagen. A pride and joy of the city- the Danish Design Centre on HC Andersen Boulevard is one contemporary destination designed by Henning Larsen. The centre’s mission is to build awareness of Danish design. The 5 story, 9,700 sq foot exhibition space sells books, table ware and other design items as well as houses a cafe. Several exhibitions run simultaneously at Danish Design Center, however, there is a permanent exhibit that consists of design icons from Denmark and around the world.

Another cool spot to check out is LOCAL DESIGN – you’ll find a mix of international and local furniture designs. Classic works by artists such as Arne Jacobsen & Hans Wegner are a couple from many others that represent the danes. Walking around Gammel Kongevej, the principal shopping street of Copenhagen, you’ll stumble upon several small design boutiques such as Mumuland, Dora and Playtype Concept Stores – all selling posters, design focused gadgetry, mugs and other neat things to bring back home.

If that’s not enough, there’s always food shopping- what’s better than bringing home a bite of the city you just fell in love with? Head to Copenhagen’s best new food hall called Torbehallern, a jewel box of gourmet food, hard to walk out of with empty hands. A glass encased food hall, you will find all sorts of deliciousness underneath – cold cuts, meats, chocolate, fish, pickles, cheese, specialty foods, etc.

Another place to do some food shopping is Magasin du Nord Kongens Nytorv and the food halls at Illum Østergade. Also, don’t miss Kihoskh – a modern grocery store with a wide selection of groceries, specialties and organic products, it’s where the locals shop! For other places to shop, visit this official visitor website.

If you have more time in the city, head to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Northern Sealand, a short 30 minute train ride from Copenhagen. You’ll find post-card perfect views of the sea and nearby Sweden. The exhibits at the museum rotate every 3 months, so you’ll find you’re likely to find something new and interesting.

Seeing that most of Copenhagen is quite design forward, you would be shocked at the beauty and grandiose of this minimal Church- Grundtvig’s church. A rare example of expressionist design as history books say, this church will make you look at all other churches differently with it’s mega stylish minimal design.

Bar Scene

Once you’re ready to check out the city by night, you’ll want to find interesting and flavour cocktails with edgy or warm atmospheres and dinners at places that will make you want to write a book about. Copenhagen is known as Europe’s cocktail emporium- with lots of specialist cocktail bars scattered around the city. Here’s a selection:

KULBY in Vesterbro is a small but edgy bar in the heart of Vesterbro. You will get a sense of intelligent folk around you and you can easily strike up a witty conversation with a local! The bar starts getting busy by midnight but this is probably where you come after dinner, recommendations below.

UNDERWOOD INK in Nørrebro was actually named after old type writers and it’s the perfect place for writers, poets and the likes. The bar is engulfed with books, all over and will get your inner literati out. A great bar with a lot of character

SALON39 in Frederiksberg is one of those bars that represent Copenhagen’s cocktail scene which has been rapidly growing. Great cocktails to remember and a great service at this spot!

Dining

Finally, the most interesting part of visiting a city is found at dinner time. Walking around the city at night is just cute, charming and exciting as the day. The city comes alive at night and you’re sure to see European evening style all around the town’s top dinning destinations. When Noma came to inception and therefore popularity, owner Rene Rezepi made sure he trained his staff well. I read somewhere recently that success of a leader is not measured by how much money he/she makes but by how many start-ups or establishments his proteges go out and initiate. This is a fine example of Rene Rezepi’s legacy where more than a handful of successful restaurants have been started by ex-Noma staff and based on his training:

Ralea was started by ex-sous chef at Noma that boasts all organic certified, artsy dining concept- focusing on taste and flavour as it should. Don’t expect a fixed menu, they enjoy surprising their visitors with daily menus and offerings.

Pate Pate is also a delicious restaurant in Vesterbro, attracting all the hip and trendy crowd. It’s relatively cheap with great servings and ideal for a stop to fuel before heading out to the city’s nightclubs and bars.

Bror is another ex-Nomi special- a dedicated staff with endless surprising delights, its a foodie heaven. The prix fixe menu is inventive, locally sourced, creative, completely delicious. The menu is constantly changing so I won’t describe what we ate except to say that the chef paid exquisite attention to keeping the flavours in each dish balanced yet interesting. The wine pairings were equally adventurous and spot on.

Bibendum is cozy restaurant thats perfect for quiet dinners and conversation. Food is great- a series of small dishes and great wine offering. “I had heard that the Swedish chef used to worked at NOMA and left to do his own funky thing.

Although there are probably 700 restaurants in Copenhagen with “NOMA-inspired” food or “formerly employed at NOMA” staff”, shared a local. Wine is a primary focus so make note of this resto if you’re on the wine hunt!

The best for last: don’t leave without dining at Copenhagen’s recent pride and joy, a Michelin star restaurant. Noma is currently rated flavour du jour for its spin on seasonal Nordic ingredients. Rated as the best restaurant in the world (No.1), you will leave feeling achieved and taken on a journey with your tastebuds!

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