I met Jonah six years ago in a Psychology class while studying abroad in Denmark—but he was far from the only thing I fell for that semester. During the four months I spent living and studying in Copenhagen, I became convinced it was the best city in the world—and still believe that. For starters, there are far more bikes than cars, buildings that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries mixed in with the stunning modern Scandinavian architecture, and tons of public parks where locals still "forage" for herbs and mushrooms. Danes, in addition to being blonde super models, are also some of the happiest and most trusting people in the world—it isn't uncommon to see a pram with a baby dozing in it outside of a restaurant while the parents lunch inside. The dark and cold winters would feel intolerably dreary if Danes didn't head indoors for the over-quoted but very real hygge, which loosely translates to "cozy time."
In short, Copenhagen has the heart of a small town, with all of the art, food, and culture of a large city. Earlier this month, Jonah surprised me with a short trip back to Copenhagen for our fifth anniversary. From the moment he told me about it, I secretly worried that it couldn't possibly feel as magical as it did when I was twenty. Amazingly, it was even more stunning and impressive. Here's how we made four packed, full days in Copenhagen feel more like two weeks (*stars denote a top recommendation):
Where we stayed: *Hotel SP 34, a really cute boutique hotel with a hipster vibe, directly in the center of everywhere we explored. They also have some perks like a great breakfast, inexpensive bike rentals, and free wine in the evenings.
8 p.m. Dinner at Kødbyens Fiskebar: This extremely hip seafood restaurant, set in an old meatpacking factory, came up in nearly every guide, and it's delicious—but it's also expensive. I don't think we realized quite how expensive until the bill, for one cocktail, half a dozen oysters, and two tiny appetizers came back at over $100. It was delicious and we enjoyed it, but we ate at plenty of other restaurants we felt were better, and a better deal. Still, the area it's in is so unique that I don't regret kicking off our trip here. If you're looking for a more affordable option, consider Hija de Sanchez right down the street.
9:30 p.m. Beer and sausage at Warpigs: The entire meatpacking district, where Fiskebar is located, is still very much a functioning industrial area (not quite like its New York equivalent), but is, as of recently, also home to loads of interesting bars, coffee shops, and restaurants. We returned several times over the course of our trip, to be able to try as many of them as possible, including this barbeque-meets-heavy-metal restaurant in collaboration with Mikkeller brewery.
*10:30 p.m. Beer at the original Mikkeller: Like any self-respecting wannabe hipster, Jonah and I are obsessed with the Danish brewery, Mikkeller, which has since been slowly taking over the world (you may remember we stopped by their bar in Bangkok earlier this year!). On our way back from dinner, we stopped in the original Mikkeller bar, where we sat for hours, drunk and happy, sipping glasses of Spontan Cherry and Vesterbro Spontanale (named for their spontaneous fermentation by wild yeast) and fitting right in with the other loud Americans and Danes paying their respects to the bar that started it all.
9 a.m. Pastries at Sankt Peders Bageri: After sleeping in a bit, we went to a bakery I frequented in college (that also happened to be a short walk from our hotel). They're delicious and I loved eating the cinnamon rolls they're known for while walking past my old dorm on Kannikestræde, but Lagkagehuset, a bakery chain that's everywhere, is comparable if you don't want to make the detour.
*10 a.m. Climbed the Rundetaarn: It's hard to believe that I spent an entire semester living 100 feet from the Rundetaarn, a 17th century tower, without climbing it (apparently the $5 entry fee wasn't college-budget friendly enough). Instead of stairs, the inside is a dramatic cobblestone ramp, with bright-white walls on either side—wide enough to allow a horse and carriage to fit through. Along the way, there's an art gallery and bell tower. At the top, you're rewarded with a 360° view of Copenhagen's rooftops, including other equally old steeples.
*11 a.m. Shopped downtown: While Stroget, a walking street in the center of the city, is impressive, it's also full of tourists and large chain stores you can find in most big cities. Go to Illums Bolighus and HAY Design Store, both in the center of Stroget, then duck into the side streets around it for some fantastic, unique shopping. While I didn't buy anything, I loved going into DAY Birger et Mikkelsen on Pilestræde, and Munthe and Ganni both on Store Regnegade (just walk down that street and you'll see a hundred stores worth browsing).
*12 p.m. Ate smørrebrod at Palægade: Smørrebrod is Denmark's version of a sandwich—hearty rye bread piled high with vegetables, fish, or meat. We made reservations at Palægade, a restaurant that's clearly a popular business lunch place, and known for some of the best smørrebrod in the city. The shrimp with remoulade smørrebrod we had there was one of my favorite things we ate the entire trip but if in doubt, ask the waiters for a recommendation.
*1 p.m. Walked around Nyhavn: Even if you've never been to Scandinavia, chances are you've seen photos of Nyhavn, the harbor in the middle of the city lined with colorful houses and restaurants. While it's full of tourists, it sometimes feels like there are just as many locals there too, thanks in part to the new walking bridge that goes from there to Christianshavn, the surrounding businesses and nearby metro stop, and the nearby popular Kunsthal Charlottenborg art gallery. It's a must-stop if you're in Copenhagen!
1:30 p.m. Ducked out of the rain for wine and coffee: On our way back from Nyhavn, it started to pour so we stopped for a glass of rosé under the awning outside of Geist at Kongens Nytorv (which is where I first noticed many of the trends I covered in this post—it is prime for people-watching). From there, we ducked into the coffee shop *Café Atelier September, where we met an American couple from Buffalo.
*3:30 p.m. Snacked our way through Torvehallerne: Also known as the "glass market," which is significantly easier to pronounce than "Torvehallerne"... This market is housed in a modern greenhouse-like building by the Nørreport metro stop and is filled with smørrebrod and cheese shops, as well as restaurants. We went to the Mikkeller Bottle Shop to grab a beer (there are no open container laws in Denmark, so you can walk down the street with an open beer in hand), then to Hija de Sanchez for tacos because they were so highly recommended. Jonah gave his stamp of approval on the tacos, which is really saying something considering "tacos" are his first love. While there, we stopped in the design store *Stilleben.
5:00 p.m. Grabbed beers in Nørrebro: On our way to meet friends for dinner, we stopped into a local's bar in Norrebro, *Harbo Bar (which is probably my favorite neighborhood in Copenhagen for its diversity and neighborhood-y feel). We settled in with two Danish beers, in a tiny window nook (talk about "hygge") and spent hours people-watching and chatting.
*7:30 p.m. Drinks at Brus, followed by and dinner at Bæst: When we asked two of our good friends who live in Copenhagen where we should meet for dinner, they were quick to say *Bæst, an all-organic Italian spot that specializes in cured meats and pizza. Before dinner, we stopped in the adjacent bar, *Brus, for some beers which was packed with Danes enjoying an after-work beer. At dinner, we ordered the Bæst Experience Menu, a delicious selection of greens, pizza, and charcuterie I'd recommend to anyone who goes!
*11:00 p.m. Grabbed cocktails at Ruby: While studying abroad, I interned for a guerilla dining company called Silver.Spoon. My boss there offered to either pay my friend and me hourly, or take us out in Copenhagen for an evening of whiskey tasting. Being responsible college students, we chose the latter. Ruby was one of my favorite bars we went to—it has an old-fashioned speakeasy vibe, with fantastic bespoke cocktails. It's also one of the first bars I ever went to, so I blame it for setting my expectations impossibly high for every bar that succeeded it.
*8 a.m. Ran around the lakes: The five rectangular lakes in the center of Copenhagen are a popular 3.9 mile running route. I woke up early to get a loop around before starting our day (It didn't hurt that Jonah met me back at the hotel with pastries from Lagkagehuset).
10:00 a.m. Visited the Kinfolk office: Kinfolk is one of my favorite independent magazines, so when we we walked past their office door and saw a sign that said "visitors welcome," we stopped into say "Hej!" Their entire office is comprised of about 15 people (each of whom couldn't have been nicer) in an impossibly chic, minimal space.
12:00 p.m. At lunch at Apollo Bar: We met my old boss at this "museum café" in the courtyard of an art gallery, right off of Nyhavn. It's the perfect place to grab a snack and a glass of wine if you're in the area.
1:30 p.m. Walked to Refshaleøen: Refshaleøen (and no, I have no idea how to correctly pronounce that) is an industrial area on the island of Christianshavn that's slowly being converted from a shipyard to a really exciting place with restaurants, bars, and even a rock climbing wall. The walk there is long, but beautiful if you're there on a warm day, with views of Copenhagen and the opera house.
2:30 p.m. Drank wine at La Banchina: If you go on a warm day, La Banchina, a tiny wine bar and restaurant off of a dock, is packed. In the middle of a chilly Friday, there weren't many people soaking up the sun, but you really can't beat a drink on a pier (and the wine I had was delicious).
3:30 p.m. Drank beer at Mikkeller Baghaven: Yet another stop on the Mikkeller tour of Copenhagen! This bar is where they make their barrel-aged beers and is around the corner from a massive outdoor food market in Refshaleøen. We definitely would have eaten there if we didn't already have plans... ;)
**5:30 p.m. Dinner at noma: It's hard to know where to begin with noma—or how to do one of the world's best restaurant's justice. Both Jonah and I were lucky enough to go when we studied abroad (it's actually one of the reasons I studied in Denmark), but since our last visit, noma has re-built itself from the ground up at a new location, with menus divided by the plant, sea, and animal kingdoms. We went at the tail-end of the plant season, and the twenty-some dishes we ate were entirely vegetarian. The question I get asked most often about the menu is whether it's actually delicious. The short answer is: Yes, but what makes noma so special is the pure creativity put into the menu, from a celeriac root shwarma to a pollen dish served in a bee's wax bowl. Our first dish looked like a centerpiece—it came in a terracotta pot, with thyme planted into the soil. But look closer, and you'll notice there's a camouflaged straw made out of some sort of reed, which brings up something close to the best mashed potatoes you've ever had. The next question I have is: How expensive is it? It's very expensive, but if you think of it less as a dinner and more as an life-altering experience (which for me, it honestly has been both times), it's completely worth the price tag.
9:00 p.m. Walked around Christiania.
10:00 p.m. CHART Art Fair at Kunsthal Charlottenborg: One of the best parts about Copenhagen in the summertime is that, like most cold-weather cities with beautiful summers, the warm nights are packed with events. At my past boss's recommendation, we stopped by CHART Art Fair to listen to music and grab some beers in the art gallery's courtyard.
11:00 p.m. Walked to Lidkoeb: Okay, so I wouldn't recommend doing what we did and walking the three miles from Nyhavn to Lidkoeb, on the other side of town. Poor planning on our part. But I will say that Lidkoeb, a three-story bar in Verterbro, was fantastic. I'd recommend bypassing the first two packed floors to the third story, where seats are assigned and they only serve whiskey. We ordered two Whiskey Sours which were so expensive we could only laugh when we got the bill ($27 a pop), but the environment is so special it's worth ordering one and lingering there—just don't say I didn't warn you.
2:00 a.m. Hotdogs in Rådhuspladsen: On our way back home, we did as the Danes do and grabbed hotdogs in Rådhuspladsen, with remoulade and crispy onions. They were everything I could have every wanted after a long day of walking (we clocked 14 miles) and drinking.
8:00 a.m. Rented bikes: One of the only changes I would make to this entire trip is having rented bikes earlier. We usually walk a ton when we travel, so we applied that same strategy to this city. The thing is, Copenhagen is built for bikes, with lanes almost as wide as roads and designated traffic lights for bikes. Take advantage of that! It's fantastic, especially coming from a city like L.A. where bike lanes are often taken as a suggestion by cars. We grabbed our bikes at our hotel, which was also super convenient.
**9:00 a.m. Grabbed pastries and coffee at Andersen & Maillard: These pastries! This coffee shop! I cannot say enough good things about this place—it is almost enough to make me pack my bags and move to Copenhagen. The almond croissant is probably the best I've ever had, and the decor is so chic, yet welcoming. I loved this place.
*10:30 a.m. Walked through Assistens Kirkegård: The 18th century cemetary, Assistens Kirkegård, is home to notable Danes like Hans Christian Andersen. Hop off your bike and walk through the old part of the cemetery, where there are beautifully decrepit headstones.
**12:00 p.m. Walked down Jæggersborgade: Make a point of visiting this small, quaint street which is lined with vintage clothes and home stores, restaurants like Manfred's, a "coffee and sneaker" store, and a "beer and records store." Pro tip: The combined 'hair of the dog' beer at Mikkeller & Friends and chicken congee at Grød also majestically cured my hangover from the wine tasting-whiskey combo the night before. The congee was also so delicious that we bought their porridge-only cookbook on the spot.
2:30 p.m. Biked to and around Fredricksberg Have: Near the Carlsberg brewery (which you should make a stop at if it's your first time in the city), Fredricksberg is home to an enormous beautiful park that includes a zoo and a stunning mansion that looks over a lake. If you have time, pack a picnic and go for a walk around the expansive park.
**3:30 p.m. Visited the Cisternerne museum: This museum is housed in the depths of what was once a city reservoir. As a result, it looks unlike any museum I've visited before—the ground and walls are covered in water and stalactites. When we were there, we saw a site-specific piece 'In Is the Only Way Out' by artist Jeppe Hein that served a metaphor for going through depression—we entered a dark room with a gong and a wall that shot out fire the closer you got to it, which lead to a room of mirrors, and finally a sound bath created by balls hanging from a track on a ceiling hitting metal bowls in their path.
4:30 p.m. Biked by the Black Diamond library to the Design Museum: We cut it a little close to the closing time of the Design Museum, but it was worth popping in quickly to see their dramatic display of chairs and the way they've renovated this 18th century hospital into a mecca of Scandinavian design.
6:00 p.m. Walked around Kastellet: This star fortress in the center of Copenhagen is now a public park, with a beautiful walking path that follows each of the pentagon's points. It's particularly beautiful at sunset, and is right by the Little Mermaid statue (which I don't recommend going to see, despite it being a huge tourist attraction—it's a little out of the way, and is a small bronze statue in a city of many more interesting sites).
**8:00 p.m. Ate dinner at Barr: We didn't make dinner reservations Saturday night, so decided to try to grab a table at Barr, a relatively casual restaurant in noma's old space, right across the walking bridge from Nyhavn in Christianshavn. Though it was packed, we were able to grab a seat at the bar where we ordered the schnitzel (the chef of noma, René Redzepi's, wife wrote it was the best bite she'd taken all year, which was enough of a recommendation for me). While we went on a whim, I'd highly recommend making reservations—it was fantastic, and the beer they brew is delicious.
9:00 p.m. Biked around Christianshavn: It didn't take long for Jonah and me to fall in love with biking. Despite feeling exhausted after our heavy dinner, we went for an hour-long bike ride all over Christianshavn, including a stop in Christiania, a unique commune in the center of Christianshavn where weed and various drugs are somewhat shockingly readily available on their main 'pusher street.' It's safe for tourists, but if you go, be careful to be respectful of the community, and don't take photos.
7:00 a.m. Biked to Andersen & Maillard: Maybe it was the jet-lag or maybe this bakery is just that good, but I woke up on Sunday at 6 a.m. wide-awake and craving the almond croissant from Andersen & Maillard. I headed over pretty much as soon as it opened (luckily, it was one of the few things open on a Sunday morning) and sat with my book, while enjoying an almond croissant and a flat white.
10:00 a.m. Headed to brunch at Café Paludan: We went to this old bookstore/student café mostly out of nostalgia from going there in college, but it's a great spot to grab a quick brunch!
11:00 a.m. Visited the Louisiana Museum: This museum, which has an impressive outdoor sculpture collection is a 35 minute train ride out of the city to a small seaside town, but it's so worth the journey, especially on a beautiful day. Don't miss the indoor exhibits, but make sure to reserve some time to explore the grounds it's on, which is full of surprises (including a slide built into a hillside!).
3:00 p.m. Grabbed tacos at Hija de Sanchez in the Meatpacking District: The taco so nice we ate it twice (with margs this time, at their original location).
6:00 p.m. Met friends for a sour beer tasting at Koelschip: On one of our first nights in Copenhagen, we saw a sign for a sour beer tasting, so we decided to meet some friends—and a reader!—there. They do the tastings every Sunday, and I recommend it if you're in the area.
9:30 p.m. Ate dinner at Manfreds: Because the beer tasting was close to this highly recommended farm-to-table restaurant, we decided to stop in on the off-chance there was a table and found one available for two. We opted for their tasting menu, which was super-reasonably priced compared to other restaurants (around $40 per person) and added their signature dish, beef tartare, onto that, which turned out to be a good call—it was our favorite thing we ate there!
11:00 p.m. Went to 'Jazz Jam' at La Fontaine: At noma, a server (thank you, Caroline!) suggested we go to jazz on Sunday night at La Fontaine. We entered the packed smoky bar (which hosts jazz nights every Saturday until 5 a.m. and on Sundays until 2 a.m.) and found a spot in the back. We stayed for three hours, drinking beers and listening to the musicians.
1:00 a.m. Took a late bike ride around the city: The thing about Copenhagen is that there wasn't a single moment when I felt unsafe, even biking through the city in the middle of the night. We rode all over the city, including straight through Amalienborg, a castle where the Danish royals live, which offered an incredible view of the Opera House, lit up at night across the harbor. I could have continued all night.
The last morning in Copenhagen was all about packing and heading to our 11:00 a.m. flight back home. After a quick breakfast at the hotel with some new friends, we grabbed sandwiches at Sandwich Pigen (which is around the corner from DIS, our study abroad program's headquarters) and took the metro to the airport, which is by far the easiest way to get there if you're coming from the center of the city—we were at our gate within 45 minutes after four full, crazy, incredible days in Copenhagen.
P.S., Looking for more? Here are past recaps of my trips to Vietnam earlier this year, Paris, Vancouver, and even a cattle drive. Here's everything I packed for Copenhagen and the six best trends I saw while I was there, and my tips for saving up for a trip.