Copenhagen Travel Guide: How To Do The Danish City In 3 Days
Copenhagen’s having a moment. Over the last few years, Denmark’s capital has gone from understated European city to must-visit travel destination closely on par with its London and Paris neighbors. And it’s not hard to see why. Known for its impeccable design sense, vibrant food scene (thanks in large part to Noma), enviable street style, and hygge (which, if you don’t know, is a uniquely Danish concept that best translates to coziness), Copenhagen has a lot to be desired. Not to mention it’s often touted as the happiest city in the world. Suffice to say, I’d been itching to go. So, when I found myself attending a late August wedding in France, I immediately booked a three-night stay in Copenhagen to round out the end of my travel.
Ruby Redstone, a fashion historian who recently attended Copenhagen Fashion Week in August 2022 sums it up best: “I love Copenhagen because it’s such an easy place to be inspired. The street style is unparalleled, the food is wonderful, and you’d be hard-pressed not to love the interiors.” While I was initially worried that three days wouldn’t give me enough time to explore all that the city has to offer, I found it was actually a perfect introduction (although, trust me, you’ll want to extend if you have the chance). Of course, in order to maximize my 72 hours there, I made sure to get recommendations on what to see and where to shop and eat from those in the know beforehand.
Heads-up: While you can totally see the city at a leisurely pace, I tend to pack a lot in when I travel, and this trip was no different. Before I dive right in, there are a few things you should consider prior to booking your ticket. Firstly, it’s mostly common knowledge, but the preferred mode of transportation in Copenhagen is biking. Literally, everyone was on a bike. I would recommend either renting bikes or being prepared to walk almost everywhere (which is what we did and it was doable, but let me tell you, those step counts were high). The train is also a great option as Uber isn’t in Copenhagen and taxis are expensive.
That being said, it’s important to make sure that wherever you’re staying is close to the center of town, where most of the best shopping and dining is (Copenhagen isn’t a big city, but it’s not small, either). We stayed at the incredibly chic Hotel Sanders in Gammelholm, which was recommended by everyone I spoke to the mere moment I mentioned I was going. It’s both a stone’s throw away from Nyhavn, the candy-colored 17th-century port that populates most Google and Pinterest searches of the city, and was in close walking proximity to almost everything I wanted to do (Fun perk: The bathrooms have heated floors). However, Airbnb boasts a bevy of lovely options as well.
Our first full day in Copenhagen was devoted entirely to shopping, although given the city’s walkability we were able to stop in to several stores throughout the day. For recommendations I turned to Redstone and Daisy Hoppen, founder of London based DH-PR, which counts the likes of Ganni, Re/Done, and Simone Rocha as clients. As far as contemporary clothing goes, both touted Holly Golightly as a nonnegotiable. Featuring Danish brands and upscale designers like Dries Van Noten alongside their own whimsical line and vintage pieces, Holly Golightly “kind of defies definition,” says Redstone. Not only is their clothing selection something to behold, but the store’s interior design is a feast for the eyes as well, boasting an eclectic mix of brightly colored tile and the coolest light fixtures and antiques. I went home with a pair of menswear-inspired, linen trousers by Danish brand AF Agger, with which I know I’ll be very happy.
If vintage is what you’re after, then you’ve got to check out Jerome Vintage. Located in the heart of the main shopping district, Jerome is a one-stop-shop for expertly curated designer pieces in a bright and airy space. I was especially tempted by a perfectly tailored Gianfranco Ferre blazer. Just a few blocks away, you’ll find one of four locations for Pico, a jewelry and accessories shop which Redstone described as being “like a candy store for hair accessories!” To my delight I arrived to find velvet headbands galore and glass cases with rows upon rows of diamante barrettes and claw clips in a rainbow of colors. Some of the clips even had cute little cherry and apple designs on them, the latter of which I got in a marbled baby pink.
For “all things Danish homeware,” Redstone recommends Stillebene. While the packed store offers everything from colorful glassware to framed artist prints, I have one word for you: Tekla. I had never seen such an assortment of the Copenhagen-based textile brand before. From their signature classic pajama sets to bath towels to impossibly soft linen bedding, if you’ve ever wanted a piece of the Tekla pie, Stillebene is the place to go.
Some of my own recommendations: For original midcentury Danish furniture, Dansk Mobelkunst Gallery is excellent. And Frama, oh, Frama. Located not far from Holly Golightly in the Nyhord district, the multidisciplinary design studio boasts minimal furniture, a selection of home goods, and an apothecary, all housed within a magnificent, turn-of-the-20th-century-era pharmacy. It’s also home to Apotek 57, a beautiful seasonal cafe offering fresh pastries and delicious iced oat matcha lattes. Once you’ve gotten your caffeine fix, head on over to Studio X. The concept store, which has multiple locations within about a block radius, has a clothing and furniture showroom, a kitchen outpost (I’m still swooning over a set of polyethylene and marble cutting boards), and a restaurant I was told serves a wonderful breakfast and lunch.
“Food somehow tastes better in Copenhagen,” my friend and former head buyer of Dover Street New York, Marissa Jartcky, told me just after returning from her own trip, and I couldn’t agree more. In this respect, I largely relied on Lauren Dru, founder of the luxury travel agency Escapades. After seeing her extensive and expertly vetted restaurant list, I knew I was in good hands.
Hot off the plane, we were starving, but at 3 p.m. most places were no longer serving food (something to note). So, we decided to seek out Hija de Sanchez’s summer taco stand at the Torvehallerne market (their permanent location is in Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District), a bustling indoor/outdoor food hall with a farmer’s market. Started by Noma alum, Rosio Sanchez, Hija de Sanchez “serves up quality tacos made from corn imported from Mexico and other high-quality local ingredients,” says Dru. The pork and potato tacos I got were the perfect snack before our 18-course tasting menu dinner at Michelin-starred Kadeau that evening.
From start to finish, our experience at Kadeau was perfection. Housed on a residential street, the minimal space adorned with dried flowers and herbs is meant to make you feel like you’re dining in chef Nicolai Norregaard’s own home. The menu is a love letter to the island of Bornholm, where Norregaard is from, showcasing creatively plated seafood and other local ingredients. The restaurant grows all of its own herbs, vegetables, fruits, and berries. While the menu changes seasonally, the standout dish for me was the sweet shrimp with caviar and walnut leaf.
All of my sources unanimously recommended chef Frederick Bille Brahe’s laid-back Atelier September and Apollo Bar for breakfast or lunch. Featuring favorites like avocado toast on thin rye bread, pancakes with wild blueberries and cream, and a traditional Nordic breakfast of soft-boiled eggs, cheese, and thick, crusty bread, Brahe’s restaurants are a testament to the pleasures of simple yet elegant food. Situated within Kunsthal Charlottenborg’s exhibition space, and featuring natural wines and a courtyard, Apollo Bar turns up at night as well. “I’ve had two of the most memorable nights of my travel life thus far there, which feels like a resounding endorsement if ever there were one,” Redstone says.
We also made sure to try Popl, the tasty burger joint from a handful of Noma veterans. We were lucky that the weather was beautiful during our stay, so we ended up getting our burgers to go and sat at the picnic tables on the water watching the boats go by. Hoppen had told me, “If the sun is out, pack a swimsuit and head to La Banchina for a glass of natural wine and a swim,” and while we weren’t able to make it there for this trip, the farm-to-table restaurant is one I was sad to miss.
For dinner, I had heard about several standout Asian restaurants in Copenhagen, so we decided to try Juju for some family-style Korean food. The sister restaurant to the now-closed Koan, we loved Juju’s expertly prepared dishes in a hip setting. However, the grilled mackerel at Barr Restaurant, where we dined on our final night, was one of our favorite meals of the trip. “From the team behind Noma and located within Noma’s stunning former digs, Barr is a more casual concept serving classic, comfort Danish food along with an array of craft beers,” Dru explains, and in my opinion, it’s not to be missed.
Of course, it’s not really a trip to Copenhagen if you don’t try one of the cardamom buns from Juno Bakery. Located in Osterbro, which was a bit of a trek from our hotel, the soft, pillowy pastries are what dreams are made of and were well worth the journey. And if you’re looking for a seriously great cocktail in sophisticated digs, be sure to check out Tata Bar at Hotel Sanders. It was named the best bar in Denmark two years in a row (I recommend the strawberry margarita).
Our last day was dedicated to seeing Copenhagen’s cultural offerings. While it’s a half-hour car ride and hour-long train ride outside of the city, if there’s one museum you absolutely must visit, it’s The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. “I was not prepared for how amazing it would be,” Jartcky says. “The collection and the grounds are truly special. You can make it into a whole afternoon. … It’s situated right near the water and you can just sit outside on the lawn for hours.”
Founded in 1958, the museum was originally intended to showcase only modern Danish art. Today, it’s an international museum housing many notable works, from Picasso to Kusama. While the collection would be enough in itself, it’s the design and surrounding grounds that push The Louisiana into the spectacular. I can without a doubt say that it’s one of the most beautiful museums I have ever been to. Designed to fit in seamlessly within the landscape, it’s a shining example of Danish modern architecture. When you’re finished experiencing the indoor collection, be sure to explore the surrounding sculpture garden and take in the views of the sound. In the summer you can even bring bathing suits and swim. If you thought it couldn’t get any better, the cafe is also very good and a nice place to have lunch.
From The Louisiana, we took a short train ride to Grundtvig’s Church in the Bispebjerg district, which is a site I’d had on my own list. However, if you choose to do both The Louisiana and Grundtvig’s Church in the same afternoon like we did, I’d advise that you consider renting a car for the day as it was confusing navigating the bus back to our hotel (we ended up asking a kind shopkeeper to call us a cab). The notable gothic cathedral, which has been featured in Architectural Digest, was originally entrusted to architect Peder Vilhem Jensen Klint in 1913. Klint died before its completion, resulting in the construction being turned over to his son, Kaare Klint, who completed the project in 1940. The standout feature of Grundtvig’s Church (which was named for the Danish priest and scholar N.F.S. Grundtvig) is Jensen-Klint’s choice to construct it entirely out of yellow-gold brick. It took 5 million to erect the towering structure and the result is truly breathtaking. One note: If you go on the weekend be aware that the church still holds services and events, so you might have to kill an hour or two before it’s open to the public. If you’re looking for some attractions that are a bit more central, Hoppen names the Thorvaldsens and Glyptotek museums as favorites, and Redstone likes to visit Frederik’s Church for a typical example of Scandinavian religious architecture.