Copenhagen was the last stop on our week long Nordic trip. My group purposely scheduled Copenhagen at the end of our Iceland adventure as we wanted a balance from our rustic Icelandic adventures. We did not have anything planned out for Copenhagen besides our dining options, so the weekend was more spontaneous. Copenhagen also has a burgeoning food scene that rivals NYC in quality and innovation with two restaurants currently listed in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. I was in charge of booking the restaurants and I took on the challenge with glee.
We had an early flight from Reykavik to Copenhagen on Iceland Airlines. After an uneventful flight, we easily found a taxi and headed to Hotel Nyhaven located at the end of the picturesque Nyhaven Harbor. When we arrived around 1:00 pm, our rooms were not yet available so we left our luggage with the front desk staff. At this point, we were starving as we had been up since 6 am for our flight. My original plan was to eat lunch at Torvehallerne, a famous gourmet food hall, but it was a 15 to 20 minute taxi ride way from where we wanted to go after lunch and the beautiful harbor beckoned us to stay. We started strolling down the harbor and marveled at the charming cafes and colorful houses flanking each side of the waterway. It was also deceptively cold and windy that day, so we hustled to find a restaurant that would accommodate 6 people at the last minute. Luckily, Union Kitchen was able to seat our group right away. Union Kitchen is a hipster restaurant that has a wicked sense of humor and would fit right in with the Brooklyn crowd. Thank goodness brunch was as tasty as the cozy ambiance. My favorite moment was when I received my cappuccino with the word “Fuck It” on it…this is now my Monday morning motto.
After lunch, we only had enough time to come back to the hotel to check into our rooms and quickly walked to Christianborg Palace before it closed. I had asked the hotel receptionist what two places we should visit while we were here and she had recommended Christianborg. The palace is where the Parliament, Supreme Court and Ministry of State currently resides in additional to being the official place for the Queen’s state duties. For the ticket price of 150.00 DKK (approximately $22), we visited the ruins, the royal kitchen and the royal stables. Unfortunately, the royal reception room was not available to the public that day. The royal stables contains the gorgeous white horses and carriages still used for all the official ceremonies. The royal kitchen is similar to most kitchens in castles that I have visited in Europe, so it was not particularly unique. The ruins were well curated showcasing the history of the rise and fall of the many iterations of the castle since 1167. The whole visit took approximately 90 minutes at a very leisurely pace.
For dinner that night, we made a reservation at Radio where the head chef is Jesper, the former sous-chef at Noma, head chef at Restaurant MR and most recently assisting head chef at Geranium. I opted for the 5 course tasting menu for 435KK (approximately $65) that had very sparse descriptions and a few ingredients I needed to google. For example, the courses on the tasting menu were as follow:
- Scallops, kohlrabi, verbena
- Salmon, whey, pistachio
- Celeriac, hay cheese, sesame
- Pork, onions, more onions
- Carrots, dill, seeds
The dishes were innovative and well-executed. The most memorable dish for me was the dessert made of carrots, dill and seeds. Reading the description on the menu, I had assumed it was another vegetable dish, but it ended being an ice cream and caramelized carrot concoction. It felt like I was being cat fished but with a positive spin. The only regret I had at Radio was not trying their alcohol free drinks pairing menu to go with the five course meal. My friend had it on her previous visit and could not stop raving about it. The restaurant décor was inviting and we lingered at the restaurant for over 2 hours sipping wine and sharing stories.
On day 2, we woke up to a dreary, cold and damp spring day. The main attraction for us on day 2 was our reservation at noon for a gastro experience at Geranium. That only left us with 1.5 hours to explore Copenhagen before lunch. We decided on a visit to Rosenborg Castle, which houses Denmark’s crown jewels, well-preserved tapestries and interiors furnishings that span over 400 years. There was already a queue for tickets when we arrived 15 minutes prior to opening time. The ticket price was 110kr (approximately $16) per person. If you have a hand bag bigger than a very small purse, you will need to place it in a locker with a 20 kroner coin that you can get at the ticket desk.
I started exploring the treasury in the basement of the castle where the crown jewels are stored. Even though the jewels are not as large in scale as the famous British collection, it is still a very solid exhibit that took me 20 minutes to view thoroughly. I really liked the small intimate setting as I was not overwhelmed by the abundance of the treasures. My favorite item was Christian IV’s intricate and neck breaking crown made of gold, enamel, table-cut stones and pearls. I can’t imagine having to wear that crown on top of their extraordinary ornate and heavy wardrobes.
I then rushed to the ground floor of the castle to start my tour. Surprisingly, the tapestries, furnishing and interior decors were well preserved and organized. Maps are given out to all visitors and the whole castle can be viewed in one hour. The only negative that I can cite was the lack of description for all the artifacts. The website has in-depth information available on the rooms and key pieces but not at the actual castle. I would have welcomed an option for an audio guide to enhance the experience. Otherwise, the décor becomes just that without the historical context to support its importance in this castle. The throne room was filled with tapestries, which caught my attention more so than the thrones and the lions flanking them. Overall, it was a nice visit to take in Danish royal history in a short period of time.
Nearing noon, my group took a cab to Geranium for our over the top tasting menu representative of their 3 Michelin stars award and ranks one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. (Look out for our in-depth post on the experience coming soon.) The creativity, taste and service is unparalleled and worth the 2,000DKK per person (approximately $300 without drinks, tip and tax). My friend, who had been to Geranium, recommended going for lunch instead of dinner as the meal took 4 hours and the earlier time allowed for us to digest afterward.
After a long luxurious lunch, we took a cab to the Little Mermaid statue which to be fair, is not worth visiting except for the fact that it was on our way home. The small famous statue (or tourist trap) is flanked by visitors jostling for a photo opportunity. I was one of those jostlers for my 5 second photo op with the famous girl. Directly across the statue is one of the best preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe called the Citadel. Today it is a public park and has two museums and other historical monuments. The view from the Citadel’s wall affords a sweeping vista of old Copenhagen and the harbor. There were numerous families strolling around the Citadel making it a pleasant time to people watch as well. If I had more patience, this would also be a great spot for those Instagram-worthy travel shots…too bad I’m a terrible and unnatural model.
After realizing that I had only 1 hour left before all the shops closed at 6pm, I rushed to Stoget, the city center, to do some last minute shopping. I was able to stop by Flying Tiger Copenhagen, the Danish version of IKEA for household goods. There is a smaller Flying Tiger on the upper east side of Manhattan, but this is like going on pilgrimage to the motherland and you just have to go. I arrived at the 2 story mecca and ended up with items I do not even know why I bought, but I’m sure it’ll all be useful one day. In my haste to make it to another store, I was sidetracked by the pretty window display and my bladder at Illums Bolighus, a high-end department store with effortless style and chic sensibility. I only had 20 minutes to peruse the 2 story department store and was able to buy a very expensive handmade elephant paper mobile for my niece as a last minute gift. I could have spent hours in this department store with gorgeous contemporary Danish furniture and decor. However, they literally turned the lights off on me at 6pm sharp. I found myself in the dark on the second floor and wondered if I would be locked inside here and ended up in newspaper headline, “American went missing in a dept store”. Luckily there was someone to literally shoo me down the stairs to the exit as the lights dramatically went out. They take closing time very seriously here.
I had an hour before meeting up with my friends for dinner at Spontan, a trendy eatery by the youngest Michelin-starred head chef in Copenhagen. The restaurant also shares an open space with Brus, a new brewpub. Despite my weary feet, I walked 30 minutes from Stoget to Spontan and entered a venue filled with tall pretty people, literally dwarfing my 5 foot frame. The restaurant is mostly filled with locals meeting up with friends or on dates, so it is a perfect place to unwind and people watch. The restaurant has a playful take on gourmet food that complements the overwhelming beer choices. The beer list is literally a book. Some of the dishes were hit or miss for me, but overall it was a relaxing gourmet experience and a great way to end our short weekend in Copenhagen.
If you are a foodie, Copenhagen is a must. The vibrant Nordic city is definitely on my revisit list just to satisfy my gluttony for innovative and satisfying food.
Author: Chau Hoang
Featured Photo: Gleb Chuvpilo