A combination of paint-palette merchant houses that decorate the waterfront, Scandi-cool cafes lit by candlelight and the storybook surrounds of Tivoli Gardens have all played their part in building Copenhagen’s reputation as the coolest Nordic capital around. Baltic itineraries are punctuated with whistle-stop tours to the home of Hans Christian Andersen, and cruisers are encouraged not to miss the city’s main attraction, the Little Mermaid, who perches by the waterside at the Langelinie promenade and is far smaller in real life than you would imagine.
It would take a brave soul to suggest that the loyalties of Copenhagen’s visitors have changed recently. Could it really be that a host of fiery chefs, commanding immaculate kitchens in pristine whites, have begun to leave the 100-year-old twin-tailed temptress in their wake? Today it seems, people are following their stomachs and visiting Copenhagen for something other than a statue.
The Michelin Stars
If there is a single restaurant responsible for leading the charge for Copenhagen’s foodie scene, it is Noma. Proud owner of three Michelin stars and four-time winner of Best Restaurant in the World, a title voted for by 900 industry professionals and considered the industry’s highest accolade, Noma has become one of the world’s most eminent eateries. Unfortunately, with such success comes the inevitable waiting list, and even the most notable food critics have resigned themselves to the fact that getting a table here is highly improbable. Guide Michelin Nordic Cities 2022 awarded a total of 24 stars to 15 restaurants in Copenhagen, so there’s no shortage of fine dining to choose from.
Like Noma, Geranium also holds three Michelin stars and is run by Rasmus Kofoed; winner of the Bocuse d’Or world cooking championships in 2011 and the only chef in history to scoop gold, silver and bronze in a competition considered to offer the last word in culinary creativity. Geranium overlooks Copenhagen’s Fælledparken and whilst the typically Scandinavian interiors are stark compared to the greenery outside, the food is anything but. The white walls and clean lines of the dining room may not trigger your emotions but the tasting menu promises to play to all your senses. Tuck into the Winter Universe Menu, before accepting an invitation to join Chef Rasmus in the kitchen, where you’ll have a chance to get up close and personal with those three glittering Bocuse d’Or statuettes before dessert. Leading the charge of two-star restaurants is AOC, a popular choice with those enjoying an overnight stay in the city, thanks to a menu that focuses on sight, smell, sound and taste to create what chef Søren Selin describes as a ‘sensory evening’. The atmospheric restaurant seats just 50 people per service and the vaulted 17th-century cellar setting simply adds to the experience. Alchemist, Jordnær, Kong Hans Kælder forge the rest of the two-Michelin star brigade.
The Street Food
Copenhagen may be at the heart of the Danish food scene but that doesn’t mean every meal here has to cost a pretty penny. Scandinavians do street food almost as well as they do flat pack furniture and there are two stand-out gathering grounds for foodies on a budget.
Like its New York namesake, the Meatpacking District was once brimming with butchers shops. Arrive early morning and you’ll notice that the stain-smeared butchers are still well-represented here, but stick around until lunchtime and you’ll see the 1930s warehouses come alive in a haze of neon signs and festoon lights; the restaurants, bars and art galleries are open for business.
Kødbyen – Nordic for ‘meat city’ – is located in the Vesterbro neighbourhood, just a few minutes from Copenhagen’s Central Station. Locals and visitors alike flock here on a Saturday and Sunday, lured by 70 stalls offering food from around the world, indigenous wines, craft beers and art galleries exhibiting work by some of Copenhagen’s coolest names.
One of the Meatpacking District’s most renowned residents is Kødbyens Fiskebar. Unsurprisingly, given that the restaurant was founded by Noma alumni, the simple seafood dishes on offer here have earned it a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand, an accolade recognising exceptional food at moderate prices (under £28 for three courses). Order lots of small plates rather than one meal and don’t miss the razor clams, served in rice paper ‘shells’. BioMio also attracts rave reviews, thanks to its status as one of just two 100% organic ‘green eateries’ in Copenhagen, and the restaurant is instantly identifiable by the huge BOSCH sign that still shines bright from a time well before the former electricals warehouse became a hip hotspot.
The second star of Copenhagen’s street food scene is located on Paper Island; its position on the Copenhagen harbour offering views of the Opera House and the Royal Playhouse is especially impressive when darkness descends. Sit outside under the sun in the summer or cosy up beside the open fireplace in winter, chowing down on food from around the world; 38 stalls sell everything from Korean BBQ, Brazilian meat feast, Cuban cuisine, Turkish meze and, of course, Danish open sandwiches on traditional rye bread. The Spoon Company, offering anything and everything you can eat with a spoon, is up there with our favourites.
The Danish word ‘hygge’ roughly translates as ‘cosiness’, but there’s more to the concept than that. Scandinavians are big on feeling comfortable and content, with the best weapon against the cold widely regarded as being a roaring log fire, with scented candles and friends or family sat at the same table. We can certainly see their thinking; with such long, dark winters you need something to see you through until spring.
Embracing ‘hygge’ is easy in Copenhagen and there is nowhere as nostalgic as the waffle and honey roasted cashew scented Tivoli Gardens. Founded in 1843, Tivoli Gardens is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. In summer, multi-coloured fairy and festoon lights are strung in the sky above picnicking friends. Come winter, Tivoli Gardens encapsulates the concept of hygge, with the smell of warm seasonal foods and spicy mulled wine lingering between wooden huts, where groups gather in swathes of blankets to tuck into their festive fayre. Enjoy your own hygge experience at the Andersen Bakery, where baker Shunsuke Takaki has crafted traditional Danish pastries for over 50 years. Equally, hyggeligt is the 131-year old Grøften Restaurant. Take a seat in Granny’s Garden, where you’ll dine in the colourful glow of fairy lights and hot air balloon lanterns. Alternatively, raise a glass at the Færgekroen Bryghus, a lakeside restaurant and brewhouse where traditional Danish dishes are served with home-brewed beer, sing-along songs and a hefty side of hygge.
Copenhagen is famous for cafes and coffee shops that look more like your Nan’s living room, thanks to an array of leather armchairs, cosy velvet sofas, chintzy floor lamps and bare brick walls covered in antique mirrors. All roads lead to relaxation at The Living Room in downtown Copenhagen, where you can almost feel the sense of contentment wash over you as you descend the stairs to the cosy basement, cake in one hand and coffee in the other. Equally inviting is Next Door Café, located in København at the centre of the city. Thanks to its kitsch interiors, welcoming staff and homemade food (go for the blueberry pancakes!), this spot is as popular with locals grabbing breakfast, as it is with tourists who stumble upon it and leave with a smile on their face and a spring in their step.
You’ll wear the same smile on your face as you return to your ship, your appetite appeased by a combination of artisanal eats and critically-acclaimed cuisine. It has to be said that with Copenhagen at its heart, there is little wonder why Denmark is so often awarded the title of the ‘World’s Happiest Country’. After all, who isn’t happy when they’re eating?