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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
The Lakes in Copenhagen.
The Lakes in Copenhagen.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Copenhagen

The Lakes in Copenhagen.
The Lakes in Copenhagen.
  • By Lisa Abend
  • Photos by Ulf Svane
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When Copenhagen’s urban planners realized that cyclists coming over the bridge from Norrebro were riding over the sidewalk to turn down a one-way street, they didn’t post police to stop them from making the illegal crossing; they installed a new bike lane to make it easier for the cyclists. It’s that kind of attention that makes the Danish capital the most livable of cities.

With ample green spaces, an inner-city harbor clean enough that anyone can — and does — swim in it, and laws that require all housing to be within 500 meters of public transportation, the municipal government takes its citizens’ well-being seriously. But so, it seems, does everyone else: Cafes brighten the long winter nights with candlelight; the summer is full of outdoor dance classes, movie screenings, and music festivals; and bars and cinemas hold “baby and me” happy hours, during which parents park their prams — and their infants, that’s how trusting everyone is — outside. And as Copenhagen consolidates its leadership in fields like cuisine, design and sustainability, it’s also becoming a more diverse and interesting place.

Meet Lisa Abend

Lisa has lived in Copenhagen since 2014 but still regularly gets asked by mystified Danes why she ever left her previous home in Madrid. The answer is complicated, but includes the thriving food scene, the extraordinarily high quality of life and a personal affinity for real weather.

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Email bytheway@washpost.com
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IN THE ACTION
Vesterbro
Once considered seedy, Vesterbro is now Copenhagen’s hottest neighborhood. The prostitutes and kebab stands are still there, but they share space these days with indie design shops, artisanal taquerias, cutting-edge galleries and — from craft breweries to intimate cocktail bars to respected music venues — the city’s best nightlife. Find the neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Carlsberg Byen
New neighborhoods are popping up around Copenhagen, but none are as historically and architecturally distinctive as Carlsberg Byen. Formerly the brewery grounds of Carlsberg Beer, this new residential area has maintained the striking 19th-century buildings but turned the upper floors into sought-after apartments. The lower ones are now very trendy restaurants, bars and a very exclusive art gallery. Find the neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Juno The Bakery
The project of Emil Glaser — a former chef at Noma and Amass — Juno opened in 2018, a few months before Hart, and quickly began attracting crowds. Its sourdough loaves, made from a blend of Danish and Swedish flours, are visually striking (topped with pumpkin seeds, or in the case of the Morning Bread, shaped in a rectangular mold that makes it perfect for sandwiches). And its seasonal cakes — from a very French pistachio frangipane tart to a fluffy Swedish semla, filled with fresh raspberries and cream — are swoon-inducing.
BTW: Juno is one of the few bakeries in town to offer seating, so grab a seat on its leafy outdoor terrace.
Juno, Arhusgade 48, Copenhagen, Denmark
BREAKFAST
Benji
Perhaps no other bakery in the city embodies the “labor of love” ethos more than Benji. It’s owned by Rasmus Kristensen and lovingly named for his son. You’ll find him behind the counter, baking all the loaves, making all the pastries — including a vanilla-filled spandauer — and dusting the flour off their hands to man the counter every time a customer comes in.
BTW: The bakery is only open Wednesday through Sunday, so plan accordingly.
Benji, Fælledvej 23, 2200 Kobenhavn N, Denmark
LUNCH
Poulette
When it opened during the pandemic, Poulette was the fast-food joint Copenhagen didn’t know it needed, offering juicy fried chicken and tofu sandwiches so spicy they seemed sure to ward off any illness. This is still a to-go joint, but now those sandwiches can be enjoyed next door on the terrace of Pompette, the natural wine bar with the same owners.
BTW: Pair with your chicken sandwich with a glass of Kuma-chan, an orange wine named after a co-owner’s dog.
Poulette, Mollegade 1, 2200 Kobenhavn, Denmark
LUNCH
Selma
Smorrebrod — the open-faced sandwiches that are Denmark’s greatest culinary contribution — is as much a ritual as it is a dish. There’s no shortage of classic places famous for their huge menus and vast collection of schnapps. But for a more modern and seasonal take on the possibilities of bread, butter and toppings, there’s no place better than Selma. Here, the herring gets pickled in black currant vinegar; the beef tartar is studded with sea lettuce and wood sorrel; and even an old standby like boiled potatoes gets crunch from a sprinkle of hazelnuts and crispy chicken skin.
BTW: Don’t miss the homemade schnapps, in all their unlikely flavors: beetroot and horseradish; rye bread; and brown butter.
Selma, Romersgade 20, 1362 Kobenhavn, Denmark
DINNER
Silberbauers
Chef Mathias Silberbauer’s bistro is one of the great pandemic-era additions to Copenhagen’s dining scene. The restaurant is always packed, and its conviviality is evident as soon as you walk through the door. The daily menu is hand-scrawled on a blackboard that gets passed from table to table. But it usually starts with steamed and chilled blue mussels, which are simply cooked and topped with small dollops of an addictive aioli. Other dishes maintain the simple ethos, from the grilled langoustines, through the pan-fried turbot and the luscious lemon tart.
BTW: Silberbauer recently opened a tiny pintxo bar, Contento. Its hours are erratic, so check its Instagram account to find out when it’s open.
Silderbauers, Jægersborggade 40, 2200 Kobenhavn, Denmark
DINNER
Surt
The title for Copenhagen’s best pizza is hotly contested, but Surt is always high among the contenders. In a spacious corner of Carlsberg Byen, it was opened in 2019 by Giuseppe Oliva, a Sicilian sailor who comes from a long line of bakers, and who has something of an obsession with sourdough. In addition to being perfectly blistered, the crusts on his pizzas are nicely tart, and form the ideal base for the deeply savory Rianata, with anchovies and red onions, or a more delicate, seasonal asparagus and goat cheese pie. Starters, such as the handcut beef tartare with hazelnuts and parmesan are always a good idea, as is a bottle from the strong list of Sicilian wines.
BTW: At lunch, Surt serves a small, especially sour sourdough pie baked over charcoal.
Surt, Bag Elefanterne 2, 1799 Kobenhavn, Denmark
LATE-NIGHT
Bird
The once quiet Gammel Kongevej street has gotten a lot cooler lately, in part because of the addition of this vinyls-and-cocktails bar. Where many of the city’s other cocktail bars opt for vaguely Edwardian decor, Bird’s feel is warm and neighborly. The cocktails are innovative highballs made from intriguing spirits (a Sazerac with maple and Aztec cocoa bitters, or an Aviation flavored with violet liquor and grapefruit) while the records are more eclectic, with different DJs selecting favorites that range from Detroit techno to jazz and Latin.
BTW: Bird is intimate enough — and some of its DJs popular — that booking ahead is always a good idea.
Bird, Gl. Kongevej 102, 1850 Frederiksberg, Denmark
LATE-NIGHT
Balderdash
Tucked into a 17th-century building in the city center, this cozy bar has a speakeasy’s clandestine feel. There’s nothing traditional about the cocktails, though, which include a potato chip-and-chocolate martini and a “Hot Chicken” Old-Fashioned, made with a bourbon fat washed with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). The occasional theme night — like tiki nights, with tropical drinks served in flaming skull mugs, and ice cream “socials,” where the boozy libations double as desserts — give the innovative bartenders a chance to show off.
BTW: For a reliably great conversation, chat up Balderdash’s American owner, Geoffrey Canilao.
Balderdash, 1151 k, Valkendorfsgade 11, 1151 Copenhagen, Denmark
(Copenhagen illustrator Andreas Hansen for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. The only people who use those electric scooters now crowding the bike lanes and sidewalks are tourists and teenage boys. Everyone else thinks they’re lazy and silly at best, a menace at worst.
  2. That said, if you’re going to ride a bike (and you should), please learn the proper hand signals and use them. And support local businesses by renting from a neighborhood shop.
  3. Smorrebrod is for lunch only.
(Copenhagen illustrator Andreas Hansen for The Washington Post)

Do

Bike to Dyrehaven
Cycling is, of course, the best way to get around the city, but it also allows you to explore a little farther afield. A 10-mile ride up the coast to Dyrehaven will take you past the stately mansions of Hellerup, the swimming docks and beach at Bellevue, and an Arne Jacobsen-designed gas station that also functions as an ice cream parlor. And Dyrehaven itself makes an excellent destination: The former royal hunting grounds is today a sprawling reserve punctuated with forests, fields and a herd of wild deer. At its edge sits the charming Bakken, Europe’s oldest amusement park still in operation.
BTW: Copenhagen has both a public city bike program and a ton of start-up bike-sharing ones. But it’s almost always cheaper to rent from a local bike shop.
Dyrehaven, 2930 Klampenborg, Denmark
GoBoat
After a gawk at the “Little Mermaid” statue, an organized canal tour is probably the most touristy thing you can do in Copenhagen. Real Copenhageners like to float around the harbor as much as anyone; they just prefer to do it themselves. These solar-cell-powered motorboats can be rented by the hour, seat up to eight, and come equipped with a picnic table perfect for propping up those bottles of rosé. The boats are easy to steer, but the on-site crew offers instruction just in case.
BTW: Should you run out of wine mid-tour, you can sail right up to the dock at La Banchina, on the south side of the harbor, and restock.
Islands Brygge 10, 2300 Copenhagen, Denmark
Frederiksberg Gardens
Copenhagen has no shortage of green spaces where locals stroll regardless of the weather and strip down to their underwear to tan at the first sign of sun. Frederiksberg Have, on the northwestern edge of the city, is an especially lovely spot, marked by a canal that winds past hyacinth-carpeted, pagoda-style structures, and a hilltop castle. In addition to the normal park birds — ducks, geese, swans — it’s home to a flock of prehistoric-looking herons.
BTW: The park backs onto the Copenhagen Zoo, and from its western edge, you can get a direct view onto the elephant and flamingo enclosures.
Frederiksberg Gardens, Frederiksberg Runddel, Frederiksberg, Denmark
Torvehallerne
From the moment it opened in 2011, this indoor/outdoor market has functioned as the beating heart of much of the city’s social life. Many of the stalls sell prepared food of much higher quality than the other street-food markets around town (Ma Poule’s pulled duck sandwiches; Hahnemann Kokken’s salads, and Hija de Sánchez’s tacos are all among the best in the city), so it’s the perfect place for a relaxed lunch or drinks and snacks after work. But as the city’s sole produce market, it’s also a great place to pick up a basket of exquisite Danish strawberries (Rokkedysse), gorgeous bouquets (Stalks and Roots) and fresh pasta (Il Mattarello).
BTW: Most of the stalls don’t open until 10 a.m., but you can get one of Coffee Collective’s stellar cappuccinos (or any other coffee) at 8 a.m.
Torvehallerne, Frederiksborggade 21, 1362 Copenhagen, Denmark
DR Koncerthuset
Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and inaugurated in 2009, this concert hall manages to be both visually stunning — the terraced rows that rise from the central stage beneath warm, golden lighting seem more like sculpture than seating — and acoustically exquisite, which is why Gramophone magazine named it one of the top 10 auditoriums of the new millennium. The combination could make a middle-school chorus rehearsal sound (and look) good, but luckily the Koncerthuset pulls in far more interesting musicians, from intimate performers like Jason Isbell and Nick Cave to grand philharmonic orchestras.
BTW: Under a plan called U30, the hall offers a 50 percent discount to the house orchestra and chorus performances for anyone under 30.
DR Koncerthuset, Orestads Blvd. 13, 2300 Copenhagen, Denmark
Hay House
One of the few places on Copenhagen’s main shopping street that’s actually worth visiting, Hay is a wonderland of Danish design. Two sunny floors of an old apartment building are stocked with sleek-lined chairs, discreet lamps and crisply striped bed linens. But a perennial favorite — especially for those looking for easily portable gifts — is the area to the right of the cashier, where the shelves are lined with all sorts of artful small objects, such as tongue-in-cheek toys, blocky staplers and patterned notebooks.
BTW: Hay’s bright geometric trays make a recognizably Danish gift.
Hay House, Ostergade 61, 1100 Copenhagen, Denmark
Lisa Abend
Lisa has lived in Copenhagen since 2014 but still regularly gets asked by mystified Danes why she ever left her previous home in Madrid. The answer is complicated, but includes the thriving food scene, the extraordinarily high quality of life and a personal affinity for real weather.
Ulf Svane
Ulf is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post. Born and raised in Copenhagen, Ulf is a firsthand witness to its transformation from a relatively poor part of Northern Europe to a booming gastronomical mecca. He loves South Harbor (a.k.a. Sydhavnen), which he thinks people should visit to see the city’s traditions — houseboats and cafes serving smorrebrod, to name a few — before it’s too late.

CITY GUIDES