Bike and Eat and Bike and Eat: What to do in Copenhagen

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View from our Airbnb apartment building in Vesterbro

Somewhere during the honeymoon-planning process, a seed was planted to visit Copenhagen for a short visit before heading to Croatia. Maybe it was the Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown episode on what was then the “best restaurant in the world,” NOMA. Or maybe it was the cheap flight from BWI through the new Icelandic budget airline WOW Air. Either way, we decided to spend the first three days of our honeymoon in the city which has become known as a gourmand’s paradise and, of course, biking. And boy did we squeeze every last second out of the three days. It was perfect for an intro.

So, let’s start with the biking…

BIKING IN COPENHAGEN

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These are but a handful of the bikes stacked on bikes at the Copenhagen train station

Having lived in Baltimore the last few years, I’ve naturally become a bit skittish about urban biking (Bmore is not known to be friendly to the motor-less two-wheeled forms of transportation). Before leaving DC, I had started biking more in the city, but even in places like Portland (where I’m going to have to become used to it), I’m a nervous city biker. So, I would’ve been just fine walking or taking public transportation around Copenhagen. That, my friends, wasn’t necessary because biking in Copenhagen is amazing.

It’s amazing for a few reasons. First, the whole damn city is designed for biking. What even the most bikable cities in the U.S. and elsewhere get wrong is that they put the bikes in the wrong place. They put them on the driver’s side of parked cars. In Copenhagen, the bike tracks exist on the passenger side. Additionally, the bike tracks are separated by a curb from both the street and the walking path so you don’t risk running into walkers or getting blocked/close-lined by a car door. Also, while in the U.S., I’d avoid the busier streets to bike on, the busy streets are the best places to bike in Copenhagen because they are organized, they have lights, and you’re completely separated from the traffic.

In the end, though, biking wasn’t just great it was the easiest and fastest way to get from point A to point B. That’s why Danes do it and that’s ultimately why we did it.

When you’re looking for a place (Airbnb highly recommended) in Copenhagen, I highly recommend finding a rental that includes bikes. We stayed in the hipster Vesterbro neighborhood and rented bikes from Københavns Cykelbørs (at least, I think that’s the place) because it was a few blocks from our rental and recommended by our Airbnb host. Bike rentals are all over the city and no doubt your host will have a recommendation. However, if your rental comes with a bike, you can avoid the open/closing schedule when returning your bike. We found ourselves without wheels after 5pm the night before we left because we had to leave for the airport before the shop opened.

Another option is Copenhagen City Bikes, the public bike shares all around the city. This is a great option if you’re temporarily without a bike. We ended up using the bikes our first night to try to get home from our first delicious dinner. One suggestion, though, be careful with the GPS system’s attached to them. When I saw those, I thought it was amazingly convenient since we had just gotten to the city and weren’t exactly sure how to get back to our apartment (esp. since we took a taxi there). However, they don’t allow you to put in an exact address (or at least I couldn’t figure out how it could), so I put in the street we were staying on and it, thus, took us out into the suburbs of Copenhagen and therefore leading us on a long middle-of-the-night tour around and through Copenhagen. (Apparently there’s a suburban town of the same name as our street). A story Cory loves to tell people as the first night of our honeymoon.

After three hours of biking through empty streets, being laughed at (in only the nicest way) by a couple of cheery young police officers, and a good bit of frustration, we ended up back at our apartment at 3:00am on our first night. So, learn from me and don’t trust the GPS completely. I do have to say that there’s nothing like a bike ride through empty city streets to get you accustomed to the city.

Read more about Denmark and Copenhagen’s bike culture at Demark.dk.

 

STAYING IN COPENHAGEN

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A sculpture in the Vesterbro neighborhood

As I noted earlier, we stayed in the Vesterbro neighborhood, which is known as the hipster neighborhood. Thus, nearby, you have delicious food, drink, and fun. A bonus is it’s a quick-ish walk from the train station, so easy to get there from the airport.

Norrebro was also recommended to us. It’s a bit more upscale and trendy and super cute. I think next time we visit, this is where I’d like to stay. Our friends Jill and Dave, consummate travelers (you can follow Jill and her travels on Instagram) stayed there and they loved it. Jill says to stay somewhere near the street called Jaegersborggade.

While there are hotels around the city, I highly recommend Airbnb rentals. This has been my go-to for places like Copenhagen and there are a wide variety of options.

 

DOING STUFF IN COPENHAGEN

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Nyhavn – means “new harbor” – it was new back in the 17th century

While eating and biking were our main focuses, here are some suggestions on where to stop and check out.

Fredericksborg Castle – Jill and Dave took a picnic to the gardens nearby and spent a lovely evening outdoors.

Latin Quarter If you’re like me and love colorful, old architecture on cobblestone streets, then you’ll love the Latin Quarter. This area near the university is cute, old, and has fun shops to wander into.

Nyhavn – So it’s a little touristy, but I sometimes eat this crap up. The buildings are colorful, the boats are tall, and the sun just sparkles on the canal on a beautiful sunny day. Cory and I caught a canal tour on the waterfront there and while Cory napped off the jetlag, I took pics. I have to say, seeing the Little Mermaid statue from the water was the only way to see it because it was a silly tourist trap. Just sayin’…you don’t need to see the statue.

Rundetaarn Tower (or the round tower) – Apparently this has one of the best views in the city. It’s a pretty cool structure from afar, but Jill and Dave went up it and said it was quite a view. It’s worth checking out.

Sogreni Bike Shop – Jill and Dave happened upon this bike shop and it’s worth a stop in to check out the beautifully made bikes. They have the most amazing bike bells there and Jill now wishes she had picked one up for a souvenir. Next trip!

 

EATING IN COPENHAGEN

One of the main reasons we wanted to visit Copenhagen was the food. Somehow over the last few years, I’ve become a wannabe gourmand. That is also probably because of Anthony Bourdain and all those shows like A Chef’s Table and Mind if a Chef that make fancy food accessible, so we were pumped for the food adventures in Copenhagen.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, we did not get a reservation at Noma. For those of you who are not necessarily foodies, this is one of the best restaurants in the world, helmed by Rene Redzepi. Its focus is very Nordic, exceptionally local, and incredibly innovative fine dining. If you want to learn more about it, I highly recommend the Parts Unknown episode on the restaurant. But don’t get too attached because they’ll be closing at the end of 2016. Don’t worry, though, they’ll be reopening with a different concept in a different part of the city with their own farm sometime in 2017.

However, if you do plan to visit Copenhagen sometime in 2016 and you want to give it a shot to get one of the hardest-to-get reservations in the world, more power to you. We tried and failed (after waking up at 3am only to be the 900th–ish person in line for reservations 3 months in advance). Here’s a little how-to just in case. If you can’t or don’t want to visit Noma, this site has some fantastic (and cheaper!) alternatives.

One thing to keep in mind if you’re planning a trip to Copenhagen, we found that a lot of the nicer restaurants were closed Sundays and Mondays and occasionally Tuesdays. This posed a dilemma since our trip was from Sun-Wed. There was plenty to do and the markets and many other places are still open those days (the city certainly doesn’t shut down), but keep your eye out for when restaurants are open.

Given that food was so much of the focus of our trip, list format is probably the most appropriate way to go about our recommendations as well as Jill and Dave’s from their April visit.

OUR SUGGESTIONS:

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The rooftop garden at Stedsans – a magical place to eat

Stedsans ØsterGRO – The twenty seats set beautifully at one long farm table set among the growth of a rooftop garden in the Østerbro neighborhood just north of city center, this place is simply magical. This Ignant article describes how this place perfectly reflects the Danish concept of “hyggelig,” meaning “cozy.” We had a reservation for our first night in Copenhagen (yes, the place we were coming from when I got us lost). Reservations go quickly and are available online about a month prior. It was magical and fun and we came away from it with new friends form Norway (a couple who moved to Copenhagen a few years ago and the mom visiting from rural Norway who I’m still friends with on FB).

Torvehallerne Market – This is a fancy market with everything from coffee and baked goods to wine and beer. It’s a one-stop shop for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We ate at the taco shop, Hija de Sanchez (http://www.hijadesanchez.dk) run by chef and owner Rosio Sanchez who once worked at Noma and has connections to the top chefs around the city who occasionally pop up to make a guest taco. We also are partial to The Coffee Collective (http://coffeecollective.dk), which has shops around the city and roasts a delicious bean. Stedsans also seems to have opened a stand at Torvehallerne, so if you can’t get a seat at the rooftop garden, check out their clean, simple, and local food at the market. Jill says that the Confits de canard sandwich at Mapoule “was the most delicious thing I’ve had in my entire life.” I want to go back and try that!

Some burger place in Kodbyen (i.e. the meatpacking district in Vesterbro) – Seriously, we don’t remember the name of it, we were just exhausted and hungry from biking around the city all day. It was possibly the most delicious burger I’ve ever had, but ya know that could’ve been the moment. The meatpacking district was pretty cool, though, and had a lot of great restaurants to choose from, including War Pigs, a brewpub from the Mikkeler brewery (see next on the list).

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The taps of Mikkeller

Mikkeller Brewery – As is our habit, we had to seek out the local brewery, luckily we didn’t have to go far. Mikkeller Bar – one of their few spots around the city – was just down the street from our apartment. Jill and Dave went to pretty much every Mikkeler in the city and somehow ended up at an outdoor BBQ anniversary party at Warpigs. Maybe you could be so lucky if you go in April!

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Smorrebrod at Aamanns

Aamanns – You can’t go to Denmark and not have the Smørrebrød, the classic Danish open-faced sandwiches. Aamans has a fancier and incredibly delicious version. You can eat in or take out. We just walked in at lunch on a rainy day and ate there, Jill and Dave took some to go and picnicked in the park.

Amass – Because it was our honeymoon and this was an occasion, we made another night of food. Based on the list of restaurants from the alternative to Noma list, we chose this. One thing that appealed to me was their community table, or Table 153, which their website describes as “at the core of what we do here at Amass: Bringing people together from all walks of life to share a meal with us and each other.” Cory and I thus shared a pre-fixe menu along with 6 other diners.

It was one of the most amazing meals we’ve ever eaten from the food we ate to the atmosphere to the interaction with the staff. It seemed at some point during the evening, everyone from the kitchen – including the owner and head chef, Matt Orlando – came out to tell us about the food. The pre-fixe menu is around $100 not including drinks (if you want to save, don’t opt for the wine tasting menu and just buy per glass).

 

JILL AND DAVE’S SUGGESTIONS

Höst – We very nearly went here and we’re so glad that Jill and Dave got to try it. Upon arriving got Copenhagen, their Airbnb host said they should not miss this. They made reservations a couple days in advance. They said it was one of the best and affordable fine dining experiences they had (~$50!!). Now I wish we had gone there. Another reason to go back.

Sømods Bolcher – This is the oldest candy shop in Copenhagen and you can watch the candy being made!

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A visual of Jill and Dave’s “Great Copenhagen Bakery Challenge”

Meyers Bakery and St. Peter’s Bakery – Jill and Dave participated in their own København Bakery Challenge and tried Meyers on Jaegersborggade against the oldest bakery in Copenhagen, St Peter’s Bakery’s established cinnamon role. Jill says that Meyers had some of the best pastries she’d ever tasted…and St. Peters was really darn good too.

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“The most delicious slice of cake ever.” – Jill Shabelman

La Glace – To continue the pastry tour, they had to stop at one of the oldest pastry shops and Jill said she had “the most delicious slice of cake ever.” Let’s just say that Copenhagen is full of reasons to use superlatives.

Kødbyens Mad & Marked (i.e. the Meatpacking District Market) – Jill and Dave happened upon this market one day and Jill and an amazing porcetta sandwich and an Italian cocktail. Looks like it’s open in the summers on Saturday and Sunday.

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Jill’s pic of the scene at Paper Island

Copenhagen Street Food on the Paper Island – We happened by this on our way to Amass. Because we were saving ourselves for our fancy meal, we didn’t partake, but I mentioned it to Jill and she said it was incredible. Street-like food from all over at different stalls in a really cool indoor market setting.

 

Whew…now if you’ve digested all of that, congratulations. I didn’t realize how much we did in just a couple days. Hope this inspires your trip to Copenhagen! Here are some more bonus photos from our trip.

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Jill’s photo of one of their Mikkeller adventures at Mikkeller & Friends
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One of Cory’s many photos of the bikes at the train station

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Another of Cory’s bike pics

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