Copenhagen, one of the happiest cities in the world, is open and ready once again to make you seriously consider moving here. Although the long summer days are behind us, fall is still a great time to visit and enjoy the best the city has to offer: Halloween at Tivoli, rainy days in galleries, and lots of great food.
First things first - this guide doesn’t feature NOMA. A trip to Copenhagen doesn’t usually result in a reservation at NOMA, rather a reservation requires a trip to Copenhagen. So despite it recently receiving its much sought-after third Michelin star, we won’t be talking about it here.
Thankfully, the trickle-down effect of having such a globally recognized restaurant in the capital means Copenhagen has a disproportionately high number of great places to eat for its humble size. Are the Danes so happy because there’s a never-ending list of fantastic restaurants to choose from? It’s very possible, if not a little overwhelming for visitors with a time limit. So if you’re coming out of lockdown hibernation and ready to visit somewhere delicious, there’s no city finer for a guaranteed great meal – and these are the 11 restaurants to prioritize, along with a few great hotels. Velbekomme.
This zero-waste restaurant never fails to impress. The creativity required in the kitchen to use absolutely everything has resulted in some remarkable dishes that are often the result of by-products, like miso made from lemon skins and coffee grinds, and nori made from kale stems. Beautiful plates, with ingredients often sourced from the kitchen garden, arrive in waves, accompanied by a different chef each time to explain exactly what bergamot skin tamari or fishbone noodles are. The 10-plus-course menu is an elegant introduction to what has made Copenhagen such a unique culinary destination. Alternatively, head to the Refshaleøen-located warehouse at lunchtime to try AFC – Amass fried chicken. Enjoy it with jalapeño cornbread outside among the vegetable beds of Amass’s kitchen garden.
Alouette is sort of famous for its sauces, and it’s somewhere you’ll find yourself bartering with the waitstaff to be let into the kitchen, scrap of bread in hand, to wipe the bottom of the pans clean like a kid licking cake batter from a bowl. The regularly changing tasting menus are inspired by whatever seasonal produce is brought to the kitchen by their local producers. This makes for an eclectic blend of dishes, like caviar with a sunflower seed fudge, intricately plated to look like a marigold and served after a few slices of prosciutto. Each course is bussed to your table by a member of the kitchen, which often includes the super charming head chef and owner. Keep him talking a little while and he’ll feel like a friend by the end of the night.
Bowls of creamy pasta, crispy guanciale, and shots of limoncello – Rufino is certainly not the place to go if you’re looking for something light. It is, however, one of the best restaurants to visit on an autumn evening in Copenhagen, when the hyggligt atmosphere of the cellar location really complements the kitchen’s comfort food. Rufino feels like it could tip over into a party at any point, and if you stop by, there’s a good chance that shots of limoncello will appear at the table, poured by the chef and served with a hand waving away any feeble protests. It’s a place that does a few things but does them extraordinarily well, with honorable mention going to the ragù and carbonara with guanciale.
Socioeconomic equality and dinner make excellent bedfellows, or at least they do at Lola. The restaurant strives to take care of its staff with a new approach to the kitchen hierarchy that places an emphasis on inclusion and a work/life balance. If you just want a great meal, however, Lola also delivers. The menu is influenced by the culturally diverse team who devise it, with dishes like Ecuadorian-inspired ceviche served alongside unagi-style eggplant with black sticky rice. Based near the famous Freetown Christiania and keen to remain a neighborhood spot that serves every member of the community, this place is always welcoming. The restaurant’s terrace is situated on the forest-like banks of the Christianshavn lakes - where residents of the semi-autonomous region have built eccentric wooden houses - which is the perfect spot for an aperitif with a blanket before dinner.
Copenhagen can feel like the furthest possible place from Italy when the unrelenting winter has offered just five hours of sunshine and three days without rain in a month. Despite this, Italian food and aperitif culture have rooted themselves in the Nordic city. After the stracciatella boom of the early 2000s, pizzerias have continued to pop up. Ma Me Mi is one of the newer options, making some of the lesser-known but arguably best slices in the city. The team here makes pizza using traditional Roman methods, including a blend of flours for the dough, and delicious if unexpected toppings like pork cheek and leek ash. There’s even a potato pizza, a version loved by Scandinavians and just about anyone else who tries it. And this autumn, you can try it at Rødder og Vin: bar in Nørrebro. The city’s best natural wine shop-cum-bar is collaborating with Ma Me Mi, so you can order your pizza to dine in with a glass of something funky.
There are very few restaurants in Denmark, a country with a serious aversion to spice, that serve dishes with any real heat to them. But Donda, and their aguachile with haddock, blackberry, aji limo, horseradish crema, and glasswort, are working to change that. It arrives at the start of the six-course set menu and sets the tone for the rest of the meal, which is strongly influenced by coastal Latin America. This Christianshavn spot focuses heavily on fish and seafood, cooking Danish hamachi and fjord shrimp over charcoals in the open kitchen and serving them with árbol mayo and guajillo salsa. Even the cocktails are spicy, as the bar uses jalapeños when mixing their margaritas. The restaurant is also located among the city’s iconic skyline, which makes it’s a great area to take a post-dinner walk and spot the various towers, including the twisted dragon claws of the old stock exchange building.
Nihao YAO is a small, family-run Taiwanese restaurant in Nørrebrod where the portions are snack-sized and intended to be shared with a group. The result is delicious food in a relaxed space where it’s easy to feel like you’re at the family table. And there’s a good chance you will be: take a look around and you’ll just as likely spot a multi-generational family gathering, including the restaurant’s owners, as you will a couple on a promising first date. Help yourself to the water jugs and vats of green tea that are placed on the communal tables with spouted pots of soya sauce and chilli oil. Ordering food feels more like ordering rounds at a bar, as you’ll find yourself going back to the counter more than once to request more braised pork belly, guabao, and potstickers, which are made from dough that’s at once crispy with a fudgey chew, and a filling so juicy it’s bound to go everywhere once you dig in. Don’t be proud, wipe your chin, and get another round in.
In Copenhagen, dürüm is king and everyone has their favorite spot. But don’t listen to them – Kebabistan is the best, and there are a few of them dotted around the city so you can maximize your chances. Alongside freshly-made falafel, which are pulled from the fryer and smashed flat with tongs by the counterman, there’s salty and juicy shawarma: spinning cones of meat that’s served in shavings on dürüm or Turkish bread, before getting rolled up with masses of shredded lettuce, pickles, tomato, chilies, and tzatziki. The best way to experience Kebabistan is as a lunch on the go or after early-evening drinks ruined dinner plans, with a side of fries and plenty of chili sauce.
Koan is truly a product of the COVID-19 era. The Danish-Korean pop-up opened after the first round of city-wide lockdowns, only to close again suddenly during the second. Thankfully, it’s found a new home at the former site of Relæ in Nørrebro, a restaurant where head chef Kristian Baumann cut his teeth. The new site has an open kitchen, where you can watch the team delicately plate the tasting menu. While the presentation is refined, the food is ultimately deeply personal, like reading old love letters between South Korea and Denmark, as the head chef seeks to learn more about his home country from his adoptive one while blending cuisines. The tell-tale signs of New Nordic are present, but amongst them are surprising twists like a donut course in place of the typical sourdough bread; scallops from Norway with rice wine and honey truffles; and fjord shrimp dumplings with spicy red Korean peppers.
Legend has it that a diner with a serious seafood allergy once accidentally booked a table at NOMA during seafood season. Upon realizing the error, the NOMA team summoned one of Barr’s infamous pork schnitzels for the guest, who greatly enjoyed their meal and evening. While this tale can be neither confirmed nor denied, the evening-saving properties of Barr’s schnitzel are 100% accurate. Served with lashings of brown butter and capers, it’s a dish worthy of repeat visits, no matter how long you’re visiting for. Barr is also a prime lunch spot, with an outdoor terrace that looks out onto Copenhagen’s waterfront, and the perfect way to try smørrebrød – Denmark’s famous open-faced sandwiches. Inside the wood-paneled restaurant, there’s a beer bar with 10 taps and many bottles sourced from local craft brewers. But to be frank, make sure to try some herby aquavit too. Pinch your nose, knock it back, and think of the schnitzel to come.
Baby Babbo is a cozy neighborhood place with an Italian-influenced menu of small plates and pizza. Although there’s no shortage of restaurants like this in Copenhagen, their in-house production of cheese and cured meats, plus produce sourced from their own farm, makes it especially worth a visit. Straciatella with asparagus, gnocchi with veal heart, pizza with oyster mushrooms and wild garlic, and whatever else is in season goes great with their extensive natural wine list. If you can’t fit another dinner into your schedule, Baby Babbo is also open for breakfast and lunch, serving homemade pastries and a typically Danish breakfast plate of rye bread with a boiled egg alongside salads.
When it comes to places you spent lockdown, it’s likely that the old engine room of a disused crane wasn’t one of them – so why not really shake things up? Located in Nordhavn, one of Copenhagen’s rapidly developing industrial harbor areas, the one-room hotel (yes, you read that right) has a modern, minimalist decor with plenty of luxury. Guests have exclusive access to terraces with sunrise and sunset views, as well as a small lounge in the old crane operator compartment at the top of the crane so yes, you can pretend you’re driving the crane. Book your stay here.
The Audo is a hybrid space also located in Nordhavn, functioning as a boutique hotel, creative work and event space, restaurant, café, and concept store. It’s a lot of ways to say that The Audo showcases all the best aspects of Scandinavia, from design to food, through an ethos of collaboration. The Audo kitchen frequently offers residencies to chefs in Copenhagen, while the concept store sells emerging and established designers’ work. It’s also very beautiful, conceived by the founder and former CEO of the design company MENU. Book your stay here.
Located in the old Central Post and Telegraph head office and with a smorgasbord of facilities that cater to its guests and the general city, Villa is as good a spot to meet for brunch or a cocktail as it is to spend a holiday. It’s extremely central – you can actually see Tivoli’s rollercoasters from some rooms – and has a popular heated roof pool that draws in Copenhagen’s fashionable crowd. The rooms are fairly spacious and decorated with plenty of Scandinavian luxury. Book your stay here.
Opened in 2007 in a beautiful turn-of-the-century building in Vesterbro, Axel is the first in its group to achieve the golden (Ø), the green key, and a Green Globe certification – all evidence of the work it’s done to make luxury more sustainable. It’s ideal for a climate-minded traveler who would still like to use a hotel spa, which seems fair given the year we’ve collectively had. It’s also pet-friendly, with an iconic jungle-like courtyard that’s perfect for some dog spotting over breakfast. The hotel’s signature Balinese style continues in all its rooms, with plenty of rattan, bamboo, and woven textiles pieces. Book your stay here.