One Neighborhood, Five Things — Indre By, Copenhagen

| July 17, 2012

The Danish capital of Copenhagen is a mini-metropolis that easily surpasses nearly every city in the world in aspects of livability. The Danes are famous for their food, for their environmental sensitivity, for their open and diverse culture, for their sense of design, and for their continuing pursuit of science. And if all of this doesn’t sound like the utmost in hyper-correct, one-world-loving buzzkill, we don’t know what does.

But you know what? It works: Copenhagen is a world-class city of fun and culture, with a little something for everyone. Here are a few of our favorite things in our favorite neighborhood (plus a little dash of Christianshavn thrown in just for kicks).


1. Noma
Written about endlessly, slavishly, and one would think hyperbolically, the restaurant Noma has been named the world’s best restaurant by (the arguably ridiculous) Restaurant Magazine for the past three years. One cannot begin to imagine what a bunch of multinational foragers, brewers and picklers can be getting up to in the Danish foodshed and forest that can possibly transubstantiate into the sort of food that has been called the “world’s best.” But the plain, cold fact of the matter is that, placing that superlative moniker aside, this is an amazing place serving unbelievably transcendent food.

The manipulation and engineering of food that has come to characterize the molecular gastronomy movement of the past twenty years has given way here to a profound simplicity of presentation and a deep respect for the integrity of the local produce.

Adventurous dishes come across, and taste, somehow more relevant in a scrubbed warehouse on a pier in a quiet part of town, rather than served haughtily under low-slung chandeliers. To describe the food accurately would be folly but suffice to say that, accolades aside, the cuisine is delicious and even the oddest-sounding preparations rise above the hyperbole: yes, even the live shrimp, and the smoldering hay.

If you can secure a reservation, don’t think twice — go. Noma is more than a restaurant; it is also a virtual allegory of the current Nordic psyche: green, centered, simple, elegant, with a serious and sincere pride of place; yet with a diverse and open world view. (


2. Delve into Smorrebrod
Smorrebrod, the Danish word for bread and butter, is essentially an open-faced sandwich, but it’s so much more than that. And a great smorrebrod is one of the finest things the Scandinavian world has to offer. Traditional ingredients — herring in all its glorious forms, eel, roast beef, eggs, tiny shrimp, veal liver paste, sourdough rye bread, radishes, butter, beets, remoulade, onions, apples, mushrooms — all combine to make one of the best daytime meals imaginable. Wash it all down with some dark Danish beer and an aquavit.

Schonnemann is the ultimate place for your first tasting or your final meal of your trip. One of the oldest restaurants in Copenhagen, Schonnemann revels in the classic Danish traditions in a room with a (deliberately) sandy floor and pristine food served on Royal Copenhagen china by friendly, winking waiters. Skol!


3. Sample Street Foods While Taking in the Street Scenes
Copenhagen is a city with a classic old world layout of narrow streets and large squares, and it is eminently negotiable. It is also a world exemplar in the green city movement, with about 35 percent of the populace commuting by bicycle. Oh, and of course there are canals! There are bandstands, festivals, and elegant shopping streets winding into squares with stunning fountains surrounded by cafes, and the large population of students bring a noticeable diversity to the population. Drink it all in and enjoy some people-watching in Hojbro Plads and the adjacent Amergatov square. See the beautiful Crane Fountain. Perhaps poke your head into those two most Danish of luxury boutiques: Georg Jensen, and Royal Copenhagen, which are both located just near the fountain.

And with any luck, while you’re soaking it all in, you’ll be entertained by street performers, and maybe even “serenaded” by a band of happy Hare Krishnas. Grab a delicious Danish street dog at a Polsevogn — really, don’t resist, trust me — sit on a bench, and take it all in. Should you happen by a bakery (you will know these by the crowned pretzel hanging above the door), have a danish, or as they are called here: wienerbrod.


4. Freetown Christiania
Imagine New York’s Alphabet City, circa 1978, becoming a collective and surviving into the present day despite itself. In some sense, you might then visualize Freetown Christiania, a former military complex on the old ramparts of the city that’s remained “squatted”  since the early 1970s by a collective community. Currently numbered at 950 people, Christiania is a unique place. The open-air drug market that once characterized Pusher Street, the main drag, has been subdued, now consisting of just a few pot dealers, mostly apparently catering to the visitor trade. It is a great place to wander around, taking in the crafts and sights. Photography, weapons, hard drugs and biker colors are strictly forbidden. The arts and crafts scene here is vibrant and the spectacle of people living in this sort of holistic harmony is heart-warming in its own way; sort of like finding that old tie-dyed t-shirt in the bottom of a drawer and remembering that night you followed the Grateful Dead. Have a coffee and a piece of cake at Manifiskeren (43 Badmansstraede), check out the crafts and be on your way.


5. View the Skyline at Round Tower
The skyline of Copenhagen is remarkable for its many towers and spires, red tiled roofs and copper domes. Climb to the top of the Round Tower, a 17th century observatory attached to Trinity Church, and observe the city in the round. There are beautiful ziggurats, interwoven dragon tails, fantastical unicorn horns, upside down Christmas baubles, baroque towers, conical masterpieces, all sprinkled on a red and green sea of pitches and domes. There are airy modern architectural additions that shimmer in the distance, and castles and palaces that have been restored and rebuilt since the time of the Vikings, all presided over by the grace and charm of the Danish people.


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Category: Go, One Neighborhood -- Five Things

About the Author ()

Patti Jackson is a recovering food service professional who is currently hiding out in Dublin when she's not drinking her way through Europe.

Comments (2)

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  1. Ole Mikkelsen says:

    Maybe I was your waiter at Schonnemann!! Ha, ha I work there for two years now and I like it very much and on special times we eat herring but I make the close sandwich becuse I’m always working and I eat fast. Ha, ha. Maybe I was the person who ‘winks’ at you! Thank you for the nice things you say about my country…

  2. Ingela Mårtensson says:

    I am happy to read this nice review about the fantastic Copenhagen and I am a proud Swede living close to Copenhagen, only 50 minutes by train from where I live in Sweden. Schonnemann is a great Smorrebrod restaurant and I highly recommend it. Patti, hope you will come back soon, you missed Stockholm, welcome back soon even if it is hard to compete the Danish food.