Where you should eat, visit, and stay on your trip to Copenhagen

Making the most of a short visit to the Danish capital is easy to do—if you plan your stay just right.
July 27, 2019, 11:00 AM UTC
Nyhavn, the 17th century waterfront with row of colourful historic buildings, promenade and moored sailing ships in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Nyhavn, the 17th century waterfront with row of colourful historic buildings, promenade and moored sailing ships in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Getty Images/Mint Images RF

There are cities and locales that always seem to make the covers of travel magazines on a near monthly basis. Any seasoned traveler will tell you that few places justify the excess in coverage.

Copenhagen is not one of those places—it earns your attention, respect, and adoration—and it justifies the lavish praise it has received in many glossy pages over the past few years. While you can see much of this small yet dense Northern European city within the course of a couple of days, chances are you’ll be counting the days until your next visit to the Danish capital.

Marchal at the Hotel d’Angleterre.
Rachel King/Fortune

Where to stay

Although not actually in a Wes Anderson film, the exterior would make you think you’re staying in a Wes Anderson movie: On the high end, there’s the Hotel D’Angleterre, a five-star choice that is more than 260 years old but promises all of the luxury you could expect in 2019. It’s also steps away from Nyhavn (possibly Copenhagen’s most Instagrammed spot aside from the Little Mermaid statue), a canal lined with a rainbow of brightly hued buildings and bustling with tourists, often enjoying beers and Aperol spritzes by late afternoon during the summertime.

A little friendlier to the pocketbook but still on the high end is the four-star SP 34, even more centrally located as it is within walking distance to all of the major sights, art museums, and palaces, the shopping district, and plenty of bars and restaurants. Much like how Kimpton Hotels hosts a complimentary happy hour at its U.S. hotels, SP 34 also has a daily wine hour, free for guests but with its own wine label sourced from Portugal. Breakfast also happens to be served in a Michelin-starred restaurant: Nordic bistro Vækst.

And if you’re looking for a last-minute option during the high season (summer and the winter holidays), HotelTonight also has a repository of listings at regular-season prices with especially reasonably priced and comfortable (albeit maybe not chic) options near Copenhagen’s Central Station, which has a 15-minute direct train to Copenhagen Kastrup International Airport.

The exterior of SP 34, a contemporary hotel in central Copenhagen.
Rachel King/Fortune

How to get around

Copenhagen is a small but dense city—perfect for seeing on foot when the weather is friendly. Lyft and Uber don’t have a presence here like they do in other European cities, so if that is your preferred mode of transportation, be prepared to budget for and hail taxis, which aren’t ubiquitous here either.

What is increasingly widespread are electric scooters—most prominent among them is San Francisco–based Lime. But there are also more than half-a-dozen competitors already taking up space on both the sidewalks and the heavily trafficked bike lanes crisscrossing the city—much to the chagrin of tourists and locals alike. The local authorities have also taken notice as Copenhagen police have started cracking down on riders driving while intoxicated.

Inside the elevator at SP 34, a contemporary hotel in central Copenhagen.
Rachel King/Fortune

What to do

You could spend less than couple of days (thus, a long layover) or a whole week in Copenhagen, and you’ll have a satisfying journey either way. It really depends on what your interests are and how you prioritize them, whether that be food, art, history, or outdoor activities.

Inside Copenhagen’s Kastellet park.
Rachel King/Fortune

Copenhagen is blessed with so much outdoor space and green parks. They are open to the public, but most of the larger parks are closed overnight and locked up, so check the hours if there’s a particular spot you had in mind.

If you happen to fancy running in the morning—truly the best way to see a new city and get over jet lag at the same time—head north to the Kastellet, one of the best preserved fortresses in Northern Europe. But on a bright morning you’ll think you wandered into a fairy-tale land, filled with a rampart, sculpted green hills, tree-lined groves, and yes, that aforementioned Little Mermaid statue. (While a beautiful sculpture in a picture-perfect location, if getting a photo of this really matters to you, get there as early as possible or be prepared for a swarm of tourists.)

Amalienborg Palace
Rachel King/Fortune

If palaces are your thing, you have two options—both of which are active government buildings today. First is the Amalienborg Palace, the home of the Danish royal family, just a few blocks from the Kastellet and the Copenhagen Design Museum, with a changing of the guard at set times each day. Then there’s Christiansborg Palace, situated on a tiny island and the seat of the Danish Parliament. Christiansborg is in proximity to a number of other museums, namely the National Museum of Denmark, the Museum of Copenhagen (with a collection dating back to the 12th century), and the Danish Jewish Museum.

Designmuseum Denmark
Rachel King/Fortune

Where to eat

The most important portion of the program. When I arrived in Copenhagen, my cab driver from the airport asked if I had any questions about the city. I replied that I always start with the most important one: “Where should I eat?”

Copenhagen is a food lover’s paradise—and it truly doesn’t matter what your dietary restrictions are or whichever cuisine you’re seeking. The Danish capital has something for everyone—times 10, from the grocery store to Michelin-starred restaurants.

Fans of the ever-expanding library of haute food shows on Netflix will likely assume Noma is the place to go first, and if you can score a reservation or get on the wait list, then maybe that’s the best choice. For the rest of us, you don’t have to such lengths for Noma-quality food.

The rajas taco with rice and beans at Hija de Sanchez.
Rachel King/Fortune

Consider Hija de Sanchez, a contemporary taqueria from Chicago native and Noma’s former head pastry chef, Rosio Sanchéz. The menu is simple but effective, with plenty of familiar taqueria staples (bottles of Jarritos orange soda) and a few unique ones (an avocado paleta, or Popsicle). And a word to the wise: If you go on a weekday, you likely won’t have to worry about a line at lunch.

Note there are two locations: the main storefront in Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District—close to a glut of diverse food options, including pizzeria Mother and day-drinking haven Mikkeller Bar—and a stall at Fresh Market, another popular food hall near the epicenter of the city, with stalls for local produce and fish and innovative street food with trendier options like banana-based ice cream.

Pavlova with almond ice at Marchal.
Rachel King/Fortune

If you’re going to treat yourself, head to Marchal, the in-house, Michelin-starred restaurant at Hotel D’Angleterre. If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting during the summer, try to get a seat on the patio, a prime people-watching spot overlooking the Kongens Nytorv square. This is a restaurant worth taking the time to look over the wine menu to consider pairing options, and definitely ask the staff for advice, as they are more than happy to help and are knowledgable about the very lengthy list. Among the surefire options are the delectable gougères with truffle cream and comté (best eaten in a single bite), chanterelles on sourdough in the traditional Danish tartine style, and the Australian Black Winter truffles with agnolotti and creamy artichokes—the latter two dishes of which were paired perfectly with the Domaine Vacheron Sancerre and Oregon’s Elouan Pinot Noir, respectively.

A dirty martini at Balthazar.
Rachel King/Fortune

After dinner, head downstairs from the restaurant to the Balthazar Champagne Bar. (Coincidentally, if you enter from the bar’s main entrance, it’s actually at street level. But to reach Balthazar from inside the hotel, you have to go downstairs first, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as an underground Champagne bar.) Regardless, treat yourself and cap off your trip with one of the top-notch Champagnes on the list—from André Clouet and Billecart-Salmon to Vauversin and Veuve Cliquot—or a dirty martini made with Danish Vodka brand I AM.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—How new Nashville hotels are bucking the Airbnb trend

—This island in Washington State will make you feel like a multi-millionaire

—Why you should visit southern India on your next vacation

—Inside the “ultimate high-performance luxury lifestyle” experience at the new Equinox Hotel

—Listen to our new audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily

Follow Fortune on Flipboard to stay up-to-date on the latest news and analysis.