Summer in Copenhagen: Biking, dining and celebrating
By Lisa Abend
Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, Copenhagen, Denmark, somehow seems only to have become more thoroughly itself. With restrictions long gone (they were lifted in January) and summer at hand, the city’s outdoor spaces, designed to extract every bit of joy from summer, have multiplied. There are more harborside spots to sip wine and swim, while devotion to environmental sustainability has generated an entirely new hangout for the green-minded. The Danish fetish for buttery pastries has transformed itself into a veritable eruption of new bakeries, while the broader dining scene — already world class — has become bigger and better. And in a city where bikes already constitute the primary method of transportation, Copenhagen is preparing for its cycling apotheosis: The Tour de France starts here July 1.
For the first time in history, the Tour de France’s Grand Depart begins in Denmark, with a 13-kilometer time trial through the streets of Copenhagen before moving on, during Days 2 and 3, to stages that start farther west in Roskilde and Vejle. On June 29, the competing teams will be presented first on a ride through the city and then in a special event, complete with live music, at Tivoli Gardens. The first day’s race ends at Copenhagen’s City Hall, but a big cycling-themed party will take place in Fælledparkenon Days 1 and 2, with live music, bike games for kids and large screens for watching. On the morning of July 2, the route will open for cyclists of all skill levels to bike a “Tour de Copenhagen.”
But that will hardly be the only celebration. Danes love a festival, and they are greeting a summer calendar that is once again full of them with palpable relief. This year, all the old favorites — from the heavy metal paroxysms of Copenhell and smooth vibes of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival to the gastronomic excesses of Copenhagen Cooking to the highbrow discussions of the Louisiana Literature Festival — are back, and have been complemented with new additions like Syd for Solen. But the biggest of all — more rite of passage than mere festival — is Roskilde, which takes place June 29 to July 2. This year it will attempt to channel all that pent-up energy with a postponed 50th-anniversary celebration and the largest roster — 132 acts, including Megan Thee Stallion, Dua Lipa, Post Malone and the Strokes — in its history.
What to See
Several of Copenhagen’s cultural institutions used the pandemic to finish long-planned improvements. The Danish Design Museum, which for a while was basically a warren of rooms filled with chairs, reopens Sunday after a two-year restoration, with an exhibition on how design can address global challenges like climate change and pandemics. And one of Europe’s finest collections of 19th-century French art got a new showcase earlier this year when Ordrupgaard debuted its new wing, underground but open to the sky, on the edge of the city.
But perhaps the most topically relevant renewal is the Freedom Museum. Formerly called the Museum of the Danish Resistance, it was destroyed by arson in 2013, and has been entirely rebuilt from the ground up. Its interactive exploration of how Germany’s largely unobstructed takeover of Denmark in 1940 gradually transitioned into active resistance that sabotaged German weapons and mustered a volunteer fleet of fishing boats to spirit the country’s Jews to safety makes for an especially poignant lesson these days.
Where to Eat
Spurred perhaps by two long lockdowns in which takeaway coffee and cake were among the few pleasures left, the city that invented the Danish (although here they’re called wienerbrød) has entered a new Golden Age of pastry. There’s now an independent, chef-led bakery in almost every neighborhood, and often long lines stretching down the sidewalk. Some of the newest to try: Albatross & Venner, Benji and Ard — and that’s not counting Apotek 57 and Studio X, two cafes attached to different design shops, where they also do some mouthwatering in-house baking.
The rest of the dining scene is thriving as well — maybe a little too much. For all its acclaim as an international dining destination, pre-pandemic Copenhagen still had a hard time convincing its locals that restaurants were for more than just birthday celebrations and weekend date nights. But since restrictions lifted in January, they seem to have gotten the message; suddenly places at all levels of the food chain are fully booked most nights.
Luckily, there’s a slew of new places to meet the demand. Chef Christian Puglisi’s groundbreaking Relæ and his natural wine bar, Manfreds, both closed during the pandemic, but from those losses, three exceptional spots have risen. At Koan, housed in what was Relæ, chef Kristian Baumann injects some of the flavors and techniques of his Korean heritage into his precision-cut Nordic cuisine, for dishes like a plump, peppery mandu with fjord shrimp or a baked Jerusalem artichoke served with a luscious langoustine cream. Across the street, in the cramped, convivial space that was Manfreds, its former chef, Mathias Silberbauer, serves joie de vivre at Silberbauers Bistro, along with relaxed Provençal cooking with an emphasis on bracingly fresh seafood and soul-satisfying comforts like onion tart and white bean stew.
After a residency at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, chef Jonathan Tam returned to Copenhagen and opened Jatak, an intimate jewel of a restaurant designed by his wife, Sara Frilund, where the refined dishes — delicate curves of raw brill twinned with sweet steamed pumpkin; strips of endive whose crisp bitterness is both enhanced and softened with a housemade sesame sauce — are a deeply personal reflection of Tam’s Cantonese background, his many years as head chef of the vegetable-forward Relæ, and his commitment to local produce.
New dining neighborhoods are also emerging. Tucked into a postage-stamp of a forest on the city’s southwestern edge, Banegården used to house Copenhagen’s railway works, but the timbered buildings have now been repurposed by green food businesses, including a farm shop, a locavore restaurant and, yes, a bakery — one with excellent croissants and a commitment to sustainability so serious that there are no disposable cups; you can only get takeaway coffee via a deposit system for the thermos-style cups.
But perhaps the most exciting transformation is of the stretch along the southern end of the city’s lakes. At Propaganda, Youra Kim’s Korean fried chicken, all stickiness and spice, is already iconic, and it, as well as her other high-voltage dishes, like the knockout grilled white asparagus and tteok, pairs well with the impressive selection of natural wines. And at Brasserie Prins, which manages to be cozy without tipping over into twee, American-born chef Dave Harrison draws on his time cooking in Paris to make some very old-school French dishes — plush quenelles in sauce Americaine, a crisp pan-fried veal brain, even a stalwart île flottante — somehow seem utterly modern.