You can’t visit Copenhagen without trying smørrebrod. The ubiquitous open sandwich is traditional fare for classy eaters, a million rustic miles away from a weekend full of insanely expensive New Nordic tweezer food.
It’s usually enough to order two sandwiches – or three for the extra peckish or those possessed of a curious palate. The de rigeur accompaniment to smørrebrod is a heady glass of snaps, a kind of go-to Scandi fruit liquour. Most non-homemade snaps are kept in the freezer and served chilled; more hardcore ones will be served room temperature in what looks like a dinky martini glass. Skål to that.
Sandwiches not sated you? Well then, you'll need our list of the very best restaurants in Copenhagen.
Selma is a name on everyone’s lips. The restaurant’s reworked take on the open sandwich has been conjured by a cheeky Swede who, rather than trying to beat the Danes, just tweaked what’s already great to a slightly different tune. Opt for the 485kr tasting for the full monty – or go á la carte and plump for the chanterelle, kale, pumpkin and roasted almond sandwich followed by tartare with oysters and amaranth. The William-Morris-on-acid decor creates a truly buzzy atmosphere, to boot.
Rømersgade 20, Nørrebro
If it’s a classy and dignified little affair you’re after, Kronborg is your jam. Without a doubt, order the lavish and generous, well-priced seasonal set at this popular below-street den. Feast on Nordic seafood both pickled and breaded, plus ‘hønsesalat’ – a sorta-riff on coronation or Caesar chicken (but more divinely delectable). Plates like the smoked eel and raw yolk, or plaice with Greenlandic prawns and ‘dillnaise’, are hearty fare that keep regulars returning.
Brolæggerstræde 12, Inner City
A wonderfully welcoming town centre mainstay, where their particular version of the Stjerneskud (’shooting stars’) dish, an all-time smørrebrød mainstay (that’s also for the famished and on a controlled budget), needs to be sampled. For the uninitiated, it's a fried plaice fillet, with pickled asparagus, hand-peeled prawns and a steamed white wine sauce on sourdough. Then nail the unctuously filthy deep fried camembert if you can cope with anything else. An extra snaps usually aids.
Gammeltorv 20, Inner City
Told & Snaps
Head to Toldbogade and down some dinky stairs – into a dark-wood-panelled snug of candles and homemade aquavits – for one of the cosiest lunches Copenhagen has to offer. The portraits of Danish royals are charming; the service is utterly gregarious; the honey-coloured liquors punchy AF. As for food, the Icelandic smoked salmon on rye, with sinus-stripping fresh horseradish, is served unfussily and at one of the best prices you’ll find in the inner city. The roast pork with apple is perfection, too.
Toldbodgade 2, Inner City
Est. 1902, Sans Souci remains a charmed must-visit. What becomes a French bistro by night is the perfect Frederiksberg smørrebrød stop-off point by day, serving all the classics (order the Parisian steak on toast and rhubarb trifle) in a dark, womblike room that’s elegant, cosy and a cute hideaway from the bustle of Gammel Kongvej (hell, the painting collection alone is worth a visit). Afterwards, swing by the famous Frederiksburg Have gardens – from which you can eyeball the elephants in the neighbouring city zoo.
Madvigs Allé 15, Frederiksberg
The home-brewed aquavit collection at this Nyhavn gem is to die for. From sea buckthorn or dill to willow catkin and bog myrtle, there’s a flavour to suit each and every palate (and dish). In fact, the snaps are a fundamental part of the restaurant’s history – it has its very own brewer, 72-year-old Rigmor, who’s made the aquavit in a nearby basement for over three decades, in collaboration with a bevvy of Danish gatherers that provide her with the idiosyncratic, seasonal herbs and spices. The sandwiches – the 'Schrimp', of buttered toast, lobster cream and fennel, say; or one with fried turbot, trout roe and gooseberries – are fab too.
Nyhavn 65, Inner City
For top-tier traditional fare – from which, if you’re also on the 100 or so aquavits behind the bar, you won’t be able to leave walking in a straight line – Schønnemann is a no-brainer. This is the place to opt for classic smørrebrød like smoked eel with egg and chives, or potato with smoked mayo on seeded rye. Smørrebrød experiences really range from casual to high-end; this is a place for Sunday best and a well-shined shoe. Expect champion service from the equally dapper waiting staff.
Hauser Pl. 16, Inner City
Since 1854, this low-ceilinged dining room has been a sanctuary for rambunctious locals, returning sailors, wartime hideaways and even a Russian bear. You’ll have to visit to unlock these mysteries, but we can only assume they were all there for the spiced Christiansø herring, served with duck lard laced with prawns (or perhaps one of the many vegetarian options including a sublime avocado salad). Glass vases are adorned with strangely beautiful submerged cabbages in lieu of flowers, and the service is second to none.
Esplanaden 21, Inner City
A bustling, top tier go-to for hearty, heavy classics served with gourmet resonance. It’s worth booking ahead for the brilliance of Møntergade; and maybe saving a little, too (though the 495kr set menu is well worth it). This place is more brightly lit and modern than some, and a fine place to spot some of CPH’s food-world glitterati – off-the-clock star chefs and foodies from all corners of the city rub shoulders over draught beers and copious snaps to accompany the culinary goodness.
Møntergade 19, Inner City
Palægade is the v2 of Copenhagen’s original, famed traditional Danish dining room – and it’s more understatedly wonderful than ever. Elegance is threaded through each and every element of lunch here, from the palazzo floors and stained glass geometric screens to the modernised takes on traditional classics and well-curated natural wine selections. Opt for spiced herring with rosehip, pickled rhubarb and crème fraiche for your first chomp, the yellowtail tuna with pickled tomatoes and Mexican oregano for your second, and the fried raw milk camembert with blackcurrant compote to finish.
Palægade 8, Inner City