Denmark Is Open to Americans—Here’s What It’s Like to Visit Right Now
The sun has come out and so too have the citizens of this perpetually charming place with its world-class restaurants and harbor swimming holes.
It was midmorning on a Tuesday and the harbor bath was filled with locals splashing about. On the decks, people were splayed out on their towels, lazily soaking up every ounce of sunshine, as if they had nowhere else to be. As an outsider (who just got off a plane from New York), Copenhagen looked idyllic. (Why didn’t I WFH here?). But in reality, it hadn’t been all sunny days and harbor swims.
It’s as though the warm, sunny weather was waiting for Denmark to open its borders to vaccinated American travelers on June 4. The country had, like many, experienced a long and dark lockdown-winter. The day I arrived in mid-June was one of the first days of the year where the clouds parted and temperatures finally started to rise. What a day to arrive in Copenhagen, a city that springs to life in the summertime! Chic bikers were criss-crossing the city and people were spilling out of bars (sans masks—a new lockdown relaxation). The winter release was palpable.
This trip to Copenhagen was a sort of COVID-19 retribution trip for me. Prior to the pandemic I had meant to travel to Denmark to see new openings (some that were delayed) as well as stop in at old places I loved. Armed with my vaccination card, I intended to rediscover one of my favorite European cities. I also intended to eat as much food as possible, because in my opinion that’s what you do in Copenhagen.
Arriving at the airport was typically Scandinavian and seamless (SAS is doing direct flights from Newark). The immigration lines were longer than usual, but visitors from the U.S. only had to present their vaccine cards. Once granted entry into Europe (!!!), I took the metro to Copenhagen Station and checked into Villa Copenhagen, a hotel that opened in a former post office mid-last year. It’s been touted as one of the most “sustainably minded” hotels to open, with a commitment to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and serious eco-credentials such as the rooftop pool warmed by the electricity generated from the rooms. I immediately dropped my bags and marched straight to the harbor for an icy swim because, well, jet lag. Conveniently, the hotel is located a 15-minute walk from harbor baths (designated areas where you are allowed to swim in the harbor) designed by starchitect Bjarke Ingels.
When I traveled, nobody really knew that the borders were open, so tourists were few and far between. As were masks—you’re no longer required to wear a mask in Denmark, so be prepared to see an abundance of (mostly) smiling faces again. Currently, all restaurants require a corona pass (negative antigen test) to dine indoors. But honestly, who wants to eat indoors when the sun sets at 11 p.m.? Restaurants have unsurprisingly limped along over the past few months, so all the chefs and restaurant owners I know or met with were delighted to hear my foreign accent again (as were the store owners!). It’s still unclear whether vaccinated travelers can use their vaccine cards as a “corona pass” (some restaurants are OK with it, others might not be), but getting a rapid test is extremely easy. In fact, there’s currently a testing station right around the corner from Villa Copenhagen, which is also very convenient for travelers who need an antigen test to get back into the U.S. (currently a requirement). It’s simple, free, and friendly—all you have to do is submit your details and receive a text message or wait 20 minutes for test results.
Selecting which restaurants to dine at is one of the biggest (admittedly first-world) quandaries in Copenhagen. How do you decide where to eat in a city that has some of the best restaurants in the globe? For my first meal I chose Lola, a restaurant opened by Kamilla Seidler (a chef I admire who brought Gustu in La Paz to fame) that I hadn’t tried. Set in a magical garden on a ridge that overlooks Christianshavn, I ate seasonal plates of white asparagus and summery zucchini salads while watching snazzily dressed locals cycle home. It felt so good to be in Europe again.
With a strong sense of summer in the air, I attempted to do as the locals do, and spend as much time on the water as possible. I took a GoBoat (rentable solar-powered energy picnic boats) around the harbor and marveled at the city from the water, waving at fellow boaters and kayakers. I followed that with dinner at POPL in Christianshavn, the new burger restaurant from noma. What started as a temporary burger pop-up spun from pandemic dining restrictions has now become a full-time restaurant, where burgers, simple salads, and natural wines are served inside a lofty space with simple wooden seating. Across the harbor, Amass restaurant from acclaimed chef Matt Orlando, also created a pop-up making fried chicken during the pandemic. This too has become a full-time thing, where crispy chicken and fried mushrooms are served in the restaurant’s rambling garden on the water.
Other new spots were also on my list: BaneGaarden, a creative marketplace on the outskirts of the city where food and wine is served, as well as Collective Bakery, selling croissants and coffee by well-known coffee brand, Collective Coffee. I popped into the bright new Ganni (cult Danish fashion brand) flagship store and made my way to Nordhavn, a newer area of the city which is now connected by a new metro line and where you’ll find a new Hija de Sanchez cantina (from acclaimed chef Rosio Sanchez).
Naturally, I also stopped in at old favorites. I drank wine and ate burrata with funky sourdough bread at the achingly cool Apollo, in the courtyard of the Charlottenburg Palace. I snagged a cardamom bun from Juno the Bakery and drank glasses of natural wine at Ved Stranden 10, a wine bar on the water. Indulgence would be an understatement.
On my final day, the temperatures were so high, it had officially been declared a heatwave (according to the weather app)—it was only 86 degrees, but this is Denmark not the Bahamas. I traveled around the city with my swimsuit so I could jump in the water and dry off as I went. There’s no end to designated swimming areas around the harbor and I’d highly recommend trying them all.
For my last meal, I chose Iluka, a small seafood restaurant, that although not new to locals, is new to me. Here, the Australian chef Beau Clugson creates fresh plates of baked langoustines, flat fish with seaweed butter and cured mackerel with cucumber and lime sambal. I sat at a narrow table on the sidewalk until the sun bruised the sky around 11 p.m. and basked in the very simple fact that I actually, finally had my feet on Danish soil. How sublime.