(This was first published in Vegan Life in March 2018)
Take a lot of money. That’s the first thing everybody told me when I said I was going to Copenhagen for a long weekend. And they were right.
Of course, everything does tend to cost more in capital cities, but in the Danish capital it costs more, and then a little bit more… and then a little bit more on top (around £24 for two chai lattes and two slices of cake!)
The second thing everybody told me was that it was a beautiful city and I’d have an amazing time. And they were right on that front too.
With wide boulevards, a pedestrianised main shopping street, big, open squares, and enough cyclists to give its neighbour Amsterdam a run – or should that be bike – for its money, Copenhagen is easy to fall in love with. It has the buzz and excitement of a big city but remains unintimidating and friendly at the same time.
It abounds with historic sites including the Rosenberg castle, the Amalienborg palace, Tivoli Gardens, the Danish Design Museum, and the colourful buildings of the inner harbour, Nyhavn – a former red light district and home of writer Hans Christian Andersen. Whilst there’s also impressive modern architecture such as the Opera House, one of the most expensive ever built and opened in 2005, and the library known as the Black Diamond and opened in 1999.
Like many cities Copenhagen is made up of smaller distinct enclaves, from the old Latin Quarter to the high-end shops around Kongens Nytorv and the bohemian area of Christiania. The latter came into being in the 1970s when squatters took over a military barracks, and set up a new society with no laws, no taxes and readily available drugs.
The squatters were given legal rights to buy in 2011 and the area now bustles with tourists, eager for a glimpse of this unique place. A wooden archway at one of the exits announces ‘you are now entering the EU’.
The city’s cuisine matches the surroundings, beautiful, eclectic and fairly pricey. There are lots of delicious options for vegans, and this was probably one of the best food experiences I have had in a foreign city.
One of the big positives I also found was that the vegan/vegan-friendly restaurants were all in easy reach, and often close to attractions – rather than hidden down backstreets or miles out of town.
SimpleRAW – Scandi chic
SimpleRAW is the perfect example – sandwiched between the main thoroughfare of Strøget and the 17th Century Round Tower, one of Denmark’s best known structures that offers views across the rooftops. Located in a small square on Gråbrødretorv and tucked down at basement level, the restaurant’s interior is typical Scandi-chic – white walls, low wooden benches, and soft lighting from low hanging shades.
Despite the name, not all of the food is raw – although they do offer an impressive range of raw desserts including lime cheesecake and a triple chocolate cake. I opted for the Middle Eastern Bowl which included falafel, cauliflower rice with tabbouleh, dates, walnuts, pomegranate, avocado and red cabbage. It was delicious, zingy and herbaceous.
My husband had the burger, made from a patty of quinoa and mung beans in a gluten-free bun served with paprika mayonnaise, sweet potato crisps and optional vegan cheese. He declared it a 9/10.
Chao Viet Kitchen – Vietnamese restaurant
Close by, and again just off Strøget, is a tiny, bustling Vietnamese restaurant, offering both meat and vegan options – ideal if you’re travelling in a mixed dietary group. Chao Viet Kitchen, on Kattesundet, is small so if you don’t make a reservation you may be in for a short wait.
However, it is well worth it – the food is fragrant, fresh and flavourful, and there is a separate vegan menu with four choices. While my husband enjoyed the veggie tofu version of Vietnam’s national dish ‘pho’, I picked a dish called Bun Chay – rice noodles, tofu, portobello mushrooms, vegetable salad, roasted onions and vegan fish sauce.
Both were served quickly, in steaming big bowls and they were the cheapest meals we had during our trip, costing around £10 each.
Riz Raz – all you can eat buffet
Riz Raz, on Kompagnistraede – a street that runs parallel to the main shopping street but is quieter and feels less touristy, with boutique shops selling art and jewellery and cool bars – also offers good value for money.
This busy restaurant is cosy with its thick white walls, beamed ceiling and soft piano music. As well as having an a la carte menu, which caters for all diets, it also has an all you can eat vegetarian/vegan buffet – which was the reason we visited – and which costs around £12 (or £11 before 4pm).
There is a lot of choice and a range of hot and cold items, over half of which were suitable for vegans. It was so good that we both, somewhat sheepishly, helped ourselves to three platefuls. Among the vegan dishes were ratatouille, rosemary potatoes, sweet potato and lentil salad, three types of hummus, falafel, cabbage mango salad, pesto pasta, and a protein salad.
Latienda – Colombian street food on Paper Island
Another top destination – especially if you’re in a group with mixed dietary requirements – is the Papiren (Paper Island) street food market. Situated on the waterfront and within walking distance of tourist attractions including Christiania, The Opera House and the Copenhagen Contemporary art centre, it’s easy to find and to fit into your itinerary.
Stalls and crowds fill the huge hall and offer cuisine from every corner of the world, from the more local Scandinavian fare to Korea, Turkey, Thailand, Italy and India. There were vegan/vegetarian stall including the pizzeria Madenitaly and the Shawarma falafel stand.
But it was the Colombian stall of Latienda that caught my eye, with their mission ‘to provide food that expands your consciousness and allows you, the planet and living creatures to thrive’ proclaimed from a blackboard and two equally delicious sounding vegan burgers to choose from.
I selected the pulled burger which was made from seitan meat and topped off by dill mayo, chilli salsa, pickles and sprouts. It came with a side of Colombian chips and guacamole, and was unbelievably tasty – and huge. Finding a seat among the many benches dotted around the hall, I tucked into what was easily the best burger I’ve ever eaten. The pulled seitan was juicy and the toppings elevated it to another level of flavour – it looked good too, with a passerby asking me if it was a cheeseburger and where he could get one.
In short, Copenhagen is a beautiful, budget-busting, bicycle-crazy city, that leaves you wondering where else you can go that will match up to it. Well, based on my burger experience – maybe Colombia!
Top tips for your trip
- A Copenhagen Card, available from the Visitor Service centre, is a good investment. It allows you to travel on all buses, trams and trains within the city and gives free entry to 79 museums and attractions.
- If you’re eating on-the-go, the 7-11 stores sell vegan salads and yoghurts, the Espresso House cafes, found all over the city, also offer dairy-free milk and a spicy vegan flatbread, and fast-food restaurant Friends & Brgrs’ menu includes a vegan burger.
- For fans of Scandi noir drama The Bridge, it’s fairly difficult to actually get a view of the Øresund Bridge – besides from the aeroplane. However, you can travel across it to Malmö in Sweden, a small, pleasant town, where I was told a view is possible from the beach but the weather prevented us from trying.