8 things to do in both Copenhagen and Stockholm

I am chagrined by how far off our trip already feels. While it has been nice to be home, as in our house, it's hard to be back in the horrific, embarrassing, cruel dysfunction that is the US right now. Honestly, I've been trying to avoid the news as much as possible and am instead throwing myself into work (I just love my clients, y'all!) and home improvements. Hear me roar, people. I have been a renovating maniac in the kids' rooms and bathroom.

In any case, a number of folks have asked my thoughts on things to do in Copenhagen and/or Stockholm, so without further ado and in no particular order of love...

Copenhagen

  • Eat one or more great meals. There is a LOT of truly excellent food in Copenhagen, so treat yourself by taking advantage of a culinary mecca. I have no doubt NOMA is marvelous so if you can get a reservation (I never could and not for lack of effort), go. If not, Amass was really special (see my review here). And so was Reffen which is the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of price and formality but is as delightful and good. While the former two are reservations and sit down and impeccable service and rounds of dishes, Reffen is an RV park of food trucks and happy people. We loved it so much we went twice. You can see some of my photos and read a bit more here. If you're near the University and want a really good lunch, try Paludan Bogcafe (books and food). (We were underwhelmed by the food at Aamonns 1921.)
  • In addition to eating well, drink well! I was totally jazzed by Danish beers. Not Carslberg, although sure, it has its place, but the local breweries putting out exceptionally good brews. My favorites are the IPAs. Try those from Jacobsen and Nørrebro (the Bombay). 
  • Skip the cabs! Walk, ride bikes, use the terrific public transportation system. Not only will you get exercise and see the city in a much more intimate way, you'll also save a lot of money as cabs in Denmark are expensive!
    Donkey Republic is a mighty rental bike presence in Copenhagen. The bikes are sturdy, have racks and elastic bands to hold bags, AND have handlebar-mounted phone holders which is great if you're using your phone for maps. We rode daily, often for miles and hours. Get the Donkey Republic app and you're good to go. 
    Equally user-friendly is the Danish DOT app which not only tells you all the bus and train schedules but allows you to easily purchase tickets whenever you need them. This is great to both avoid queues at the ticket kiosks but also because there are no kiosks on buses so what are you going to do?! (See below for what the apps look like in the app store.)
  • Speaking of bikes, participating in a bike tour is a great way to get an overview of Copenhagen and learn some interesting stuff about the city at the same time. First thing the morning after we arrived, we did this three-hour small group tour and thought it was terrific. Our guide was fun, knowledgeable, and the tour helped us know what to go back to and what to not bother returning to (Den Lille Havfrue, the Little Mermaid, for example. She is lovely and I'm glad I saw her but she is tiny and mobbed and I was happy with the five minutes we spent with her in passing).
  • The Free State of Christiania, aka Freetown Christiania. This 85-acre commune of roughly 850 people sits in the Christianshavn area of Copenhagen. Founded by squatters on an abandoned military base in 1971, it is a gritty, hippie place that for several decades did not pay taxes. Residents do pay taxes now but it remains a semi-autonomous town with its own flag and rules about cannabis use and sales. There are cafes, galleries, green spaces, and you can take pictures anywhere except on Pusher's Row. When you leave, a large gate reads: You are now entering the EU. This is a good article about Christiania. 
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  • Vor Frelsers Kirke. The spire atop this church was one of my favorite sights in all of Copenhagen. We passed it repeatedly, and every single time, I had to stop and take a photograph. You can climb to the top which is cool and also offers you gorgeous views of Copenhagen, the Øresund straight and bridge, and even to Sweden on clear days. 
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  • Day trip options: It's easy and quick to take a train from Copenhagen central to Malmö, Sweden, capital of the southern region of Skåne and third-largest city in Sweden; to Lund, Sweden, an ancient university town that is also home to the famed Lund Cathedral; and/or to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, a Danish town 35 km north of Copenhagen. While we did spend two full days in Malmö (click here for 7 things to do), we weren't able to make it to Lund or the Louisiana despite wonderful reviews of both.
  • Amager Bakke and the nearby wind turbines. Amager is a state-of-the-art combined heat and waste-to-energy center whose design also makes it a ski slope in wintertime. As Copenhagen is flat as a pancake but full of outdoor-activity enthusiasts, this design decision is a brilliant one. And Amager is really attractive to boot. Denmark produces so little waste that it is now importing waste to burn at Amager. The link I included above provides more fascinating info about the Center. 
    Near Amager, you can get up close and personal to quite a few wind turbines. Their gentle swoosh is utterly hynotic, and it is extremely cool to watch them adjust to wind direction and speed in real time. Denmark has plans to be independent from coal, gas, and oil by 2050, and it seems well on its way to achieving that goal. 

BONUS idea for design fiends: Go to the Danish Design Museum and ogle the large collection of renowned and influential Danish chairs; watch the fascinating video on Børge Mogensen; and learn more about the Japanese influence on Danish design as well as the evolution and import of Danish design overall. 
Go to vintage markets (Port 33 Vintage is great) and home stores like Illums Bolighus and take in Danish design old and new. You never know what you'll find (see what we found here.)

Stockholm

  • Eat one or more great meals. As in Copenhagen, we had some extremely sophisticated, delicious, accessible food in Stockholm. In both cities, the food was of a place, using local ingredients and prepared using, or inspired by, traditional methods, flavor combinations, and so forth. We cannot recommend more enthusiastically both Ekstedt (make a reservation well in advance) and Kagges (reservation not as crucial but why not). Wow, wow, memorable and fun. If you are hankering for non-Nordic food, try Cafe Brillo. We had a superb pizza there, complete with mozzarella di bufala. Sturehof is also supposed to be excellent. Swedish pastries are not, as far as I could tell and boy did I try, particularly good. Use the calories on beer/wine instead...
  • So, once again, drink well too! The Swedish beers weren't as consistently good as the Danish ones, but there are some very good local breweries. I was super-impressed by the unique, cool, extensive wine lists in many places we ate, and by the enthusiasm for and knowledge of them by restaurant staff.
  • Fotografiska. This photography museum was one of my favorite places. As y'all might know, I am passionate about photography, especially, but not limited to, portraiture, fashion, and nature photography. As it turned out, the two main exhibits at Fotografiska were shows by Cathleen Naundorf, a Parisian fashion photographer, as well as the founders of SeaLegacy, Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier. The first was fun and beautiful, and the second was one of the most powerful exhibits I've ever seen. I was reduced to a quietly sobbing mess quaking in Tom's arms. That is what the best photography can do- move a viewer to an emotional depth that is unexpected or tucked away. I will never forget the SeaLegacy show nor will I ever understand why more (all?) people don't work ceaselessly to save our environment and natural world.
  • The Nobel Museum. This museum is relatively small and unassuming but full of great and interesting information. I highly (!) recommend taking the free tours offered regularly. Each lasts 30-40 minutes if memory serves. On ours, we learned a lot about Alfred Nobel, his will, the reason behind splitting the Peace and other Nobel awards, the rationale behind which institutes are assigned to choose which winners, and so on. One of my favorite parts was the Literary Rebellion visitor participation activity: any visitor with something (hopefully intelligent and rooted in having actually read the book) to say about any of the Nobel Literature prize winners books that are on display can write a note and place it in the book. Notes looked like so many red feathers, sticking up from the many gems studding the room.
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  • Walk, bike, and boat! Yes, once again I urge you to skip the cabs (less expensive than in Denmark but still not cheap) and walk, bike, and boat through Stockholm. Much of it is beautiful, with treasures to the eye everywhere. As well, Stockholm is spread across an archipelago. Many of the central islands are connected via bridge but some require ferry to reach. 
    Unfortunately, Donkey Republic has not yet been welcome in Stockholm. So, you'll have to settle for the City Bikes which are fairly dinky and have nowhere to put bags or phones. To access the bikes, you have to bring your passports and money to a participating 7-Eleven store (I'm serious; 7-Elevens in Scandinavia are NOT what they are in the US. You can get bikes, train tickets, quinoa and paleo meals...it's both weird and nice.), fill out the applications, get your card, and then you can go access the bikes. Get the app so you can find stations to drop off and pick up from. Also, keep in mind that Stockholm has steep hills so prepare to use your bike gears and stand up to pedal when duty calls. 
  • Speaking of boating, take a day- or overnight trip to one or more places in the Stockholm archipelago. If we'd planned ahead, we'd have booked a night at a hotel on Gotland and taken the ferry over one day and back the next (it's a 6+ hour ride; or we'd have investigated cheap flights into Visby). Since we didn't, we went to Grinda, another island suggested by a Swedish friend. Grinda was lovely- we spent 90 minutes kayaking around it, a half hour hiking around, and then had an overpriced but lovely lunch at the (one of two) restaurant there.
    The Waxholmsbolaget ferry is inexpensive and provides a calm, beautiful way to wind through the archipelago. You need no advance tickets. Just pick it up on Södra Blasieholmshamnen or Strandvägen, both of which are centrally located. If you head out onto the water, wear sunscreen!
  • The Vasa Museum. This maritime museum's main event is the resurrected and restored Vasa, a 17th-century warship that sank not an hour into its maiden voyage. It lay submerged for more than 300 years before it was lifted in 1961. The ship is magnificent, and the salvage techniques are fascinating. Plus, this museum is literally the only place in all of Sweden at which we found air conditioning- it's to keep the boat in good condition, but during hot Swedish summers, it also keeps people in good condition!
  • Should you want additional day trips, places we wanted to go but didn't make are: Uppsala, a university town (the university was founded in the 15th century for the love) and fourth-largest city in Sweden (and home of fictional St. Stefans, the psychiatric hospital in which Lisbeth Salander was held prisoner for two years). Uppsala is about an hour's train ride from Stockholm; and Artipelag, a cultural "destination" with art, photography, design, and dining that's about a two-hour boat ride from Stockholm. 

BONUS idea for fellow Girl With a Dragon Tattoo nerds: go to Södermalm and find Fiskargatan 9 (the fancy apartment Lisbeth buys) as well as the locations/facades where the Millenium offices and Mikael Blomkvist's apartment were filmed. Fun. ;)

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Kagges: restaurant review and a big reason for travel

On our last night in Stockholm, we went to Kagges, a year-old restaurant in Gamla Stan. It opened in 2017 and was recently awarded a Bib Gourmand, a well-regarded honor also bestowed by Michelin. One of my New Orleans cousins had suggested we go; coming from a serious eater like he is, I'd immediately made a reservation and am so glad I did.

As soon as we walked into the tiny spot, with seven seats at the bar directly in front of the kitchen and perhaps ten other tables, we felt relaxed and at home. Given the choice, you won’t be surprised to know that we chose to sit at the bar. Tom ordered an IPA crafted by a brewery in Stockholm, and I started with a glass of cold Albariño recommended by the hostess/sommelier. We were brought the most sublime bread -Tjockbulla, made primarily of mashed potatoes; it hails from the chef’s small town- and smoked butter. I could have eaten 97 of the magnificent rounds. And we also got a darling amuse bouche- tender potato rounds with some ridiculous roe mousse and nasturtium leaves. Divine.

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We decided to each order the Kagges choice, the four best dishes of the day, and were not disappointed!

Smoked and lightly charred cabbage with a Swedish creme fraiche (from one farm 100 km away; this was the airiest, creamiest, velvety'est creme ever and one of the chefs told me the taste changes with the seasons as the cows eat more or less grass! How cool is that?!) and lots (!) of roe and brown butter.

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A tomato salad with two forms of the same Swedish cheese (one fresh, one aged) and lots of fresh herbs.

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Cured mackerel with some sort of incredible potato cream that had been put into a whipped cream dispenser and frothed out plus salad.

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And guinea fowl with bone-broth gravy (OMG!) and more salad, this one with a shallot-lemon vinaigrette to die for. "An hour on the shallots and then lemon zest and juice. Then butter, not oil" I was told.

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At this point, I was extremely tipsy in the happiest, friendliest way and had been chatting with the three chefs extensively about all their methods and recipes and hometowns and such. I mentioned to one that the bone gravy was so good I could lick my plate. He reached over to the utensil rack and handed me a spatula. Is that not marvelous?

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That right there tells you everything you need to know about Kagges. It wasn't as perfect as Ekstedt in terms of the food (although I have no complaints), but it managed to be seriously delicious and dedicated while not taking itself too seriously. I asked the chef who gave me the spatula while telling me about his hometown and managing several stations including a salamander how he seemed so unfettered and calm. "It's all about being from the forest," he said, and for some reason that made absolute sense to me. He said Stockholmers were busier and could be intense (meanwhile, this American from DC felt like the whole of Scandinavia was on some sort of relaxing agent, bless them!) but that being from the forest made him totally tranquil.

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Meanwhile, the couple at the other end of the bar from us ^^ seemed to be enjoying their meal as much as we were and had also provided helpful translation regarding degree of bitterness in a "bitter beer" Tom was considering earlier in the meal. It make me feel happy to see everyone in Kagges so satisfied.

I asked Kalle, the main chef/one of the owners if I could take his and his team's picture (there are only five of them total and one had the night off), and they said "Sure, come back here with us."

Kalle, the guy from the forest, another forester and the one who told me about the shallot/lemon/butter vinaigrette, happy Em, and the hostess/sommelier. Is this not a fantastically fun photo?

Kalle, the guy from the forest, another forester and the one who told me about the shallot/lemon/butter vinaigrette, happy Em, and the hostess/sommelier. Is this not a fantastically fun photo?

As I headed back around the bar, I got to talking with that couple. It both helps and is enormously humbling that most everyone in Europe can speak English so well, and next thing I know they've asked if we want to go out for an after-dinner drink with them. Despite our having a 5:45am wake-up call and the man needing to work the next day, we said heck yes! So, Tom, Helen, Per, and I settle our checks and wander through the not-dark-but-late night to a bar with outdoor tables where we got beers (wholly unnecessary for me but really, you only live once). I swear I think we were outside the restaurant before we properly introduced ourselves. 

They are the most delightful people, and Helen and I are already planning to mail each other seeds from our garden. We talked about politics in our respective countries and travel and welcoming people into our lives, and after Tom and I bid them farewell and began walking home, I thought once again about how food draws people together and gives us opportunities to meet and connect with others in ways we wouldn't otherwise have. 

The world is so big, and it is an enormous gift to get to visit parts of it, to meet folks from places I'd never heard of until I met them, to swap recipes and stories, to learn about their families and travels and education and interests. Thank you, Helen and Per, for the generosity of your time and company.

At the airport, Tom noticed that my passport was the thick one, the one with extra pages. He chuckled, and I said I ordered those because of hope and adventure. Although we didn't fall deeply in love with any place on this recent trip, we are bigger and better for having gone and experienced a different way of so many things. America is falling the fuck apart right now. It's wrenching and horrid, but the world is big and full of wonderful people, and I find some peace in that. 

Malmö and 7 things to do there

Our few days in Malmö provided a lovely smaller-town respite between Copenhagen and Stockholm. Malmö, the third-largest city in Sweden, is the capital of Skåne, the country's southernmost county. In addition to it being an obvious pass-through if training between Copenhagen and Stockholm, Malmö and Skåne showed up several times in the Martin Beck crime series I'm so fond of, so I figured I just had to see the place. Literary pilgrimage just a bit. ;)

Parts of it were really lovely (parts may have been those where (fictional) crimes were set), everyone was incredibly friendly, and we had some delicious food and drink. I'm not saying you need to make a special effort to visit Malmö, but if you're there, here are some recommended to-dos.

1. The Knotted Gun

Officially entitled Non Violence, this sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd was put up in 1985. He created it after John Lennon's murder, as a tribute to Lennon's peace work and as a way to process his own grief about the assassination (Reuterswärd was a friend of both Lennon and Yoko Ono). There are several replicas around the world, including at the UN in New York and in Berlin. Though the piece is smaller than I expected, it is very powerful, especially for an American who desperately wishes the US would do something meaningful to address the gun violence raging across the country. 

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Non Violence

2. Malmö Saluhall

This saluhall, or food hall, has both fresh produce/meat/cheese/fish/etc and stalls at which you can order prepared food. It has a great selection! Tom went to Pink Head Noodle Bar and got a bowl of hand-pulled wheat noodles with pork, bean sprouts, peanuts, and such, while I went next door to Papi and chose the pasta with pork cheek and gremolata. Both were really delicious. On our way out of town, Tom got a pulled pork sandwich and a falafel salad for us to take on the train. Again, both were quite good. And the coffee was excellent.

3. The Turning Torso

This residential skyscraper, and the tallest building in Scandinavia, was designed by famed architect Santiago Calatrava. It was based on a sculpture he'd done called the Twisting Torso. Construction on the building, which sits on the Öresund Strait finished in 2005, and on certain days, the public can visit an observation deck on an upper floor. It's not mind-blowing, but again, if you're in the area, why not see a Calatrava work.

4. Lilla Torg

Lilla torg, or small square, is a popular plaza in the old part of central Malmö. It seems like a lovely spot to sit and enjoy cocktails as evening rolls in. We ate elsewhere both nights but enjoyed the architecture around the square as well as the people watching. (Have I mentioned my love of manhole covers?)

5. MJs hotel and bar & MJs restaurant

Just steps from Lilla torg, MJs is a wonderfully-located, welcoming, comfortable hotel with a great bar and restaurant and spacious rooms (if ours was an indicator of the usual). We couldn't have enjoyed our meal at MJs more nor the drinks and conversation at the bar with Erik. I told him I hated gin, and next thing I knew I was tip-toeing my way through a gin flight and then a Bee's Knees which is an exceptional cocktail (because the gin taste was hidden, in my opinion). The service throughout the place is impeccable.

5. Coffee and quiche at Eida

Maybe two blocks from MJs is Eida, a coffeeshop that also offers quiche, baked goods, and a salad bar. We loved it because it seemed like a real locals spot and also the coffee was wonderful. Additionally, the staff was super friendly, and my quiche was scrumptious. 

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6. Gamla Kyrkogården

In this park is an old, beautifully tended cemetery. It hails from the early 1820s and has been designated of cultural importance. The tree canopies, flowers, and sculptures around the lovingly kept graves make for a very peaceful, thought-provoking walk. 

7. Final bits: Raoul Wallenberg park, Bastard, the Maxi, just walk and ride.

Restaurant Bastard gets rave reviews, and it's worth a visit. Not amazing, but a fun vibe, really cool wine list, and centrally located. (It's two steps from MJs.) There is also a small park dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg which is nice to see, and if you're hankering for a Super Walmart sort of place, complete with Post, gardening supplies, food and so forth, head to the Maxi. It's very near the Turning Torso. A good place for inexpensive travel essentials, and Tom also managed to find an excellent selection of Gardena garden products and we are heading home with a new nozzle for our hose. LOL.

Lastly, walk. And ride a bike if you'd rather or want some variety. Donkey Republic is a great bike rental service with an easy-to-use app, and we made great use of their bikes in both Copenhagen and Malmö. You never know what wonderful view is waiting for you to see it!