Pop-up Restaurants on the Waterfront: Six Cities that Do it Well

Eating along the water is almost universally appealing. We are drawn to the waterfronts that have them

Pop-up Restaurants on the Waterfront: Six Cities that Do it Well
Helsinki 

Eating along the water is almost universally appealing. We are drawn to the waterfronts of our communities, and we are also drawn to delicious dining options: So, to have the best of both is a powerful combination! Restaurants that accomplish this with a flare not only attract patrons, but can also define the waterfront in that neighborhood and for the city.

There are many kinds of waterfront dining establishments, from pop-ups to hybrid restaurants (on boats and land), temporary (seasonal), those that extend over the water or are housed within hotels and museums. There is no doubt that clusters of these types of dining establishments on or near the water can (and often do) become significant attractions!

A Few of the Best:

Below, we explore six of the best waterfront dining areas that we have seen.

Copenhagen: Paper Island

In Copenhagen, Paper Island was home to what was a temporary, five-year activation of an unused warehouse across from the city's main waterfront attraction, it closed in 2018. It was a very bold, eclectic experiment which became home to Copenhagen Street Food, a collective of 60+ eclectic food stalls and street food vendors in a colorful and playful setting.

Seating and dining areas spread throughout the warehouse, which was broken down into different spaces ranging from smaller, more personal seating areas to ones designed to accommodate larger group experiences. Some vendors stalls even had seating above their stalls.

During warmer months the quayside overflowed with activity, with people using the deckchairs, benches, and spaces around old shipping containers adapted for makeshift seating arrangements. The energy inside and out of the market quickly became infectious to visitors and locals alike.

Brooklyn NY: Dekalb Market

Like Paper Island, DeKalb Market was once a great outdoor destination, filled with salvaged shipping containers that housed food vendors, public art, and performance spaces. Now that the space where it once stood has been developed into a large building, it is remembered fondly and lives on in the form of a new version of that market in the basement of the building.

Brooklyn Dekalb Market

Paris: Bassin de la Villette and the Seine

Pop-ups along the Seine and Bassin de la Villette are an explosion of creativity through ongoing improvisation. It defines a revolution in creating public spaces for all kinds of communities for waterfronts around the world. This is not just tourist destination, but a popular place for residents to experience not only opportunities for dining, but also the wealth of activity in what is largely a stage set for dancing, concerts, games and everything under the sun.

Along the Seine: Les Berges

On the Left Bank, starting at Musee D'Orsay and ending near the Eiffel Tower, this promenade buzzing with art, games, hideaways, athletic challenges, and plenty of food is part of a unique, highly dynamic section of the Seine waterfront, giving this part of Paris a proud reason to visit.

Paris Plage: Upper Seine - Left Bank

The upper Seine has always been a place of community gathering, with wide spaces for people to gather in groups or couples to relax. But recently, further up the Seine, a group of highly creative temporary restaurants have popped up both on and off the water. Now, the options are plentiful.

This is a major hub on the Seine, next to Notre Dame.

Paris Plage: Right Bank

It has been fun to watch this part of the Seine continue to change over the past 15 years. It was a revolution in waterfront activation when it was first started in 2003. Now, it is a waterfront space that also uses food as part of its appeal!

The Right Bank has evolved over the years, adding and improving past years' efforts. The result has been a highly localized example of improvisation, in which each area has a special feel.

Paris, the World’s Best Waterfront
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Porto, Portugal: An Historic City

Porto seems to have it all: the attention to the human scale; the links from the waterfront into the city: the layering of uses coming down to the water... For these reasons and more, the promenade along Porto's waterfront is wonderful on both sides... All of this appeal invites visitors to explore.

An extended stretch of a truly dynamic setting of shops and restaurants. Restaurants not only line the upper layer of the promenade overlooking the River Douro, but also abound on the lower stretch of the promenade. There, a year-round pop-up restaurant offers direct access to the river and its promenade.

Stockholm

More than any other city (except Venice and Amsterdam), Stockholm is a city on the water. The entire waterfront is a promenade, making dining a key attribute for citizens and guests.

Stockholm's Djurgården is a full-service cultural, entertainment, and amusement park island, all of which is easily accessed by tram, ferry, and bike. Its main entrance has three restaurants and a park on the four corners.

To complement all of these opportunities to stop for a bite to eat, the waterfront promenade also gives viewers the chance to have an up-close view of docked boats and architecture at once.

The waterfront even features a reconstructed barge: a special treat along a waterfront lined with historic boats and cafés.

Helsinki, Finland

This is just one exceptional waterfront restaurant in what is broadly a great waterfront city. The design of the restaurant allows it to be encased in a big box that seemingly explodes upwards into an exceptional example of a pop-up destination.

This prominent restaurant on the Helsinki waterfront can be folded into a "box" when not open: This modularity and its variety of seating options are part of its unique appeal.

And this restaurant is certainly not alone: The rest of Helsinki is full of places to go to shop, eat, and stroll along its extensive waterfront.

Venice, Italy

We would be remiss to forget the unique Venetian waterfronts in an article like this! Most of the restaurants on or near Venice's canals have temporary seating, often on the water-facing side of narrow paths.

Overall, Venice is an example of the ultimate pop-up scene, which makes its streets diverse hubs of activity and ensures that there is always more to discover (and taste!).

Unlike a street, where people do not want to sit at the curb looking at cars and traffic, people want to be on the water looking out at the view and waterfront activity.

Takeaways

  • These waterfront dining destinations create "hubs" that draw people for multiple reasons.
  • They create places that are attractive to many different demographics of visitors, support local busineses, and create unique, local gathering places that draw even more people.
  • Whether on, over, or floating on the water, the restaurants that accomplish the most creatively are the most popular.
  • This selection of temporary/pop-up restaurants along the waterfront further amplifies the impact active, flexible, highly programmed waterfront "hubs" can have on a city.

These are just a few examples of the excitement that pop-ups and waterfront restaurants can add to a city.

We know of many more... You probably do as well! Please share them and we can add to this collection. Our goal at the Social Life Project is to find the best out there, get into some depth about special aspects that others can learn from, and then to add those examples for others to see.

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