A beginner’s guide to Copenhagen
There’s a lot to love about Copenhagen – a small, perfectly-formed city, where the locals are tall, blond, and effortlessly stylish.
Copenhagen is one of those cities that can take a little while to reveal its secrets to you. It’s beautiful, and everyone is friendly enough, but unless you get a bit of local knowledge you can feel like you’re only just scratching the surface and not really discovering the best of this northern destination.
Things to do
Take the metro to Christianshavn where you can climb the tower of Our Saviours Church for spectacular 360-degree views across Copenhagen. Walk down to the port to check out the old Kastellet fort and the famous Little Mermaid, then wander on to check out the palace and the main cathedral.
Islands Brygge is a fantastic point from which you can swim in the clean and clear salty water of the Copenhagen harbour. There’s also a really good diving platform - it looks easy, but it’s a daunting prospect when standing at the edge of the platform looking down at the water.
If you’re looking for indoor swimming, Bellahoj swimming stadium is a beautifully designed pool and a joy to swim in. After swimming, everyone kicks back in the sauna. Amazing.
Christiania is a ‘free zone’ alternative lifestyle commune that has been established in an old military barracks. A relaxed and edgy vibe - hash and marijuana openly on display and being sold and smoked everywhere.
Copenhagen is a city that is defined by light and water. A boat tour is the perfect way to explore the canals of Copenhagen. Motoring gently across the water, you got a real sense of the layout of the city while also admiring some of the striking buildings that have helped to define Nordic style.
Wander the streets of the Latin quarter for good shopping and cafes.
Visit the Glyptotek museum. Carl Jacobsen was a member of the Carlsberg brewing family. An avid collector of sculpture, in the early 1900s he donated his vast collection to the state of Denmark and helped to fund the creation of The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek art museum to showcase and share it. There’s a strong emphasis on Danish sculpture, as well as an impressive amount of work from Rome and Egypt.
Go on a roller-coaster
It would be a mistake to dismiss Tivoli as just an amusement park - it’s so much more than that. For the people of Copenhagen, Tivoli is part of the fabric of the city - there are often concerts here, or you can easily spend the day just enjoying the gardens, the atmosphere, and the people watching. We took a ride on the old wooden roller-coaster, which went surprisingly fast. Some of the best ice-cream that you are ever going to eat can be found at Det Gamle Ishus in the Tivoli. I opted for a scoop of stawberry, and a scoop of licorice, topped with a dollop of guf – a soft marshmallow topping topping similar to Italian meringue – it was a flavour sensation.
A relatively flat city, Copenhagen is easy to cycle around. The bike lanes are clearly marked and everyone follows the rules. Hire a bike and start exploring - you’ll soon get your bearings of the city and see a lot of the sights. The city has a population of 1.2 million, and over 30% of the city’s residents commute to work by bicycle.
The Blue Planet at Kastrup is one of the biggest aquariums in Northern Europe. Designed in the shape of a whirlpool, the aquarium cleverly presents different zones of aquatic life from around the world. This is a particularly kid-friendly place – definitely a good option for a family excursion.
Described as a party-tsunami, the annual Distortion festival is a celebration of club music that takes over different neighbourhoods around the city on each day.
Go for a sandwich
Smørrebrød is one of the traditional foods that the people of Denmark proudly claim as one of their own. Essentially, it’s an open sandwich – a slice of dark rye bread, most often topped with herring but increasingly served with all sorts of meat and vegetable combinations.
Some of the best shopping can be found along Gammel Kongevej and around Skt. Peders Straede. Also great homewares at Normann Copenhagen. Torvehallerne food market is a posh food market where you can stop for lunch. Make the effort to visit smaller stores such as Norse Projects in Nørrebro or Nag People on Klareboderne.
Go for a sausage
On a night out, the most popular food option is the “polsevogn” which translates as sausage wagon. A wide range of sausages are available, the most popular being “rode polser” or red sausage.
Go the cemetery
Assistens Cemetery is a beautiful calm space where you can admire the multitudes of red squirrels and the tomb of children’s author Hans Christian Andersen.
Where to stay
Andersen Hotel: This is a smart, modern hotel in a great location in Vesterbro. Vesterbro is a lively and vibrant area - great restaurants and bars mixing easily with a bit of red-light district edginess.
CPH Living: A small boutique hotel on a houseboat in the harbour.
Nimb hotel: When you approach Nimb hotel for the first time, it appears deceptively unassuming - a small understated entry from the street. This is a good central location – immediately opposite the main train station and right in the centre of Copenhagen. However when you enter into reception you realise that you’re stepping into a special boutique hotel that’s embedded within the treasured Tivoli pleasure gardens.
Radisson Blue Royal Hotel: Famous for its design by Arne Jacobsen, you can always rely on the Radisson brand.
Wakeup Copenhagen: Inexpensive but with a clever an interesting design, a good location near the central train station.
Bars and Restaurants
In recent years, Copenhagen has firmly established itself as the ideal destination for food-lovers. Most people would pinpoint super-restaurant Noma as being in the vanguard of Copenhagen’s emergence as a culinary capital, but the rediscovery of local, seasonal produce and ingredients can be experienced in restaurants of all shapes and sizes across the city. It’s a little too simplistic to describe this style of cuisine as ‘new-Nordic’ – Copenhagen’s fashion-forward restaurants are serving up exciting, innovative cooking that would be at home in any of the world’s leading cities.
Lidkoeb bar: Access to Lidkoeb is through a small, unmarked alleyway. There is no street signage, you have to know what you’re looking for. It’s worth the effort – this is a top-drawer cocktail bar that has been established in an old pharmacy.
Øl & Brød restaurant: Throughout Copenhagen there are numerous cafes and restaurants selling smørrebrød – the traditional open sandwich of Denmark. The smørrebrød at Øl & Brød were among some of the best I’ve ever eaten.
Geist: A big, stylish space but with dark, sexy lighting that makes Geist feel surprisingly intimate. Dishes are designed for sharing and it’s impressive cooking.
Fru Nimb: A large, ground-floor space that overlooks the picturesque gardens of Tivoli, Fru Nimb is an attractive restaurant.
Restaurant Kronborg: Traditional but welcoming restaurant with a focus on Danish classics.
La Glace: The cakes at La Glace are a bit of a revelation and worth blowing the diet for.
Kodbyens Fiskebar: Fantastic seafood restaurant in the Meatpacking District.
Noma: I’ve only eaten at Noma once, but it was an experience that is difficult to describe. It is crazy expensive for a dinner, but it’s a bit unfair to describe it as “expensive for a dinner”. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and experiences like these are priceless.
- Copenhagen Pride takes place in August.
- Mix Copenhagen is an LGBT film festival that happens in October.
- Centralhjornet – reportedly the oldest gay bar in the world.
- Cosy Bar – queer bar
- Never Mind - for a big night out.
- Amigo Sauna is the gay bathhouse.
- Pan Idraet is the gay and lesbian sports association for Denmark offering 17 different sports.
Exporting brand Copenhagen
Lots of good things come out of Denmark. Brands such as Bang & Olufsen, Lego, Pandora, and Joe & The Juice all began their journey here. Here’s some of the other brands you might want to keep an eye out for.
The Coffee Collective: There’s a couple of outlets around Copenhagen but the original Coffee Collective on Jægersborggade is a small, unprepossessing cafe which serves up very very good coffee from their own roastery (the beans are sourced directly from farmers around the world).
Grød: Their name translates appropriately as porridge. It’s a simple concept - during the day they serve porridge and then in the evening they serve Risotto. That’s it. Genius. You’ll find them on Jægersborggade.
Summerbird Chocolaterie on Kronprinsensgade. They’ve been making top quality chocolate in Denmark for 15 years, and are best known for the butterfly-shaped marzipan covered in dark chocolate - the Danish word for butterfly (sommerfugl) translates to English as summerbird.
Johan Bülow is a young Danish guy who has decided to reinvent liquorice. Liquorice is a flavour loved by the Danish as well as their Scandinavian and Nordic neighbours. Determined to take liquorice to the next level, Bülow has established his business Lakrids and it is producing a range of liquorice products that are beyond delicious. There are a couple of Lakrids stores in Copenhagen and conveniently one at the airport to grab some gifts on your way home.