Copenhagen is known to be cold, dark and so incredibly expensive. Yet there’s something appealing the Danish capital people take pride in their reserved, but genuine, behaviour and their immeasurable love for bikes.
As with any other Northern European city it goes without saying that Copenhagen is best to visit in late Spring or Summer. Not only to avoid snow and subzero temperatures, but also because Copenhageners are much more fun to be around at this time. They come to life after a long winter spent hibernating inside their 55 square metre apartments.
With the ‘white nights’ between May and August, the sun sets late and rises early and darkness is never complete. People make up for lost times by hanging out on squares and doorsteps all over the city, sipping coffees, chatting and checking each other out, hoping to catch the latest fashion trends. Known for its Danish Design, the world’s oldest monarchy and apparently some of the world’s happiest people, it’s worth a visit for those keen to get a quick Euro fix.
Where to shop
Copenhagen locals do like fashion and this makes the city a good spot for shopping. To bag some goods, most tourists tend to head down the world’s longest pedestrian street, Strøget, where you’ll find plenty of high-street shops such as H&M, Zara, Urban Outfitters, TopShop and the like. For local design, venture off to the narrow winding side streets of Strøget where you’ll find chic, little shops like Zarah Voigt known for its lucite jewellery and Lot 29# that combines its own clothing brand with other labels from Italy and New York. Alternatively, head to Nørrebro where you’ll find small, quirky designer boutiques along Elmegade or go to Vesterbro that has some cool second hand shops such as E-Vintage and Genbrug.
If it rains, which is does on average 121 days per year, get under cover in Magasin du Nord, a large department store that has been around since 1894 offering a wide range of clothing, beauty products, luxury food and house hold appliances. For interior design visit Normann Copenhagen (www.normann-copenhagen.com), housed in a 1,700 square metre showroom in the Østerbro area featuring both its own brand and exclusive design. If you have a thing for chinaware, try out the large Royal Copenhagen on Strøget. This royal porcelain dates back to 1775 and has had success combining old traditions with new trends.
Where to eat
Shopping makes you hungry, but hunger in Copenhagen can easily lead to an empty wallet. It’s not that Copenhagen residents don’t like to eat out, it’s just that restaurant prices can be ridiculously high. So if double Michelin-starred Noma (www.noma.dk) is out of your price range, do try out other parts of Scandinavian cuisine by aiming for the more affordable smørrebrød. This traditional Danish lunch consisting of open-faced sandwiches has seen somewhat of a renaissance and is quite popular with the city’s hip residents these days.
There are plenty of smørrebrød cafes lined up along the charming 17th century canal Nyhavn. For less of a tourist trap head over to Chr. 4-tal, a café situated in a cosy basement in the trendy district of Christianshavn where many artists and other creative minds live. In this area you’ll also find Café Luna that serves massive, tasty brunch platters. If you find yourself in the area around the main shopping strip, go down Strædet, a pleasant little cobbled street running parallel with Strøget, housing around 20 cafes. Many of them offer similar menus at the same price range so if you find it hard to choose, a laid-back basement café named Kreuzberg is one of the best.
If you do fancy dining out, Downtown is not the best place to find good, affordable restaurants and do try to avoid the eateries on Gråbrødre Torv that serve bland, over-priced meals. Having said that Madklubben, a bistro-de-luxe and basic English cuisine restaurant, is a city centre exception that offers three-course meals for Dkk200 (Dhs137). Alternatively, head over to Vesterbro that houses a few great Italian joints. Famo 51(www.famo.dk) is excellent, offering mouth-watering antipastis with fresh ingredients flown in from Italy and a great selection of wines.
For drinking spots, Vesterbro is where it all happens. This area is Copenhagen’s answer to Amsterdam’s red light district (fortunately less articulated) and houses the Meatpacking district, Kødbyen, where many bars and clubs have popped up over the last few years. It’s a fairly overrated area where pretentious Danes go to show off their undercut haircuts and newest fashion buys, but try out the very casual pub Dyrehaven, not far from Kødbyen. If you want to escape the hip 20-somethings, renowned jazz house Montmartre (www.jazzhusmontmartre.dk) in St. Regnegade reopened just recently and is a great spot to enjoy some world class music.
Where to relax
Copenhagen is everything but stressful. It doesn’t have a big city feel to it and public parks are plentiful. The King’s Garden, situated in the heart of the city and home of Rosenborg Castle, is a popular picnic spot among local university students and families that go there to unwind after work or on the weekend. If you’re looking for a more peaceful place to chill out, go for a walk around the lake located in Freetown Christiania. Here you’ll see some of the quirky houses built by hippies over the years since they occupied the area in the early 1970s.
If you find yourself less lucky with the weather, go to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Browse through the museum’s extensive collection of ancient and modern art and taste some of the museum café’s delicate cakes in The Winter Garden. Alternatively, enjoy a latte at Paludan Bogcafe in city centre street Fiolstræde, a book café with great ambience and of course loads of books. Finally, to get a complete Copenhagen experience, a stroll on the beautiful city citadel Kastellet is a must.
Where to go outside the city
If have time to spare, there are three great daytrips you can take outside the city, all reachable by train. On top of the list is Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (www.louisiana.dk). Without a doubt the best museum for modern art in Denmark, it holds a fantastic permanent collection of famous artworks by artists such as Picasso, Warhol, Giacometti and Hockney. It also features a beautiful sculpture park where you can explore Henry Moore while enjoying the gorgeous sea view and catch a vague glimpse of Sweden in the horizon.
Secondly, you might as well tick off Sweden now that you’re in the area. Within 30 minutes from Copenhagen Central Station you’ll find yourself standing in 13th century Malmö, once part of Denmark and now Sweden’s third largest city with shopping about 30 per cent cheaper than in Copenhagen.
And finally, if you’re a Shakespeare freak do head up to Hamlet’s castle Kronborg in Elsinore, a 45 minutes train ride north of the capital. The castle also houses the fabled Ogier the Dane, a large statue said to come to life when Denmark’s in peril.
Need to know
Austrian Airlines fly to Copenhagen daily with a stop in Vienna. From Dhs2,700 return including taxes. (www.austrian.com)
Where to stay
If you’re in a creative and eco-friendly mood, book a room at C02 neutral Hotel Fox, a design hotel where 21 international artists have decorated the 61 rooms. (www.hotelfox.dk)
If you’re on a bigger budget go for First Skt. Petri Hotel located in a lovely street in the heart of the city, just opposite the old university library. (www.firsthotels.com/sktpetri)
Among the main attractions are The Little Mermaid, Amalienborg Palace, Tivoli Gardens, Christiania, Round Tower, The National Gallery and The National Museum. Jump on a guided canal tour to get a great overview over the city from the waterfront. It makes for a picturesque photo opportunity, starts from Dkk30 (Dhs20) for a 1-hour cruise and is popular among both tourists and local residents.
Because the city isn’t very large, you can quite easily explore most of it on foot. However, the ultimate Copenhagen experience is to rent a bike. (www.rentabike.dk) Public transport is efficient and both Metro and city busses is a quick way to get around. (www.rejseplanen.dk)
History, geography and other facts
•Evidence shows that Copenhagen has existed as a settlement for over 6,000 years, though the first written record only dates back to AD 1043.
•The city is situated on the coast of the island of Zealand pointing east into Øresund, the strait between Denmark and Sweden.
•Every day 55 per cent of the city’s 1.2 million residents ride their bike to work. In total the cyclists cover over 1.17 million kilometres a day.