Copenhagen is cool. Really cool. I fell in love with it instantly, helped no end by the blanket of snow which enveloped the city over night, creating one of the most picture-perfect landscapes I’d ever seen.
I should preface this by saying I’m obsessed with all things Scandinavian: design, architecture, clothes and of course those dark and depressing, but completely compelling TV series such as Borgen and The Killing. So naturally Copenhagen quickly became one of my favourite cities in the world.
It has a lot going for it: great bars and restaurants, edgy and exciting architecture, fantastic galleries and museums, and really friendly people. It is incredibly hip and everyone looks so effortlessly cool. Its streets are spotlessly clean, everyone cycles everywhere (apparently only 29% of Danes own a car) so there is a fantastic network of bike tracks, and most of its key attractions are within walking distance of each other. And of course everyone speaks perfect English.
Ticks all the boxes for you? Well bring your credit card as it ain’t cheap. But totally worth the expense. And here are some of the reasons you should visit:
Museums and Galleries
Copenhagen is a wonderful city for art lovers and its museums and galleries are second to none, catering to all tastes. Here are four of the best.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art:
This is one of the most awesome museum experiences I’ve ever had and warranted inclusion in my blog Extraordinary Museums: a selection to stir your soul Here are some pics to give you a sense of the dramatic coastal location.
SMK: the National Gallery of Denmark:
This is a fantastic gallery with a wonderful collection of Danish and international art. I was not that familiar with Danish and Nordic art aside from the COBRA painters but was blown away by the work of Ejnar Nielsen, the other greats such as Asger Jorn, Carl Henning-Pedersen, Vilhelm Hammershoi, Per Kirkeby and Jens Ferdinand Willumsen. They also have a terrific international collection including works by Modigliani, Dufy, Picasso, Braque, and the two wonderful paintings by Matisse below. We spent hours here, and when we emerged, the snow was teaming down. Just a shame we weren’t exactly dressed for the (March) weather.
This is the one that looks like a ship. It was recommended to us by a Danish friend and has an excellent collection of Danish, Nordic and international modern and contemporary art. It also housed one of the best temporary exhibitions I’d seen in years: a retrospective of the work of Carl Henning-Pedersen, one of the key members of the COBRA group.
NY Carlsberg Glyptoteket:
Another cracking museum. I wouldn’t usually include four for a city break but it was too difficult to choose between them. Its collection consists of works of art and artifacts from Egypt, ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, as well as French and Danish art of the 19th century. It also houses 47 paintings by Paul Gauguin covering his entire career, one of the largest collections of his work to be found anywhere. It’s well worth a visit.
Another draw is the wonderful winter garden located in the centre of the museum, which houses the café – a lovely place to while away an afternoon.
Food and drink:
Bankeråt: we had drinks here the first night we arrived in Copenhagen. It’s a weird and wonderful introduction to Copenhagen: a little bit dark, on the verge of dingy, but really cosy, especially on a cold winter’s night. It has a great selection of unusual beers and some nice wines by the glass. It’s also one of the strangest places I’ve ever had a drink. There are taxidermy animals everywhere, dressed in very strange outfits. One almost gave me a heart attack at the bottom of the stairs. Needless to say it’s one of the more memorable bars I’ve ever been to.
Dag H: recommended to us by a Danish friend, this was a fantastic brunch experience. The decor is slick and minimalist, the staff friendly, and the food outstanding.
Temporada Tapasbodega: one of the highlights of our trip, firstly for the fabulous food, but more importantly due to the incredibly warm host and owner Elo. He had a real pride in his produce and such a passion for what he was doing. He gave us some complimentary glasses of wine and ended up joining us at our table at the end of the evening. A wonderful experience and a restaurant we would return to on our next trip.
Where to stay:
We were really happy with this hotel during our stay, which incidentally I should mention is right beside Temporada Tapasbodega, the restaurant I mentioned above. I was surprised at the standard, despite having just three-stars. The decor is very slick with white walls, classic Danish design and furniture. It's pretty reasonably priced for such an expensive city and I felt it was good value for money. The rooms weren't exactly huge but were comfortable, clean and modern in neutral colours but with a splash of colour added by the geometric bedspreads. It's well located less than 2kms from the city centre and with good access to transport links both from the airport and across the city. Forum sub-way station is just a few minutes' walk away. It's located in Frederiksberg which is a pretty happening part of the city.
One of the high points for us was the breakfast - it really was fantastic with a massive buffet of bread, cheeses, meats, yoghurt, fresh fruit and great coffee which came in your own personal cafetiére. They also had pancakes on offer, if you made it down to breakfast on the earlier side of the serving times.
Staff were very friendly too, with perfect English. I couldn't fault it and would happily return here again.
Other things to do and see in Copenhagen:
Many of the images you’ve seen of Copenhagen have probably been of Nyhavn, one of its most picturesque harbours, with its symmetrical facade of multicoloured gabled houses and buildings. It’s extremely pretty and we were lucky enough to see it against a bright blue wintry sky. It’s a perfect area for wandering and has many nice restaurants and bars. It has a history of housing prominent Danish artists in its time, but even more famously the Danish fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen used to live in no. 20. He also lived for a time in no. 67 and in no. 18. Nyhavn is one of the departure points for a canal tour, which I couldn’t recommend enough. See below.
Canal Tours Copenhagen:
This is a fantastic way to experience the city from a different perspective and one of the departure points is from Nyhavn above. I’ve been on canal tours in other cities and some have not been that interesting, but this one was fantastic. As so much of this city is built around its canals network, it follows that many of its sights can be best seen from the water. It offers a terrific viewpoint of some really cutting edge Scandinavian architecture including the Royal Danish Opera House, with its sleek limestone and glass facade; the Black Diamond (National Library) whose shiny, black frontage reflects wonderfully the sea and sky at the harbour front; The Royal Danish Playhouse Theatre, and the classically beautiful Amalienborg Palace, home of Denmark’s royal family.
A word of advice: if you’re going on a canal tour in winter or early spring, wrap up warmly. We were there in March and it was snowing most of the time. To say the tour was invigorating was putting it mildly. I don’t think I’ve ever been colder, especially when we moved out from the canal network to the open sea. It was bloody Baltic. But despite the cold, we enjoyed every second.
We were short on time so didn’t make it inside for a tour, but the grounds alone of this 17th century castle are worth a trip. The covering of snow made it even more magical. I felt like I’d been transported back in time to another era.
As I mentioned, I am an obsessive viewer of all Danish dramas. Borgen, the political thriller about fictional Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg was always my favourite so I was quite excited to see Christiansborg, the parliament building which features so prominently in the show, in real life. The fountain below was the setting for a particularly emotional scene but you’ll not find any spoilers here. Just watch the show – I promise it’ll be the best TV you’ve seen in years.
Freetown Christiania is the alternative and self-proclaimed autonomous region of Copenhagen, established in 1971 as a society within a society, independent of the Danish government. Within its walls it hosts a series of artists’ workshops, art galleries, music venues, cafés, bars and restaurants. But it’s probably best known for its liberal attitude to drugs: cannabis is openly consumed here and sold on the infamous Pusher Street, despite being illegal in Denmark. Visitors are not allowed to film or take any photographs for this reason. It wasn’t for me. I found it all a bit grimy and seedy but interesting all the same. We did have a great meal here though with our Danish friends in Café Loppen Impossible to find unless you know where you’re going. Looks really dingy on the way up the stairs with graffiti everywhere but it’s a really cool place once inside the door. Really big and spacious with a vibey atmosphere and great food.
And yes she’s very little. I’m not sure if it’s worth the trip for this alone, but the Little Mermaid, a character from one of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, is a very iconic symbol of the city, and quite a pretty sculpture by Edvard Eriksen. If you find yourself at Amalienborg Slot, it’s a short walk along the quayside through the lovely Langelinie Park to see her.
The Little Mermaid: