It’s true, I am a self-confessed and unashamed Scandiphile, from our inaugural holiday to Stockholm it was love at first reindeer meatball. Denmark is no exception, three trips later and another planned this July, I have fallen hard for Copenhagen’s unique charms. Of course I may be slightly biased, getting both engaged and married there means the city has a particularly fairytale like quality for me (let’s ignore the Viking history for a moment). Copenhagen will forever hold a special place in my heart, but simply put it is an outstanding destination that every keen traveller should visit. Let me tell you why…
One assumes that Nordic cities are similar but this is an inaccurate generalisation. Of them all, Stockholm is a likely candidate for Copenhagen’s sister city, whilst the former is clean and sanitised the latter has a grungey edge to it and frankly is much cooler. The Danes know how to have a good time; they consume the most butter and bacon in Europe, drink the most booze in Scandinavia, and smoke with abandon (this I particularly disapproved of!). We happened upon a tiny bodega in a narrow street, steeped in naval history these Danish pubs serve cheap beer to a diverse crowd. As a smoking ban accustomed Brit it took me about 15 minutes to work out what was wrong – we were encased in a cloud of hazy cigarette smog!
Indre By is central to the metropolis and traditionally where you should head as a tourist, it houses Christiansborg Palace, Rosenborg Castle, various museums, Tivoli Gardens, and the most instagrammed place of all, Nyhavn harbour. Our first visit we stayed in a steal of an Air BnB on the tranquil Gråbrødretorv square (which incidentally is an excellent brunch spot), a stone’s throw from the must see attractions and wonderful historic architecture. Despite its relatively modest size you could return many times to Copenhagen and discover a new area, good urban planning has ensured the city is geared towards locals rather than tourists, which ironically makes it more attractive for travellers. The transport system is cheap and efficient, and you will have no problem asking for directions because Danes speak perfect English.
We chose to stay in the Vesterbro area over our wedding weekend, not only for its proximity to the City Hall but because the red light district vibe was captivating. The old meatpacking warehouses now overflowing with hipster restaurants and bars co-exist with strip clubs, drug dealers and prostitutes. Call me weird but this sort of environment is interesting and a much better people-watch than traditional Copenhagen, nor did I feel unsafe walking around on my own.
If you only do one thing off the tourist trail make it Nørrebro, just north of the Peblinge Sø lake it is well worth the 30 minute walk (the whole city is insanely walkable or grab a bicycle if you dare). We were wowed by Assistens Kirkegård, a slightly creepy but pretty graveyard where Danes picnic in the summer. Alongside was a bric-a-brac market stretching up to the main shopping drag, a cluster of uber hip Scandi boutiques selling new and vintage clothing, homeware and art. I’m not much of a shopper but the classic Danish style is right up my street. This is an ethnically diverse area, reflected in the plentiful shawarma and falafel restaurants, shisha cafes, and also the super fun Superkilen park. An urban regeneration project intended to showcase the wonderful multiculturalism of Nørrebro, essentially a playground for grown ups which the local population helped to design. Everything from benches to swings are sourced from different cultures, I even found a bin from Blackpool!
You will find information about Christiania in most tourist guides, but there is much more to it than cannabis. The self proclaimed Freetown is an autonomous part of Copenhagen set up by squatters and hippies in the 1970s, it is now home to an alternative community of artists, musicians and bohemians. It was truly wonderful wandering in and out of the galleries and workshops, sitting down by the tranquil lake and experiencing this unique subculture. Pusher street though, where the weed and hash is sold, has a totally different ambience and personally wasn’t my cup of tea. Apparently the Christiania residents agreed with me; in August 2016 following a (very rare) shooting they bulldozed and dismantled the street. I’ve yet to find out if it has reappeared.
Last but not least – the food. Oh my, the food. From the ubiquitous hotdog stands to porridge cafes (a must try) or fish smørrebrød, Danish cuisine is something to shout about. It may be understated but they know how to get the best from fresh seasonal produce. Much like the Swedes they do a mean selection of pastries, the cinnamon based Kanelsnegl being the most popular. Eating out need not be expensive either, we went to Madklubben and Den Lille Fede, both had good quality set menus for around £30 a head so if you forgo the wine it becomes a bargain. Alcohol is slightly more expensive than in London, the most cost effective way of drinking is copying the Danes – buy it in the local supermarket and sit by the river or in one of the many parks.
Hopefully you are now convinced that Copenhagen is the place to be, and I haven’t even mentioned the on-trend concept of Hygge (if you haven’t heard of it then you must have been living in a cave). Don’t just take my word for it though, grab a cheap Norwegian Airline flight and find out for yourself!
P.S. Watch this space for another blog post about my wedding in Copenhagen….
Pro tip – if you want to see the Little Mermaid but are short on time there is a replica at the airport, even for a Hans Christian Andersen fan the waterside original was underwhelming!