Those of us west of the Atlantic Ocean tend to cross the seas for the purpose of checking off certain landmarks of Europe. There’s Paris, the city of love, and London, home to the Queen. If you’re backpacking through Europe, you might know to travel to Berlin to party and Prague for cheap eats and some fun. Italy and Spain offer perfect weather and outstanding food while Amsterdam is known for its canal beauty and liberal way of living. Yet, after all the lists I’ve seen, it always surprises me how many people neglect putting Copenhagen on their wanderlust travel list.
I believe Copenhagen to be one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Now, I say this with quite a bit of bias as I used to live there, but let me take some time to explain why I think this.
Copenhagen is a fairytale land. The buildings are every single colour of the rainbow, some of which are historical, lasting from the days of Hans Christian Anderson himself, and some of which are modern, adorned in the style of minimalist Danish Design. Despite being graced with frequently gloomy weather, it is said the Danes are the happiest people in the world. They are wonderfully honest, incredibly friendly, and speak impeccable English. The culture embodies equality and humility, following the law of Jante, and prioritizes enjoying life without being a slave to the career. There are many eccentric Danish traditions and holidays established for spending time with friends and family and eating good food. Needless to say, you won’t find any place on earth with a stronger spirit of hygge than its country of origin.
The easy thing about making a trip to Copenhagen is that it’s small in the best way possible. You don’t need to spend too much time to see the city, and can really cover a lot of ground by foot (or bike). There also aren’t very many tourist destinations to track but because the whole city itself is like a work of art, there is no shortage of what to see. It’s small, but it certainly isn’t boring.
While you go ahead and hunt for some good flight deals, I’ll enlighten you with a few places worth checking out when you step foot into the land of the kanelsnegl….
Copenhagen’s city centre is spectacular on its own, with old charming architecture housing familiar contemporary fashion stores, the uneven cobblestone beneath your feet, and the intersecting streets that make it oh so easy to get lost. Fear not! You’re in a safe place! The centre is full of cozy coffee shops, boutiques, mainstream stores, tasty restaurants—really all sorts of activity. To get back on track, look for Strøget. Strøget is the longest shopping street in Europe and will take you straight from the Kongens Nytorv metro station to Tivoli Gardens. But a fair warning—while lost, you may be enticed to spend some money...
Bastard Cafe: good for cheap eats and drinks and the largest collection of board games to play. It’s incredibly cozy indoors and a good place to hide from the rain should the weather choose to be unpleasant.
Illum and its rooftop: it’s a super fancy department store so take your time drooling over the clothes and cosmetics and house decor found on each floor. Once you get to the top floor, there’s a wide selection of food to pick from. I’d recommend grabbing a coffee at Original Coffee and sitting outside on the balcony to get one of the nicest views of the bustling street below.
The flagship store for Hay: Hay is the epitome of Danish Design. With clean lines, minimalism, and playful colours, the visual aesthetic of the entire shop is soup for the designer’s soul.
Tivoli Gardens is one of the world’s oldest amusement parks. Wealthy in Danish tradition, while roaming the gardens you’ll be immersed into the magical world of Tivoli (rumoured to have inspired Walt Disney). Catch a ballet performance at the infamous Pantomime Theatre or scream your head off while riding the Dæmon. There’s always a ton of activities happening at Tivoli for all ages. One time I watched Elton John perform there! Much like Copenhagen itself, it’s not too big, so you can likely see the whole place in an afternoon, but indulge in all the retro Tivoli experiences; play the carnival games, eat the food, try all the rides. Oh, and keep your eyes open for the friendly peacocks strolling through the garden!
Next to Tivoli is a very beautiful art museum called Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket. The museum, while having exhibitions that change throughout the year, has elegantly manicured permanent collections such as pieces of work from celebrated Danish, French, and European painters and a vast array of sculptures. One of my favourite things about the Glyptoteket is its colossal botanical garden inspired atrium, resembling a mini jungle in the centre of the museum. I feel completely at peace whenever I walk through Glyptoteket and I never get tired of coming here. There’s something so therapeutic about the silence in the museum as you’re able to admire the entrancing artwork of Manet and Degas.
I suggest coming on a Tuesday because the museum is free on this day, excluding special exhibitions. Otherwise, look out for special prices if you’re under 27 years old.
While it’s a bit far from the rest of the city, Refshaleøen is by no means out of reach and is a must-visit when you go to Copenhagen. The area borders Copenhagen’s harbour, making it a lovely waterfront scene and easily accessible by the city’s frequent ferry service. This seemingly industrial area is burgeoning into the city’s top foodie destination with the openings of Copenhagen’s newest, proletariat designed street food, Reffen, and Noma (once named the world’s best restaurant) relocating here. Obviously, comparing Michelin starred restaurants to street food markets, you’ll be looking at a slightly different price tag, but Copenhagen is recognized for its fantastic gastronomic culture. Any food you get will be absolutely delicious.
You can’t leave Refshaleøen without visiting La Banchina. Situated right on the water, La Banchina’s real estate includes a cafe that resembles a quaint old fishing cabin, a dock that extends into the water for customers to sunbathe on or practice their cannonballs, and a beautifully crafted sauna in which you can peacefully detox your body while admiring the wharf’s view. If you visit during any season that’s not summer and are feeling extra bold, do as the Vikings do and jump into the icy cold water. There will be a nice and toasty sauna waiting for you afterward.
I really like this area because it’s quite unassuming. There are a lot of warehouses and factories and one would really never expect for it to be such a cool destination. At the same time, there’s still nothing pretentious about it. The street food area is just put together in a casual but creative way. Vendors are content in shipping containers and guests can be comfortable at the picnic tables by the water. It’s this easygoing, humble lifestyle that is very much a part of Danish culture. Whether you’re at feasting at Reffen, picking up a loaf of bread at Lille Bakery, or trying one of La Banchina’s life-changing kanelsnegl (cinnamon pastry), you’re in good company, and you’re also in one of the best places in the city to watch the sun go down.
While the city centre may be a prime location for shopping, I much prefer going to Gammel Kongevej. It’s a street in Frederiksberg, one of Copenhagen’s neighbourhoods, that caters to the community’s every need. There are restaurants, cafes, pharmacies, bakeries, supermarkets, clothing boutiques, design concept shops, and furniture stores.
2nd Rag: a luxury consignment shop full of secondhand Danish designers. The kind owner offers you water or coffee while you browse through her immaculate selection of clothing.
Acacia: this is the best vegan cafe I’ve ever been to. You could bring the biggest carnivore you know here and they’ll be obsessed with the food. It’s crazy good and the mother and daughter owners are terribly sweet.
Detour down Værnedamsvej: this charming little street is what my group of friends and I have always called “The French Street” and it’s because you’ll see many French influences in the shops, decor, and architecture while walking down this streetlet.
Vesterbro is easily one of the city’s coolest neighbourhoods. Directly translating to “Western bridge” (in conjunction with the northern neighbourhood Nørrebro and the eastern neighbourhood Østerbro), the neighbourhood lies just west of the central station and Tivoli Gardens. There are many special nooks of the neighbourhood including Sønder Boulevard for urban street entertainment, Istedgade for nifty shops and secondhand stores, and the Carlsberg Brewery for, well, beer.
If you’re looking for a delicious dinner and a place to go out dancing afterward, I’d suggest checking out Kødbyen, Copenhagen’s “meatpacking district”. Don’t worry—there’s no more meatpacking that goes on here. In recent years it’s been transformed into a hotspot for tasty food, bars and clubs, and street food markets in the summer. I really like the Kødbyen district not only because it’s a lot of fun, but also because of its distinguishable look. The brown brick buildings indicate one part of the area, while the industrial white and blue buildings signify the other. It’s also the sort of place with a lot of secret spots to discover. I won’t say anymore—don’t want to spoil the fun.
I’m very anti-line so it’s very rare for me to actually encourage anybody to wait in line. But then there’s Juno the Bakery. In my time living in Copenhagen, I became somewhat of a pastry connoisseur, having tried endless amounts of traditional Danish sweets. So, with confidence I say that Juno the Bakery is the city’s best, if not the world’s, for pastries. It’s a tiny little space, which explains why the line is always out the door. The bakers are constantly baking, so naturally, it’s a very aromatic little shop. If you go with a group of friends, then waiting in line becomes a bit more pleasant and it becomes a hyggeligt activity while spending time together waiting for pastries. Spoiler alert: when you finally get your hands on a pastry, it will blow your mind.
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