GAYETI SINGH | 1 AUGUST, 2019
What To Do In Copenhagen
You better learn to love the chair, and the cycle.
Copenhagen is the definition of Scandi cool - where great design meets sustainable urban planning, culinary excellence takes on the form of locally sourced organic produce, and cycling is the preferred mode of transport. It’s easy to see why the Danes are the happiest people in the world - as the country’s capital is an ideal mix of energetic and relaxed, with its colourful neighborhoods, contemporary design and pristine waterways.
The city also seems to have it all - from a great food scene (breakfast spots ftw) and some very trendy cocktail bars, to an incredible mix of old and new architecture set amidst a charming waterfront. The locals are very friendly, speak English fluently, and take their cycling very seriously - so seriously, that there are more bikes than people in the city (steer clear of the bike lanes lest you anger an otherwise friendly Dane).
The best time to visit is of course the summer, and although you’ll miss out on the quintessential Danish experience that is Hygge (a phrase used to describe cosiness and contentment, especially as winter sets in) - nothing quite beats instagramming that licorice-caramel ice cream cone (all organic, it’s Copenhagen) against the backdrop of colourful Nyhavn (hashtag summer 2020).
Nyhavn translates to ‘New Harbour’
Here’s our Copenhagen travel guide, with everything you need to see, eat, drink and do.
What to see
Copenhagen is an architectural playground - with bold urban planning centred on sustainability, light and space shooting up alongside the city’s castles and palaces, grand parliament and charming old neighbourhoods. One of the architectural highlights is the Copenhagen Stock Exchange, mainly because it’s housed in a 17th century building called the Børsen (Danish for ‘exchange’). It’s situated next to Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish Parliament - and the entire area makes for a wonderful walkabout, especially as the grand architecture is juxtaposed against modern contemporary buildings including the very impressive Nationalbank.
The Nationalbank -- designed by Arne Jacobsen -- is definitely a must-see. The stone and glass facade lead to marble floors and walls, and you can’t help but notice the attention to detail. The building provides a striking contrast to the other more historical and architecturally traditional government buildings in the area. Embodied in that contrast is the essence of what makes Danish architecture so interesting -- the interplay between old and new.
With so much to see and do in Copenhagen, time can be scarce - so a helpful tip is to drive by the area, and marvel at the architecture from your taxi or the bus.
The Amalienborg Palace square. The dome is the Marble Church
Amalienborg Palace and the Marble Church
If you’re into royal history -- or just want a quick peek into how Danish royals live -- check out Amalienborg Palace, located on a picturesque square that leads up to the very pretty Marble Church. Spend some time watching the Changing of the Guard, snapping photos underneath the statue of King Frederik V, and sneaking in a moment of peace in the Marble Church, known for its rococo architecture. Don’t miss the Royal Danish Opera -- designed by architect Henning Larsen -- located on the other side of the waterfront.
Spend an afternoon at the Rosenborg Castle, set in the King’s Garden featuring 400 years of royal art treasures and the Crown Jewels. It’s a good way to get a sense of the Dutch Renaissance, and some of the Crown Jewels are quite spectacular.
The spectacular Rosenborg Castle
Probably the most instagrammable part of Copenhagen, Nyhavn is the perfect place to end a long summer day. The 17th century canal and its bright, colourful buildings were originally a busy commercial port, teeming with sailors, pubs and alehouses. Today, the renovated buildings house restaurants, cafes, bars and ice cream parlours - and in the summer, they all offer outdoor seating.
Stroll along the waterfront from Amalienborg Palace, pass the Royal Danish Playhouse -- another very interesting building -- and end your day with a drink (or several) at a cafe in Nyhavn. There couldn’t be a more perfect summer’s day.
PS: Danish fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen lived at no. 20, which is where he wrote 'The Tinderbox', 'Little Claus and Big Claus', and 'The Princess and the Pea’.
The Royal Danish playhouse
No trip to Copenhagen is complete without a visit to the famous Designmuseum - with its display of decorative art, crafts, and industrial designs. Works by the legendary Danish designers Poul Henningsen, Kaare Klint, and Arne Jacobsen make up the museum’s collection, all housed in a fine old rococo building, originally built in 1757 by King Frederik V as the first public hospital.
The Danish chair exhibition
An exhibit on the Danish chair is the highlight and not to be missed. You’ll walk out with a renewed appreciation for chairs, and an understanding of why they are ‘one of the most culture-bearing design objects.’
One of the sign boards at the museum states that good design is a fundamental human right, and in Denmark -- where every basic need is taken care of -- design takes on a far more intimate meaning.
End your day with a cake and coffee at the museum’s lovely cafe; in the summer, there’s outdoor seating in the grassy and green Grønnegård courtyard. And don’t miss the museum shop, where you can buy Danish industrial designs, ceramics, glass, fabrics, and of course, replicas of the famous Danish chair.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is located 40km from Copenhagen, but is well worth the journey. The building itself is considered a milestone in modern Danish architecture - and is one of the most unique places to appreciate modern art and sculpture. The museum is surrounded by greenery, leading to panoramic views of the shore. Take a break with a buffet lunch or coffee at the museum cafe, from where you can see Sweden across the clear blue waters.
Stroll through the impressive sculpture garden, with works by Jean Arp, Max Ernst, Max Bill, Alexander Calder, Henri Laurens, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Miró and Henry Moore.
The museum’s permanent collection includes the greats - Picasso, Miro, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, but the highlights are the temporary exhibitions that are executed to an exceptional standard. Current exhibitions include an immersive, visual and colourful experience by Piplotti Rist, revolving around the themes of the human body, technology, space, gender and nature. The exhibit Homeless Souls uses art to depict a world marked by conflict and instability, focusing on displacement. An inspiring collection of the works of feminist artist Dea Trier Morch links the intimate to political currents of the time.
If you’re even remotely interested in modern art, do not miss this museum.
The Piplotti Rist exhibition
Tivoli is on every Copenhagen travel guide, famous as the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world. It’s festive any time of year, and a great place for families with young children as there are plenty of rides, games and candy to keep everyone happy. If roller coasters aren’t your thing, duck into the Tivoli Food Hall, where you’ll find stalls by some very popular local eateries.
You cannot leave Copenhagen without checking out Freetown Christiania - a commune of about 1000 people, located in the heart of the city. A signboard warns you’re no longer in the European Union, suggesting that Christiania is governed by its own laws. (In reality, relations between residents and Danish authorities are strained, but Danish law is now enforced in the area, at least on paper).
The famous Pusher Street is dotted with stalls selling cannabis, and although photography isn’t permitted, it’s all in the open without a shroud of secrecy.
If you’re a smoker, buy some hash and local beer and make your way up the narrow steps to a small garden overlooking a lake. If that’s not your thing, check out the local market, buy some trinkets and curios, and head home.
Good times at Tivoli
Where to eat
The food scene in Copenhagen has exploded in the last few years, and there’s a focus on quality, locally grown, organic produce. Most restaurants proudly state that ingredients are from a restaurant-run farm, ‘just a few kilometres away.’ There are 17 Michelin star restaurants in Copenhagen, and while the world famous Noma and Geranium once dominated the culinary scene, the focus has since shifted to casual dining.
From the Michelin list, Geranium has three stars; AOC, Kadeau, and Noma have two each; and 108, Kong Hans Kælder, Marchal, Clou, Studio at The Standard, Relæ, Kokkeriet, Era Ora, Formel B, Kiin Kiin, Søllerød Kro, Alouette, Jordnær all have a Michelin star.
We recommend making a reservation at least a day in advance, and trying the tasting menu wherever it’s offered.
Dubbed the new Noma, 108 is a Michelin star restaurant minus all the frills. Like its better known sister restaurant, 108 base their cooking on local ingredients and traditional cooking methods, hitting the sweet spot between the modern, urban, and ambitious dining experience. Where it differs from Noma is in making all this quite accessible, with moderate prices and very cool and laid back interiors.
Located in the trendy Vesterbro neighbourhood, Sanchez is modelled after a traditional Mexican cantina with an ever changing menu. The chef is the former dessert chef at Noma, so don’t skip dessert, or the agave-based cocktails.
Known for its pizza, Baest is located in Nørrebro - and has seen a huge surge in popularity ever since the UK based Guardian crowned their pizza the best in the world. The pizza is delicious, and in true Danish style, everything is organic, and fresh from the farm, ‘just a few kilometers away.’
Don’t miss breakfast in Copenhagen, as the Danes really know how to nail a poached egg and avo toast, green juice and fresh fruit granola. Sounds simple enough, but it all comes together given the focus on quality, locally sourced, organic ingredients.
Mad & Kaffe
This is the ‘it’ breakfast / brunch place in Copenhagen, and you’re bound to find a long wait list when you arrive (they don’t take bookings). Don’t despair, the line moves fairly quickly, and within 15-20 minutes, you’ll be in brunch heaven. Located in Vesterbro, the menu is simple but delicious (and also extremely instagrammable. Hashtag brunch goals).
Try the scrambled eggs, avocado and almonds, cinnamon bun and choco-muesli - all served on a tasteful morning plate, perfect for sharing with a friend or on social media.
For a quieter but equally delicious breakfast, head to Sonny in Indre By, where you can have your morning coffee with a touch of French finesse. Try the avocado on toast, the homemade green juice, and fresh fruit granola. If you’re feeling indulgent, a slice of their banana bread is worth skipping lunch for.
Artwork at the Homeless Souls exhibit at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Where to drink
Copenhagen might seem like a quiet city at first, but it has a thriving nightlife, albeit Thursday to Saturday (most bars are closed during the working week). We recommend:
A very cool nightclub and cocktail bar, The Jane feels like you’ve been transported onto the sets of Mad Men, and that’s exactly the vibe the space is modeled after. Tuck yourself into a wooden booth or laze back into a plush Chesterfield chair. Swing through the bookshelves into a secret space that transforms into a dance floor on the weekend.
One of the few bars open through the week, Ruby is located by Copenhagen’s canals. The bar offers a relaxed, homely vibe, with a focus on exceptional service and quality cocktails. The space is decorated like an apartment (a very plush apartment), encouraging you to lay back and relax, drink in hand.
Other notable recommendations are the atmospheric 1656, Mikkeller, and Copenhagen’s only gin and beer bar, the Bird and the Churchkey.
Where to shop
Copenhagen is home to long, winding pedestrian shopping streets - dotted with a mix of designer stores, big high street chains, and trendy local boutiques. The pedestrian shopping streets Strøget and Købmagergade are located next to each other, and worth a stroll even if it’s just to browse.
Gardens at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
It’s easy to stay active in Copenhagen; the city is very pedestrian friendly, encouraging you to walk as opposed to hailing a cab. Hitting 15,000 steps a day is easy when you’re strolling through museums and palaces, and choosing to walk from the waterfront to dinner.
Bikes are easy to rent and there are well marked bike lanes, but beware - the Danes take cycling very seriously, more as a mode of legitimate transport than exercise. Swimming is another option - as the lakes and canals are very clean, and you’ll often see locals taking a refreshing dip.
For those looking to get in a workout on holiday, several gyms offer a day pass.
Located in Vesterbro, this well-equipped gym offers a day pass for just 50 krone (about USD 8). It’s no frills, in that the locker rooms are basic, but you’re guaranteed a solid workout as the gym has plenty of machines, a well stocked free weights section, at least five squat racks, an olympic lifting platform, and even a crossfit box. Grab a protein shake on your way out; if you’re a serious gym goer, this place will not disappoint.
Welcome Fitness & Spa
If your idea of gym comes with a hint of luxury, then Welcome Fitness and Spa located in the upscale Hellerup area offers just that. Spread over 4000 meters, a day pass here costs 200 krone (USD 30).
A message - spotted at the Design Museum
(All photographs by GAYETI SINGH)