Someone once told me that it’s difficult not to feel at home in Copenhagen, even if you don’t speak a word of Danish. That certainly rings true, and it’s a city I’ve felt drawn to again and again, ever since my first visit through a school exchange programme at the age of 14. For me, Copenhagen has it all – elegant boulevards, pretty little streets lined with houses painted in ochre, grey and duck-egg blue, wonderful parks and museums, an easy-going atmosphere, bikes and boats (a bit like Bristol!), and all manner of shops and restaurants. And as you’d expect, the whole place is faultlessly stylish.
I’ve just returned from my fifth stay (and my boyfriend Chris’ third), so I thought I’d share a few tips for exploring…
Be inspired by:
The Rundetårn (Købmagergade)
The Rundetårn (‘Round Tower’) is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe, and a climb to the top is a great way to get your bearings. It’s unique for having a cobbled spiral walkway rather than stairs (a car is said to have driven up it in 1902!) and the view is spectacular, particularly at sunset.
Copenhagen’s waterfront is hard to beat on a sunny day. Head along the western shore and you’ll pass the striking ‘Black Diamond’ (the national library), the colourful pavement cafés of Nyhavn (touristy but great for an alfresco coffee), the Ameliehaven gardens (with excellent views across to Henning Larsen’s contemporary Royal Opera House) and Amalienborg Slot (the royal palace). I’d recommend avoiding the famous statue of the Little Mermaid at the northern end, though – it’s disappointingly small and normally mobbed with camera-toting coach parties.
Another great place for a wander is the string of lakes which curve around the western side of the city centre. They’re surprisingly serene, with mirror-like water, flocks of ducks, and paths lined with weeping willows.
Underneath Søndermarken Park is a cavernous 19th-century water cistern that has been drained and turned into a contemporary art installation. Its dripping arches, echoing music and illuminated columns of water are wonderfully eerie.
This sprawling museum in Humlebæk, to the north of Copenhagen, houses a vast collection of modern art in a striking, glass-walled building. It’s worth the train journey for the setting alone, in lush seaside gardens which gaze across the Øresund strait to Sweden.
Illums Bolighus (Amagertorv 10)
This four-floor homeware emporium is a paradise for design lovers. It sits on Strøget, the pedestrianised shopping street that twists up through the middle of the city, and brings together all the iconic Danish brands (Arne Jacobsen, Normann CPH, Ferm Living) under one roof. Last week I spent hours there (and a lot more money than I meant to!).
HAY (Pilestræde 29-31)
The iconic HAY store is just a short walk from Illums Bolighus. It’s quirky and colourful, just like the brand itself, and has a much bigger range than other HAY outlets.
Ditte Fischer (Læderstræde 14)
I love Ditte Fischer’s strikingly simple matt ceramics, which include vases, mugs, jewellery and hanging planters. The flagship boutique is tiny but beautiful (move carefully if you have a big handbag!), and there’s often a box of marked-down seconds to rummage through.
Retro Villa (Naboløs 1 kld)
We stumbled across this lovely little shop on our last trip to Copenhagen. It’s packed with Scandinavian ceramics and second-hand homeware, and also stocks a huge collection of vintage wallpaper.
The Standard (Havnegade 44)
Housed in a mint-green Art Deco building on the waterfront, The Standard encompasses three restaurants – Almanak (seasonal Danish), Verandah (modern Indian) and the Michelin-starred Studio (very pricey!). There’s also a jazz club where we saw fantastic Swedish singer Edda Magnason. The whole place has been beautifully designed by Danish-Italian duo GamFratesi, with lots of sleek grey tones and banquettes looking out over the harbour.
Aamanns (Oster Farimagsgade 12)
I love Aamanns’ modern take on traditional Danish smørrebrød. There’s a sit-in deli with a few tables, or you can pick up a picnic to enjoy in the Botanical Gardens nearby (more on those in a future post).
Salon 39 (Vodroffsvej 39)
Chris and I make a beeline for this cocktail bar and restaurant whenever we’re in Copenhagen. It’s located in the leafy suburb of Frederiksberg (a short walk or metro hop from the city centre) and is decked out like an old American speakeasy, with velvet curtains, artfully peeling walls and glowing candles. The drinks are delicious, the staff friendly, and the burgers enormous!
Maven (Nikolaj Plads 10)
This restaurant and wine bar occupies part of an old church, a short way off Strøget. Inside is a candlelit dining room lined with books and paintings; outside, a leafy square with cushioned chairs and blankets – perfect for watching the world go by over a glass of something chilled.
Work in Progress (Sankt Peders Stræde 34)
This was a new discovery for us and forms part of Hotel SP34 (where we stayed). The five-course set menu focuses on tapas with a Nordic twist, and every dish we sampled (deconstructed gazpacho, mushroom broth with chorizo, strawberry sorbet with white-chocolate crumbs) was delicious.
I’ll share more from Copenhagen over the next few weeks, but in the meantime I’m off to Scandinavia again for a couple of days – this time to Oslo, an entirely new city for me. If you have any tips please let me know below!
All photography by Abi Dare