HEAVY knit wool sweaters, life lived in polite orderly precision, and unrelenting rain. This is the sum total of what I knew about Denmark before heading to Copenhagen. Sure, my limited knowledge was based entirely on one season of The Killing, but preconceptions have to start somewhere.
48 hours later, and my overwhelming impression is not of inclement weather — although Copenhagen certainly delivered an unpredictable mix of sunshine and showers — but rather, bikes. Well-mannered, effortlessly glamorous people riding bikes along canals, and through cobbled streets. Families on bikes, blue-eyed offspring lazily leaning on their parental chauffeurs. Basketed bikes, stuffed with the weekly shopping. Clumps of bikes, leaning against the sides of pastel coloured buildings and strewn unlocked across pavements. Bikes abandoned whilst their owners group together in cafes, sit in sidewalk bars and drink beer by the canals — laughing, healthy and relaxed.
Bikes. That’s what Denmark is all about.
To make the most of your weekend, stay central and walk everywhere. Kogens Nytorv (King’s New Square) is an old, cobblestoned square, bordered by classic buildings such as the Royal Theatre and the D’Angleterre Hotel. It is also a useful orientation point, being a short 20 minute Metro ride from the airport, and serving as a gateway to the canals of the south and the shopping and restaurant district to the north.
Amongst the action
A five-minute walk from Kogens Nytorv is Generator Hostel, with a central location so close to the main attractions you can literally roll out of bed and into a waiting Danish pastry. With dorms through to private rooms it has the accommodation options, cleanliness and efficiency of a hotel, with the wallet-friendly prices and convivial atmosphere of a hostel.
After dropping off the bags, head straight out in the vibrant streets of central Copenhagen. There is a collection of cobbled streets between Gothersgade and Lille Kongensgade that is throbbing with restaurants and bars, particularly on a warm Friday evening. Check out Jazzhus Montmatre for a fun, intimate jazz filled evening at this legendary haunt. Book in for dinner, and keep hold of your seats for the following crowded performance.
The sun is shining, you’ve caffeinated and pastried at Copenhagen’s best bakery chain Lagkagehuset, and you’re ready to soak up the sights. Wander down to Nyhavn Canal, where tall pastel houses line up in a pretty coloured row against a canal crowded with the masts of bobbing boats. Jump on a canal boat tour for a cheap and efficient way to get the lie of the city landscape. Plus, the boat tours take you up to the Little Mermaid statue, so you can tick that off the obligatory tourist list without going out of your way to get there.
Back on land, rest and recharge at one of the numerous outdoor cafes lining the street. Or, do as the locals do, and take advantage of the popup bars each café has, to cater to the takeaway crowds. For £4 you can get a litre of beer, a couple of glasses, and the option of perching along the canal’s wooden ledge, watching the passing melee and listening to the busking bands as they provide the perfect soundtrack to this sunny setting.
See the sights
Time to get active and work up an appetite. In the centre of the city is the Rundetaarn (Round Tower). Built in 1642 it is Europe’s oldest working observatory. However it’s still worth a visit during the day, and offers amazing views out over the city from an outdoor platform. What makes it even more unusual is the complete lack of stairs — with the top reached by a unique spiral ramp that twists on itself for the equivalent of seven flights. Apparently its design is due to a particularly lazy king, who wanted the option of staring at the stars, whilst not having to get out of his horse-drawn carriage to make it to the telescope.
Now you have worked up an appetite
Just north of the Tower is Torvenhallerne — a gourmet food hall in two glass-walled buildings. With the weather turning, it’s the perfect place to wander amongst the 60 stalls offering everything from fresh fish to frikadeller (pan-fried dumplings), tapas to traditional smÃ¸rrebrÃ¸d (open sandwich). All you have to do is pull up a stool, order a glass of wine and wait for your deliciously fresh meal to be delivered from behind the counter.
Get amongst the greenery
The Danish don’t get that healthy, happy glow just from incessantly cycling the city — there are also some beautiful open green spaces in which to wander and relax. Frederiksberg Garden is a huge haven at the edge of the city centre, complete with canals to punt on, open spaces to picnic, and a palace on top of a hill. Combine it with a visit to nearby Vesterbro — previously a gritty, urban neighbourhood that has undergone a renaissance as an artistic, creative, trendy hub.
If you don’t want to wander too far out of the city, central King’s Park (Rosenborg Gardens) offers a welcome escape from a busy sightseeing schedule, with beautifully manicured lawns and carefully laid-out paths. It’s also home to Rosenborg Castle, built in 1606-1634 by Christian IV as a ‘pleasure castle’. A reputation endorsed by the two lions guarding the entrance — one of which has a moveable tongue under which the King apparently used to hide the key to the castle for his many mistresses.
No Noma, no worries
We can’t all have enough foresight to book three months in advance for the world’s best restaurant — Noma — but luckily Copenhagen has some amazing alternative eating options, which won’t cost you the equivalent of the entire rest of the trip altogether.
Geist, on Kogens Nytorv square, is a restaurant deserving of a visit in itself. Reflective of city itself — Geist is friendly, wholesome and stylish. There are two areas — the courtyard adjacent traditional restaurant area, and the street-side ‘bar’ area, which is one long polished stone bench circling the huge, open kitchen. It’s a hive of structured activity, where each chef plays a defined part in putting together your carefully thought out, locally grown, beautifully presented, contemporary Nordic meal. A highlight was a melt-in-the-mouth beef tenderloin with beetroots, and the deliciously soft and juicy pork belly, with a crunchy side of artichoke chips.
After a late start, squeeze in a Princess Mary sighting with a visit to the Amalienborg. With four identical palaces set up around a huge, cobblestoned square, it’s a beautiful example of Danish Rococco architecture. If the Princess isn’t waving to you from the balcony, two of the four palaces are open to visitors. You may also be just in time for the changing of the guard at 12pm.
While you’re in the area, check out the beautiful Marble Church, with an interior dome to rival St Paul’s. Take in another view of the city from the outside of the dome, which you can visit at 1pm and 3pm every day during summer.
Denmark is a design mecca, and no visit to Copenhagen can be complete without at least once admiring the unique feel for minimalist glamour with which all Danes seem to be born. The Danish Museum of Art & Design is just up the road from Mary, and its collection of Danish and international design must make it a favourite haunt. If you’re looking for something to take home, head back to the city centre where the design mecca of Hay House offers a purchasable window into this world. It’s also set in an elegant 1896 building that overlooks the central shopping street Ostergade.
While you’re central, head to the Paludan Bogcafe for lunch, where you can snack and sip surrounded by walls and walls of books — some of which date from 1895 when this space first opened as a bookshop. It’s a relaxed, casual, rabbit-warren of tables, levels, and effortlessly cool university students.
Cap it off in Christiania
Across the main canal from the city centre lies Christiania. Not quite a suburb, not quite its own city, Christiania is a unique mix of communal collective and tourist attraction. Founded in 1971 in an old military barracks by a group with a relaxed attitude selling hash, it has grown into a village with around 1,000 people with a collection of cafes, workshops, galleries, music venues and outdoor bars set amongst an assortment of eclectically designed houses and pockets of woodland. Locals give guided tours of the area every day throughout the summer at 3.00pm and every weekend the rest of the year.
With a surfeit of sights, sounds and sophisticated relaxed glamour, Copenhagen is a perfect weekend getaway.
Where to stay
- Generator has 8 stylish urban design hostels across Europe which are designed to enable guests to meet new people and explore Europe in comfort and style.
- A one night break at the Generator Copenhagen hostel starts from £12 pp per night staying in a dorm room. Private en-suite twin hostel rooms start from £24.50 pp per night.
- Generator has free Wi-Fi, a funky bar area open from 6-12pm weekdays and until 2am on weekends, a huge 24 hour lounge area, and an outdoor terrace to soak up the sun.
- It is located in the city centre, near Kogens Nytorv and a few minutes walking distance from the major shopping district of StrÃ¸get and all the city’s main attractions.
- See Generatorhostels.com for further information.