I’m reproducing here an article written for AERIS Magazine, of whom I am an editor and contributor. I studied abroad for a semester at the University of Copenhagen last year and it was the most amazing experience. It’s not easy to condense everything down into a short, digestible blog entry but I’ve tried my best!
Cutting edge style, design, food and culture, located in the most liveable place in the world. Sounds too good to be true? Read on to find out the joys the capital of Denmark has to offer.
Copenhagen is a special place — just orientating yourself to the city is an eye-opening experience. Driverless metros shuttle back and forth with clockwork regularity, whisking you past green pastures, sleek architecture and winding tunnels into the city centre. Out on the streets, Danes stride along the footpaths and glide serenely by on their bikes — tall, friendly and effortlessly chic. While you might not emulate their grace, getting around like a local is simply the best way to explore the city. So, get on your bike and let’s go!
The Heart of the City
Begin the day at Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) and choose your own adventure.
To the north is the tranquil district of Rosenborg. There you can relax in the popular King’s Garden and visit Rosenborg Castle with its collection of crown jewels. If you desire some liveliness, head northeast along Strøget, a cluster of small streets and historical squares that now forms Europe’s longest pedestrianised shopping zone. Enjoy street spectacles, window-shop at the many fine stores, or just sit back on a bench and absorb the energy and beauty of the inhabitants.
At the end of Strøget lies Kongens Nytorv (‘King’s New Square’) and the iconic Nyhavn (‘New Harbour’), a gorgeous waterfront area highlighted by kaleidoscopic townhouses and heritage ships. You will be spoilt for choice with Nyhavn’s alfresco cafés, bars and restaurants, the perfect place to spend a balmy summer evening as twilight lingers long into the night.
For keen sightseers, head east from Rådhuspladsen to Slotsholmen, a small harbour island where you can admire the baroque Christiansborg Palace, seat of the Danish Parliament and the renaissance Stock Exchange with its mesmerising Dragon Spire. Once you reach the water’s edge the dynamic changes completely, a testimony to the inventiveness and artistry of Danish design. Among the highlights is the Black Diamond, an extension of the Royal Danish Library named for its unique shape and black granite finish. Across the water to the north is the extravagant Copenhagen Opera House, emerging out of the ground like a foreboding spaceship.
In short, Copenhagen is a masterful blend of traditional decorum and state-of-the-art modernity.
Hail the Sunshine
After the long dark winter Danes really make the most of their time in the sun. Nyhavn and King’s Garden are perennial favourites. To the west lies the lovely Frederiksberg Garden, laid out in the English style. Down the road from the park is the Carlsberg brewery, where visitors can learn all about the famous brewing company and enjoy two complimentary pints, perfect for the hot weather!
Summer is also a great time to get on the water. Copenhagen harbour is pristine and you can dive into the pools at Fisketorvet just south of the city. If you want to feel the sand between your toes, head north to Bellevue Beach or south to Amager Beach Park, an outdoor recreation paradise. For cruising the canals, tours are offered; or you can ditch the guides and go exploring in your own boat or kayak.
Directly opposite Rådhuspladsen is Tivoli Gardens, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks. It is strange indeed to have one in the centre of town — as people go about their daily routines, the air is punctuated with screams of terror (and joy!). This enchanting park has a concert hall, a Chinese garden and even a pirate ship. Be sure to pay Tivoli a visit and let your inner child roam free.
Copenhagen is also noteworthy for Christiania, a walled neighbourhood in the city’s east. There’s nothing else quite like it in the world. It is a commune where the inhabitants lead ‘alternative’ lives, where a liberal mindset encourages the expression of music and art, as well as acceptance of an open cannabis trade. Keep an open mind and look beyond the shabby shacks and colourful characters. Grab an organic Christiania burger, head to the jazz club and jam the night away.
No trip to Copenhagen is complete without sampling its stellar food. Chef René Redzepi catapulted Nordic cuisine to the world stage with his renowned Noma restaurant, and it truly is an experience to remember (if you’re lucky enough to get a table!). Aside from this gastronomical sensation, there are simple and tasty fares on offer as well.
Smørrebrød is quintessentially Danish, a versatile open-face sandwich on buttered rye bread taken at lunch. The toppings can include fish, cheeses, pickles, eggs, to name only a few. You can’t go wrong with local favourite Restaurant Schønnemann, situated in the town centre.
Danish pastries are a must-have, and you can find an amazing assortment beyond its famous jam-centred namesake. In Denmark they are known as ‘wienerbrød’ (Viennese bread). Get them in spirals, twists and circles, topped with nuts, jellies and chocolate, all infused with buttery goodness. Your best bet is La Glace located downtown, Denmark’s oldest and finest.
While the food is wonderful, it is no friend to your wallet. For a more frugal option, cheat a little by starting the day with a mid-morning brunch. Café Paludan offers a cornucopia of scrumptious fare at only 99 Danish kroners. Situated next to the University of Copenhagen, it is a great place to savour the sunshine and indulge in some people-watching.
Be a little different and check out the best that Scandinavia has to offer. Copenhagen will captivate, delight and inspire you.