Copenhagen is a city that seemingly has everything going for it. Clean, friendly and relaxed, it’s surrounded by water and has a strong history of design and culture. Add to this thriving food and fashion scenes, and it’s no wonder that many see it as a kind of utopia.
Consisting of 14 main districts, the city is somewhat small compared to most major capitals. Trains, buses and bikes rule here, and it’s quick and easy to get around. Most people tend to take in Nørrebro when in town, a large multicultural area located to the north of the center. But further afield you will find lots more to explore, including the lively Meatpacking District, Christianshavn’s cobbled streets and fashionable Vesterbro.
A pervasive artisanal approach influences everything, from coffee shops to bakeries and art galleries. The result is localized pockets of activity that pockmark the city, creating miniature hubs within neighborhoods full of great restaurants, bars and shops. Sure, it isn’t exactly cheap, but that’s to be expected from a Scandinavian capital. And the people… Well, everything you have heard about the Danes is true. They’re a good-looking and well-dressed bunch. All in all, it’s hard not to walk around Copenhagen with a sense of envious dismay at just how great the locals have it.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Copenhagen for a long weekend, here are some of our favorite places to check out. We couldn’t cover it all, so leave your own suggestions in the comments below.
Where to Get Breakfast and Coffee
After landing from an early flight, a good coffee is much-needed and discerning drinkers will be pleased to know that coffee is taken very seriously in Copenhagen. With more and more cafes raising the standard, the city is becoming a magnet for serious enthusiasts.
One place that should be on everyone’s list is Democratic Coffee (Krystalgade 15). From water chemistry to humidity levels, every last detail is considered in order to create the best brew possible. The effort, they say, is worth it for the sake of consistency. The long, light-filled room is the perfect spot to grab a quick cortado before hitting the streets.
Earlier this year a small restaurant in Nørrebro called Relæ was named the 42nd best in the world. Don’t worry if you’re struggling to get a reservation as you can visit their sister café, Mirabelle (Guldbergsgade 29), located just a little further south. It continues the same ethos of locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients, but in a relaxed, friendly environment. You can even see the bakers behind the glass busily preparing bread for the next day.
The new kid on the block of the Copenhagen coffee shop scene is Prolog (Høkerboderne 16), a cosy place located in the fashionable Meatpacking District near the central station. This section of town, as the names suggests, used to be the industrial and butchery heart of the city. Although that’s long gone, the low and spacious buildings remain, now home to some of the city’s best bars and restaurants. Despite its informality, Prolog serves fantastic coffee. Grab one, and one of their famous homemade marshmallows, and take a seat on the blue stools that litter the pavement outside.
Also try: Copenhagen Coffee Lab (Boldhusgade 6) is another third wave coffee spot that brings a scientific approach to brewing. Grød (Jægersborggade 50) specializes in a Northern European breakfast speciality, porridge, offering a fine selection and plenty of different toppings. If you’re still in the pursuit of excellent coffee, then another place well worth a visit is Copenhagen Coffee Collective (Jægersborggade 10), located in Nørrebro.
What to Do While You’re There
There’s a lot to do and see in Copenhagen, but fortunately some of the best things happen to be free. Well worth a visit is the University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden (Øster Farimagsgade 2C). Built in 1874, the 16-meter-tall glasshouse located on the western edge is home to over 13,000 different plant species, and is the perfect place to escape the bustle of the city.
Stepping inside the super-heated conservatory is akin to taking a trip into a rainforest; such is the diversity of the plant life and intense humidity. But the surrounding grounds are where you will find the locals on their lunch breaks, taking in the impressive views of the lake and historical buildings.
The Rundetaarn (Købmagergade 52A) is a large observation tower located in the city center. Built by Christian IV in 1637, it was originally designed for use as an astronomical observatory and is currently the oldest still in use in Europe today. Half way up the large spiral ramp is an exhibition space showcasing the works of local Danish artists, but carry on the ascent and you will find a viewing platform that gives striking 360 degree views of the city. If you climb further still, there is an observatory where two nice Danish astronomers will let you look at the sun through a telescope.
To the southeast of the city, close to Papirøen (see below), is Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed independent neighborhood. In 1971, an abandoned army barracks was squatted by a community of progressive liberals and the area has remained inhabited ever since. Shops and restaurants sell local, organic produce and they even brew their own beer. A lenient approach from the authorities sees the largely self-governing community take a relaxed approach to many aspects of life, including the open availability of cannabis on the fabled Pusher Street.
In the heart of the Nørrebro district is Assistens Cemetery (Kapelvej 4), the final resting place of many famous Danish historical figures, including author Hans Christian Andersen and physicist Niels Bohr. The place is serene and a popular hangout, with people taking in the tranquil surroundings and lazing by the graves on sunny afternoons.
Also try: Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art (Oslo Plads 1) is a celebration of art and design, with a focus on young, modern artists. Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre (Nikolaj Plads 10) is located in the city centre and boasts a huge array of interactive exhibits.
The Best Places to Grab a Bite to Eat
Copenhagen is a city with a worldwide reputation for its food scene. New Nordic cuisine, the approach that focuses on provenance, seasonality and natural ingredients, has spearheaded an innovative approach to dining and restaurants such as Noma, Amass and Geranium have been at the forefront of this movement. As you might expect, the prices are steep in these places, but Copenhagen is much more than its fine dining. Thanks to a vibrant street food scene, you can find amazing dishes all over the city.
One place definitely worth checking out is Papirøen (Trangravsvej 8), one of the city’s major street food hubs. Located in Christianshavn, a group of enterprising vendors have transformed a large warehouse space into a centre of global food. The simple concept is a winner, with 35 independent restaurants serving up an array of dishes to locals and tourists alike. Simply grab what you fancy and head out to to the communal area on the water’s edge.
Our top pick? Try Oink Oink, where brothers Rolf and Troels Ringborg take clarified butter smothered buns and fill them with 16 hour smoked pork, hot mustard and homemade pickles.
The Meatpacking District should be high on anyone’s Copenhagen itinerary. The reclaimed industrial hub has a unique environment where you drink and dine in former slaughterhouses. Tommi’s Burger Joint (Høkerboderne 21-23) is an institution, serving arguably the finest burgers in the city. A reassuringly small menu means quality products, cooked to perfection.
A good indicator of a city’s food scene are the markets, and the vibrant and varied selection on offer at Torvehallerne (Frederiksborggade 21) is an encouraging sign indeed. Much like Papirøen, here you will find a collection of local vendors each selling a small but well-made selection of products. There are coffee shops and breweries too, making Torvehallerne a one-stop-shop for a Danish lunch.
There is more to choose from than one can physically consume, so making a good choice is crucial. Our inside tip is Ma Poule, a place that serves ecstasy-inducing, artery-clogging confit duck baguettes.
Who can say no to a ramen? A perfect dish to restore the mind, body and spirit after a tough day of walking around an amazing city, drinking great coffee and envying beautiful people. And the best ramen spot? In our opinion, the city’s finest is Ramen to Bíiru (Griffenfeldsgade 28), located near Assistens Cemetery in Nørrebro. Fatty, salty stock, thick udon noodles and a typically Danish selection of accompaniments creates something unique but faithful to the original.
Also try: Warpigs (Flæsketorvet 25) is located in a former abattoir and is the place to go if you want BBQ and smoked meats served in very large portions on a tin tray. Owned by the same people as the aforementioned Relæ, Bæst (Guldbergsgade 29) is their distinctly Danish take on a pizzeria. The New Nordic cuisine principles of high locality and seasonality prevail, with their charcuterie and cheese made on site. Fleisch (Slagterboderne 7), also located in the Meatpacking District, is a temple dedicated to all things meat.
The Best Shopping Locations
Design and fashion have long been synonymous with Denmark so it comes as no surprise that sitting amongst Copenhagen’s streets are a fine selection of shops and boutiques. One of the more well-known is Storm Copenhagen (Store Regnegade 1), Copenhagen’s equivalent to Dover Street Market and Colette. Stocking the latest menswear from brands such as Haider Ackermann and Monkey Time, this corner plot also sells books, perfumes and accessories to an astute clientele.
Around the corner is the Norse Store (Pilestræde 41), home of Norse Projects’ men’s and women’s collections, as well as brands such as visvim, Hender Scheme and Junya Watanabe. The minimalist approach of the label is reflected in the look of the store, with a clean and functional feel that is a fine example of Danish design.
Sneakers are pretty much part of the uniform for Copenhagen’s citizens, and serving up the discerning women of the city is Naked (Klosterstræde 10). We have bemoaned the lack of sneaker shopping options for women before, but with two stores in the city centre, Naked seems to be the exception that proves the rule. What’s more, they have also created one of our favourite shoes of the year so far, with their collaboration with Reebok on the Club C ‘Daze.’
Another great Danish label with a strong store concept is Han Kjøbenhavn (Vognmagergade 7). The local brand has an open, bright space in which to show off their latest clothing selection. Initially founded in 2008 with a singular focus on sunglasses, recent years have seen them expand, creating both full men’s and women’s collections and even opening a store in New York.
Also try: OSV Second Hand (Peder Hvitfeldts Stræde 4) has a stellar selection of pre-owned clothing. Thom Browne, Raf Simons and Isabel Marant all feature. Hooha (Elmegade 14) in Nørrebro is a small but good spot for sneakers. Henrik Vibskov (Krystalgade 6) is the go-to place for all things from the Danish designer, as well as the latest from Comme Des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto.
The Best Spots to Grab a Drink
Beer is taken seriously, not that this comes as a surprise: you soon learn that anything that can be consumed is taken seriously by the Danish. Young micro-breweries are given particular attention on the taps in the bars around the city, and one place serving up a big selection of local talent is Brus (Guldbergsgade 29). Found in the southern tip of Nørrebro, it is housed in an old foundry and still retains an industrial feel.
Mikkeller (Viktoriagade 8 B-C) is a local brewery, famed for its unusual approach to brewing. The founders, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller, made a name for themselves through their nomadic approach. Traveling to various breweries across the globe, they would collaborate with local brewers and use their equipment to create unusual and rare beers. In their home city they have several bars, and the one located in a basement in Vesterbro focuses on their latest and freshest creations.
Bakken (Flæsketorvet 19), located in the Meatpacking District, is a small but lively bar open until the early hours. A perfect place to have a few cocktails in the relaxed atmosphere of the old slaughtering halls.
Also try: Fermentoren (Halmtorvet 29C) is a traditional bar located in the Meatpacking District. Expect to find a lot of local craft beers on the pumps. The guys at Ruby (Nybrogade 10) specialise in cocktails and create some of the finest in the city. An intimate ambience is matched with moody lighting and comfortable sofas.
Where You Should Be Staying
It can be difficult to find an affordable hotel in Copenhagen, but, if you look hard enough, you can find some great deals in some interesting places. One that really stands out is CPH Living (Langebrogade 1C). Situated on a floating barge, this modern boutique hotel boasts great views of the Black Diamond, a large polished granite building designed by Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen. Each of the 12 rooms features contemporary furnishings, but it is the large deck area that really gives this hotel its unique feel.
Another place that comes highly recommended is Hotel SP34 (Sankt Peders Stræde 34). Merging three former town houses, there are modern Scandinavian touches throughout. The minimally-designed rooms and communal areas are the perfect place to spend a few nights whilst in the city.
If Airbnb is your thing, then Nørrebro is a good place to start. It’s multicultural, well-connected and packed full of things to do and see. Things tend to get a little more expensive near the center, so areas such as Vesterbro or Christianshavn make for a cheaper alternative.
For more in the way of Scandinavian shopping, check out these 6 brands from Oslo you need to know about.
- Words: Charlie Haywood
- Lead image: Brochner Hotels