I've dreamt of visiting Scandinavia for years and Copenhagen, the Danish capital, has always been the leader of the pack. This port city has consistently been known as one of the happiest places in the world. So naturally, my curiosity made me ask "Why?"
Even upon arriving to a cold + dreary city on what should have been (in my mind, anyway) a warm summer day in late May, I quickly learned why everyone has always raved about it.
Copenhagen is clean, colorful, and even more beautiful than the photos. It's rich in heritage with architecture dating back to the Medieval Period-- yet at the same time, Danish design is a modern leader. From the abundance of bikers (I'd argue there are more here than even Amsterdam!) to the plethora of boats in the many harbors, Copenhagen is dripping with countless forms of idyllic charm.
We spent 3 days in this wonderful city (which felt like a good amount of time, even though we could have easily stayed longer). So if you're considering planning a trip of your own, here are a few things I think you should know about Copenhagen:
The public transport infrastructure of Copenhagen is among the most efficient and reliable in the world, and it is still being developed and improved. But even still, I'd argue the best ways to get around are by bike or on foot.
Immediately upon arrival, we strolled around Strøget, which is a pedestrian, car-free shopping area in Copenhagen's center. I immediately fell in love with all the pops of color to brighten up the grey skies. This was also a great area to do some shopping (although be warned, it's a bit touristy at times). Regardless of where you stroll, Copenhagen is an extremely walkable city.
Regarding bikes, this city was made for cyclists. You’ll definitely see more bikes than cars in the city centre. In fact, a third of Copenhageners commute to work by bicycle and it’s not unusual to see people in suits, heels and skirts effortlessly pedalling past (we even saw a girl biking while rolling her suitcase alongside her!) I highly, highly recommend biking while you're here- just be sure to observe these rules:
- Always keep to the right. The left lane is reserved for those moving at a faster pace (which is generally true and something to keep in mind for most public spaces in Europe: tube stations, sidewalks, etc.)
- Lights on after dark. In Copenhagen it’s mandatory to have lights on your bike after dark (although if you're new, maybe just stick to day time rides!)
- Walk your bike on the sidewalk. There are certain pedestrian areas where biking is not permitted and you're required to walk your bike- so keep your eyes peeled for those signs.
COFFEE + CAFE CULTURE:
Perhaps it's because of the long, dark, cold winters, but the Danes are known to consume more coffee than just about anywhere else in the world. Even with cooler temperatures, we saw people sitting outside (don't be fooled by my pictures-- we went at a time to avoid crowds!) Some of my favorite places to get coffee were Paludan Bogcafé, Café Dyrehaven ApS and my personal favorite: The Coffee Collective, which is in Torvehallerne (an amazing food hall you definitely want to visit). This cafe was called Big Apple Coffee, which was also great and is on the corner of Krystalgade and Fiolstræde.
One thing I also noticed about Danish culture is their commitment to sitting outdoors at cafes. As I mentioned, even in cool, dreary weather you'll still see people sitting outside! They simply sit under heat lamps, wear their coats, or wrap up in blankets. Which leads me to my next point...
This Danish practice is one I was quick to adopt. Hygge (pronounced "hooga") essentially mean "to create a warm, cozy time." Sitting around the candlelight with your friends, cozied up in blankets and having great conversation is the ultimate definition of hygge- although, certainly not limited to that description. I'm told lots of things can by considered hygge- including types of food (usually comforting ones like porridge or baked goods).
I'd advise popping into a cozy pub like Bankeråt, for drinks one evening. Here, we sat around candlelight and struck up conversation with some new friends we made from Croatia and Latvia-- which was a pretty great first "hygge" experience for us.
Originally a busy commercial port where ships from all over the world would dock, Nyhavn is a must while visiting Copenhagen. Aside from colorful buildings and beautiful boats, this area is filled with people enjoying the relaxed atmosphere by the canal, jazz music and great food.
The word København means "merchants' harbor," so naturally many of the city's most impressive buildings, are visible from the water. You can take several canal tours from here if that interests you. We opted to explore on bikes like the locals instead- although we did park them to walk along the harbor and have a drink.
Another charming district worth visiting is Christianshavn, once Copenhagen's planned port. This was Copenhagen's commercial center until around 1920 when a more modern harbor was built a bit farther out. As the port's economy collapsed, it became a not-so-desireable area. But, as things typically play out, the cheap prices attracted artists + it became trendy. So now, these old warehouses are expensive condos and the area is flourishing again. Regardless of the history, it's a charming place set on the water that's a bit less crowded than Nyhavn.
One of the main attractions set in Christianshavn that's worth visiting is Our Savior's Church —which is famous for its helix spire with an external winding staircase (and you can climb to the top for impressive views of Copenhagen if it's not too windy that day).
We also spent some time enjoying The Copenhagen Lakes, which are a row of three rectangular lakes curving around the western margin of the City Centre and forming one of the most distinctive features of the city's topography. The paths around them are filled with parents pushing strollers, bikers and runners. You'll also see lots of swans here (and in the summer months, even swan paddle boats you can rent!)
Some other sights you definitely need to see that I didn't get photos of include:
TIVOLI GARDENS: This amusement park and pleasure garden opened in August of 1843 and is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world. You won’t find many other city centres where more than 80,000 square meters have been set aside for a magical amusement park like this! Whether you visit during Christmas or in the warm summer months, this attraction has seasonal activities and celebrations year-round that are worth visiting.
CHRISTIANIA: Christiania, otherwise known as Freetown, is a green and car-free neighbourhood in Copenhagen, best known for its autonomous inhabitants’ different way of life. It was established in 1971 by a group of hippies who occupied some abandoned military barracks on the site and developed their own set of society rules, completely independent of the Danish government. Today, you'll find a mix of homemade houses, workshops, art galleries, music venues, cheap and organic eateries, and beautiful nature. Part of the reason I don't have photos is because visitors are advised not to film nor photograph in Christiania, especially not in the area in and around Pusher Street, mainly due to the hash dealing, which is illegal in Denmark. We rode our bikes through here which was really fun to experience, especially it was kind of a mystery with there being few photos (a rarity in today's world!)
The Little Mermaid statue is here (because it's where the book was written), but I'm told it's super touristy and not worth wasting your time, so we skipped it.
A lot of what we did in Copenhagen revolved around eating! Sure, we explored on foot and by bike, but most of where we were heading was usually some sort of cafe, bar or restaurant. Danish cuisine is rooted in the peasant dishes served across the country before the Industrial Revolution in 1860. It was based on the need to make use of natural products available on or near the family farm. Today, Copenhagen has become Europe's culinary hot spot and continues to influence the global culinary scene. We ate at a variety of restaurants that I thought did an amazing job of approaching modern cuisine with a Nordic twist.
We came to Väkst for lunch on our first day, and it set the bar so high for the rest of our dining! Their approach to gastronomy is based on the fresh Nordic vegetables, yet they can still appreciate a good steak, seafood or great fish (which there is a lot of in this region). Set in a greenhouse atmosphere with countless plants that draw nature right into the restaurant, the two floors convey both the top floor light and the green universe, but also the basement's more urban and moody atmosphere. Everything we ate was delicious and I highly recommend coming here for a delicious Nordic meal in a gorgeous setting.
One of my favorite things about this meal (in addition to the INSANELY delicious butter) was that I finally got to meet a fellow travel blogger I got connected + became friends with through Instagram! Simone is a Copenhagen native who joined us for lunch at Väkst and gave us so much insight into her city. I loved chatting about life in Europe, our favorite places we've traveled and simply making friends with someone who shares my passion for exploration. After our meal, she guided us around the city by bike and gave us so many helpful pointers to make the most of our time in Copenhagen. I absolutely loved getting to know her-- check out her blog for more travel inspiration!
Another fantastic dining experience was our dinner at Madklubben Nørrebro, where street art, delicious design and a set menu menu go hand in hand. A detached "neighborhood spot" with a cozy atmosphere (gimme dat hygge!) this spot is the perfect mix of classic Danish design and industrial details from the local warehouse. The menu has a special appeal for food cooked with charcoal and flames (which I personally love that taste, so this was right up my alley). Sarah and I both agreed this is a fantastic spot if you want to go somewhere that feels upscale and laid back at the same time (plus it's very reasonably priced for the quality). The staff was super friendly and taught us so much about food in general in Denmark, but specifically this menu. I highly recommend coming here yourself- it won't disappoint!
Papirøen, or Paper Island, may have been our favorite thing about Copenhagen! With a central location in the heart of the harbour, this is one food hall you simply can't miss. It's home to the grey industrial halls that served as paper storage for the Procurement Association of the Danish Press for many decades, hence the name Paper Island. When they terminated their contract, the halls were left empty and today it's now home to Copenhagen Street Food, which is filled with colourful and delicious food trucks with food from every corner of the world. All indoors, this is the perfect spot to sit by a fireplace, play corn hole, try different cuisines and practice hygge at it's finest on a cold day! Our favorite was the crème brûlée doughnut stand- we went back 2 days in a row just for that! I can't recommend this place enough- especially for a casual lunch or snack.
For our final night in Copenhagen, we ate at Høst, located at the corner of the streets Nørre Farimagsgade and Ahlefeldtsgade (a great place to come before drinks at Bankeråt- just across the street!)
The gastronomic foundation at Høst is Scandinavian and local and combining traditional methods of cooking and flavours with a modern understanding of Scandinavian food as well as its future. It has stucco brick walls and wooden frameworks, uniting a simple and rustic interior design with disciplined architecture and the delights of the countryside. Restaurant Høst has won three international design awards, including the award as the world’s best-designed restaurant at the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards.
Høst is actually a sister restaurant of Väkst, and is perfect for a nice dinner if you want to experience the best of Nordic fare. Everything was beautifully prepared and tasted delicious (they also had the same bread and butter as Väkst, which honestly may have been my favorite part- it was exceptionally good!)
Overall, I was such a big fan of everything about Copenhagen. If you appreciate design, history, top-notch cuisine or, if you're simply looking for a destination that's a bit different than the touristy Paris or Rome- Copenhagen is all of that and more any time of year. I highly recommend you pay a visit yourself!
Still more you want to know about Copenhagen? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for stopping by!