Copenhagen Confidential

In summer, the waterfront park of Havneparken in Islands Brygge becomes one big beach party...

It’s not for nothing that Copenhagen was ranked 11th in the world in the Mercer Quality of Living survey in 2010. It may not have an Eiffel Tower or Brandenburg Gate to call its own, but Denmark’s vivacious capital does offer a Vatican’s worth of memorable experiences that are charming an increasing number of visitors.

Famous sights, such as The Little Mermaid statue and Amalienborg Palace, have their admirers, but Copenhagen has plenty of other attractions where tourists are as scarce as a reservation at Nomawhich, by the way, has won the top spot on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the past two years.

Copenhagen Must-dos  

A few hundred metres west of Copenhagen’s biggest tourist attraction, The Little Mermaid statue, is Kastelleta moated, historic jewel of a fort surrounded by a necklace of parkland. Still owned by the Danish Ministry of Defence, Kastellet is open to the public for those curious to see what a self-contained historic village looks like without the ubiquitous period-costumed guides.

Another semi-enclosed community is found at Christiania, a uniquely Danish, self-governing hippie cooperative which for decades has lived as a free state independent of the City of Copenhagen. It administers its own laws and is answerable only to the national government. See Christiania’s successful social experiment while you can: along with Copenhagen’s new-found chic has come real-estate vultures eager to grab the enclave’s vast acreage.

In summer, the waterfront park of Havneparken in Islands Brygge becomes one big beach party, with harbour pools full of swimmers and an overturned boat doubling as a bandstand. Located near Langebro bridge, it’s one of the city’s trendiest neighbourhoods and home to Islands Brygge Kulturhuset, a venue for concerts and performances that add to Copenhagen’s busy calendar of events. 

New Nordic

Nordic cuisine is finally having its day in the sunin some cases, quite literally. Small venues liven up Pistolstræde, a laneway off fashionable Ny Østergade. Danes love to eat outdoors during the short summer season, making this courtyard surrounded by centuries-old buildings a popular place.

For a more lively, youthful scene, head towards the gentrified but still gritty meatpacking district in Vesterbro. Here, an assortment of avant-garde bars and restaurants, such as Karriere, where contemporary artwork is an important part of the establishment, have opened their doors in recent years. Geist is headed by Bo Bech, one of Copenhagen’s most prominent chefs, one whose résumé includes stints at the two-Michelin-star Le Gavroche in London and L’Arpège in Paris, among a number of other top restaurants both in and out of Denmark. His previous restaurant was awarded a Michelin star, and Geist is just as good, if less formal. 

Pillow Talk

Our pick of the best hotels in Copenhagen offers cool and comfort in equal measures. Check-in for a taste of design-led Danish hospitality.

ONE: Hotel Fox. Each room in this most stylish of budget hotels was designed by a different artist. Miami-based duo Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval designed the Harmony’s Helm room.

TWO: First Hotel Skt. Petri. The effortlessly chic hotel is a watering hole for the city’s glitterati and the official sponsor of Copenhagen Fashion Week. Suites one and two, both with private terraces, are the ones to nab.

THREE: Avenue Hotel. Casual comfort in a quiet location on the city outskirts makes this ultra-friendly place a haven for experienced travellers. Style hunters will love the Missoni cushions and other accents, and bicycles are available for car-free, carefree city explorations.

FOUR: Radisson Blu Royal Hotel. A true designer hotel; from the walls to the bathroom taps, everything in this monolithic tower was the creation of Danish design legend Arne Jacobsen.

FIVE: Nimb Hotel. One of Copenhagen’s smallest hotels with only 14 rooms. Conveniently located adjacent to Tivoli Gardens just across from the city main railway station, it’s well known among the world’s hotel cognoscenti for its stylish rooms, quality restaurants and its incredibly well-stocked Vinotek wine bar.  

Eat between the Lines

A restaurant in a library? Søren K is no ordinary restaurant, and the Black Diamond wing of the Royal Library is no ordinary library. Consider it Danish spirit on a plate, and it’s received Michelin’s Bib Gourmand, the award for ‘good food at moderate prices’. We chatted to head chef Jens Søndergaard.  

Is affordability very important to you?

Søren K is not just an à la carte restaurant; we have a cafe, canteen and a big atrium where we can hold parties for up to 600 people. This means we can buy in bulk and that helps us maintain reasonable prices.

Is there a dish that stands out as a favourite?

The steak tartare. We sell about 10 every day. The Danes just love raw meat! Must be a Viking gene.  

Is New Nordic cuisine really new, or just newly discovered by diners?

Of course, we have always had the climate to grow the foods that we are using now. Noma helps to point us in the right direction; it’s a big blessing to have a restaurant at that level as a draw, but even Noma struggled for the first couple of years. A lot of other chefs laughed and said it wouldn’t last long. They’ve certainly had to eat their words!  

Where do you see it going from here?

Actually, Ferran [Adrià, head chef] at El Bulli said that Nordic cuisine was the next big thing. But there is still a long way to go and that’s the best part, I think. 

Danish by Design

ONE : There are no signs to indicate Thorvaldsens Museum is a museum; its entrance is off the street in a small plaza on the tiny island of Slotsholmen. Inside, you’ll find classical sculptures in gorgeously painted rooms created specifically for the artworks on display – and hardly any visitors. 

TWO: The Hirschsprung is a small but eclectic museum that offers a more personalised experience than the Louvres and Mets of the world – no queues, no crowds, but a lot of provocative work. The museum is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.  

THREE: DesignMuseum Danmark was first opened to the public in 1895 and is a spectacular showcase of the history of Danish design. It’s located just two blocks from Amalienborg Palace, the winter abode of the Danish royal family.

Just Popping Next Door

It’s just so European to have a suburb in the next country. Many Danes have moved over to Malmö, Sweden (where property is cheaper), and commute to Copenhagen daily by train across the Øresund Bridge, spanning the Øresund Strait.

Malmö, Sweden’s third most populous city, has Renaissance streets and a charming main square. They are a contrast to newer sights, such as the Moderna Museet Malmö museum, which took over the vast space of a former electrical station, and the spectacular Turning Torso, a 190-metre-high residential skyscraper, which has given new life to formerly derelict Western Harbour. 

Words by Robert La Bua - Published in Voyeur August 2011
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 1,100,000
Time Zone GMT +2 hours
Languages Danish (official language), many Danes also speak English, German and French
Currency Kroner (DKK)
Electricity 230v 50Hz
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