Well, this post has been a long time coming.
At first it was too hard and sad to think on, missing a town that feels so happy and idyllic to me. And not just from the time I had there, but from the moment I landed nearly five years ago on a three day stop-over. I ordered a wine at a bar near my hotel and looked up and down the street and it all just felt RIGHT. Like coming home, if I can say such a thing.
It is a town that feels like part of me and where I’d almost always rather be. I can’t explain it. My three months there last year were like a dream. Not just because my days were slow, walking and reading, napping and yoga and day-drinking and so much art and design, writing in the afternoon and long golden summer nights. But because it is such a wonderful town. The Danes have their values in order they know what they love and they do it well.
Things move easily in Copes, just the right size to feel busy and interesting but not sprawling or hard work. The attention to detail, the history and design in every! damn! thing! makes for a beautiful and soothing time. The food is ridiculously good, actually perfect pastry and (expensive but lovely) cofffees, and fresh and seasonal and local everything else. Biking to the harbour for a swim, biking to the park for a sour beer and a read, biking to the gallery or just biking along the lakes for the good light.
Below are my faves, the parts I love and miss and think you would do well to make time for. But it’s a city that offers itself up to you in the bestest, most welcoming way, so I know you’ll love it all no matter where you end up.
FOOD AND DRINKS
A new one, but one of my very favourites in all of Copenhagen. The breakky and lunch food is so damn good, and the sweet treats are wonderful. It’s a lovely open warehouse space and a nice reason to explore the north-end of Refshallen.
A fave little city-spot near parliament and the harbour. Not only excellent coffee (espressos and pour-over), but lovely art and nice chairs and a generally excellent Danish vibe.
There are several around town and they all hit the spot. I love the one at Godthabsvej but it’s a bit out of the way. Jaegersborggade is a perfect local spot, lots of indoor and outdoor seating across from the park and always busy and friendly. The city location is also very sweet and handy.
One of my favourite places in town for breakfast or lunch. It’s stripped back and warm, but full of lovely details and a kind of vague French vibe. The menu has a lovely play on the usual stuff, and they have a collection of back-issue New Yorkers so you can read till your heart’s content. Also, their lattes come in what can best be described as a small bowl. That’s a lot of good coffee!
A converted, well, meatpacking district, not far from Central. There are a heap of restaurants and bars and it is lovely if the weather is warm and you can sit outside. Good place to go on a Thursday or Friday night.
It seems weird that I would recommend a corner store when you’re all the way in Copenhagen, but I just really love this local spot. They sell everything good and it’s a little hub of charm and treats - coffee, pastries, snacks, cheese, beer, excellent wines, magazines, books, records, the list goes on. It makes you want to live nearby so you can go all the time (which I absolutely did). They have THE GOODS.
It feels counter-intuitive to eat Mexican in Denmark but it’s some of the best Mexican I’ve had outside of Mexico. And tell me, when do you ever not feel like a taco?
Breakfast, lunch or dinner - this place is a dream. Cool wood panels and laminated tables and always a good song on, this is a big fave.
My favourite bakery in CPH, and also my local. Everything about it just made me happy, especially the custard and hazelnut spandau.
Feels Frenchy here too - sweet local wine bar. I don’t love their food, so would recommend it more as an afternoon or evening drinks spot.
Feels like a Parisian cafe in the heart of Vesterbro - their breakfast platter has eggs and cheese and toast and pancakes and yoghurt and juice and coffee, if, like me, you don’t like to make choices - you really can have it all!
Nothing fancy or mind-blowing here, just a sweet local bar. Cosy and very Danish and the wine isn’t too pricy.
Andersen & Maillard
One of the best spots for coffee on Norrebrogade, just opposite Assistens cemetery - lovely atmosphere and their cinnamon glaze croissants are quite seriously exceptional. They sound like a novelty but are light and fresh and very more-ish.
Some of the best damn pizza I have ever had - so fresh and delicious, totally blew my mind. Their salads and sides are also very good, but it’s the pizza that won my heart.
Make sure you book a table, this is one not to miss.
Mikeller & Friends
There are a few locations around town (including the brewery at Refshallen), but my fave is the local bar on Stefansgade in Norrebro. Lovely range of Danish beers on tap or by the bottle (including a sour cherry number I’m quite fond of).
Markets right near the centre of town in two lovely ‘sheds’. Full of very good food stalls for no matter what you feel like. I love going there for smorrebrod (Danish open sandwiches), nice cheap wines from the French bar, really very good tacos from Hija de Sanches, lattes from Coffee Collective, hearty porridge from GROD and anything in between. This is an absolute must, everyone goes here - toursist and locals because it’s just such a nice vibe.
Just down from Torvehallerne and a block away from the lakes, this is very yummy ramen. I like sitting at the bar by the street and working my way through one of their enormous vegetarian bowls.
Look, it’s a chain bakery and they’re all over town, but honestly, their salmon roll is one of the best damn lunches on the run you could ask for. They have rhubarb morning pastries that are exceptional, and the poppyseed tebrikes are flakey and softly sweet.
GALLERIES AND SITES
Take the Metro to Femoren St on Amager and cut across the park to the beach and there you have it - THE SNAIL! A lovely, free and delightful architecturally-designed local swimming spot. The water is a dream (in June, July and August - beyond that I really don’t know).
FREE ON TUESDSAYS (I know because I went most Tuesdays)! This is such a stunning spot, and a startling collection of sculptures – it really is something else. Upstairs they have a selection of French modern and impressionist pieces, but it’s the Roman and Grecian sculptures that have my heart. The building itself is also impressive, built around an inner conservatory with a stunning extension in the back and upstairs – very Danish in style, by architects Dissing and Weitling in 2006 or so. I love the way they have integrated the older textures with marble and brass, long lines and wide steps and lots of natural light. There is one sculpture placed in the extension that seems to perfectly capture all the light and mood. It has the most ethereal quality, I could not love it more. Oh, and make sure you make your way to the roof garden and seating area – you get a great view out over the rooftops and towers of the city. It’s especially nice to sit and enjoy the afternoon sun on a cold day.
SMK (National Gallery)
Give yourself LOTS of time here. It’s such a lovely way to get a feel for the Danish tradition – there are some classics that are as perfect as you’d expect. But it’s the understated glory of Hammershoi and Giersing that I have a real thing for. These artists are quite extraordinary. Giersing is more modern, more broad in his approach. And Hammershoi captures this kind of bereft mood, his paintings are sparse but full of beauty and feeling. My other two favourite Danes are Per Kirkeby and JF Willumsen. What colour! Such fun! Honestly, these guys are wildly talented and I LOVE how they play with ideas and the establishment (Willumsun especially was brilliantly cheeky). I think I could look at only Danish art forever and ever and always be happy.
Please absolutely make the time to go here. It is the best thing in Copenhagen that isn’t in Copenhagen. It’s about 45 minutes north on the train (at Humlebaek), and then a picturesque ten minute walk. And really, what a way to see the countryside and the coast. You could manage it in a morning if you got an early start and were pressed for time, but I think it’s a great day trip (especially if you duck up to Hamlet’s castle at Helsingor afterwards – see below). They also open late in the evenings in summer, so worth checking the website and making an evening of it. Aside from a whole room of my guy, Per Kirkeby, they have a stunning collection of Danish and international art, and the touring exhibitions are always exceptional. There’s a room full of Giacometti that made me cry, and some very fine modernist treats Yves Klein and Shilpa Gupta. They also have some pretty special grounds, with an amazing sculpture garden that goes right down to the strait and looks across to Sweden. In summer you can even swim! PLEASE GO!
About 15 / 20 minutes further north from Humlebaek is Helsingor, where there’s a really great maritime museum and HAMLET’S ACTUAL CASTLE. It’s as stunning as you’d imagine, and quite a striking site right there on the coast, keeping watch over to Sweden. It’s actually called Kronborg, but I think of it as Elsinor always.
The Rundetaarn (Round Tower) is, I guess, the steeple of one of the city churches. It’s right in the heart of the beautiful laneways that skirt the University and the shopping district. The interior is a stunning circular brick ramp that spirals around and up, so classically simple and refined in true Danish style. From the outside deck you have a 360 degree vantage point of the terracotta roofs and rainbow coloured buildings – it’s such a beautiful old town. The railings are etched with C 4th for Christian the 4th, who very nearly bankrupted the whole damn country with all the decadent buildings in his name, but did a nice job of it, so I’m not complaining. Side note, there’s usually a really good organic hot dog vendor in the lane next to the church, if you happen to be there around lunchtime – extra pickle recommended.
Grundtvig Church is about ten minutes from town (by bus) and is not only the most beautiful building in Copenhagen, but I think, the world. I’ve been there three times and it always makes me cry – it is breathtaking, in the true sense of the word. The scope, the simplicity, the soaring height and detail, the light, the lights, the hundreds of honey-coloured chairs, the worn brick floor. It’s an absolute wonder, I can’t imagine anyone not being moved by it as a space. It can, I should say, inexplicably be closed. Check the website, and know that even then it’s a bit of a punt, but oh, so worth it.
This is a kind of shipping-container village of food stalls on the north-east point of Refshallen, on the harbour. It’s a nice spot for lunch if the weather is good, or for later afternoon beers and an early dinner. You can take the hop-on / hop-off ferry from Nyhavn and enjoy the view of the harbour.
It’s peak-tourist on the banks of the harbour at Nyhavn, but pretty lovely nonetheless. The kind of old-world corner of Copenhagen and the spot to take a pic of the rainbow houses and perfect canals and take the hop-on / hop-off tour of the canals and harbour. Apollo and Den Vandrette are both good bars in the area (and not too touristy).
I also love ARKEN gallery if you have time (about 45 minutes south, but check what exhibitions are on as their permanent collection isn’t as impressive as those in town), the Danish Design Museum is wonderful, especially if, like me, you love chairs - they have a whole exhibition on chairs! I also enjoyed the Danish Architecture Museum, but again it will depend on what they have on.
This is a stunning cemetery in the heart of Norrebro. Don’t be put off, it’s a real meeting place and happy thoroughfare through town. You can visit the graves of Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen or just sit and enjoy the light with a picnic. I ran there most mornings and it’s especially lovely in the spring. Just the right amount of overgrown.
Talk about royal charm - these gardens are such a lovely compliment to the heart of the city. Polished and pretty.
Again, in the heart of the city, not far from the lakes and close to the National Gallery, the best part here is the conservatory - so big and beautiful!
I wouldn’t usually add a shopping spot to my must-dos, but HAY is a real favourite. The building looks over the main square and fountain of the town, and is three stories up, three stories big, and full of the BEST of Danish design homewares and furniture. You can spend your life savings on their furniture, or settle for some very affordable and sweet stationery and kitchen gifty-things. Obviously I did both.
Beau Marche Cafe a Vins
My dream shop - a collection of vintage French furniture and new designer chairs and side tables and dreamy pieces of art. It’s a rambling and very crowded with stuff in an overwhelmingly good way. There’s a cafe in the back where you can buy booze and really, why wouldn’t you?
It’s best to get a tourist ticket at the airport when you land – this allows you to use the trains (even as far as Helsingor), the Metro system, and the bus. All are useful, depending on where you are staying and going. There is a one, two and three day pass at the red ticketing booths as you exit the arrivals hall at the airport (they’re super easy to use, and there are staff there if you have questions). I believe there is an app for CPH transport, but I found Google Maps easiest to use.
If you can though, the best thing to do is to BIKE! There are a bunch of bike hire places all around town, and you can hire them for a day or two or longer. It’s a very small and flat city so super pleasant to ride around; nothing is too far and you won’t break a sweat. And there are two-lane bike paths on each side of the road. The Danes are professionals - my best advice is to watch them for a bit and see how it works (ie, raising your right hand when you stop, staying in the right lane if you’re slower, how to indicate, etc), then get on and take in the town. It could not be easier or more lovely.