Europeans love Copenhagen, and judging from the number of other international visitors, the Danish capital is on many must-see lists. And why not? Copenhagen is cool, literally and figuratively. Restaurants in all price ranges are plentiful; it’s extremely safe and walkable; history blends effortlessly with modernity; and locals are naturally friendly, maybe because they’re so happy to be residents of such a livable city.
This is Scandinavia’s largest city (population 1.5 million), incorporating the easternmost reaches of Zealand and the northern part of adjacent Amager island. For almost 600 years Copenhagen has been the seat of the oldest kingdom in the world, and grandeur finds its expression in the city’s royal residences. Glancing over the skyline, you’ll see towers and turrets, domes and decks, all glinting in the northern sun.
If coziness is a Danish trait, then Copenhagen is most certainly Danish. Bicycles roll alongside cars in the narrow streets, and a handful of skyscrapers are tucked away amid cafés, canals, and quaint old homes. But don’t let the low-slung skyline fool you: downtown Copenhagen is a sophisticated cultural hub with a wealth of attractions. Strget, Copenhagen’s main pedestrian shopping avenue, packs in the best in Danish design from furniture to flatware; street performers, sidewalk cafés, and pastry shops beckon outdoors. There are minor irritants: smoking is still allowed in every bar and virtually every restaurant (unless forbidden by the chef); taxis and liquor can be terribly expensive by North American standards; and place names will not sound the way that they are spelled.
This is a youthful city, where all ages seem to truly enjoy the best Copenhagen can offer. Certainly the best-known attraction is Tivoli Gardens, a bewitching blend of blooming gardens, funfair rides, pantomime theater, stylish restaurants, and concerts. There aren’t too many capital cities that can lay claim to a similar venue in the heart of the metropolis.
The sites in Copenhagen rarely jump out at you; the city’s elegant spires and tangle of cobbled one-way streets are best sought out on foot at an unhurried pace. Excellent bus and train systems can come to the rescue of weary legs. The city is not divided into single-purpose districts; people work, play, shop, and live throughout the central core of this multilayered, densely populated capital.
Be it sea or canal, water surrounds Copenhagen. A network of bridges and drawbridges connects the two main islands—Zealand and Amager—on which Copenhagen is built. The seafaring atmosphere is indelible, especially around Nyhavn and Christianshavn.
Some Copenhagen sights, especially churches, keep short hours, particularly in fall and winter. It’s a good idea to call directly or check with the tourist offices to confirm opening times.
Copenhagen Restaurant Reviews
In Copenhagen, with its more than 2,000 restaurants, traditional Danish fare spans all price categories: you can order a light lunch of traditional smrrebrd, munch alfresco from a street-side plser (sausage) cart, or dine out on Limfjord oysters and local plaice. Even the most upscale restaurants have moderately priced fixed menus. Though few Danish restaurants require reservations, it’s best to call ahead to avoid a wait. The city’s more affordable ethnic restaurants are concentrated in Vesterbro, Nrrebro, and the side streets off Strget. And for less-expensive, savory noshes in stylish surroundings, consider lingering at a café.
Copenhagen Hotel Reviews
Copenhagen is well served by a wide range of hotels, overall among Europe’s most expensive. The hotels around the somewhat run-down red-light district of Istedgade—which looks more dangerous than it is—are the least expensive. Copenhagen is a compact, eminently walkable city, and most of the hotels are in or near the city center, usually within walking distance of most of the major sights and thoroughfares.
Breakfast is almost always included in the room rate, except in some of the pricier American-run hotel chains. Rooms have bath or shower unless otherwise noted. Note that in Copenhagen, as in the rest of Denmark, half (to three-fourths) of the rooms usually have showers only (while the rest have showers and bathtubs), so make sure to state your preference when booking.
Most nightlife is concentrated in the area in and around Strget, though there are student and “leftist” cafés and bars in Nrrebro and more upscale spots in Østerbro. Vesterbro, whose main drags are Vesterbrogade and Istedgade, has become quite the nightlife neighborhood, with several new bars and cafés. Many restaurants, cafés, bars, and clubs stay open after midnight, a few until 5 AM.
Copenhagen used to be famous for jazz, but unfortunately that has changed, with many of the best clubs closing down. However, you can find nightspots catering to almost all musical tastes, from ballroom music to house, rap, and techno, in trendy clubs sound tracked by local DJs. The area around Nikolaj Kirken has the highest concentration of trendy discos and dance spots.
Copenhagen’s club scene can be fickle—new venues crop up regularly, often replacing last year’s red-hot favorites. Call ahead or check out Copenhagen This Week (www.ctw.dk) for current listings. The stylish, biannual magazine Scandinavian Living (www.cphliving.dk) includes informative listings on the latest bars, restaurants, and shops. It also features articles on Danish culture, food, and architecture and is available at stores, hotels, and the tourist office.
The most complete English calendar of events is listed in the tourist magazine Copenhagen This Week (www.ctw.dk), and includes musical and theatrical events as well as films and exhibitions. Copenhagen’s main theater and concert season runs from September through May, and tickets can be obtained either directly from theaters and concert halls or from ticket agencies.
For more information, call or visit the Landsforeningen for Bsser og Lesbiske (Gay and Lesbian Association, Teglgårdstr. 13, Boks 1023, Downtown, DK-1007. 33/13-19-48. www.lbl.dk), which has a library and more than 45 years of experience. Check out the free paper Panbladet (www.panbladet.dk), or the gay guides Gayguide (www.gayguide.dk) and Copenhagen Gay Life (www.copenhagen-gay-life.dk) for listings of nightlife events and clubs, and other topical information of special interest to the gay individual.
A showcase for world-famous Danish design and craftsmanship, Copenhagen seems to have been designed with shoppers in mind. The best buys are such luxury items as crystal, porcelain, silver, and furs. Look for offers and sales (tilbud or udsalg in Danish) and check antiques and secondhand shops for classics at cut-rate prices.
Although prices are inflated by a hefty 25% Value-Added Tax (Danes call it MOMS), non-European Union citizens can receive about an 18% refund. For more details and a list of all tax-free shops, ask at the tourist office for a copy of the Tax-Free Shopping Guide.