The capital of swimming, sustainability and Scandi cool, there are endless reasons to visit Denmark’s compact capital. Here are 10 things that make Copenhagen special.
The Danish concept of hygge – the feeling of cosiness and conviviality – has become a cultural phenomenon over the last few years, and there’s no better way to experience it than by hunkering down in one of Copenhagen’s many cosy cafés. Hang out in one of the three homely rooms that comprise Tjili Pop, a local favourite in the trendy Nørrebro district, or while away the afternoon with a good book in the bookshop café Paludan Bog.
Copenhagen puts on an incredible feast for foodies on any budget. Get a taste of New Nordic Cuisine at the city’s gourmet and Michelin-star restaurants, or for a more affordable meal, head to the huge indoor Torvehallerne market for street eats and fresh produce. From the smørrebrød (open sandwich) to the rød pølse (red sausage) hot dog, there are a number of dishes you can’t leave Copenhagen without trying, but the coastal capital’s seafood specialties – pickled herring and Limfjord oysters – should be first on the list.
There’s a reason Copenhagen was recently voted the best city in the world for swimming. The water-bound city boasts several urban harbour baths, sea pools and miles of beach parks. Local favourites include Kastrup Sea Bath, also known as The Snail, and the first harbour bath in the city, Islands Brygge. Meanwhile, renovation has seen the island of Refshaleøen in Copenhagen’s harbour transform into an uber-hip summer hangout, perfect for swimming, suntanning and people watching.
In the centre of Copenhagen is Tivoli Gardens, Denmark’s whimsical playground complete with retro roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, live performances and a large lake with its own light show. Opened in 1843, it is one of the oldest theme parks in the world, second only to nearby Dyrehavsbakken in Klampenborgand, just north of the city. So great is its influence, Walt Disney designed a lot of his own theme park with inspiration drawn from his visits to Tivoli Gardens.
Copenhagen is nothing if not majestic. There are several opulent royal residencies to explore, both within Copenhagen and a short drive out of the city, from Christiansborg Palace, seat of the Danish Parliament, to the Renaissance splendour of Frederiksborg Castle. Just north of Copenhagen is the 16th-century Kronborg Castle, where Shakespeare set his famous play Hamlet.
In Copenhagen’s Christianshavn district is a pocket of land known as Freetown Christiania. A former military base, the area was squatted by hippies in the ’70s and eventually developed into a self-governing community, with its own rules and regulations completely independent of the Danish government. Today, around 900 people live in Christiania. Though the infamous cannabis trade along Christiania’s Pusher Street has died down in recent years, the area is worth visiting for its colourful murals, live music and great selection of affordable cafés and restaurants.
It might come as a surprise, but Copenhagen’s jazz scene rivals that of New York City or New Orleans. Jazz has been the soundtrack of the city ever since the genre broke into popular culture, with stalwarts such as Jazzhus Montmarte still hosting renowned Danish and international jazz artists over 50 years since its opening. There’s also a huge annual summer jazz festival that takes over many of Copenhagen’s music venues, streets and squares, and retro amusement park Tivoli Gardens hosts regular jazz nights and performances.
The beer culture in Copenhagen is second to none. Of course, Carlsberg has its home in the city, but so too do a number of independent craft breweries. One much-loved homegrown brand is Mikkeller, which boasts a collection of stripped-back drinking dens across the city (and a few around the world, too). Its flagship venue, Mikkeller & Friends, is located in Vesterbro. In this lively corner of Copenhagen you’ll also be able to sample the city’s burgeoning cocktail scene, with speakeasy-style bar Curfew, dimly lit drinking den 1656 and bright, two-storey Lidkoeb bar leading the pack.
Bring some Scandi minimalist chic into your home with a shopping trip on Strøget, Copenhagen’s pedestrianised retail neighbourhood packed with clothing and design stores. One of the best places for Danish decor is Stilleben, where you’ll find everything from bold prints and thick blankets to lampshades and shirts. According to Ditte and Nicolaj Reffstrup, the couple behind Danish fashion brand Ganni, Copenhagen’s best spots for fashion and interior design include The Apartment in Christianshavn, luxury fashion store Holly Golightly and CBN Vintage.
Copenhagen’s dedication to sustainability has landed it the title of the world’s greenest city, largely thanks to bikes superseding cars as the primary means of getting around. You’ll find bike paths all over the city, but some of the more scenic places to cycle include the promenade of Amager Beach and around Frederiksberg Gardens, a large landscaped garden just west of the city centre.