Copenhagen City Guide
A cool coastal city filled with classic and modern design, great food, and even better people
Denmark is one of the happiest nations on the planet, at least that is what Forbes claims. This will become very evident once you start exploring the city and meeting the people. During my week there I did not have one bad interaction, literally everyone was friendly, helpful, and quite happy. The city is a nice manageable size and consists of a pleasant mixture of classic and modern design and architecture. Christian IV, the Danish monarch during the 16th and 17th century who oversaw the construction of much of Copenhagen, brought in architects from nearby countries like the Netherlands to design the city and its buildings. The older classic looking structures around Copenhagen are likely Dutch designed and have similar aesthetic to Amsterdam, which compliment the more modern Danish designs that have become very fashionable and popular.
One important cultural concept to know about before visiting Copenhagen is hygge. Pronounced something like “hoo-guh”, good luck with saying the Danish words by the way, hygge is an all encompassing lifestyle that centers around family, friends, comfort, and warmth of character. Once you begin to embrace the concept and practice of hygge, it becomes pretty clear why Danes are so happy.
Be prepared for the high prices though. The current exchange rate between US dollars, Euros as well, to Danish Kroner (DKK) is not great for us Americans. But hey, college tourists know how to live/travel on a budget and spend when we need to. That being said, there are definitely deals to be found in the city and from what the locals told me Copenhagen is the most affordable of all the Scandinavian capitals.
This is the Copenhagen you probably have seen in travel books, postcards, and your friend’s Instagram account. Two streets run parallel to an inlet of water where there are many boat tours you can take to get a stunning view of the harbor. The beautifully colored buildings along the waterfront won’t need a filter when you post to instagram. The many restaurants and shops along Nyhavn are overpriced and I would suggest going a few streets away so you do not overspend on any souvenirs.
• Tivoli Gardens
The world’s oldest amusement part opened its gates all the way back in 1843 (for reference, Disneyland did not open until 1955). Not surprisingly Tivoli also is home to the world’s oldest operational wooden roller-coaster. The Bjergbanen, or mountain coaster, will definitely make you think about the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland because the two are incredibly similar. Walt Disney most likely took some inspiration from Tivoli when designing his park in America. Entrance to the park is around 110 DKK, depending on what time of the week you go.
• Statens Museum for Kunst (Danish National Gallery)
If you are not an expert in classic Danish art don’t worry, the Statens Museum for Kunst, SMK, has plenty of other works ranging from Da Vinci to much more modern pieces. For every classic masterpiece at SMK there is a modern Danish piece of art that will make you tilt your head and wonder what the artist was on when they made it. All of the permanent exhibitions are free and there are affordable rates for students to the rest of the museum.
You may have heard about this small independent community that is part of Copenhagen but also part autonomous state, their legal status is complicated. What is not complicated about Christiana is their rules: have fun, don’t run, and don’t take pictures. Walking around Christiana is an incredibly unique experience that you will not find anywhere else. I was not alive, or even close to being alive, for Woodstock, but I imagine it was something like Christiana. You might hear around Copenhagen that Christiana is just a place where hippies live and sell drugs; its not. It is a self-sufficient community that provides a unique window into what an anarchist society can look like. That being said, if you go please respect the few rules they do have in place.
• Assistens Kierkegaard Cemetery
If you have seen The Little Mermaid or Frozen, then you have seen the work of H.C. Anderson. Anderson is one of Denmark’s literary heroes, most famous for his fairy tales. This cemetery in the Nørreboro district is the final resting place for Anderson as well as other famous Danes like the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard you may have studied in Philosophy 101. It may seem a little morbid to check out the largest cemetery in town, but Assistens is actually really pretty as it is incredibly well kept.
• Jægersborggade Street
Until recently, less than a decade in fact, Jægersborggade was a dodgy street you did not want to find yourself. However, this has changed thanks to some enterprising trendsetters and creatives and now the trendy street is bustling with business. Located northwest of the city center in the Nørrebro district, Jægersborggade has dozens of hip cafes, boutique shops, and art galleries.
Food & Drink
What used to be a parking structure was turned into a modern meeting place in 2011. Torvelhallerne has everything you could ever want in terms of both classic and modern Danish cuisine. Located in the city center, Torvehallerne is a combination of two large enclosed food markets filled with about 60 individual stalls. There are cuisines from all over the world. For a Danish lunch, pick up some smørrebrød (something like schmurh-burd, again good luck) which is an open faced sandwich on Denmark’s favorite bread, rugbrød.
This is the breakfast spot to indulge in a typical Danish breakfast or brunch. The Danes love their porridge, which after you try it at Grød you will know why. A hearty bowl of warm delicious porridge is a brilliant way to start a chilly day of exploration. There is a full restaurant on Jægersborggade street as well as a popular foodstall at Torvehallerne in the city center.
• The Coffee Collective
Leading the way for the third wave coffee movement in Copenhagen is the Coffee Collective. They opened their doors in 2008 on Jægersborggade when it was still not a desirable location in the hopes of creating a change in their immediate community. They have multiple locations across Copenhagen, but the one of Jægersborggade is distinct because it is coffee bar without a bar. Their goal was to create a more intimate atmosphere between barista and customer.
Warpigs Brewpub is a craft brewery/barbeque restaurant that is owned by famous American brewery 3Floyds and the Danish brewer Mikkeler. Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, founder of Mikkeler, is internationally acclaimed as one of the most creative and innovative brewers in the world. Warpigs boasts over 20 craft beers on tap that they switch up on a regular basis. The barbeque is slow roasted in a Texas style, but even though they stay open until midnight come early if you want their choice food because they often sell out.
• Meyers Bagerei
If you do not have time for a full breakfast and just want to grab something quick for the road, than stop by Meyers Bagerei. Located on Jægersbroggade, within a half-block of the west side of Assistens Cemetary, this small bakery serves the best Danish cinnamon rolls, kanalsnurrer as they call it.
• Copenhagen Street Food / PapirØen
Just across the water from Nyhavn is another food hall similar to Torvelhallerne called Copenhagen Street Food. It what used to be a large paper factory, now houses over 30 food stalls with multiple cuisines. This is also a solid spot for getting a good meal for less than most places around Copenhagen. There are loads of outdoor tables that are perfect on a warmer day to sit back by the water and enjoy a meal with your friends. You will not be short on options at Copenhagen Street Food.
Where to Stay
• Sleep in Heaven
Located in Nørrebro, this hostel is a perfect mix of hip and cute. The rooms are modern and clean and have plenty of lockers to keep your stuff safe. The lounge has a pool table and plenty of comfortable lounging areas. It is also one of the most affordable hostels in Copenhagen.
• Bedwood Hostel
Though a much older building than Sleep in Heaven, the location of Bedwood makes it incredibly attractive. Literally a few step from Nyhavn, this hostel could not be easier for tourists. The accommodations are not as nice as Sleep in Heaven and a major drawback was that the entire floor, which can sleep over 30 people, only had one bathroom.
Walking is definitely possible, but bikes are king. Copenhagen is one of the most cycle forward city in the world; about two thirds of Copenhagen’s population listed a bike as their primary mode of transportation. The Queen Louise Bridge is the busiest cycling road in the world. If you did not bring your own, because why would you, there are loads of bikes to rent around town. Both Sleep in Heaven and Bedwood Hostel offer bikes to rent for their customers at an affordable rate.
Danish is an interesting language, but it is pretty difficult to pick up much. Words are spelled pretty trickily and the pronunciation is strangely slurred. It is even being hard for me to describe it. However, the language barrier will not be an issue, because seemingly every Dane speaks English fluently. Just walk or bike around this city, it is seriously beautiful. And I was there in winter, it must be immaculate during spring and summer.