The Wit & Delight Travel Guide to Copenhagen
Copenhagen. It’s like an ultra-cool, enlightened older sister, who couldn’t be bothered with heels (instead wearing sneakers, likely white, best for biking), received a couple master’s degrees (not only is higher education free there, but residents are actually paid to go to college) and x’s out of her inbox by 4:30 p.m., because she values work/life balance. Then there’s her national health care and the mandatory, minimum five weeks vacation, but let’s discuss that another time, preferably at one of Copenhagen’s Michelin-starred restaurants.
Known for outstanding, well, everything – design, style, food, beer, culture, need I go on? – no wonder Danes are deemed the happiest people on earth, hygging to all hell. Not only is Copenhagen is a dream to visit, it’s a lifestyle aspiration long after you’ve returned home. So come along, get planning.
Language: Danish. However, lucky for us, English is spoken city-wide. Danes are the world’s best non-native English speakers, as it’s taught to kiddos starting in primary schools, so while street signs and some menus may leave you flummoxed, you’ll be able to speak to anyone, everyone – bartenders, store owners, the very kind stranger on the street – in English.
Electric: Type C two-prong plug
Currency: Krone (DKK). Get ready to do some mental math. One Danish Krone = 0.16 U.S. dollar, so think of every 100 DKK as a couple quarters over $15. Credit cards are commonly accepted, so it’s unlikely you’ll need cash, but ATMs are available if you do.
Tipping: None! A service charge is included in your bill, so tipping is not necessary in Copenhagen. Unless, of course, you want to reward extraordinary service – that’s always appreciated. If that’s the case, a 10% tip is sufficient.
Weather: Copenhagen is the Goldilocks of weather: not too hot, not too cold. Just right. Winters are mild (the average temperature in January is 34 degrees Fahrenheit) and summers are cool, with an average August temp of just 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Though be aware of the sunrises and sunsets when you’re visiting, as days are very short in the winter and very long in the summer. Say you’re swinging through in June: the sun will rise at 4:30 a.m. and set at nearly 10:00 p.m. Compare that to mid-November, when it’ll rise at 7:30 a.m. and set at 4:00 p.m.
You’ll likely get everywhere you need to go by foot or by bike. (Metro if you’re adventuring out of the city.) In 2017, Uber pulled out of Copenhagen due to new taxi laws, so don’t rely on that after a few too many Carlsbergs. Plan your nightlife and cocktail intake appropriately. Copenhagen is a relatively small city though, so you can reach most locales within 10 minutes by bike or 30 minutes walking.
To get to Copenhagen from the airport, take the train. The airport is located in Kastrup, a suburb of Copenhagen, and is just a quick 15-minute (clean, modern, peaceful) journey directly into the city. Depending on where you’re staying, you’ll likely hop off at the Vesterport, Nørreport or Østerport stops. You could also take a taxi from the airport, but beware that taxis are pricey. The trip from the airport into the city will likely cost you 250-300 DKK, around $40-$47.
Where to Stay
For the design-minded (you, that’s you) consider a stay at the Nobis Hotel (below), which combines contemporary amenities with classic architecture. It’s like Copenhagen itself: elegant, historic and just warm enough. Or consider Sanders Hotel, also perfectly polished. It proclaims itself as Copenhagen’s first luxury boutique hotel, with bespoke furnishings and a rooftop conservatory you have to see.
I’m aching for a stay at THEKRANE (above), an industrial coal crane that’s been converted into a sleek retreat made for two. So sexy, no? The one-room masterpiece comes complete with panoramic views of Copenhagen and all-black décor that’s in homage to coal, of course.
While perusing the beautiful, minimalistic interiors store Domusnord, on my 30th birthday no less, contemplating a print I didn’t buy and have regretted every day since, a chic shopkeeper approached me, asking in Danish if I need any help.
“I’m sorry, is English okay?”
“Oh! You looked like a local!”
Me, looking like a Copenhagener? I’ve never felt more flattered. Copenhagen style is cohesive, neutral and comfortable – perfect for biking to and from work, then taking the kids to the park, before grabbing a nightcap, all without a wardrobe change. Naturally, wear whatever makes you happy, but if you’d like to blend in with the locals, pack your sneakers, black tights, simple dresses, wide-legged pants and straight, wool swing coats.
Illum, the department store of all department stores, is your first stop for fine fashion. Its homegoods counterpart, Illums Bolighus, is the spot for stylish Danish design pieces you’ll want to bring home, be it desk lamps, bowls or a dining room set you’ll have to talk yourself out of. It’s classic Scandinavia.
Where To Go, What To Do
Trust me, “19th-century amusement park” didn’t sound like my type of activity either, but it’s worth bobbing and weaving through the lines of pre-teens waiting for the rollercoasters to stroll through the magical Chinese pagoda, outdoor theater and 20 acres of glorious gardens of Tivoli Gardens. (Bonus points if you visit during tulip season.) It’s like a fairy tale. Open between May and October, plus annual Halloween and Christmas Market events.
Everyone says it, and everyone is right: the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is worth the field trip out of the city, a train ride 19 miles north of Copenhagen. (The story behind the name? The original property owner had three wives, all named Louise.) Back in the city, Sunday-S Gallery presents stunning contemporary collections on its stark white walls, while Designmuseum Danmark highlights the history of Danish design, from art and design to fashion and textiles. Don’t miss The Danish Chair exhibit (above); you’ll never look at chairs the same way again.
What would Christian IV, once King of Denmark, who built Rundetaarn between 1637 and 1642 think knowing his creation is now an Instagram sensation? You’ve likely seen photos of the sun-soaked rounded white walls and spiral brick ramp of Rundetaarn, then an astronomical observatory for the University of Copenhagen, now open to the public and a must-see for every visitor.
Rumor has it Christian IV rode his horse to the top, hence the ramp instead of stairs, but it’s likely the king and his architect designed Rundetaarn as such so heavy equipment could be carried on wagons to the observatory. Still, knowing that, the horse imagery stays with you as you wind seven and a half times to the top.
It was incredible then, in 1642, when it was completed, and it’s incredible now, with the light flooding in, nothing-like-it views of the city and its Library Hall, which hosts art exhibitions and concerts. Not only is it a can’t miss, but you won’t miss it: it’s centrally located, and you’ll likely stumble upon it on your first stroll through the city. You can’t beat the price either. Admission for adults costs just 25 DKK ($3.90).
Eats and Sips
From the street vendor hot dogs to the best restaurant on this planet, there’s no going wrong with food in Copenhagen.
What’s there to say about Noma that hasn’t been said before? Named The World’s Best Restaurant by Restaurant Magazine in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, the two-Michelin-star restaurant Noma recently reopened after a year hiatus. If you can afford it, do it. If you can get a reservation, do it. It’ll be the meal of your lifetime.
A few other standouts: Restaurant Barr, 108 (younger sibling to Noma), Geist, Vakst, Amass and Relae. Nab lunch at Sonny, a cozy spot with French flair. And you can’t miss Torvehallerne, the food market, for a little bit of everything, from caught-that-morning fish to specialty chocolates to wine bars to the freshest damn flowers you’ve ever seen, with seating both inside and out. It’s like a “Best of” Copenhagen.
Get revved up each morning with one of Copenhagen’s A+ coffee shops. Locations of The Coffee Collective are dotted around the city for a reason; it’s impeccable. Democratic Coffee is a delight, and so are their chocolate croissants. And if Café Atelier September (above, middle) doesn’t mind, I’ll be moving in soon, thankssomuch.
Thirsty past, oh say, noon? (Not here to judge.) Hit up Nebbiolo Winebar, Ved Stranden and Apollo Bar. If hops are more your speed, Tapperiet Brus (above, bottom) is perhaps the prettiest microbrewery in all the land.
Meanwhile, I’d be bellied up to the bar at Lidkoeb (above, top) every night if I could. No design detail is left unturned in all three floors of this renowned cocktail bar, tucked behind a major street in what feels like a backyard. Between sips of my cocktail, I heard tension in two bartenders’ voices, concerned about a burnt-out lightbulb. “They need to be flown in from Poland!” Just don’t forget to order the aged Comte cheese plate.
Nature and Whatnot
It’s impossible to miss The Lakes, the row of three rectangular lakes curving around the western side of the city. Take a stroll around them, admire the swans swimming in them or grab a beer for a casual hang on one of the bridges. Pack a picnic to enjoy at The King’s Garden, originally a private royal garden and now Copenhagen’s oldest park, clocking in at over 400 years old. Nearby is the Botanical Garden, another historical favorite, first founded in 1600, though it moved twice before settling at its current location in 1874. Be sure to wind through the Palm House, which includes a narrow, cast-iron spiral staircase that allows you to walk the perimeter.
Nyhavn, easily the most iconic view of Copenhagen, with its colorful facades and docked ships, is packed with tourists and locals alike. The oldest house, No. 9, was built in 1681 (!), while famed fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen wrote some of his classics – The Princess and the Pea, anyone? – while living in No. 20. Grab a drink and catch the sunset at Nyhavn.
The Little Mermaid
It sure is, um, little. But when in Copenhagen, right? The sculpture, built in 1913 by Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen as a gift to the city, was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless tale and the ballerina who performed the lead in the ballet rendition of The Little Mermaid in 1909. Perhaps the most interesting bit about her though is how she’s been vandalized (shame! bad!): she’s lost her head twice, once had an arm sawn off and has had paint dumped on her several times, but each time she’s been restored to her full little glory.
What a trip. Literally and figuratively. Christiania, a community with their own set of laws independent of the Danish government, was founded in 1971 by a group of hippies who cut a hole into the fence of abandoned military barracks and made a home for themselves. Now it’s a modern-day hippie haven, with hand-made homes, organic restaurants, art studios and, naturally, marijuana vendors – all with a distinct ‘70s vibe. It’s unlike any other neighborhood in Copenhagen or worldwide, really.
At the entrance, you’ll find a list of dos and don’ts within the community, which visitors are advised to follow, including no photos or talking on the phone.
Everyone – and truly, we mean everyone – speaks English in Copenhagen, but here are a few key phrases in Danish to show you’ve at least tried.
Note: “please” does not exist in Danish. Danes are just inherently *that* polite.
- Hej: Hello
- Farvel/hej hej: Goodbye
- Tak: Thank you
- Skål: Cheers
- Velkommen: Welcome
- Ja: Yes
- Nej: No
Megan McCarty is a writer, editor, etc.-er who has written about life, travel and – shh, don’t tell her mother – s-e-x for Garance Doré, Apartment 34, Rue and more. She’s a firm believer in the zipper merge. Follow along with her adventures (and, well, misadventures) on Instagram.