Home to cutting-edge architecture, world class food and rich Jewish heritage, its easy to see why Copenhagen is winning awards and making travel enthusiasts smile.
Copenhagen takes quality of life seriously and it shows. As difficult to define as it is to pronounce, hygge (hoo-guh) is the Danish lifestyle concept that has taken the world by storm. This unique formula for cosy comfort (set to be granted world heritage status by Unesco), may go some way to explaining why Denmark dominates the World Happiness Report rankings year after year.
According to Lonely Planet, the Danish capital hasn’t done a bad job of keeping its two million annual tourists happy either. Branding it the “capital of cool” the travel guide titan voted Copenhagen its number one destination in the world to visit in 2019.
The city seamlessly blends quaint old-world charm with the cutting-edge of cool – one moment you’re strolling down cobbled streets beneath gothic spires, the next you’re faced with the angles and glass modernist architecture of the revitalised Nyhavn waterfront.
The iconic 17th-century harbour forms the heart of the city, the canal-fronted entertainment district lined with vibrant townhouses hosting bars, cafes and restaurants. A trip wouldn’t be complete without taking the barge to catch a glimpse of the city’s most iconic mascot, The Little Mermaid – a 110 year-old bronze sculpture erected in honour of the eponymous fairy tale penned by Copenhagen’s most celebrated resident, Hans Christian Andersen.
From the airport, a 15-minute train ride drops you right in the heart of the action. Step out of Copenhagen Central Station to the screams from the funfair rides of Tivoli Gardens, which last year marked its 175th anniversary. At its most magical after the sun sets, the amusement park glitters with fairy lights and soft-glow bulbs, while over the summer, gardens in full bloom provide the backdrop to a programme of outdoor concerts and events.
There are plenty of cultural events to enjoy over the summer months. Copenhagen Summer Festival from 28th July to 8th August showcases classical chamber music from the world’s most prestigious young talent. From 6th to 9th August, Copenhagen Fashion Week sees the city transform into a Mecca for fashionistas from across the globe with exhibitions, street parties and concerts open to everyone. On 1st to 10th August, Copenhagen Opera Festival sees opera move out from the traditional theatre space and into the streets, blending tradition with innovation in an effort to make the genre accessible to all. While from 7th to 10th August, Strøm Festival offers free concerts across the city from some of the top names in electronic music. Previous years have seen seriously out-there cityscape installations, set up in anything from the Metro trains to Victorian church bell towers.
Despite their small numbers, the Jews of Denmark have had a substantial influence on Danish history and culture. Tours conducted by members of the city’s Jewish community tell the story of Danish Jewry from when the first Jews were invited by King Christian IV in 1622 right up to the modern day. The city walks cover some of Copenhagen’s most interesting sights including The Great Synagogue and The Round Tower, the oldest functioning observatory in Europe, gilded with Hebrew inscriptions.
Every tour inevitably includes a visit to The Danish Jewish Museum. Constructed by contemporary architect Daniel Libeskind, visitors are lead in a labyrinthine manner around the rich tapestry of Danish Jewish culture. A large section of the museum is devoted to Denmark’s admirable history of resistance against the Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Although the nearby Museum of Danish Resistance remains closed due to a fire, you can still visit the small fishing village of Dragor, eight miles outside the city, to see one of the fishing boats that played a part in the daring rescue of 7,000 Jews in 1943.
Copenhagen is a city that belies its size – large enough to host well-over 30 museums, 15 Michelin-starred restaurants and some of the world’s most audacious architectural feats, yet compact enough to make it all accessible.
There’s no better way to get a handle on the city than on two wheels. 375 kilometres of dedicated cycle paths including the Cycle Snake bridge – an elevated orange cycle superhighway that wends its way over the harbour – makes Copenhagen’s cycling infrastructure among the best in the world.
In a city where bikes reportedly outnumber inhabitants, even top politicians can be seen cycling into parliament each day. With rental outlets across the city, it’s the easiest way to discover all the hidden gems that aren’t in the guidebook. The small, quiet streets of Vesterbro and Nørrebro are ideal areas to explore by bike – but be warned, the Danes are notorious for laying down the law to fellow cyclists who fail to uphold the rules of the road.
One of the most scenic routes circumnavigates the harbour with 13 kilometres of stunning cityscape views. Take in the alluring mix of new and old sat side-by-side, including the Opera House, the Royal Library and Blox, Copenhagen’s latest controversial architectural feature. The project comprises a jumbled stack of glass boxes containing restaurants, offices, housing and the Danish Architecture Centre museum, with the aim of bringing different people together within a single hub of urban culture.
To discover how the Danes became world leader’s in design, visit Designmuseum Danmark, where the country’s biggest export is celebrated with exhibits featuring, ceramics, glass, jewellery and over 100 chairs from the most prestigious designers of the last century. This former hospital building is also conveniently home to one of the best lunch options in the city. Named after Kaare Klint, the cafe puts a New Nordic twist on traditional Danish Smorgasbord, with open-faced sandwiches of salted Norwegian herring and smoked salmon to be enjoyed in the 18th century suntrap courtyard.
Boasting more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other Scandinavian capital, Copenhagen is a gastronomic powerhouse. Having topped the controversial list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants four times over the past decade, Noma is the restaurant that practically invented New Nordic cuisine. The restaurant reopened after a hiatus last year on a former shipyard island in Copenhagen harbour which played home to the experimental anarchist community of Freetown.
Embracing the free-spirit of its previous occupiers, it has since regained its two Michelin-star status only a year after René Redzepi relaunched the restaurant with a menu that changes with the seasons. The summer menu revolves around the garden, though it won’t necessarily be vegetarian: think off-the-wall delights including sea-snail broth and ant sauce. In colder months, deer, moose and even bear will feature. All year round, you can expect every dish on the menu to contain something from the ocean.
The airy, pointed-roofed dining room is reminiscent of a Nordic fishing village, decked with sanded oak and Douglas fir. Modernist spindle-legged tables are positioned to look out through glass walls to views of surrounding woodland. Reservations are fully booked for the next few months, but you’ll need that time to save for the 20-course tasting menu racking up at £290 per head.
Noma’s influence can be felt across Copenhagen as its alumni continue to blaze their own trails, offering the city’s foodies culinary prowess at a more affordable price. Blox Eats, owned by Noma co-founder Claus Meyer offers a more accessible taste of the fresh-caught local seafood Copenhagen is famed for. Down in the lively neighbourhood of Jægersborggade, Manfreds is a laid-back diner headed by former Noma chef Christian Puglis. With a farm-to-plate ethos reflective of the city’s reputation for sustainability, the restaurant serves an organic menu of vegetables harvested daily from the its own plot.
The Carlsberg Visitor Centre is closed until 2020 while it undergoes huge regeneration works after years of wear and tear. But that’s no shame – Copenhagen is home to some of the best breweries in the world including Dry & Bitter, Amager Bryghus and craft beer behemoth Mikkeller.
Founded in 2006 by former physics teacher Mikkel Borg Bjergso, what started as an after-class experiment in his Copenhagen kitchen, became a craft beer empire. Now boasting 43 bars worldwide (including his recent UK venture with 80s pop legend Rick Astley), his bold and experimental style has earned the gypsy brewer international acclaim.
With 15 locations in Copenhagen alone, pairing craft beer with foodie concepts from Ramen-joints to chocolate shops, by far the best is the collaborative effort with Midwest brewery Three Floyds Brewing. Aptly situated in the old meatpacking district, Warpigs offers authentic Texas-style barbecue alongside 20 taps of US-style hop-forward beer. Nothing is done by halves. Its head chef Andrew Hroza, imported direct from Texas, prepares his brisket for a minimum of 12 hours in two gigantic smokers capable of smoking up to two tonnes of meat a day.
Unfortunately, all this Nordic bliss comes at a price. Even in the humblest of neighbourhood cafés, a coffee costs around £5, a beer starts at £7 and a light lunch with wine can leave you £50 out of pocket. However, with a number of budget hotel options around the city, you don’t need to break the bank to enjoy the capital in style.
Take your trip to new heights at popular two-star hotel, Wakeup Copenhagen Borgergade, selecting from three categories of rooms: ‘standard’, on the lower floors, ‘sky’ found on the middle and ‘heaven’, bestowing superior city centre views from the top floors. It may be shy of a couple of stars, but the facilities are far from spartan. Danish architect Kim Utzon has cleverly designed rooms in light and airy modernist style to give the illusion of space.
Arp-Hansen Hotel Group, the largest hotel chain in the city has converted the former headquarters of the Danish Metalworkers’ Union into a temple of rustic Scandi minimalism. Steel House drips with post-industrial chic, the luxurious 253-room hostel offering options for every budget, from dorms to private rooms with a terrace. Double rooms start from a very reasonable £47 and include free Wi-Fi, gym and pool access.
There’s no shortage of sustainable options, but the Bali-inspired Axel Guldsmeden hotel comes up trumps on eco-credentials. Its Green Globe certification means all the materials used in rooms are sustainable, from the organic cotton sheets to bamboo toothbrushes. You couldn’t ask for a more central location, with Central Station and Tivoli gardens moments away. But if you simply want to get away from it all, bike hire is available for a small fee.
With EasyJet flights from Manchester City Airport costing as little as £32 each way, there has never been a better time to get your hygge fix.
For more information, head to Visitcopenhagen.com.