Copenhagen: Scandinavia with style

by Norman.Miller

The Danish capital is a joy for foodies, shoppers and culture-lovers alike. Here's where to go, where to stay and where to eat on a wonderful weekend in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is as wonderful as the old song says. Historic buildings jostle for attention in a charming, compact centre where a scattering of canals echo Amsterdam. You can add to that friendly locals with perfect English, a reputation as the gourmet capital of northern Europe, excellent museums and renowned design.

Neighbouring the old town centre, the former red light district of Vesterbro now hosts quirky shops and funky eateries, while Norrebro boasts some of Copenhagen’s newest design outlets. Christianshavn, meanwhile, contrasts posh hangouts like the modernist Opera House with the “Free City” of Christiania, an enduring shrine to gritty bohemianism.

The only downside is that Copenhagen can be an expensive treat, particularly eating out (beware combined tasting and wine menus…). Sometimes, though, you just have to pay for class.

Where is it?

On Denmark’s east coast, facing the Swedish city of Malmo across the waters of the Oresund.

Top sights

* From Viking jewellery to 18th-century domestic interiors, the National Museum (natmus.dk) offers a magnificent panoply of Denmark’s past. Modern design fans, meanwhile, should make an elegant beeline to the Museum of Art & Design (kunstindustrimuseet.dk).

* Rosenborg Castle (rosenberg-slot.dk) is a Renaissance edifice straight out of a fairytale by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. As well as rich interiors, its manicured grounds house the National Gallery, a cinema museum and the Botanic Gardens.

* Tivoli (tivoli.dk) remains true to its roots as a 19th-century pleasure garden rather than tacky amusement park. With classy restaurants (including the Michelin-starred Paul) plus two dozen rides, Tivoli caters for most tastes. Go at night, and 100,000 lanterns provide a magical constellation.

When to go

April to September is best, when the crisp Danish spring gives way to pleasantly warm summer. But even in colder months, Copenhagen offers winter markets, cosy caffs and great shopping.

Try it!

* Have dinner at home with like-minded locals through Dine With The Danes (0045 26 85 39 61, dinewiththedanes.dk) - a great way to get the local gossip!

* Saunter into the SAS Royal Hotel (by Tivoli) for a 1960s time capsule of ravishing design by Danish legend Arne Jacobsen - grrrroooovvvy, baby!

Out of town

Twenty miles north of Copenhagen (S-Tog train to Humlebaek), Louisiana (louisiana.dk) is a fabulous modern art gallery beautifully perched on the shores of the Oresund. In summer, stop off at Klampenborg on the way back for revelry at Bakken (the world’s oldest amusement park) or a swim on beautiful Bellevue Beach.

Top nosh

As if two Michelin stars weren’t enough, Noma (Strandgade 93; +45 32 96 32 97; noma.dk) is gorgeous too - a 19th-century quayside conversion with rough walls and classic Danish furniture, where the food is passionately Scandinavian and startlingly brilliant.

Umami (Store Kongensgade 59; +45 33 38 75 00; restaurant-umami.dk ) mixes Japanese and French influences in a cool modern space, while Kokkeriet (Kronprinsessegade 64; +45 33 15 27 77; kokkeriet.dk) offers modern Danish in a row of 17th-century houses.

Save for dinner with classic Danish smørrebrød for lunch - open rye bread sandwiches piled with delicious savoury toppings. The most famous are at Ida Davidsen (Store Kongensgade 70). RizRaz (Kompagnistræde 20 and Store Kannikestræde 19), meanwhile, is great for rice and vegetarian meals under a tenner.

A night on the tiles

Bang & Jensen (Istegade 130; +45 3325 5318; bangogjensen.dk) is a chameleon. By day, this former Art Nouveau pharmacy in Vesterbro is a gorgeous laidback café, by night a buzzy, laidback bar.

Nearby, Boutique Lize (Enghave Plads 6) is another vintage conversion, a clothes shop transformed into a coolly minimalist bar. Or head for K Bar (Ved Stranden 20), amid canals near Højbro Plads, where martinis star on the city’s best cocktail list.

Clubbers, meanwhile, should dive into Vega (Enghavevej 40; + 45 33 25 70 11; vega.dk), a former Lefty political meeting venue where socialising now reigns over socialism.

Don't go home without...

Classic Danish design. Rather than heading for the big stores on Strøget - the world’s longest pedestrianised street - try Studiestrade and Larsbjorns Strade for Danish couture, or rummage for treasures in the secondhand shops around Faelledvej and Elmegade in Norrebro, alongside new design boutiques.

Where to stay

The Square offers modern Danish style in a central location. Doubles from £120.

The Ansgar Hotel is a former Danish Mission with bright, modern rooms amid the cool buzz of Vesterbro. Doubles from £75.

Five things to know

1: You’ll need to take Danish kroner (around 10 to the £), not Euros.

2: The Copenhagen Card (info: visitcopenhagen.dk) gives free entrance to 60 attractions plus public transport (including the 10-minute train ride to/from Kastrup Airport). Cost: £20 for a 24-hour card; £43 for 72 hours.

3: Many museums are closed on Monday but open late one night a week, often Wednesday.

4: In upmarket restaurants, be wary of ordering the tasting menu if you‘re in a rush or can’t splash the cash. A multi-course feast can last three hours and cost £70 each - and that‘s not including wine!

5: Find the Wonderful Copenhagen Tourist Office at Bernstorffsgade 1 (+45 70 22 24 42; visitcopenhagen.com).
 

Norman.Miller

I’m an award-winning writer and photographer, covering food & drink, arts, property and design as well as travel. My work has appeared in a wide range of major British titles including The Times and Sunday Times, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Time Out, Sunday Times Travel and Waitrose Food Illustrated. Internationally, my work has appeared in the top Australian newspaper The Age, while my features have also been syndicated to a variety of US publications through the New York-based agency Featurewell (www.featurewell.com). In 2006, I wrote the text for Mark Denton’s large format photographic book London: The 100 Greatest Panoramas (Constable & Robinson). Favourite places: a top 5 might include Big Island (Hawaii), West Sweden, Lisbon, Northern Scotland/Orkney and northern Spain but I could swap with others in the list!