In case you haven’t heard, Copenhagen is apparently the world’s happiest city. While these surveys tend to be about life satisfaction rather than a long weekend holiday buzz, we felt there must be something in the water in this city so we decided to visit the Danish capital and see what it was all about.
It’s true that the city does instantly have storybook charm, with it’s cobbled streets, rainbow painted houses and abundance of bicycles. Mix that with world class food, hip cafes, waterfront living and ridiculously cool locals. I can tell you this much – it certainly feels very liveable. The relaxed vibe resonates around the districts, where your time is often best spent sipping coffee on street corners or feasting on delicious food in Vesterbro. For those who like a little more culture, there are museums galore. A 100-year old theme park and a green-loving hippie town add a few quirks into the mix.
You’ll have to ask the locals whether Copenhagen really is the happiest city in the world, but in our five days of exploring, we can indeed conclude that it’s a beautiful city for a long weekend break. So without further ado, here’s where you should stay, eat, and hang out in Copenhagen…
Where to Stay
In a city with a huge variety of hotel options we chose Andersen Hotel because it looked a little different and it was indeed those quirks which made our stay a wonderful one. Located in the Vesterbro district, it’s a few minutes walk from the restaurants and bars of the meatpacking area and a two minute walk from Central Station. Our room was bright and airy, with three huge windows overlooking the streets below. The bed was super comfortable, with a huge TV and lounge area. The wifi was great and after a busy day of exploring the city, it really was a perfect place to come back and relax.
Breakfast is included in the price of the room and is mostly organic and all delicious! We loved the range of breads, Danish pastries and toppings for muesli which included chia seeds and fresh fruit.
The front desk staff were incredibly friendly, giving us a great introduction to the city and recommending restaurants and bars to visit in the area. From 5-6pm every evening there’s also a wine hour, where each guest gets a free glass of wine. Overall, we were really impressed by our stay at Andersen Hotel and would recommend it to anyone visiting Copenhagen. You can check out their website and prices here.
Where to Eat
If there’s anything Copenhagen does better than hot Scandinavian men riding bikes, it’s food. The city is full of delicious eats, and although they might be a little pricey, it’s often worth forking out a bit more for a meal which will be a highlight of your trip. The Copenhagen craze is currently ‘New Nordic Cuisine’, a style of cooking which combines traditional Nordic flavours with a modern, often quirky twist. There are a number of these types of places all around the city and many hold Michelin stars. The most famous is noma, often considered one of the world’s best restaurants. Sadly for us, it was a little out of our budget on this occasion. Instead we went for a mid-range, hip and more vegetarian friendly option, Pate Pate, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Located in the hip meatpacking district of Vesterbro, Pate Pate is the oldest of a number of restaurants in the area offering delicious, unforgettable food with a young and trendy vibe. From the moment we walked into Pate Pate we were blown away by the friendly service, varied menu and beautiful glass building. Here you have an option of small plates (2-3 recommended per person) or bigger meals. They also have a very tempting desert menu. We highly recommend the delicious Risotto and Danish Burrata (a type of cheese similar to mozzerella). Finish it off with a Chocolotate Nemesis for desert and you’ve got a meal you won’t forget anytime soon.
Once upon a time, porridge was considered a staple food when you couldn’t really afford much else. More recently however, porridge is having a make-over and dedicated porridge bars are opening up in some of Europe’s coolest spots. Grod is Copenhagen’s answer to this craze, and indeed, it may have just been the place that began it all. Of course it’s much more than just oats, water and milk. choose a range of toppings including apple and vanilla compote, skyr yogurt, cocoa nibs, fresh fruits and nuts and wash it down with a hot cup of chai. We wish breakfast could be like this every morning!
Paper Island (Papiroen)
While many of Copenhagen’s restaurants are a little pricey, it’s street food offers a cheaper and more laid back alternative. The hub of Copenhagen’s street food scene is Paper Island, located just across the bridge from Nyhaven. Inside the old warehouse, you’ll find heaps of food stalls serving cuisines from around the globe. Indian, Colombian, Korean, Spanish, Danish, it’s all here waiting for you to try. My only criticism with this place is the lack of vegetarian options, something which was a theme throughout the city, sort it out Denmark!
Where to Shop
I’m not one for high street stores or designer hand bags, especially when travelling. Instead, I want to seek out the little places, the unique boutiques, the quirky streets lined with vintage shops and coffee bars. In Copenhagen, I wanted to see Scandinavian design, chic clothing and quirky homewares. Here’s what we found…
I loved the district of Vesterbro. Not only was it home to our hotel, but also to the meatpacking district with all of it’s incredible eateries, and it also turned out to be one of the best places in the city to shop. If you’re looking for vintage shops, boutique stores and plenty of cafes to sit and relax – this is the place to be. It’s also a beautiful, leafy part of town, many streets are cobbled with few cars and plenty of unique places to check out.
My favourite vintage shop in the whole city was Prag, it’s huge, full of great quality stuff and, unlike a lot of the vintage stores we visited in Copenhagen, it’s also very reasonably priced. For Danish homewares with a vintage twist, check out Edison & Co, which sells quirky lamps, pots and other products. A perfect place to relax, drink coffee and spin a few records is Kaffe & Vinyl. Also have a stroll down the street Vaernedamsvej and feel like you’ve just stepped into Paris.
If you’re looking for high street stores then the long pedestrianised street of Stroget is the best place to come. As well as your H&M’s and Topshop’s, there’s also a lot of winding side streets and more eclectic stores to explore, if you know where to look. There are heaps of shops around here, but one I would recommend is Weekday, a Scandinavian store offering typical Scandi-cool clothing at reasonable prices.
While there are tons of great coffee and brunch places in the area, I can’t recommend the lovely little cafe Fars Dreng enough! In a great location on a colourful back street, this cafe serves the best coffee and Danish brunch in a cool and calm setting. Check out their Instagram, it will definitely make you drool!
Wherever I go in the world, I’m always on the lookout for a great market. When travelling in Europe, flea markets are my thing. I love the mix of weird and wonderful things at great prices and a local, friendly atmosphere. In Copenhagen, we stumbled across a number of flea markets and while they might be a little tricky to find (or to know exactly when they are happening) they are well worth searching for.
In Norrebro, there’s a small flea market every Saturday on the mustard coloured wall alongside the Assistens Cemetery. While this tends to be strange homewares and people selling the entire contents of their homes, we found much cooler markets in Vesterbro. On both Saturday and Sunday near the meatpacking district, two big flea markets were taking place, with Sunday’s market specialising in second hand clothes at bargain prices. Unfortunately I can’t give you much information about exactly when and how frequently these take place, but it’s well worth a look around if you’re in Vesterbro on a summer weekend.
Things to Do
The most recognisable part of Copenhagen is that idyllic row of colourful houses. Indeed, it is just as pretty as in the photos and although it’s heaving with tourists, the canal side setting still makes it a lovely, relaxing spot to check out.
While you’re in the area, grab an ice cream at Vaffelbageren, where they top their waffle cones with jam and whipped cream, along with a couple of scoops of your choice. It’s delicious and truly Danish. I read that the Danish eat more ice cream than anyone else, so maybe that’s the secret to happiness!
Explore Tivoli in the evening
It seems like quite a novelty to have a theme park in the middle of the city and indeed Tivoli is just that. Located right outside central station, the theme park is home to several rides and rollercoasters as well as gardens, theatres and restaurants. Unlike many theme parks in the UK, Tivoli feels a little more grown up and there’s a lot of stuff to do for adults as well as kids. We chose to visit in the evening for just this reason. During summer the park hosts fireworks and a water show late in the evening. Entry is 110 krone or free with a Copenhagen Card. You will have to pay more for rides though.
Let your hair down in Christiania
Christiania, otherwise known as Freetown Christiania, is an area of central Copenhagen which has been claimed as an autonomous neighbourhood and has it’s own set of laws. It comes across as a giant hippie commune, where marijuana is smoked freely and artwork reins over every wall. The town even has it’s own flag. While there was some lovely parts of the community, great vegetarian restaurants, lots of green areas and a general open and accepting atmosphere, I couldn’t help feel a little like an intruder. At one point I was approached and asked to put my camera away, so if you like taking photos proceed with caution. When you’re in the area, make sure to stop for lunch at Morgenstedet vegetarian restaurant- we had delicious Shiitake mushroom soup in their very welcoming garden.
Take a canal boat ride
The best way to quickly explore Copenhagen’s waterways is by canal boat. Luckily, if you have a Copenhagen Card you can enjoy a free one hour boat ride which will take you through the quaint back channels, out onto the harbour, up to the famous Little Mermaid statue and back to the city centre. I’m not usually one for guided tours but I must say this one was mighty relaxing.
Climb the Round Tower
If you feel like taking a break from shopping, take a walk up the Round Tower (25 krone or free with a Copenhagen Card). From the top, you’ll get sweeping views of the entire city. Just at the base of the tower is the dop hot dog stand. All the hot dogs are organic and it was just about the only place in the city I found a vegetarian option, and it was super delicious too.
Get helplessly lost on bicycles
There’s only one way to get round Copenhagen – by bike! Copenhagen is one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities and the crowds of ‘bike-parking’ compare to scenes I’d normally associate with Amsterdam. As the city is fairly compact, it’s easy to see a lot in one day, plus the raised bike lanes and general awareness of bicycles by Danish drivers make it a very safe place to cycle. We hired bikes from Andersen Hotel, which was 130 krone for a whole day. It is also possible to hire Copenhagen City bikes which have a GPS screen making it super easy to navigate around the city. They cost 25 krona an hour and you can get a 20% discount with your Copenhagen Card.
Visit the hipster Norrebro area
While Vesterbro really stole my heart, I can’t help also proclaiming my love for Norrebro. Located a little further outside of the city centre, this area is an easy cycle ride away, and is well worth a visit. Full of pretty streets, hip cafes and handicraft shops, this area seems to be where many young people live and hang out. We loved the street of Jaegersborggade, with a branch of Grod, it’s the perfect spot for a late breakfast followed by shopping and exploring the area. At the end of the street is the entrance to the Assistens Cemetery, a beautiful graveyard where you’ll find the grave of Hans Christian Andersen.
Tips and Tricks
- I mentioned the Copenhagen Card a few times throughout this post, so what is this nifty little fellow? Well, the Copenhagen Card gives you free admission to over 70 museums and attractions (including many I mentioned above – Tivoli, canal boat ride, the Round Tower) as well as free public transport on the bus, train or metro and a bunch of discounts at restaurants and bars. There’s a range of different time limits you can buy and if you’re planning to use transport a lot and want to visit many attractions and museums, I think picking up a Copenhagen Card at the start of your trip could save you a lot of money. If you do opt for a card, make sure you download the app which will guide you through exactly what your card offers. Find out more here.
- Shops are generally closed on Sundays and most museums are closed on Mondays so if you are visiting at the weekend make sure you plan your visit around this.
- Getting to and from the airport is really easy, take the train straight to Copenhagen Central station in around 15 minutes.
- The VisitCopenhagen website is very informative with tons of stuff to see and do in the city!
Thanks to Andersen Hotel and Visit Copenhagen for helping us out with our visit to the city. As always, all opinions are my own.
Have you ever visited Copenhagen? Let us know your favourite places in the city in the comments below!
All photographs by Annapurna Mellor.