Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Charming Copenhagen: how to spend three glorious days in Denmark's capital

Disclaimer: it might not be enough time for you to enjoy all the gastronomical delights and sights of the Danish city

Nyhavn Canal is one of Copenhagen's most recognisable spots. Getty Images
Nyhavn Canal is one of Copenhagen's most recognisable spots. Getty Images

It is hard to pinpoint Copenhagen’s character, it is too indistinctive for that. On one street corner you are reminded of London’s cosmopolitan vibe, while another might recall Parisian architectural flair or Dutch charm. This lack of clear-cut identity is not a bad thing, though. In fact, it makes Denmark’s capital all the more inviting; it is one of those modern-day cities that is home to a melting pot of nationalities, in which you immediately feel comfortable (a bit like Dubai).

From the picturesque coastline to the gritty meatpacking district and the city’s historic centre, which oozes 18th-century Rococo style, there is so much to see and do in Copenhagen, it would be tough to fit it all in a three-day itinerary. But you can certainly try…

Day one: the Latin quarter, historical treasures and a very old theme park

Copenhagen is packed with incredible breakfast places, but for day one we recommend going to Next Door Cafe in the heart of the Latin Quarter (Pisserenden) at Larsbjornsstraede. In a 300-year-old basement – the city’s oldest – the quaint independent eatery was set up by Skyler and Klaus, who reside next door (hence the name), and its cosy interiors are essentially an extension of their living room. Everything here is home-made – such as the freshly baked pastries, including Skyler’s mum’s lemon squares, plus fresh juices and daily breakfast specials.

Once you’ve eaten, it would be rude not to roam around Pisserenden, especially as there are so many great vintage, retro and independent shops to scour. It is a more artsy, underground district, and there is plenty to see, do and buy around these tiny side streets.

Only a 15-minute walk from Next Door Cafe is the King’s Garden and Rosenborg Castle, which was built by Christian IV, one of the most famous Scandinavian kings, in the early 17th century. Here lies 400 years of royal art, regalia and some rather dazzling crown jewels. The building is well-preserved and worth having a look around (tickets start from Dh63). Among its main attractions is the Knights’ Hall, where the coronation thrones still sit with three life-size silver lions standing guard.

Rosenborg castle is one of the most visited castles in Copenhagen. Alamy
Rosenborg castle is one of the most visited castles in Copenhagen. Alamy

It is now time for lunch: less than a 10-minute walk from the castle is the famous Torvehallerne Copenhagen, a food market to suit all tastes that is smack-bang in the city centre. From fresh fish and local butcher stalls to seasonal fruits and vegetables galore, even the fussiest of eaters will find something to chow down on here. Salads, burgers (including vegan ones), acai bowls, pizza, sandwiches, shellfish – you name it, you’ll find it.

Had your fill? It is time to walk it off. Tivoli Gardens is 20 minutes by foot and it is Copenhagen’s most famous and oldest attraction, which opened in 1843. Spend the rest of your day here, enjoying the amusement park’s myriad rides, sporadic shows and fun fairground games. Once the sun has gone down and you’re ready for dinner, the park is also home to a number of restaurants and a food hall of its own.

Day two: hipster shopping, vegan treats and new Nordic cuisine

Porridge might not be the kind of dish you crave or travel for, but you will once you’ve tried a bowl from Grod, which boasts branches across the city. Their porridge is the best you’ve ever tasted. It is a bold claim, we know, but we are that confident. In fact, Grod has become so well known that not only do travellers mark it on their must-try-while-in-Copenhagen list, but the eatery also sells porridge-related merchandise and a cookbook. Hot tip: order the all-in bowl.

Find the Hans Christian Andersen's grave at Assistens Kirkegard cemetery. Alamy
Find the Hans Christian Andersen's grave at Assistens Kirkegard cemetery. Alamy

Next on the agenda is a spot of shopping in one of the coolest neighbourhoods around: Norrebro. Head straight to Jaegersborggade, where artist studios, vintage clothes stores, zero-waste shops, jewellery design collectives and organic produce markets await, alongside quaint cafes, hip bars and plenty of great restaurants, including Michelin-starred Relae (and, funnily enough, a Grod).

When you have finished shopping, take a walk through Assistens Kirkegard cemetery, which is far less morbid than it sounds. It is an incredibly beautiful green space, with towering-tree-lined pathways and ornate mausoleums where a number of notable Danish folk have been buried, including The Little Mermaid author Hans Christian Andersen.

On the other side of the cemetery, you will find yourself only a 10-minute walk from Plant Power Food, a charming vegan restaurant that has made seasonal fresh produce into fancy and fantastically flavourful dishes. The mashed and greens bowl in particular – with warm mixed mashed roots, turmeric-tahini dressing, steamed vegetables, dehydrated buckwheat, balsamico pearls and pickled red onion – is utterly delicious. Wash it down with some home-brewed kombucha.

Rice paper rolls from vegan restaurant, Plant Power Food Copenhagen. Katy Gillett / The National
Rice paper rolls from vegan restaurant, Plant Power Food Copenhagen. Katy Gillett / The National

For a sweet treat, wander over to Kaf, a five-minute walk away, for some cheesecake made from oats. Any item you choose to eat from this plant-based bakery is tasty (we loved it so much, we went back three times on our visit), but the New York-style cheesecake, in particular, is a revelation.

Now you are just two minutes away from Elmegade, a vibrant side street where you can finish off the day’s hipster shopping spree. It is buzzing with life and full of creative, independent boutiques. If you love wearing one-off or vintage outfits and supporting local designers, then this is your spot.

End your day at Host, a 15-minute walk across the river. The restaurant, which features in the Michelin guide, boasts a gorgeous dining room of exposed brick walls, Danish midcentury furniture and rustic wooden tables, serving contemporary Nordic cuisine with a focus on fresh seasonal ingredients. Choose between a three or five-course menu with or without wine pairing. The price for this starts from 350 Danish krone (Dh190).

Day three: brunch, home of the hippies and the colourful houses

You cannot go to Copenhagen without experiencing brunch, so have a lie-in and – in the hope that you’re there on a Sunday, too – take your last mid-morning meal in Neighbourhood, which has two branches, one at Istedgade and another at Frederiksborggade. It’s a pizza place and you can opt for a meat-based or vegetarian menu full of fresh and filling breakfast dishes. For under Dh80 you can feast on a mini breakfast pizza (with egg yolk, potatoes, smoked and Parmesan cheeses, red onions and cress); Icelandic Skyr yoghurt with passion fruit, crumble and berries; and apple cinnamon waffles – to list a few of its brunch dishes.

Continue your leisurely morning with a meandering walk through Freetown Christiania, a nearly eight-hectare “intentional community” of about 850 to 1,500 residents in Christianshavn. It is about a 30-minute walk from Frederiksborggade, so you might want to rent a nearby e-scooter or bicycle to make the trip. Christiania is a former military base that has been taken over by “hippies” and it is fascinating to explore.

Freetown Christiania, home of the 'hippies'. Getty Images
Freetown Christiania, home of the 'hippies'. Getty Images

There is an abundance of stalls selling souvenirs and street food, as well as ramshackle houses along a canal. You will also find live music, from jazz to rock jams, being played in the community’s venues (the oldest of which is called Woodstock). If you are in Copenhagen near Christmas, note that the festive market here is one of the best in town.

Pick up a small snack at a stall in Christiania before heading over to SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst or the National Gallery of Denmark, which is home to the country’s largest selection of art – with more than 260,000 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings from Danish and international artists dating from the 14th century to today. Special exhibitions are held here throughout the year, alongside exhibits of the permanent collection. This includes pieces by globally renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Tizian Vecellio and Lucas Cranach, plus the world’s largest collection of works by Christen Kobke and Vilhelm Hammershoi.

SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst houses Denmark’s largest collection of art Getty
SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst houses Denmark’s largest collection of art Getty

You could spend hours wandering the halls of the museum, but it closes at 6pm, right in time for dinner in Nyhavn. You might not recognise the name, but you’ll definitely recall pictures of the neighbourhood, as the 17th-century waterfront district is one of the city’s best-known hotspots, thanks to an abundance of shared photos of the colourful houses that line the canal (you’ll spot plenty on Instagram). There are dozens of restaurants with outdoor seating alongside the waterway – all you need to do is choose one that appeals and then settle in for your last night in charming Copenhagen.

Updated: September 19, 2019 04:40 PM

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