Smart shopper: design takes precedence in Copenhagen
Whereas people who live in chilly countries jump at the chance to summer somewhere hot, those of us used to brilliant sunshine year-round often have a different priority. Cool temperatures and occasional light rain possess a refreshing novelty when you’re used to weather that’s either hot or very hot. It’s when very hot progresses to “get me out of here” that Scandinavian cities, such as Copenhagen, become especially appealing. Even in July and August, Copenhagen’s temperatures rarely exceed 28°C. And at this northern latitude, summer days are long and light-filled, ideal for strolling, sightseeing and shopping your way through a walkable little city that isn’t just the capital of Denmark, but also an international design capital.
Homeware, lighting, silverware, ceramics, glass and furniture: these are the design arenas in which the Danes do so brilliantly. Given that the country’s population is just 5.5 million, it seems astonishing how much influence Danish designers exert on the global design scene. But their insistence on clean lines and functionality, and their belief that every element in every home, office and public space should look elegant and perform efficiently, have proved influential since the 1950s. That’s when Denmark’s traditions of craftsmanship, allied with its late industrialisation and the influence of Germany’s Bauhaus, produced designers who hit the spot, delighting a war-weary world eager for something new with an array of exciting instant classics. That’s no exaggeration. From Arne Jacobsen’s famous 1950s Ant Chair to Poul Henningsen’s tiered metal lighting fixtures, a lot of these products still look as modern, new and covetable as more contemporary Danish design icons such as Bernadotte & Bjørn’s famous Thermos jug from 2004.
As you might expect, then, there’s a lot to see, what with key flagship design shops, excellent department stores, and the boutiques of Danish fashion designers such as Day Birger et Mikkelsen, By Malene Birger, Munthe, Bruuns Bazaar and Mads Nørgaard. Store opening hours don’t exactly help, though. Many shops close at 5.30pm. Even the Magasin du Nord department store opens only from 10am to 2pm on weekends. On the other hand, Copenhagen is so compact, with just a handful of key shopping areas, that it’s possible to trawl all the essential stores in a couple of days.
The best place to start a shopping tour is with the two top department stores: Magasin du Nord and Illum. Conveniently close to each other – at the top of the pedestrian area leading off the main square of Kongens Nytorv – they provide a useful overview of Danish design and its desirability. The square itself is currently closed off, as it is being dug up to enable expansion of the city’s metro system.
At the venerable Magasin du Nord, which started in 1868 and was Scandinavia’s first department store, the standout section is the homeware department. Enticing areas are devoted to bath time and outdoor eating, both activities close to Danish hearts. These will soon have you stroking soft dressing gowns, checking out the skin-brushing equipment and organic skincare brands, then having your eye caught by stands stacked with large, asymmetrical wood boards, ideal for setting out an array of breads, cheeses and cold meats (Dh210 from Dutchdeluxes or HK Living).
Also appealing are kitchen utensils, with ingenious implements ranging from Joseph Joseph’s foldable bamboo chopping board for easy tipping (Dh193) and the neatest little spiraliser (Dh91) from Gefu, to stylish olive oil dispensers (Dh130) from Eva Solo and Fiskars frying pans “for rough use” (Dh210). Smooth Ditte Fischer ceramic plates, bowls, mugs and vases, in black, grey and white, flank displays of porcelain from Royal Copenhagen. Prices start at about Dh130 for a bowl.
In the lighting section, the brands Normann, Nyta, Vita and Marset stand out, the pared-downness of their designs typified by a transparent black table lamp (Dh889) by Muuto. Goose-down duvets from Fossflakes, “inspired by snow”, cost from Dh497, and almost float into your arms. Nearby, pale grey waffle towels by Ferm cost between Dh78 and Dh156.
The homeware department leads into a books section, where the photography in the cookbooks exerts a hypnotic pull, with a plethora of shots of picnics on windswept blond beaches. After an hour or so of such browsing, you will probably need to sit down for your own dose of creamy kaffe and a slice of kage. But resist the urge until you get to Illum, which has excellent new beauty and fashion floors, expressing the Scandinavian design ethos of clean lines and any colour as long as it’s blue, black, beige, grey or white. Illum also devotes the whole of its top and bottom floors to cafes, restaurants and delis. Take the escalator to the lower ground floor and you’re faced with a chic food court with half a dozen places for coffee and a moreish slice of kage (about Dh45 each). At the glass-domed restaurant area at the top of the store, it’s lovely on summer days to get a table on the terrace to enjoy plump slices of marinated herring with sweet mustard.
Pedestrian shopping streets
The pedestrianised Strøget and Købmagergade, and the little streets running off them, are not just home to the best department stores, they’re the busiest shopping streets in Copenhagen, and long – very long. At the top, near Kongens Nytorv, the luxury stores include numerous international brands, from Burberry and Hermès to Mulberry, Moncler and a Disney Store. The Siberian skincare brand Natura Siberica has an outlet here, with cleansers and caviar-based moisturisers from about Dh210. Flagship stores for Danish brands include: Bang & Olufsen, where special listening rooms let customers try out the equipment; the famous Georg Jensen, where lissom silverware jugs cost between Dh835 and Dh1,365; and jeweller Louise Grønlykke. Three blocks away, the smart stores give way to H&M, & Other Stories, Zara and the like.
If you have time to visit only one design store, it should be the multi-brand Illums Bolighus, dedicated to furniture and lighting, and a block from the main Illum department store. The sheer inviting beauty of the sofas, lamps and coffee tables can feel quite overwhelming. Essential buy? A reindeer skin rug (Dh838) from Natures Collection, perhaps. Or an iteration of the most famous lighting in Scandinavia, the tiered PH5 lampshade in white glass and chrome (Dh3,875). “Every Danish family has at least one of these,” a salesman tells me. I’ve noticed them again and again, too, in restaurants and cafes. Other design stores currently recommended by Danish style magazines include CasaShop, Gubi, Carl Hansen, Hay House, Stilleben, Playtype Concept Store, Dansk Made For Rooms, Klassik, Paustian, Louis Poulsen and Vipp. All are within walking distance of each other.
The next big thing
Running off Kongens Nytorv, opposite the canal, little Store Strandstræde doesn’t register much yet on the international radar of essential shopping streets. It will, though. When the upheaval in Kongens Nytorv caused by the metro enlargement has finally subsided (all is due to be finished by 2019), this will be a must-see for lovers of Scandinavian style worldwide. “A decade ago, when I moved here, the street was very shabby and ordinary,” says Stasia, a designer whose very feminine lace cocktail dresses (starting from Dh1,045), handmade by her seamstresses in the basement, regularly appear on Danish celebrities.
In the meantime, Denmark’s oldest suppliers of linen, Geismars, set up in 1866, anchors one end of the street, with pots of flowers outside its old window front. The charming Els restaurant, which opened in 1853, and has a cheese, herring and salmon lunch for Dh40 (a rare bargain), is at the canal end. In between the enticing array of little shops that has been appearing, all opened in the last year or two, include: jeweller Rebekka Notkin; Palm & Thiller, home of cool linen and cotton clothing; Oliver Gustav, who recently opened a store in Manhattan, New York, selling a sophisticated mix of antique furniture and artefacts sourced from India; and, with bare wooden floors and an ethos of sustainability, the enticing eco-friendly clothing store Aiayu.
Set up by three women and employing women’s cooperatives in Nepal and Bolivia, Aiayu produces sweaters and scarves in cashmere and alpaca. Colours range from oat to pale grey, all natural, and the softness has to be touched to be believed. “The alpaca sweaters last for eight years or more. Cashmere is slightly softer, but alpaca doesn’t pill,” explains a blonde sales assistant. Remind yourself about that longevity when you look at the prices: Dh995 to Dh1,520 for a sweater; and Dh728 for a fine organic cotton duvet cover. Or you could just get a small rag rug woven from the offcuts for Dh155. Interspersed among these shops, inviting little cafes regularly attract members of Denmark’s royal family for the kaffe and kage, with which, as you may have gathered, Danes are obsessed.
Museums and antique shops
Its large Islamic section makes The David Collection an essential museum to visit. But the three museums with the best-stocked shops, each about a 15-minute walk from the other, are the National Museum, the National Gallery, which has Denmark’s best “golden-age” collection of Danish art from the 19th and 20th centuries, and Design Museum Denmark. This last looks at the evolution of Danish design and, usefully, stays open until 9pm on Wednesdays.
Well worth stopping en route between them, at Kongensgade 95, is the workshop and store of potter Jesper Packness, with large, squiggly-patterned, gold-rimmed bowls for Dh945. In the once insalubrious area of Vesterbro, not far from the central square, the Fisketorvet shopping centre is a former fish market. In the surrounding streets, quirky little shops running off the main, cafe-lined Halmtorvet square provide serendipitous browsing. And beyond Store Strandstræde, en route to the Design Museum, the streets of Bredgade and Ravnsborggade are lined with antique stores where you can browse through those never-old Danish design classics and hope for a bargain.
Where to stay
In the elegant 19th-century building overlooking the main square, Hotel D’Angleterre is where most visiting celebrities, politicians and the like stay. It is gracefully proportioned, with wide corridors, and immaculately well-run: formal but friendly. The 90 exceptionally comfortable rooms are plainly carpeted and decorated in an appropriately muted palette of white, pale grey and dull gold. These include 29 suites, among which the 250-square-metre Royal Suite is the biggest in the city, with a fireplace and balcony (although that is currently good only for looking down over the excavations for the new Kongens Nytorv station). The spa shouldn’t be ignored. A manicure or massage renders you calm and collected for seeing the prices in the otherwise pleasure-inducing Michelin-starred restaurant, Marchal. The food is a delight, as is appropriate in this epicurean city. A welcoming platter of salted-caramelised walnuts, dried mango and burnished chocolates greets you in your suite, while the herring and mustard, and kitchen-made jams for the croissants at breakfast come highly recommended.
Double rooms cost from Dh1,715
Many visitors also go on to try the sauna-and-sea-plunge session at the seaside Skodsborg Spa Hotel, a 20-minute drive from the city centre, en route to the Kronborg Castle that Shakespeare used as the setting for Hamlet.
Direct return flights on Emirates, from Dubai to Copenhagen, start from Dh4,000 in economy and Dh16,000 in business class, including taxes.