48 hours in . . . Copenhagen, an insider guide to the capital of Scandi chic

Suzanne King
Copenhagen is a city with a historic heart, pretty waterways and a core of Scandi cool - Kateryna Negoda

Perfecting the art of urban living

Copenhagen always ranks highly in surveys of the world’s best cities, and little wonder. Size certainly helps: it’s big enough to have world-class museums, restaurants and attractions; small enough to make them easily accessible. Then there’s its unerring ability to blend quaint and cool: one minute you’re in Indre By or Christianshavn, strolling along a cobbled street with roses and hollyhocks growing out of the pavement; the next, you’re discovering angular 21st-century architecture along the revitalised waterfront or hanging with the hipsters among the indie boutiques and bars of Vesterbro and Nørrebro.

In summer you can hit the beaches and harbour pools; in winter, wander festive streets strung with fairy lights and get your hygge fix in cosy, candlelit cafés. There’s cool design at every turn, the food scene is buzzing, and just about everyone speaks English. The Danes take quality of life seriously and it shows - Copenhagen is a city success story that really works for locals and tourists alike.

Hot right now . . .

Suzanne King, our expert, offers her top tips on the best things to do and the hottest places to eat, drink and shop this season.

Eat

At Alchemist(Refshalevej 173C; 00 45 3171 6161) – the most eagerly awaited new restaurant opening since the rebirth of noma – chef Rasmus Monk delivers ‘holistic cuisine’, a multi-sensory blend of cutting-edge food, art, music and political comment that’s made it one of the hottest tables in town.

Copenhagen's food scene continues to surprise with the opening of Alchemist

The best restaurants in Copenhagen

Go

After many delays, there’s finally a confirmed opening date for CopenHill (Vindmøllevej 6), an extraordinary new urban playground built on top of the Amager Bakke waste-to-energy plant. From 4 October 2019, you’ll be able to whizz down its artificial ski slope, follow a hiking trail that runs alongside, tackle the world’s highest climbing wall and enjoy fabulous all-round views from the top. 

The best things to do in Copenhagen

Sporting aficionados will be right at home at urban playground CopenHill Credit: BIG/Bjarke Ingels Group

See

Head to the Danish Architecture Centre (Bryghusgade 10; 00 45 3257 1930) to catch ‘BIG presents DESIGN’, a major new exhibition devoted to the work of BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), the influential Danish architectural practice whose innovative designs are making their mark on urban landscapes around the world. Runs until 5 January 2020.

• The best free things to do in Copenhagen

Drink

Deco(Ny Adelgade 5; 00 45 2615 7437) only opened in March but already it’s seen off tough competition to scoop the title of Copenhagen’s top cocktail bar for 2019 in the prestigious Berlingske/AOK Byens Bedste awards. Expect well-mixed drinks, a relaxed atmosphere and quality snacks from Frank restaurant next door.

• The best bars in Copenhagen

Begin your evening with a well-mixed drink at Deco

• The best hotels in Copenhagen

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71 Nyhavn Hotel, Copenhagen


£419pp 5 nights £84 per night Check availability Provided by Inspired Luxury Escapes

48 hours in . . . Copenhagen

Day one

MORNING

Start in the cultural quarter, home to big-hitting attractions including the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (Dantes Plads 7; 00 45 3341 8141) and the National Museum of Denmark (Ny Vestergade 10; 00 45 3313 4411), where the shop is good for Viking-themed gifts. Quieter and well worth a visit is Thorvaldsens Museum (2 Bertel Thorvaldsens Plads; 00 45 3332 1532), dedicated to Denmark’s most famous sculptor, which has artworks displayed beneath extraordinary ceilings.

Cross over the canal at Højbro (looking over the parapet on the right to see the underwater sculptures of Agnete and the Mermen), then turn right and head for the waterfront promenade of Havnegade, which leads (past trampolines set into the pavement) to Inderhavnsbroen bridge.

On the far side of the bridge, the stalls of Bridge Street Kitchen (Strandgade 95; 00 45 3393 0760) are perfect for a casual lunch.

The art collection at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is built around the personal collection of Carl Jacobsen, whose family founded the Carlsberg brewery Credit: ATLANTIDE PHOTOTRAVEL

AFTERNOON

Cross back over the bridge to Nyhavn, probably the most photographed spot in town. A stroll along the quayside, lined with restaurants and bars, brings you to Kongens Nytorv and, on the far side, the main central shopping district including the long, pedestrianised stretch of Strøget, which starts just to the left of Hotel d’Angleterre. Here you’ll find the super-swish Illum department store (Østergade 52; 00 45 3314 4002), where concessions include several Danish fashion brands, and nearby Georg Jensen (Amagertorv 4; 00 45 33 11 40 80) filled with supremely covetable silverware.

For quirkier independents, fork off south into Strædet, with its small ceramics and jewellery stores, or dive into the network of streets on the north side. Hidden away amongst them is Gråbrødretov, an attractive cobbled square with plenty of bars for a mid-shop pit-stop. If the weather’s fine, Huks Fluks (Gråbrødretorv 8; 00 45 3391 9293), on the sunny side of the square, is a good place to sit at one of the outdoor tables and watch the world go by.

Strøget is among the city's shopping hot spots Credit: ATLANTIDE PHOTOTRAVEL

LATE

As night falls, head for Tivoli (Vesterbrogade 3; 00 45 3315 1001). The amusement park (which celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2018) is at its most magical after dark, sparkling with fairy lights, lanterns and soft-glow bulbs. From 4 April to 22 September it will be in summer mode, with the gardens in full bloom and a programme of outdoor events and concerts.

Have dinner at the Tivoli food court (where 15 upscale food stalls offer everything from tapas and sushi to thin-crust pizza and toasted sandwiches served with artisan gins) or make a reservation at one of the many in-park restaurants; highlights include the creative vegetarian food at Gemysebut if you have Jack Sparrow-loving kids in tow, try Pirateriet, a pirate ship on the lake serving burgers, steaks and skewers.

After dark is when Tivoli Gardens' amusement park looks its most magical (pictured above is the Nimb hotel, located within the park grounds) Credit: L TOSHIO KISHIYAMA

• The best restaurants in Copenhagen


Day two

MORNING

Take to two wheels to cover more ground today. Most hotels hire out bikes but if not they’ll be able to point you towards the nearest rental shop; there’s also Bycyklen, a public hire scheme with electric bikes stationed at around 100 locations around town.

First up: Torvehallerne (Frederiksborggade 21), the excellent market halls, for breakfast foodie browsing and a chance to pick up supplies for a picnic lunch. Then head southeast, past pretty Ørstedsparken, and turn left into Vester Voldgade, which leads past City Hall to the waterfront, where Lille Langebro, the city’s newest bridge, carries you over the harbour to Christianshavn.

On the opposite bank, turn right, cycle under Langebro and you come to GoBoat, where you can rent a boat for one, two or three hours (DKK 449/£55, DKK 799/£99 or DKK 1,049/£130 respectively). There’s a table in the centre of the boat, so lay out your picnic lunch to enjoy as you pootle around the harbour and canals at your own pace. 

No experience or qualifications are necessary for GoBoat - anyone can hire one for a few hours and steer their own course along the harbour and through the canals

AFTERNOON

After returning the boat, head to the next-door harbour baths, a summer hotspot where you can join the crowds dipping and diving in the water or just sit on the quayside and enjoy people-watching.

Then reclaim your bike and head up, via the Olafur Eliasson-designed Cirkelbroen, to the harbour bus stop at Knippelsbro. Jump on a ferry heading north and enjoy the half-hour-ish ride to the end of the line at Refshaleoen.

Don’t be put off when you’re greeted by what looks like a wasteland – this former industrial area is one of the coolest places in town at the moment, as old warehouses gradually fill up with a mix of creative, sporty and foodie ventures. Do culture at Copenhagen Contemporary (Refshalevej 173A; 00 45 29 89 72 88), tackle the high ropes course at Urban Ranger Camp (Refshalevej 177; 00 45 51 20 77 03) and enjoy a floating hot tub at CopenHot (Refshalevej 325; 00 45 31 32 78 08). Or just chill out with a drink – highlights include the street food stalls of Reffen (A, Refshalevej 167; 00 45 33 93 07 60), brewery/bar Broaden & Build (Refshalevej 175A; 00 45 73 70 81 70) and La Banchina (Refshalevej 141; 00 45 31 26 65 61), a cute little wine bar/restaurant right on the water.

Head back to the centre through the canal district of Christianshavn or take the southbound ferry one stop to Nordre Toldbod and nip up to visit the Little Mermaid before cycling back along the waterfront.

Chill out with a drink at the street food stalls of Reffen

LATE

Head to the west side of town, where the once dodgy district of Vesterbro is now one of the best places to spend an evening, with a constant stream of new cafés, bars and restaurants opening up. Cocktail junkies are well served by the likes of Lidkoeb (Vesterbrogade 72B; 00 45 3311 2010), Duck & Cover (Dannebrogsgade 6; 00 45 2812 4290) and Curfew (Stenosgade 1; 00 45 2929 9276), but whatever you fancy to eat or drink, you’re likely to find it in the Meatpacking District and surrounding streets. If you can get a table at Sanchez (Istedgade 60; 00 45 3111 6640), a Mexican restaurant from ex-Noma pastry chef Rosio Sanchez, so much the better.

Get your Nordic fix with a Mexican edge at Sanchez, from ex-Noma pastry chef Rosio Sanchez

The best nightlife in Copenhagen

Where to stay . . .

Luxury Living

Hotel d’Angleterre was founded in 1755 and has a place in Copenhagen history; however, it’s certainly not stuck in the past. This ultra-elegant palace hotel combines period features (grand proportions, stately columns, lavish chandeliers) with bucketloads of contemporary comfort and style (a classy colour palette of muted lilacs and greys, luxe materials and dramatic floral arrangements).

Double rooms from DKK 3,000 (£371). 34 Kongens Nytorv; 00 45 3312 0095

All the rooms at Hotel d’Angleterre come with swish marble bathrooms, minibars, Nespresso machines and thick monogrammed robes

Designer Digs

The five-star Nobis Hotel Copenhagen is a handsome conversion of an historic building and the city's only member of the Design Hotels group. The team behind it has respected period features but not been afraid to add contemporary twists – the reception desk is a stark concrete block and the central stairwell is now filled with a twinkly modern light installation. The restaurant serves high-end bistro food.

Doubles from DKK 2,300 (£284). 1B Niels Brocks Gade; 00 45 7874 1400

Walls at the Nobis Hotel Copenhagen are painted in beautiful moody blues and greens, while Duxiana mattresses sit on the steel four-poster beds

Budget Beauty

Wakeup Copenhagen Borgergade may be a budget option but it offers well-designed rooms, a great location and keen-to-please staff. It’s modern and minimalist, and the big, open reception area is far more impressive than you’d expect, with acres of space and smart design that incorporates Poul Henningsen light fittings and Arne Jacobsen chairs.

Double rooms from DKK 500 (£62). Borgergade 9; 00 45 4480 0090

Wakeup Copenhagen Borgergade may be a budget option but it offers well-designed rooms and a great location

• A complete guide to the best hotels in Copenhagen

What to bring home . . .

Danish design is rightly famous and you’ll find covetable ceramics, furniture and lampshades at every turn. The central design store Illums Bolighus (10 Amagertorv) is a good starting point.

Danish design is rightly famous and you’ll find covetable ceramics, furniture and lampshades at every turn - including central design store Illums Bolighus Credit: Gyrithe Lemche/Gyrithe Lemche

Pick up some liquorice, in particular the creations of Lakrids by Johan Bülow. Magasin (Kongens Nytorv 13) has a good selection of the many different flavoured varieties, including seasonal limited editions.

Love it or loathe it, liquorice is one of Copenhagen's flavours. Pick up Lakrids by Johan Bülow for something special

When to go . . .

Summer is peak tourist season. The weather is at its best and the city is at its most gregarious, with café tables on every spare inch of pavement space, outdoor events in the parks, and the waterfront buzzing with activity. Inevitably, there are more queues and crowds at key tourist attractions, so you might prefer the quieter seasons either side: spring means beautiful displays of flowering bulbs in the parks, while autumn brings one of the highlights of the cultural calendar (Kulturnatten or Culture Night) and the chance to see Tivoli in Halloween mode.

Come November and December, this is one of Europe’s best places for a pre-Christmas break. The whole city is filled with festive spirit, and the gløgg-scented streets twinkle with fairy lights. Weather-wise, the cold days and long nights at the start of the year are a deterrent to most but February brings a light festival and a new winter season at Tivoli.

Know before you go . . .

Essential information

• Within the centre you can easily get everywhere on foot, but if you decide to use public transport, you’ll find it generally works like a dream. It’s also fully integrated, so if you buy a City Pass (24 or 72 hours) it’s valid not only for buses and Metro within the central zones, but also for trains and harbour ferries. You can order one in advance online or buy from the DSB ticket machines at the airport and use straight away to get to the city centre.

• If you’re planning to visit lots of museums and galleries, including some further out of town, consider buying a Copenhagen Card instead. Valid for 24, 48, 72 or 120 hours, it not only provides free public transport over a wider region but also gives entry to many attractions.

• When it comes to dinner, either eat out early or make a reservation. It’s not just Michelin-starred restaurants that get booked up – even little neighbourhood bistros can be really busy, especially at weekends, so don’t just assume you’ll be able to rock up anywhere and get a table.

• Service is generally included in restaurant bills but it’s increasingly common to round up the bill or leave a bit extra if you’ve had really good service. However, no one’s ever going to chase you out of a restaurant complaining you haven’t tipped enough.

• Bear in mind that the Danes are a law-abiding people. Even if there’s no traffic for miles around they won’t cross the road until a green man gives them the nod. They’re also very sensible and expect others to be the same.

• Walk along a quayfront in the UK and it’s likely to have railings all the way along. Not here – it’s all open and they just trust you to have the sense not to throw yourself in. Similarly, hotel service, although friendly and polite, tends to assume a level of self-reliance. In many hotels, for example, they won’t automatically offer to carry your bags to your room – but if you ask for help they’ll happily give it.

The basics

Currency: Danish krone

Telephone code: 00 45

Time difference: +1 hour

Flight time (from London): 1 hour 50 minutes

Essential contacts

British Embassy: 00 45 3544 5200; gov.uk; Kastelsvej 36-40, 2100 Copenhagen (Østerbro). Open 9am-5pm, Mon-Fri

Police: dial 112

Ambulance: dial 112

Tourist office: Copenhagen Visitor Service, Vesterbrogade 4, 1620 Copenhagen V (diagonally opposite Tivoli main entrance)

Author bio

Suzanne first visited Copenhagen in 1990 and was instantly smitten. Today you’ll find her roaming its cocktail bars, endlessly excited by seeing red squirrels in the parks and planning to return Danish in her next life.

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