I’ve been to Copenhagen not one, not two, but three times now. In the world of weekend breaks it’s unusual for me to be drawn back to a place when there are so many new destinations vying for my attention. But Copenhagen is a city that really seems to have got under my skin. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s, well, so civilised. Not only is the city full of great design, historic charm, sparkling water and friendly people, but everything seems to work, everything is clean and everyone speaks English. If you can put up with the high prices (Wow! £7 for a beer?) then it’s the lazy traveller’s dream destination.
This time my excuse for a long weekend in Copenhagen with my husband, Guy, was Copenhagen Cooking that forms part of the Wondercool festival including a fashion week, jazz festival and design events as well as the largest food festival in Northern Europe. Of course, we know that festivals like these are really a way to attract visitors and add a little cultural buzz in freezing February when no-one would otherwise visit, but even so there are plenty of innovative events to keep your mind off the chill. So if you fancy a weekend break in Copenhagen, here’s my diary of this trip (with more than a few photos to keep you in the picture);
Friday evening – checking in to the Andersen Hotel
Arriving in Copenhagen on Friday evening, we hop on the super-efficient train and 30 minutes later arrive at the Central station which is just 5 minute walk from the Andersen Boutique Hotel in Vesterbro where we’re staying. The sex shops and Asian takeaways we pass aren’t promising but then Vesterbro is Copenhagen’s red light district as well as the trendy place for restaurants and nightlife. Entering the Andersen Hotel reception area is a relief from the grey evening outside with glowing pink lights, chess sets laid out at the bar tables and friendly faces at reception. This hotel was completely renovated a couple of years ago, using Designer’s Guild furnishings, and we’re pretty impressed with our Junior suite on the 4th floor, which has a ‘Mermaid’ colour scheme and a turquoise and white Philip Starck bathroom.
Dinner at Bio Mio in the Meat-packing district
Asking for restaurant recommendations at reception we head down the road to Bio Mio, an organic all-day diner that’s in the meat packing district where the meat processing still goes on but the trendy restaurants are also moving in. We find Bio Mio by the large neon Bosch signs and settle into the bar stools at the high wooden tables with a view of the chefs at work in the open kitchen that runs the length of the restaurant. We’re feeling experimental on the drinks front so I have an elderflower cider and Guy has a dark Alt bier which looks like Guinness but is far more fruitilicious. We order from the specials board and I try the fish of the day which arrives piled high on a square of mashed potato, topped with a swirl of raw fennel (200 DKr) and Guy goes for the beef casserole (175 DKr) which he also enjoys. Outside the rain is drizzling but inside the atmosphere is cosy with soft jazz playing and candles in jars at the window.
Saturday Morning – Exploring Vesterbro
On Saturday morning we explore the area of Vesterbro around Andersen Hotel, a working class neighbourhood that has become trendy as students and arty professionals have moved in. It’s also the red light district of Copenhagen with more than its fair share of massage parlours and sex shops selling fishnet underwear and fetish toys.
Veering away from Istedgade where much of this seems to be based, we pass the Mikkeller bar, known for its micro-brewed beer, past the graffiti covered heart sculpture and onto Vesterbrogarde where the shopping is far more mainstream.
We are on the look-out for the trendy designer clothes shops we’ve read about but it feels as if we’re looking in the wrong place and then Guy gets diverted into a cycle shop where he enjoys a chat with the fellow enthusiast about the joys of cycling in Denmark and buys some cute bike lights. We come across the Museum of Copenhagen, where we look around for a bit, learning how immigration has affected Copenhagen, admire the colourful painted shooting targets on the stairs and discover the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in an exhibition that explores the theme of love.
Saturday afternoon – a gastro-cruise around the harbour
By lunchtime we are heading towards the harbour and the Royal Library, also known as the Black Diamond, where we have are booked on a gastro-cruise as part of the Copenhagen Cooking festival. As we’re there in good time, I take myself up the upper floors where you can look down through the full height of the building and admire the canal opposite framed by the wall of glass.
At 1.00 we get a welcome talk and board the tour boat that takes us to six different restaurants around the harbour, where we try a different course in each. This gastro-cruise showcases one seasonal ingredient and this year it is the turn of the humble mussel, once the working man’s food, to be elevated to new heights by inventive chefs. Our first course of canapes from Soren K in The Black Diamond is eaten on the boat, with an explanation from the chef as he serves us with the accompanying wine, while at other restaurants we get off the boat and are seated in the restaurants to try the different dishes.
While it’s all about the mussels, each chef manages to come up with a unique interpretation of this ingredient; from the creamy soup at Restaurant Salt, to the chilli and coconut flavours from Southern India at Verandah, to the retro tartlet like granny would make at Lumskebugten, to the purple carrots and frothy soup served with sea buckthorn juice and snaps at Spisehuset 56. The cruise is over by 6pm when we arrive back at the Royal Library for a cup of coffee and a chocolate before walking back to the hotel, where we collapse to digest our gastronomic afternoon. Read the full account of our Copenhagen Cooking gastro-cruise here.
Sunday morning – art and culture in Copenhagen
While our Saturday had a foodie theme, our Sunday is an opportunity to explore the art and culture of Copenhagen and we start at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, just a 10 minute walk from the Andersen Hotel. This delightful museum houses the art and sculpture collection of the 19th century brewing magnate Carl Jacobsen and is perfect for a winter day, full of classical Greek and Roman sculpures as well as those turn of the century marble figures on allegorical themes by Danish sculptors.
We wander through the impressionist galleries upstairs, packed with Gauguins, Van Goghs and Cezannes and enjoy the Degas ballerina series including the petite bronze of the Little Ballarina similar to the one in Musee d’Oray in Paris. At the heart of the museum is a winter garden with glass roof and tropical foliage, overlooked by a cafe where we are tempted to stop, but it’s a bit early for coffee so we just buy a few postcards before we move on.
Shopping on Stroget
Our walk takes us on down the length of pedestrian shopping streets that are collectively known as Stroget, towards the shopping heart of Copenhagen by the Stork Fountain where the “Big Three” of Copenhagen’s designer shops are located. We’d enjoyed looking around here on our previous visit and now have an aspirational wander around the Georg Jensen flagship store, with covetable silver jewellery on the ground floor and homeware downstairs. I’ve been lucky enough to have a private tour of the Georg Jensen silver workshops where the heirloom pieces are made, but sadly the room where these are normally on display is closed. I also love the Royal Copenhagen store next door, where the instantly recognisable blue and white porcelain has been reinvented in many different designs and the gorgeous Flora cup and saucers are planted with spring bulbs. Although I’d love to bring back a souvenir, I decide that £40 is just too much for a coffee mug and we move on to the much more affordable Illums Bollighus which the perfect place to shop for Danish designs.
The Round Tower in the Latin quarter
Having got our fix of Danish design we turn left down Kobmargergade and into the Latin Quarter, where we walk to the Rundetaarn or Round Tower. Built in the 17th century by King Christian IV as an astronomical observatory, it’s a surprisingly easy stroll to the top as there is a brick ramp that was designed for the easy transportation of astrological instruments.
From the viewing platform at the top we get a 360 degree view over the red rooftops of Copenhagen, but the kissing seat near the top is already taken by a family having their picnic so we can’t stop for that romantic snuggle at the window. The other nice feature of the Round Tower is that half way up you find the doorway to the enormous space of the old library, which once housed 10,000 books but is now used as an art gallery and concert space.
Sunday afternoon – The fairytale castle of Rosenborg Slot
Another place on our list to see, which is conveniently close to the Round Tower, is the fairytale castle of Rosenborg Slot, set in the park known as Kongens Have or King’s Garden. Before we look around the palace it’s time for lunch and we stop at Orangeriet, a restaurant set, as the name suggests, in the old orangery of the palace. We love the light atmosphere, all pale Scandinavian painted wood and fragrant spring bulbs, where the lunchtime menu of Smorrebrod is surprisingly affordable by Copenhagen standards. Guy orders the smorrebrod of steak tartare with beetroot and horseradish which is red and succulent, while my choice is the chicken salad with mushrooms, apples and celery which is a creamy mixture with a colourful red and green vegetable garnish. We’d like to stay longer but the castle is closing at four so we hurry through the gardens, crossing the bridge over the moat and pass the soldiers guarding the treasury, trying not to look too suspicious.
The castle is full of richly decorated rooms with marble, gilt and ornate furnishings, each one set in the period of a different King of Denmark. On the ground floor is a case displaying the bloodstained shirt worn by King Christian IV during the naval battle of Kolberger Heide in 1644 where he was wounded by cannonball fire and lost an eye. The king himself ordered the shirt to be put on show and thereafter adopted the motif of a pelican tearing out its heart to feed its young, as a symbol of his sacrifice and had the bullet fragments made into earings for his mistress to wear.
Before the palace closes we just have time to see the Treasury in the basement, protected by a heavy steel door guarded by soldiers. Even so we are able to get surprisingly close to the cases containing all the precious crown jewels including the sets of glittering emeralds and the crowns themselves.
Coffee and cakes at Torverhallerne
We leave the palace at closing time and walk to the nearby Torverhallerne food halls, which leaves us salivating at all the stalls selling artizan foods. These two market halls were under construction on our previous visit two years ago, when we stayed at the nearby Ibsens Hotel, but now they are packed with interesting and delicious food finds, with raw fish, meat and vegetables in one hall, while the other seems to feature chocolates, deli counters and food to take away.
There are plenty of stalls selling food to refresh the weary sightseer like us, from Coffee Collective that we visited last time in Norrebro to the Granny’s House cake stall where we perch at a small table and order some coffee and cakes served on pretty pastel china.
After our late afternoon coffee break we spot an appetising deli counter where we buy dips, olives and good Danish sourdough and rye bread from a bakery stall. We carry it all back to Andersen Hotel where we pass up the delights of the Meat Packing District for a night in watching TV, drinking wine and eating our picnic in our room, weary after our busy day’s sightseeing.
Monday Morning – Exploring the harbour
On Monday, as our flight isn’t until the evening, we take advantage of Andersen Hotel’s Concept24 policy which means that we can keep our room for a full 24 hours and check out late in the day. Leaving our cases in our rooms, we head for the harbour to explore the area of Christianshaven across the bridge, where houseboats are moored along the canal.
We stop to look at the beautiful Church of Our Saviour with old wooden pews and chandeliers where an organist is practicing, before walking on to the ‘free state’ of Christiania.
This neighbourhood of Copenhagen was an old military barracks that was occupied by squatters in the 1970s who wanted to create a community life together, but became known as an area where soft drugs were freely available and the police would not go. The residents of Copenhagen have mixed views about Christiania and although drugs are no longer sold openly, we found that the area had a run down feel, with groups of men standing around stalls selling souvenirs and drug related paraphanalia. Perhaps the atmosphere is lighter in summer than on a cold February day and although the signs exhorted us to have have fun (but take no photos), we didn’t feel like lingering long.
Just across the river it is a different world from the hippy, overgrown Christiania to the perfect, painted merchant houses and picturesque sailing ships of Nyhaven, that feature on all the postcards. In summer this must be a tourist trap worth avoiding, but on a sunny winter’s day we enjoy our walk along the canal and skirt the harbour towards the palace of Amalienborg, residence of the Danish Royal Family.
Most people time their visit for midday when the royal guards march from Rosenborg slot and arrive at Amalienborg for the changing of the guards. The central square is surrounded by four palaces with an imposing statue of Frederick V in the middle looking towards the dome of the marble church.
Lunch back in Vesterbro
We head back through the Latin quarter to meet with Henrik from Wonderful Copenhagen who has promised to take us out for lunch. As we don’t have too long before our flight we decide to stay close to the Andersen Hotel where we’ll need to collect our bags and stop at the Claus Meyer deli on the border with Frederiksberg to try the smorrebrod and other light lunchtime dishes. I order the smoked salmon with beetroot and horseradish cream, which is one of the prettiest dishes I’ve ever seen, while Guy enjoys the hot Danish pate topped with bacon and an apple and parsley salad on the side. This deli is one of three in Copenhagen, but Claus Meyer is well known as a food entrepreneur and has plenty of other gastronomic enterprises such as a couple of bakeries, The Standard jazz club and a part-ownership of Noma. This deli is definitely worth noting in your address book in you’re a gourmet on a budget, serving delicious and affordable dishes from breakfast through to early evening.
Close by we stop to have a coffee in the Central Hotel and Cafe, dubbed the “Smallest cafe in the world” with just a counter and a bench to sit on, while the “Smallest hotel in the world” upstairs is a single en suite room for couples who want to be truly alone. Both enterprises are owned by the owners of the retro cafe Granola, just around the corner, where breakfast is served for hotel guests and all good children are rewarded with a lollipop the way out.
There are a couple of other Copenhagen landmarks I want to squeeze in before we head for home, one of which is The Royal Hotel, now owned by Radisson Blu, which was designed by Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen in the 1960s, using many iconic designs like the Swan chairs in the lobby. Suite 606 is kept as an example of the original furniture and designs created by Arne Jacobson and we sneak up to the 20th floor to take a peek at the gourmet restaurant Alberto K, where every table has a view over the city.
The other place on my wish list is Nimb, a luxury boutique hotel with only 17 rooms that overlooks the Tivoli gardens. Even those who can’t afford to stay there can experience the magic in summer, with an al fresco meal on the Brasserie terrace overlooking the gardens. Remembering that it’s freezing February, however, we pop upstairs to the ballroom bar which is a special place to have a cocktail or drink, especially in winter with the fire lit at one end and the candles flickering around the room.
Sadly we’ve run out of time and head back to Andersen Hotel and wheel our bags to Central Station where we take the train for the airport and home. We’ve had a great time eating and sightseeing and are already planning our next trip back to Copenhagen, preferrably in warmer weather when the Copenhageners are out enjoying the parks and harbourside in the long, light days of the Scandinavian summer.
Visitor Information for Copenhagen
Our gastro-cruise was part of the Copenhagen Cooking festival, one of the biggest food festival in Northern Europe which takes place in August and February. Look out for the summer edition of the Copenhagen Cooking festival in August.
Heather and Guy stayed at the Andersen Hotel in Vesterbro, Copenhagen’s Red Light District and trendy neighbourhood for restaurants and nightlife. Thanks to Andersen Hotel who provided a complimentary stay for our weekend visit.
Copenhagen Card – we used the Copenhagen Card during our stay for free public transport by bus, train and metro as well as free admission to 75 museums and attractions. We used the card to get free entry to many of the sights we visited on this and previous visits such as Ny Carlsberg Typtotek, Rosenborg Slot, The Museum of Copenhagen, The Harbour Cruise and Tivoli Gardens, as well as for getting around on the metro and train.
For more information about visiting Copenhagen, see the Visit Copenhagen official Tourism website. Thanks to Wonderful Copenhagen who sponsored our weekend visit to Copenhagen.
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