Visiting Iceland in December and falling in love with the Scandinavian culture left me wanting to explore more of the region. There is something so alluring about their minimalistic design and fashion, their healthy lifestyle and their sheer cleanliness. When I was browsing flights to find my next destination for summer, I happened to stumble across flights to Copenhagen for £11 and it was impossible to turn that offer down. This resulted in us booking a holiday to spend 36 hours in Copenhagen and flying from there to Lake Como for the rest of our trip.
So in mid-June earlier this year we landed in Copenhagen airport. With not that much time to explore the entire city, we made sure that we packed in as much as possible so that we could make the most of our visit. The weather was on our side when we arrived – blue skies and warm summer air, completely different to what expected. The short time that we had in Copenhagen was brilliant and I absolutely adored our stay. Here’s why:
WHERE TO STAY
Scandinavian countries are famous for many things, one of those things being their extortionate prices. Because of this we tried to keep costs low as much as possible. One of the ways we were able to do this was by staying in an AirBnb – if you know me you will know that I am a massive AirBnb advocate. We ended up staying in this apartment in a private room alongside our host. Because we were only there for a couple of nights and we wanted to find something that was relatively cheap, it didn’t bother us that we weren’t renting an entire apartment to ourselves. Our host kept himself to himself apart from when we needed recommendations on things to do. The room was bright and minimalistic, equipped with leaflets and maps giving us a whole lot of info about Copenhagen. We didn’t spend much time here though, as we were mostly out exploring the city. We were lucky to be a few steps down from a bus stop, which took us straight to the airport or down the road to the metro station which had a direct line into the city centre. This was our first port of call when we arrived.
THINGS TO DO
I checked out things to do in Copenhagen before I arrived and found that there wasn’t a great deal of touristy attractions, so we thought we’d just chance it and be spontaneous. It’s when you arrive to the city that you realise it’s not really about the tourist attractions, but instead it’s more about the lifestyle, culture and aesthetic. There is one place I had in mind to visit though, and that was the famous Nyhavn – an amazingly pretty harbour in the centre of Copenhagen. Make sure you bring your camera along if you plan on visiting – you’ll definitely want to be snapping away! We walked along the harbour, the blue skies enhancing the brightly coloured buildings, making a perfectly scenic skyline. The restaurants by the harbour were pretty extortionate so we decided to avoid these. Instead, we took a boat trip as I am a pretty big admirer of boats. It departed from Nyhavn and took us along the harbour, through the canals and past some iconic Danish buildings and monuments such as the Opera House and Little Mermaid statue. You also get a guided tour that informs you about some of Denmark’s history and the buildings you see along the way. In my opinion, there is no better way to see a city than by boat. We sat admiring the neo-classical architecture, the gothic churches and the colourful canal sides, while learning about Denmark’s rich history including stories about its long lost empire. The trip was approximately an hour long, and was surprisingly cheaper than a lot of boat trips I’ve been on elsewhere, costing around 52DKK (currently equating to approx. £6). You must make sure that you tick this one off your list – especially if you want to see Copenhagen from a different perspective.
After our boat tour we had a few hours of our day left to waste. We decided to take a walk into Christiana Freetown – a small district burrowed inside the city that was colonised by hippies in the 70s and which declared autonomy from Denmark. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before and a somewhat surreal experience. Inside you see all sorts of structures such as cottages, tree houses, caravans and cabins where the people of Christiana reside. They have their own laws, economy and even postal service that are entirely separate from the rest of Denmark. This means that weed is legal in their district and they are heavily reliant on it as their main export. Although the consumption of weed is allowed here, the Danish government still frown upon the selling of it. This doesn’t stop them though, as they came to an agreement with the government to stop them from interfering. However, they still want to keep on the down low when selling, so you see tourists and customers queuing up outside stalls that are hidden behind some kind of military meshing, with scary-looking men wearing balaclavas behind the stalls, and also along the street. At times it was a bit unnerving walking through what is called the ‘Green Light District’ and being watched by these balaclava-clad men who were probably there to make sure you weren’t making any dodgy deals or taking any photos (or maybe they were making the dodgy deals themselves). However, it was definitely a different experience and there are pubs, bars, health shops and food stalls all inside that you can visit if you don’t mind a bit of passive smoking every now and then. Christiana is far from the reality of Copenhagen, but certainly somewhere worth visiting.
On day two we weren’t so lucky with the weather in the morning (although later in the day it did start to clear up). But when we woke up and looked out the window to see rain, we thought that it would be the perfect day to do the culture vulture activities like visiting museums and churches. We put our rain coats on and after stopping off for some coffee, took the metro into the centre and ended up walking through Amalienborg and visiting Frederik’s church – both not too far from Nyhavn.
We stumbled across Frederik’s Church whilst walking around to find something to see to escape the drizzle. Visiting places like churches and cathedrals always reminds me of family trips abroad as a child. I always used to kick up a fuss if my parents dragged me to some Catholic church or a museum about classical archeology – leaving was always a relief. However, now I’m at the old age of 20 I feel as though I can appreciate the architecture and history of places a bit more. We went into Frederik’s Church (also known as the Marble Church), which belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran denomination and has the largest church dome in Scandinavia. It was built in the late-Baroque architectural period (one of my favourite classical art movements), so the building and the interior were pretty spectacular. We spent no longer than 15 minutes in here as we only had access to the chapel area, but it sure was interesting to see.
Just down from Frederik’s Church is Amalienborg – Denmark’s version of Buckingham Palace, home to the Danish royal family, with four identical classical palace façades around the octagonal courtyard, and a monumental equestrian statue of Amalienborg’s founder in the centre. Again, we just walked around here briefly for no longer than 15 minutes, but we were able to see the Danish royal guards and even witnessed some sort of marching parade.
Nordic countries such as Denmark and Sweden are renowned for their simple, minimalist and functional design, which I’m sure you’ve all seen when walking around an IKEA store. I’ve always been captivated and inspired by their furniture, homeware, décor and fashion, and being in Copenhagen I just had to find out and see more. We visited the Design Museum, which had a display of sustainable and industrial designs, decorative arts and crafts, home decor, fashion, graphics and so much more. It wasn’t just Scandinavian design that featured, but also pieces of Western and Eastern art and design. This museum was wonderfully curated and a museum that you must put on your to-do list, especially if you are eager to learn more about the history of Scandi design as well as contemporary. Students can visit for free (providing they have a valid student card) and for adults it costs 100.000 DKK (currently equating to about £11).
PLACES TO EAT
Because we were only in Copenhagen for 36 hours and on an attempt to steer away from the Scandi costs, we decided to avoid any of the restaurants and their exorbitant prices. This resulted in trips to the Seven Eleven store just down the road from our AirBnb to stock up on pasta salads, sandwiches and some things from the hot deli counter. This post probably isn’t the best place to go if you want restaurant recommendations… However, we had heard good things about a place in central Copenhagen called Paper Island which is just across from the harbour, so we got on the taxi boat and went there. If you’re familiar with the London street food scene then Paper Island is pretty much like that. There’s a selection of Danish and international street food stalls as well as juice bars and proper bars. It caters for all – meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans, and the prices generally average between 40-90 DKK (between £5-10).
I decided to go for a pulled duck burger from a stall called Duck It and it was juicy and delicious (even though the photo doesn’t do it any credit). After finishing our lunch and a couple of drinks from Cow Bar (where I was able to get student discount!) we decided to take another walk around in a quest to find dessert! I’m a fan of crème brûlée and I’m also a fan of donuts so when I found a crème brûlée donut stall I just had to get one and even though I felt incredibly guilty afterwards it did not disappoint.
We also stopped off at a few coffee shops and pubs around Copenhagen (I forgot to note the names of any of them down), but because we were only there for a short amount of time we didn’t have time to explore Denmark’s cuisine, or many of the numerous eateries and watering holes that they have to offer.
Copenhagen was everything I expected and more and it’s a shame that we didn’t have more time to spend here. However, I loved the small insight that I got into the city and the Scandinavian lifestyle, and it’s the perfect place for a short trip away. There’s no denying that Copenhagen is an expensive city, like most countries in the Nordic region are, but it’s certainly not impossible to scope out some cheap places to dine and drink outside of the city centre and away from the tourist hot spots! Buying a city guide is definitely a good idea (I bought the Wallpaper City Guide) as it shows you all the cute independent shops and eateries in one place, whereas on the internet I found it a little bit more difficult to do so!
If you choose to visit Copenhagen then I hope you enjoy your time there as much as I did!