City Escape: 48 Hours In Copenhagen
For all its copper domes and slender old spires, Copenhagen very much belongs to the here and now. The Danish capital has become one of the hottest, most creative destinations in Europe: sharp in its design, innovative with its food and relaxed in its bearing. Some cities are needling and uptight. This isn’t one of them. There’s a Danish word, hygge, which has no direct equivalent but translates broadly as “cosiness”. It’s not a quality you’d associate with many world cities, but it suits Copenhagen well.
Ben Lerwill is a freelance travel writer based in Oxfordshire. His work has appeared in more than 50 publications, including National Geographic Traveller, The Times, The Independent, Wanderlust, BBC Countryfile and Time Out.
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It’s a place of bikes and canals, cafes and cobbles, wild architecture and long evenings. Here’s how to make the most of 48 hours here.
9am: From the Copenhagen Airport, collect your car and make the five-mile drive into the city centre. Copenhagen’s story stretches back to the 11th century, and there’s still a through-the-ages feel to its buildings. Check into the recently renovated Hotel d’Angleterre, the gilded grande dame of the accommodation scene, or opt for on-trend Hotel Nimb, with its arabesque touches and nifty suites.
11am: Get your bearings by joining a boat tour of the city’s harbour and canals. Passing churches, palaces and obligatory sights like Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid statue, it gives a sense of Copenhagen’s manageable scale, as well as its maritime past.
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12.30am: Back on ‘terra firma’, wander along pedestrianised Strøget, the city centre’s main artery and one of the longest shopping streets in Europe. Stop for lunch at the Royal Café, which specialises in smushi, a cross between sushi and a traditional open sandwich, then see what your kroner might buy you at the designer homeware store Søstrene Grene.
2.30pm: Start the afternoon with a visit to the Black Diamond, Copenhagen’s most eye-catching waterfront building. A soaring block of dark granite pointing out across the inner harbour, it forms an extension to the Royal Library. The whole complex, including the library’s century-old book depository, can be toured.
3.30pm: Cross the water to canal-threaded Christianshavn, one of the most atmospheric parts of the city. It’s where the famous “freetown” of Christiania coexists with Michelin-starred restaurants such as Noma. After casting an eye at the area’s upmarket houses, take a coffee at basement café Parterre, which opened in 2014.
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6pm: Once you’ve freshened up back at the hotel, head out for an early dinner at the dockside restaurants that line 17th-century Nyhavn. Book ahead at Cap Horn, which uses organic produce to create inventive Scandinavian dishes – vegetarians are well catered for.
8pm: See out the night in style by watching a performance at the National Opera House, one of the most modern of its kind in the world. The designers didn’t hold back in the construction process – the main auditorium is covered in 105,000 sheets of 24-carat gold leaf.
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8.30am: Sample a Danish brunch at the smart Café Europa 1989 in the heart of town. Yoghurt from Knuthenlund, blueberries and smoked salmon are all on the menu. It’s also renowned for serving some of the best coffee in the city, having competed in several World Barista Championships.
10am: Denmark has a long royal history, something well evidenced by a visit to the lavish Christiansborg Castle. Sitting on the central island of Slotsholmen, it’s used these days by both the monarchy and the national parliament. The neo-baroque palace was built in the early 1900s and gives numerous reasons to visit, among them the still-in-use royal stables and a collection of the Queen’s tapestries.
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12am: There are few better places to get a sense of Copenhagen’s culinary muscle than at the Torvehallerne food market. The covered hall has more than 60 stands, serving everything from Nordic cheeses and locally caught fish to farmers’ sausages and fresh pastries. It’s a lively lunch spot.
1.30pm: Take a 25 miles drive out of town to the assiduously cool Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Combining “landscape, architecture and art” – it gives deep views across the sound to Sweden – it holds regular exhibitions alongside its own strong permanent collection. Additionally, make sure you take time to walk through the outdoor sculpture park. To make the most of being on the road, continue 20 minutes north to take in Kronborg Castle, the inspiration behind Elsinore in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
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6pm: Back in Copenhagen, head out to the neighbourhood of Kødbyen, the so-called Meatpacking District. It’s seen as one of the trendiest parts of the city, thanks to the cluster of art galleries, bars and restaurants that have taken up residence in its market halls and warehouses. Book a table at Kul, a hip new dinner venue with out-of-the-ordinary seafood dishes.
9pm: A fixture in the city centre for more than 170 years, the Tivoli Gardens remains a big evening draw. “Theme park” is rather a mundane description for the attraction, which prioritises music and theatre as much as any adrenaline ride. It’s open from April to September, as well as at Halloween and Christmas.