Copenhagen, Zealand Travel Guide
- The capital of what's often ranked one of the world's happiest countries
- Design-savvy Scandinavian style in almost every boutique, cafe, and museum
- Amazing cuisine, from traditional smorrebrod to Michelin-starred restaurants
- Plenty of gorgeous waterside vistas, like the colorful houses along Nyvahn
- Environmental awareness runs deep and Copenhagen is impeccably clean
- Amazing architecture includes palaces, castles, and churches
- Lovely network of parks plus great spots for city swims
- Efficient and extensive network of public transportation
- Budget airlines use it as a hub, so flights here can be cheap
- Home to truly bohemian Christiana, one of the world's largest communes
- Everyone rides a bike, so traffic is minimal
- English is widely spoken
- Cost of everything from food to the metro is high
- While summers are gorgeous, winters can be rough
- Crowds around Nyvahn are substantial
What It's Like:
Copenhagen is a charmer. However, beyond the colorful cafes of the Nyvahn and away from Indre By's cobblestone streets, there's a city brimming with cutting-edge style, rebellious bohemianism, and a wealth of art and design. Its notoriously liberal social footing has — in recent years — made Copenhagen into an increasingly diverse place, and the city has gone so far as to issue declarations ensuring that it remains Europe's most inclusive city. That's no small feat in today's world, and it's a commitment that means travelers are likely to find plenty of surprises when they touch down here. If you're looking for proof, look no farther than Christiania, one of the world's largest communes that's just south of the city center.
While it's one of the most modern-minded cities in Europe, there's enough of the Old World to keep history aficionados satisfied. Most travelers will start their visit along the Nyvahn, a collection of colorful row houses and cafes that flank one of the world's most-photographed canals. It's a touristy and crowded part of town, for sure, but there are great finds in the area as well, including the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, a 17th-century palace that's now a cutting-edge art museum. Heading west from there are iconic 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century architectural gems like Christiansborg Palace, City Hall, and the Church of Our Saviour. For historic laughs and thrills, Tivoli Gardens is one of the world's oldest continuously operating amusement parks. You'd also be remiss if you passed over the chance to snap a picture with the famous Little Mermaid sculpture. Prepare yourself, though, as hordes of other tourists will be clamoring for a spot by her side, and she's surprisingly small.
In many ways, Copenhagen is a capital of cool, though you're unlikely to find the same pretentious vibe encountered in other hipster neighborhoods around the world, like Williamsburg, Silver Lake, or Shoreditch. Instead, style is an effortless thing here, from fashion to home decor. And it's plenty easy to take that legendary Scandinavian design home with you. Just head to the shops along Stroget — one of the city's main pedestrianized thoroughfares — or any of the roads that branch off of it in the Indre By neighborhood. Looking for something a little more edgy? Trendy neighborhoods like Vesterbro are packed with vintage shops and funky boutiques.
Dining is a big deal in this city, and it's worth sampling everything from traditional Danish pastries (no, not the kind you're thinking) to smorrebrod, which are open-faced sandwiches with different delectable toppings. It's not all humble local eats, though, as the city has a massive concentration of world-renowned dining, especially given its relatively small stature. Take Jaegersborggade in the hip Norrebro district, for example. It's a kind of hidden back alley that buzzes with hip foodie joints. Famous Noma alum Christian Puglisi opened Relae there in recent years, and it's currently one of the most affordable Michelin-starred restaurants in this famously expensive town.
Food isn't the only thing that shines in Copenhagen — nightlife is also off the charts. The Meatpacking District, in Vesterbro, is the go-to destination for the see-and-be-seen set. But for those inclined to more intimate nights out, Copenhagen has plenty to offer as well. Try checking out one of Copenhagen’s brown bars, or bodegas, which offer a more authentic Danish pub experience, and foster a diverse crowd of local regulars, students, and the tragically hip. Working off all of that indulging is also easy. Just hop on a bike like the locals and tour the city. For something equally Danish, check out the harbor baths at Fisketorvet and Islands Brygge, or the beach at Amager Strandpark, which is a 40-minute bus ride from downtown.
With so much to see and do, you might overlook the Copenhagen's quieter corners — but don't. Copenhagen is flush with public parks, including the gorgeous Botanical Gardens and The King's Garden. There are also new public spaces, like The Red Square (or, Superkilen), which was designed in collaboration with the art group, Superflex, and incorporates a wild array of international styles. For those needing even deeper peace and quiet, head to Assistens, Copenhagen's famous cemetery that's the eternal resting place of both Hans Christian Andersen and Soren Kierkegaard.
Where to Stay:
Whether you’re looking for postcard-worthy sights or you simply want the embrace the slower pace of local life, Copenhagen has enough diverse neighborhoods to suit every traveler's needs. Additionally, workers in nearly every shop, restaurant, bar, and cafe in the central neighborhoods will speak great English, so communicating isn't the challenge it can be elsewhere in Europe (we're looking at you, France).
Indre By is the oldest neighborhood in Copenhagen, and is home to the Nyvahn, which dates back to 1670 when the Danish King had it built as a protective shelter against tempestuous storms. Now, this whole area is equally upscale and tourist-friendly — not to mention conveniently central. Streets are lined with design shops, boutiques, bars, and restaurants, and it's easy to navigate the city from here. The metro at Kongens Nytorv has a direct line to the airport (a 15-minute trip), and the west side of the neighborhood is bordered by the city's main train station. Hotel options range from luxe — like the gorgeous Hotel d'Angleterre — to the impeccably hip, budget-friendly Generator Copenhagen. Just keep in mind that Stroget and the Nyvahn area can be quite crowded.
Beyond the train station is Vesterbro, the most accessible of Copenhagen's hipster neighborhoods. While the streets just to the west of the train station can be a little seedy, the neighborhood is a lively mix of families out strolling for an afternoon, trend-spotters out vintage shopping, and those who prefer to live life to its — ahem — fullest. There are also bespoke cocktail bars, fancy coffee shops, and art galleries galore, particularly along the streets that branch off of Istedgade. For easy access to public transit, pick a hotel near the eastern and southern edges, close to the main train station or near Dybbolsbro Station (which borders the Meatpacking District). Otherwise, look along bustling Vesterbrogade — we like Bertrams Hotel Guldsmeden for a sharp, boutique option.