With its beautiful streets, great food and colourful history, Copenhagen might just be the top European city for a quick weekend breakaway.
Copenhagen started as a Viking fishing village in the early 10th century and has been Denmark’s capital since the 15th century. Today it still is one of the most influential cities in Scandinavia. Home to just 580 000 Danes and, some belief, over 600 000 bicycles, the city is compact and can easily be explored in just two days. Here is how.
Where to stay
Part of the small boutique hotel group Arthur Hotels, Ibsens Hotel ticks off every single box. Decorated in the true minimalist, Scandinavian style with angled furniture and pops of colour on trendy greys and whites, the hotel is modern and light but has a homey feel and a very relaxed vibe – perfect after a day spent in the busy streets of Copenhagen.
Ibsens Hotel is easy to get to and is central to all major tourist attractions. It is situated in one of the most charming neighbourhoods in Copenhagen, surrounded by designer shops, galleries, second-hand bookshops and some of the best restaurants and cafes in Denmark. The Strøget shopping street, the Copenhagen lakes, Torvehallerne food market and Tivoli Gardens are just a stone’s throw away. Feeding off the surrounding area’s fashionable and arty vibe, Ibsens Hotel is the world’s first hotel to accept artmoney – 18 x 12 cm “notes” of art created by registered artmoney artists – as payment. You can pay up to 50% of your stay at Ibsens Hotel with this alternative currency and according to CEO Kirsten Brøchner, they hope to one day decorate the entire hotel with artmoney pieces.
Other than ensuring the hotel is a beautiful, comfortable space, the leading ladies have also pledged to make it a socially responsible one. Ibsens Hotel is arguably one of the most environmentally friendly hotels in all of Copenhagen. It has been carbon neutral since 2008 and was given the Green Key, an international eco-label awarded to businesses who commit to the leading standard for excellence in the field of environmental responsibility and sustainable operation within the tourism industry.
But it’s not just the building and its workings that make Ibsens Hotel the perfect example of a top environmentally aware hotel. The Nordic breakfast serves only the best organic and local produce with a strong focus on fair trade. Based on the principles of New Nordic Cuisine, breakfast revolves around the changing seasons, freshness, sustainability, local produce and the “less is more” tradition so famous in the Scandinavian region. It is the hotel’s philosophy that serving quality local, organic produce not only contributes to guests’ health, but ensures and sustains the local small farmer’s livelihood. And let me tell you, it is also pretty delicious.
You can make your booking directly with Ibsens Hotel here.
What to eat
When in Copenhagen, eat. With everything from bistros to Michelin-starred restaurants to some of the trendiest cafes in the world, there is really something for every taste. There is, however, one thing most of them have in common – smørrebrød. Rooted deeply in traditional Danish cuisine, smørrebrød is open sourdough rye bread sandwiches with a variety of toppings, traditionally including pickled herrings, thinly sliced cheese, cucumber, tomato, boiled eggs, cured or processed meat in thin slices, salmon and red onion. For the best smørrebrød in Copenhagen, book a table at the famous Aamanns 1921.
Lunch at Aamanns 1921 revolves around smørrebrød. The famous open-faced sandwiches have been redesigned and renewed under the watchful eye of head chef Adam Aamann, who has incorporated new ideas and a combination of flavours to offer some of the tastiest smørrebrød in Denmark. With a wide variety of dishes and set menus available, go for the Favourites Menu which includes three pieces of smørrebrød served in three separate servings. Be ready for smørrebrød topped with marinated herring, roasted beetroot, black onion, capers, buckwheat and a Parmigiano Reggiano mayonnaise that will change your life. Topped off with edible flowers, it is one of the most beautiful plates of food you will ever enjoy. Others are topped with chicken salad and bacon crumble or pan-fried plaice, hand-peeled shrimps, pickled tomatoes and very zesty lemon mayonnaise.
The Favourites Menu costs kr290 (around £35 or R620) per person, and two glasses of akvavit (a small beer and a glass of homemade soft drink) turned at kr350 (around £42 or R746). Even though prices might seem expensive for some open sandwiches and a few drinks, the price difference between ordinary and exceptional food in Copenhagen is small. I can highly recommend spending a bit more, if not for the food but the experience.
If you are looking for something else than some fancy sandwiches, try Skagen. Right on the water in the middle of Nyhavn, Skagen is also one of the more expensive eateries, but well worth it. The restaurant serves some of Copenhagen’s best seafood and it is one of the best places to simply sit, have a drink and watch the world go by.
For something less formal and more affordable, try a Danish hot dog. Sold from stands all over the city since the 1920s, hot dogs are the soul of Danish street food. But don’t let their humble appearance fool you – Danish hot dogs come in all shapes and sizes and can go from the simple sausage and roll that most of us know, to high-end fine dining made with all organic ingredients. It is also well worth visiting the Torvehallerne food market. With over 60 stands selling everything from gourmet tacos to the most delicious Danish pastries, even the pickiest of eaters will find something delicious at this market.
Where to go
With everything worth seeing in Copenhagen in walking distance from each other, it is possible to see and do quite a lot over a weekend. I recommend starting with Rundetaarn, also known as the Round Tower. A long, spiral equestrian staircase flooded with the most beautiful natural light leads to an observation deck almost 35 meters above street level that offers some of the best views over Copenhagen. Visiting the tower and observation deck only costs kr25 (around £3 or R53), so be sure to put it on your list.
Next is Nyhavn. What once was a pretty rough neighbourhood filled with beer, sailors and prostitution, has transformed and is now one of Copenhagen’s trendiest areas. Lined with cafes, restaurants and unimaginable amounts of tourists, the harbour is colourful and great for romantic strolls at dusk.
Based on Danish author Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale character, the Little Mermaid statue is one of Copenhagen’s most iconic sites and should definitely be on your list when visiting the city. Small, blue and a little sad, the little mermaid sitting on the rocks steals the heart of any and all who sees her. Before visiting, read up on Anderson’s original story or ask a local guide to tell you more as her story differs quite a bit from the well-known Disney version.
When the busy city gets a bit much, take a walk through the Copenhagen Botanical Garden. After a relaxing stroll through the larger gardens that cover over 10 hectares of green space, be sure to buy your ticket for the glasshouses and butterfly house. For only kr60 (around £7 or R124) you will have all access to a variety of stunning glasshouses built in 1874 and a newly opened butterfly house where visitors can get a close look at the secret and very interesting life of some of the prettiest butterflies in the world. Even if you don’t find plants that exciting, take the time to browse around the 13 000 species on display and climb up the 16-meter-tall cast-iron spiral staircase in the Palm House for a view from the top. Don’t wear make-up, though – it is incredibly humid inside the houses and you will sweat it off within minutes of being inside.
And forget everything you have even heard about Copenhagen’s famous Freetown Christiana neighbourhood. It’s a dump filled with junkies and American teenagers looking for pot brownies. There are so many wonderful things to do and see in Copenhagen, don’t waste your time visiting this “alternative” place.
To see more pictures of my time in Copenhagen, follow my Instagram page by clicking here.
NOTE: All prices and currency conversions were correct on the date of publication. Please check official websites for up-to-date prices, and use an online currency converter for current conversions.
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