“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
Hans Christian Andersen
Initial impressions of Copenhagen for me included sumptuous spreads in cosy cafes for brunch and cool bars filled with impossibly tall, blonde people, stylish and good-looking in a healthy, wholesome way. The impetus for that first trip had been a Giacometti exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (a glance at the museum’s website dates this to 2008). My friend Jo and I had dragged ourselves away from people-spotting in the city to take a train journey out to this beautiful cultural haven on the waterfront, 25 miles north of Denmark’s capital and with views across The Sound to Sweden. Memories of light and peacefulness, glass and organic curves and sea-bleached cleanliness float into mind.
Several years later, I was back in Copenhagen for a reunion with some friends I’d made while travelling in South America. We meandered between the picturesque coloured buildings squeezed along the banks of the Nyhavn canal, and drifted through shrouds of marijuana smoke in the unapologetically non-conformist district of Christiana. We sat outside the glass-sided Royal Danish Playhouse, bantering with the waiters and glancing across the river at the modernist grandeur of the Opera House, designed by Danish architect Henning Larsen. We made our up the winding, whitewashed Spiral Walk to the top of the Round Tower to admire the views over the city centre – the Spiral Walk is a ramp built in preference to stairs so that King Christian IV could be driven to the astronomical observatory at the top in a horse and carriage.
So we took in the typical sights, sounds and smells of this most welcoming and hygge of cities (the closest translation of ‘hygge’ is ‘cosy’). Yet one of my most striking memories of that weekend is of a freak storm that split the sulky sky with purple lightning forks and transformed the city streets into fast-flowing rivers of churned-up brown water. We sat marooned for hours in Café Norden, overlooking Stroget, one of Copenhagen’s main shopping streets, the electricity supply flickering in and out, the toilets closed due to fear of flooding. We felt besieged by the weather; it was fun.
On my third visit to the city I finally crossed the famous Øresund Bridge, and made my first trip to the city of Malmö and to Sweden. It was a chilly Scandinavian spring and I was excited to spend a weekend country-hopping between Denmark and Sweden, inspired by the gripping Scandi-noir series, ‘The Bridge’.
Before crossing the bridge, we’d overnighted in Copenhagen, warming ourselves in the joyous food market of Torvehallerne, gorging on spicy, melt-in-your mouth cinnamon buns washed down with strong artisan coffee and indulging in the magical mystery tour of Host’s signature menu for a lavish Friday night dinner. The dishes were unusual, adventurous and full of unexpected details, such as manioc muffins seasoned with lovage and served with grass butter. We’d endured the cold of a waterborne city tour to see the mix of architectural styles, running the gamut from the sixteenth century canal houses of Christiansen, deliberately designed in the Amsterdam style after a Danish King visited the Dutch city and admired their houses, to the new glass opera house gifted to the capital by the richest man in Denmark and the parliament building where Borgen’s Birgit Nyborg frequently paced the corridors and colonnades with her political allies and foes. We’d made ourselves drowsy on the heady smell of hyacinths and gawped at preening peacocks in the Tivoli Gardens and window-shopped in the appealing shops of Nörrebro… Whether gripped with cold, awash with rain or bathed in sunlight, Copenhagen is a delightfully welcoming place and I certainly plan on a fourth visit some time.
Cultural highlights: Stroll in canalside Nyhavn, touristy but irresistibly pretty; climb to the top of the Rundetaarn (or Round Tower) for great views over the city centre; if you’re a fan of ‘Borgen’, visit the Danish Parliament building, Folketing.
Food & drink highlights: Host, a trendy but cosy (hygge) restaurant serving exciting signature menus if you’re prepared to surrender to the chef’s imagination, as well as a la carte choices if you’re not. Deservedly popular, so best to book ahead if you can. And the Torvehallerne food market is just luscious.
Places to stay: I loved the design-conscious Hotel Alexandra, a small boutique hotel a stone’s throw from the Tivoli Gardens and styled in vintage 1950s and 1960s décor.
If you liked this, you might also like …
- My overview blog post about my 100 countries project
- Crossing the Bridge: Sweden, Scandi noir and leather trousers, my post on Malmö and Sweden, at the other end of The Bridge
- My post on one of my previous visits to Copenhagen: Copenhagen in the rain
- A lovely article on all things hygge by Helen Russell
- This cool guide to a short stay in Copenhagen from 12 HRS