Copenhagen is a place I knew I’d love. What I didn’t know was quite how much.
After a tumultuous end to our time in London (which was very, very busy) we landed on a grey and drizzly afternoon at the airport in the capital. I was very excited on touchdown because we were finally in the homeland of one of my favourite TV shows: Borgen. Yes, I travelled across the world to go to the home of a Scandi-drama.
Just call me basic and let’s get it over with.
So what should you know if you’re planning a trip to Copenhagen? Let me share my experience and lessons with you below!
Currency: Not Euro
Matt and I also realised, as we arrived, that we didn’t have any kroner. We had assumed that Denmark had the euro, like many other EU nations. Alack, dear reader, it did not.
To make things more confusing, kroner are generally in the hundreds, not the tens. So 100 kroner is about NZ$23. It isn’t easy to work that out in your head.
So we had to get some kroner to start with at a very overpriced airport currency conversion kiosk, before buying our train tickets into the city. It felt like our true European adventure was beginning at last.
Getting from the Airport into Town
The train is the easiest way to travel from the Copenhagen airport into the city. It’s quick and painless and should you get stuck, just as a conductor for help.
The subway in Copenhagen is like from a futuristic Black Mirror-style movie: every station is identical and pristine. Spoiler alert: it was the only one like this in Europe!
After a 20-minute ride to the city, we popped out the other side and before us lay the beautiful central canal, leafy autumnal trees, and tall, elegant houses in bright colours. Together, Matt and I trod the 15-minute walk down to the house where we were staying (thanks to our booking on Airbnb). Although we didn’t know it at the time, we had booked ourselves into one of the most desirable, newly gentrified suburbs in Copenhagen, which is now the most expensive to buy in: Christianshavn. It was so, so beautiful; even in the grey and rain I knew immediately I would like this town.
After climbing five floors (we travelled with Osprey backpacks on the advice of my colleague Erika, which proved to be fantastic advice because wheelie bags don’t go well with stairs or cobblestones, something Europe has a lot of), we were greeted by our host Emma and her boyfriend, whose name I’ve forgotten but who I really liked because he had the symbol from Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh tattooed on his forearm. They gave us some tips and let us settle into our room.
The room we stayed in was spacious and light. While we didn’t have our own private bathroom and were sharing the house with three other people (and it was not a big place), this was one of our favourite residences in Europe. Emma and her boyfriend were a similar age to us and really kind, offering us coffee and telling us about their favourite places they had travelled to. We even spent about two hours talking to them in the living room one evening, which helped us feel very at home. The bed was comfortable, and the streets outside were quiet.
Christianshavn is a fantastic place to stay. It is very central to the heart of Copenhagen; we got around on foot, mostly, although one day we hired bikes (see below), which proved far easier than expected to navigate around the city on.
Copenhagen has really good bike lanes, which means that you need to watch where you are walking as a pedestrian in case you get hit by a bike. Once you get the hang of it, you realise it is a very sensible way to order the roads: keeping bikes all together and cars totally separate. Cars are taxed at 180 per cent, so they are few and far between in Denmark. Where people can avoid paying, they do.
Time to Visit
Copenhagen is know for being wet and cold, like Wellington! However, we were fortunate that the weather was bright, sunny, and airy when it was early September; If you are thinking of visiting, summer or early Autumn is the time to go!
Copenhagen isn’t touristy at all, and has some wonderful things to do and explore. In particular, it has amazing food. We actually didn’t drink while there because alcohol isn’t cheap. It is, however, worth every bite!
Food. We must start with the food. Copenhagen had absolutely amazing food, and I really cannot stress that enough. Everywhere we ate was amazing; we didn’t have a dud meal. Portions were sometimes small, but not mean, and you really saw the love and care and research that had gone into every dish.
We ate at:
BOB Biomio Organic Bistro – This organic restaurant is located in the Meatpacking District, along with many other great eateries. Matt and I stopped here for a snack and had a delicious salmon salad and smörgåsbord, the traditional Danish open sandwich. We sounded like little pigs, as every mouthful we ate came with an ‘Ooh, ooh, ooh!’ of delight.
Kødbyens Fiskebar – At Fiskebaren it is all about fish and seafood, fresh, healthy, and delicious food, and good wines. The atmosphere is informal, and the interior is quite relaxed. Although we had a half-hour wait for a table, we had a nice wine and enjoyed the busy atmosphere. On looking at the menu, we decided it was do-or-die and unexpectedly went with a seven course degustation menu. We ordered a nice wine suggested by the waiter, which was about 600 kroner. This was the most expensive meal we had in Europe, but it was my favourite: every dish was delicious, the fish was melt-in-your-mouth, and we were sitting in front of a fish tank. What more can you ask for?
Restaurant Bazaar – We found Bazaar on our first rainy night in the city. They explain their mission statement perfectly on their website: ‘Bazaar is a tribute to the Moorish kitchen, which you might know as the Berber kitchen or the Arabic kitchen. In other words: a fabulous food culture stretching all the way from Syria in the east, along the Mediterranean coast to the south of Spain, and onwards down to Morocco in North Africa.’ The food here was perfect for sharing, and the dishes were all fantastic. Would certainly come again. We were able to spend only equivalent to NZ$80, which for the atmosphere and food quality was outstanding (yep, Copenhagen is expensive).
The Bridge Street Kitchen – The Bridge Street Kitchen is placed just by the water and features some of the most popular street food in Copenhagen: California Kitchen's bowls, Grød's porridge, Gasoline Grill burgers, Coffee Collective and more. The mix of places to eat here was amazingly curated and really well priced. In particular, we love California Kitchen’s food – so fresh and delicate. All the ingredients were outstanding. We came here about four times during our stay in Copenhagen because the balance of food quality, weather, and price were perfect.
WHAT TO DO?
Tivoli Gardens – This was a truly life-changing experience for me because, like Jack and Rose in Titanic, I trusted Matt and went on all the scary rides. It was insane and amazing, and because it was a Monday night when we visited, we had twinkling coloured lights and acres of room to explore. Up high, Copenhagen looked even more fairytale-like. 10/10 in my humble opinion.
Borgen Walking Tour – This tour by Nordic Noir was a bit of a laugh and not necessarily the most amazing thing I’ve ever done; but, as a fan of the show, I knew I couldn’t come to Copenhagen and not see the spots that featured in the show. It was a relatively tame affair, with most sites only on the street and no behind-the-scenes access, so maybe a bit underwhelming; but we had a lovely morning, and I was very glad I did it.
Hire Bikes – There are so many places to hire a bike from around Copenhagen, and they truly allow you to see more of the city relatively safely. You don’t need to wear a helmet, but they are available. We hired ours from Copenhagen Bicycles near Nyhavn.
Christiania – This is a strange but pretty cool place, which was immediately behind our Airbnb. It is a kind of hippy commune of houses in an abandoned military base, where (amongst other things) you can buy hash openly. Locals generally tolerate it, but from time to time it gets shut down by the police. There is colourful art, places to eat, and tourists are welcome. While there are always political issues nearby (whether within the community or outside of it), it is safe and chilled out.
Konditaget Lüders – This is a recreational space on top of a multi-storey car park in Copenhagen’s Nordhavn district. In this densely built-up area, the 2400 m2 rooftop makes for an alternative urban space and playground that’s open to everyone. JAJA Architects has designed the building, which rises 24 metres from the ground. We came here on the day that we hired our bikes and had a little explore. The views are stunning.
Nyhavn – This is the classic photo of Copenhagen you can’t miss. We were staying a ten-minute walk away, so we strolled through Nyhavn almost every day. It is bright and beautiful and the perfect snapshot of this amazing city.
I could go on and on, but for your sake I’ll leave it here. Copenhagen truly is wonderful.