An internet acquaintance from the UK announced that he will be taking a few days off in Copenhagen in the near future. So, if you’re going to Copenhagen, what should you do?
In a way, I’m a bit handicapped because I grew up in Copenhagen (or rather: one of the suburbs) and I haven’t lived there for ten years. But still: I know the place reasonably and I visit the city more than regularly. Now, at the risk of making a complete fool of myself I will say that the city which has reminded me the most of Copenhagen has been … (drumroll) … Prague. Okay, no cheap beer (unless you’re from Sweden or Norway), no Golem and definitively no Hrad, but Copenhagen is a very old town by Northern European standards and it has survived centuries of war remarkably undamaged. And Søren Kierkegaard is a match for Franz Kafka.
What to avoid?
Like all travel destinations Copenhagen has its tourist traps. It’s not that you should avoid Strøget and Nyhavn at all costs (but beware the Romanian con artists and pickpockets), it’s just that what you get there is either something you can get anywhere in the world or something you can cheaper and better in other parts of Copenhagen. And restaurants and cafés off-Strøget and Nyhavn are likely to be cheaper.
How about Tivoli then? Well, it’s a really nice place, it’s expensive and there are alternatives.
Where to be careful?
Now, I know that our visitor likes to take pictures and there are some parts of the city where discretion is advised. Christiania is exotic but it is also a drug-dealing scene and generally drug-dealers do not like being caught on camera. I haven’t heard about tourists being attacked but it may be a good idea to ask before shooting. The same goes for parts of inner Nørrebro where gangs hang around.
Halmtorvet and inner Vesterbro have been gentrified but there is still drug-dealing and street prostitution. Again, dealers, pimps and prostitutes may be sensitive to camera lenses.
Streets and quarters
If Strøget is a bit uninspiring, try either side of the pedestrian zone. The south-western quarter of the old town is probably the liveliest with lots of small off-beat shops and the like, the north-western quarter is more stylish and the eastern part may be more quiet, but also well-preserved and charming.
Frederiksstaden is also worth a stroll. Anything from representative 18th century town houses and palais to more humble housing. And you should by no means miss Kastellet, a preserved and restored 17th century fortress. It is still in military use, but it is okay to take photos.
Christianshavn is a mixed bag. Earlier industrial sites have been turned into expensive housing but the area around the canal is inspiring. You should also go north and visit Holmen, the old headquarters of the navy. It is still a military area, just like Kastellet, but these days you can bring a camera.
Venturing out into the inner parts of Nørrebro and Vesterbro (old working-class neighbourhoods but now with a mix of students and immigrants) is also worth the effort.
Museums and stuff
Miss Glyptoteket at your own risk. Not only does it have a classy collection of French impressionism, it is also housed in one of the most charismatic buildings in Copenhagen. The Winter Garden makes you think you are in France. (One word of warning: The food in the café is very good, but it takes forever before you are served)
Davids Samling reopened recently. I haven’t visited the place in its present form, but it is a good collection of Islamic art, European painting, etc, housed in an old representative apartment. And then you have Kongens Have right across the street.
Excursions from Copenhagen
Many tourists go north in search of Louisiana and you could do so too. Good collection of modern art, accessible thematic exhibitions, the buildings, the park overseeing Øresund. (Regional trains to Humlebæk every 20 minutes. More or less…)
But you could also be a bit more adventurous and go south. Arken in Ishøj is a bit more difficult to find, but the collections are more cutting edge than Louisiana’s and the architecture is in your face. (Commuter trains A or E to Ishøj and bus 128 or 20 minutes of walking). Weather permitting, you could also check out the riviera.
Any of the smaller towns around Copenhagen would be worth a visit. Roskilde (regional train, 25 minutes) has the cathedral and a collection showing contemporary art. Helsingør – or Elsinore, if you prefer – has Kronborg (but no Hamlet, it is Holger Danske hiding below ground) and an attractive town centre. Hillerød (commuter train A or E, 40 minutes) has Frederiksborg, an early 16th century castle with an extensive garden complex. No castles or cathedrals in Køge (commuter train E, 60 minutes) but it is as close to a typically Danish provincial town, you can get.
Or why not Copenhagen M, the town formerly known as Malmö? 😛 The Swedish krona has fallen through the floor and the central part of town is worth a visit. Note the orchestra in the central pedestrian street. It would be fun learning how an Englishman sees the differences between Denmark and Sweden.
One more thing…
Ah, yes. Alternatives to Tivoli, I said. Take the commuter train, line C, to Klampenborg. Turn right and you have the Arne Jakobsen town, complete with a theatre. That’s functionalism to you. Or turn left and enter Dyrehaven and Dyrehavsbakken, the folksier (and much, much cheaper) alternative to Tivoli. If the entertainment gets to you, just wander in the park and watch the wild deer.
And what if Eszter should make it to Copenhagen?
One word. Well, two words: La Glace.
I’m not that big on restaurants or music in Copenhagen, so feel free to add in the comments.
Some additional thoughts
The Danish Super League isn’t exactly a match for the English, but you might want to check out either Brøndby or FC København if they play while you’re in town.
As Mark Wubben mentioned: Renting a bike and checking out the old harbour is an idea.