The Danish capital has a number of (very enticing) tourist attractions, of course, but there are a lot more reasons that make it a trendy destination. And not just for the moment.
Can you fall in love with a city – only to find that you have to share it with a planetload of people – all of whom have their own unique reason for loving it? Some call Copenhagen cool. Others reasonable. And tolerant. Consensual. Pragmatic. Friendly. Helpful. Fun. Relaxed.
Only opinions, you scoff? Here’s who’s saying all this. Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has just crowned it the safest city for 2021. It’s in the top 10 in Deutsche Bank Liveability Survey, 2019, the latest released, and Mercer’s Quality of Living Ranking 2019. It’s also atop Monocle’s Quality of Life Survey 2021. Money.co.uk ranks it among the world’s most luxurious cities per sq km. “Greens, of course are diehard fans, with goodish reasons. Time Out Index has rated it the world’s most sustainable city for 2021. The city is on track to be carbon-neutral by 2025. It’s the best city for cycling in the world, according to the Cycle Cities Report 2021. It is the UNESCO World Capital of Architecture for 2023. Denmark ranked the most gender equal country in the world, according to US News & World Report annual ranking of the Best Countries for Women 2020, and Greater Copenhagen has nearly a third of the entire country’s people living these high-quality lives. Much too much?
Not the top destination for mass tourism (yet), the Danish capital is one of those ‘hidden treasures’, a euphemism perhaps for those who haven’t quite done their travel destination homework adequately.
For it is a dream city. The perfect balance of a large metropolis yet cosy enough to navigate easily. Historic in traditions, architecture, cuisine, civic governance. Modern in design, cuisine, ensuring rights. Making for the perfect ‘hygge’ life.
Traditional reasons to visit…
Its historic role as a capital of a much larger political entity than current Denmark means it has a legacy reflected in grand buildings, ambitious infrastructure, waterways that were cutting edge in their time, when it was a magnet for global wealth. It is however as a capital of a modern nation that it scores heavily – its urban planning is almost matchless and could be a blueprint for a more equal way of life in the future. Really, global urban planners, please note how to make urban lives pleasurable.
Its landmarks are stunning – the colourful houses of Nyhavn are perhaps the most recognisable, but that’s just a take-off point. From historic treasures such as the Amalienborg Palace in Frederiksstaden, Kastellet and Rosenborg Castle … and many more to the numerous Hans Christian Andersen landmarks, a host of enticing museums including the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art or the Kunsthal Charlottenberg and more. Those looking for more contemporary interests could explore the fancy opera house, the cutesy Tivoli Gardens, Tycho Brahe Planetarium…
Water has been an integral part of its history and the city’s enticing traditional waterfronts, now complemented with modern bridges, add another layer of pleasure. Foodies – and of course the city sets regularly sets benchmarks in modern cuisines globally – can explore the Carlsburg brewery, the stunning Torvehallerne Market or just about any restaurant/ café – quality is the most prized offering. To get a flavour of what Danes like, try stegt flæsk med persillesovs (fried pork belly with parsley sauce), pølse, or red sausages with smørrebrød, which is dark, heavy bread available in multiple variants… oh there’s much more, including a lot of vegetarian options as many Danes opt for meat-free diets in keeping with their ecological persuasions. Not to overlook more ‘Danish’ pastry variants than anywhere.
Lovers of design are in for an almost sensual treat – for the city is effectively an open-air gallery, epitomising ‘Scandi cool’. Design magazines have named it the ‘world’s best design city’ on numerous occasions, and as you discover when you visit, deservingly so.
Copenhagen of late has emerged as a hub of design – especially in furniture and lighting, ceramics, and glassware. Attention to design and aesthetics is woven into almost every facet of life. Yes, its insta-perfect – in a wholesome way – if that isn’t an oxymoron. Its neighbourhoods entice, from fancy Frederiksberg to the erstwhile Meatpacking District (Kødbyen), now chic central, to the unsurprisingly colourful Latin Quarter and man-made island of Christianshavn, while Nørrebro and Vesterbro vie to out-hipster each other. Even I-make-my-own-rules Christiania goes beyond its weed rep to offer creative bakeries, underground gig venues and smoky jazz bars. Many Indians could venture there, if only for its veg fare.
… and woke stuff
Navigating the city is a wakeup call for visitors. It vies with Amsterdam for being adjudged the ‘cycling capital of the world’ (Copenhageners might be offended at being put in the same bracket though. In their minds, they are tracks ahead!). Cycling is a way of life. Cycle stores occupy some of the most opulent retail addresses, and the range of cycles – not limited to two wheels either – is mind boggling. Beware though, cyclists carry a chip on their fit shoulders – they might get very cross if you are in their space on streets – although in the politest Danish manner! Also beware, cyclists often have precedence in the right of way.
Of late, led by Noma, and its 15 Michelin-starred restaurants, Copenhagen put New Nordic cuisine at the forefront of a world eating more sustainably. The city is chock full of urban farms, and residents get to consume fresh produce as a matter of course. Organic is a given. Multiple terraces brimming with raised vegetable beds and herb gardens, community led farming are home to rooftop farms where foraging at communal dining events is the rule. The city’s harbours are home to regenerative crops such as seaweed – which are more likely to make their appearance at a fancy meal than you would suspect. Local, seasonal food is de rigueur – and the discovery of the local range of flora and fauna that appear on the plates even in this cold terroir makes you wonder about that traditional knowledge, now respectfully revived.
Recycling, upcycling, circularity – however one views sustainability, it is now an integral part of the city. Even in places you wouldn’t readily expect. Construction is a major air polluter globally, and the city has discovered its ways of using materials from abandoned buildings. Red hot architect Bjarke Ingels’ use of shipping containers as floating student halls of residence is a must see.
Copenhagen’s fashion designers are almost mandated to be sustainable in their work and must meet a certain minimum standard to be eligible for fashion weeks. Physical stores and apps alike encourage circular fashion – from certain brands letting customers sell their clothes back to them to widespread digital second-hand fashion marketplaces. A quick heads up – Danes are remarkably style conscious – a walk in Copenhagen amongst its swish, trendily attired residents made me feel like a hobbit. Crestfallen face. Even kids recycle toys as a matter of norm. Wokeness much?
A majority of Copenhageners also agree that it is a ‘green’ city – 94 per cent said it’s easy to ‘take a walk in nature’ within the city! I came across quite a few neighbourhood parks that seemed paradisical.
If you are the sort who wants to live in an ethical, eco-friendly, aesthetic, egalitarian, modern, really fantastically designed, fun, friendly, and safe city, it would be hard to top Copenhagen. If you want a travel treat, look no further. Yes, it is also regularly atop the world’s ‘happiest city’ list. No prizes for guessing why! To think the piffling mermaid was once the top attraction is just an indicator of the city’s remarkable metamorphosis. Did I mention that the average Danes are arguably (no one is arguing) some of the best-looking folks in the world?
WHY COPENHAGEN IS THE COOLEST
Highways For Bikes
What: Copenhagen takes its bikes seriously, cycling lanes dominate roads and safe, if quite fast, cycling is the norm.
How: The city has been named the best cycling city for 2021.
What: At 1.1 km, one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe. Also, the city’s most famous retail address.
How: The pedestrianisation of Strøget in 1962 marked the beginning of a major change in the approach of Copenhagen to urban life, a trend now globally followed.
What: A three-Michelin-star restaurant run by chef René Redzepi that put New Nordic cuisine on the world map, and is seen as the best restaurant in the world.
How: During COVID-19, Noma re-opened as a wine and burger bar – with just two burger options, ‘open to everyone’.
Sustainable eating out
What: New Nordic Cuisine sparked a revolution with its focus on local, organic ingredients in season.
How: Innovative food solutions to be natural and seasonal and avoid waste, abound in the city, full of urban farms and rooftop gardens. Forage to your heart’s content.
What: Copenhagen is a frontrunner in design, combining simplicity with functionalism. Modern-day architecture in CPH puts people, living and human interaction first.
How: It’s possible to ski year-round at CopenHill as the slope is built on waste management, or swim in the surrounding sea while protected from the wind at Kastrup sea bath. As for eyeing/buying interiors stuff from fantabulous concept stores, don’t get me started.
What: The Øresund Bridge, which connects Denmark and Sweden, is a road and rail bridge 8 km long and 4 km long underwater tunnel, the first of its kind.
How: The bridge, besides being unique, has expanded Copenhagen’s metro area, albeit in another country as many people residing in Sweden can make the 10-minute journey to work in Copenhagen!
Den Blå Planet
What: National Aquarium Denmark, the largest aquarium in Northern Europe.
How: Resembles a whirlpool when seen from above, its cooling units use seawater.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
What: Denmark’s most visited art museum.
How: A milestone in modern Danish architecture, and is noted for its synthesis of art, architecture, and landscape.
What: An amusement park and pleasure garden, incidentally the third oldest in the world.
How: Charming, alluring, best known for its still operational wooden roller coaster, Rutschebanen, built in 1914.
What: A seaside public park with a human made island.
How: In a cold northern city surrounded by water, it provides Caribbean vibes in 4.6 km of white, pristine beaches.
What: Yes, Covid. Denmark coped remarkably well with Covid and was the first nation to reopen schools for children.
How: Denmark was first EU nation to relax Covid-19 rules, thanks largely to local traditions of samfundssind (social mindedness), which have helped check the spread of the virus.
What: A Danish word for a mood of cosiness and comfort through embracing the small things in life that matter a.k.a. everyday pursuit of happiness / contentment.
How: Involves candles, friends, food, blankets. What’s not to like?