Copenhagen is one of my favorite cities. While the Danish capital has a rich history and its fair share of classic European architecture, what I loved most about Copenhagen is that absolutely everything seems like it’s on the cutting edge, from the way locals are dressed (so chic!) to all things design, food and even transportation. To put it simply: Copenhagen is just so cool.
It’s easy to get there: Many major airlines fly from the US to Copenhagen but with the recent influx of affordable carriers like WOW Air and Norwegian, it’s cheaper than ever to get to Scandinavia (the savings end when you land, don’t say I didn’t warn you!). I flew with SAS on a direct flight that cost $750 round trip from NYC but nowadays that price can be as lows as $300.
It’s not as far away as you think: A nonstop flight is about 7 hours from New York and 11 hours from San Francisco. From London, the flight is only about 2 hours.
Copenhagen has so many attractions, it’s hard to pick what to see if you’re crunched for time. So in this weekend travel guide, I’ll cover my favorite places to go, eat and stay in several different neighborhoods. From the touristy Nyhavn waterfront to the ultra cool Vesterbro and Kodbyen (Meatpacking District) areas, the hippie community of Christiania and up-and-coming neighborhood of Nørrebro, each area has its own distinct personality.
You probably know Nyhavn as that oft-Instagrammed row of colorful buildings on Copenhagen’s waterfront. While it’s super touristy, on a nice day nothing beats grabbing a beer and letting your feet swing down over the water while you soak up the sun. Plus, it’s just so photogenic – who could resist? Hour-long boat tours are also available from Nyhavn, and offer a fun and scenic way to get to know the city from its canals.
I stayed at the stylish Generator Hostel, located about a five minute walk from Nyhavn. In an expensive city like Copenhagen, hotel stays can be costly, so it’s great that there’s another option that won’t break the bank. Even a private room at Generator was significantly less expensive than a hotel in the same neighborhood But what you save in nightly cost, you don’t sacrifice in quality: Generator Hostel in Copenhagen was probably the cleanest and nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in. The beds were incredibly comfortable, they offered a bike rental (so convenient) and we met new friends at the hostel bar – a major plus, seeing as the social element is why I often choose hostels to begin with.
Vesterbro is Copenhagen’s “red light district,” once known primarily for its sleazy side: sex, drugs and crime. Although some of that still exists today (there were sex toy shops and a strip club on the same street as our hotel), the neighborhood has undergone an extreme makeover and today is filled with trendy restaurants, bars, and boutiques.
I spent my night in Vesterbro at the Andersen Hotel, a boutique design hotel with 73 rooms and suites featuring wallpaper, cushions and curtains by the Designers Guild. When researching hotels online, I knew I’d found my match when I came across the Andersen’s website, which says “Do you love to sleep late and eat breakfast when you want?”. This amazing nontraditional hotel attitude (late checkout, yes please!) combined with the fact that it was a design-focused hotel in Copenhagen’s most fashionable neighborhood instantly won me over.
The most popular Vesterbro attraction is Tivoli. The second oldest amusement park in the world, Tivoli has a fairy tale-like atmosphere, with thousands of lights strung above it, charming vintage-looking rides and pretty manicured gardens. If you’re not a fan of rides, Tivoli is also great for people watching. Grab a seat on the lawn, or a meal at one of its several restaurants. In the summer, there are popular live outdoor concerts.
At night, Vesterbro is the cool neighborhood to be out and about in Copenhagen. The main street, called Vesterbrogade, has quite a few bars and restaurants. For dinner, make a reservation online at Madklubben, a sleek spot that serves modern comfort food like burgers. While the restaurant is super trendy, its prices are actually accessible, for Copenhagen at least. It’s an ideal place to experience the modern Scandinavian dining experience minus the bank account-draining menu prices.
After dinner, you can head around the corner to Lidkoeb, a speakeasy serving cocktails that are treated like works of art by the bartenders. Prepare to spend all that money you saved at dinner here! The bar itself isn’t too hard to find: the name is painted on the wall of the alley you need to walk down to find it. The inside has a fireplace and is overall very cozy, an atmosphere most places in Denmark strive for. In fact, they’ve even come up with a special word for “cozy chic” – hygge (pronounced hoo-gah).
If you’re more of a beer buff, stop by Mikkeller Bar, a beer bar that everyone told me I had to go to. The bar was featured in a New York Times in a story about the brewer, Mikkel Borg Bjergso, and his creative approach to brewing some of the most unique beers in the world. He also has a publicized and kinda hostile rivalry going on with his twin brother, who actually has a bar in Brooklyn, New York called Evil Twin. Drama!!!
Mikkeller Bar is pretty sophisticated, not too bro-ey or hipster-y, and since it’s below ground level, you get the feeling you are tucked away in a little hidden, warm nook as people walk by outside (remember? hygge!). After leaving I found out on their website that they have a location in San Francisco too!
On the outer fringes of Vesterbro lies Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District, called Kodbyen (literally: Meat City). Among the functioning meat processing facilities, wholesalers, butchers and refrigeration trucks you might spot stylishly clad Danes heading toward one of the city’s quirky new bars or trendy restaurants. That’s because in an effort to revitalize the drab neighborhood, Copenhagen leased abandoned facilities to creative business, art galleries and restaurants & bars starting in the early 2000s.
When I read on VisitCopenhagen’s website that the Meatpacking District was the cool place to hang out, I envisioned something similar to NYC’s: cobble stone streets, lines of stiletto-wearing club-goers clustered around velvet ropes and flashy limos and cars pulling up with their wanna-be-VIP passengers.
But Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District is nothing like its New York counterpart. When we first stumbled upon it, we were confused. It was literally a meatpacking district. In the daylight, you actually could not tell that there was anything remotely entertaining going on here. But as we began to peer into the glass windows of each establishment, we realized that former meatpacking facilities had actually been transformed into bars (they were, during the day, closed).
The bars of Kodbyen turned out to be surprisingly affordable compared to the rest of Copenhagen. And the atmosphere was completely unpretentious: unless a place was at capacity, everyone was getting in – even those wearing sneakers. That’s right, in Copenhagen it’s chic to wear sneakers 24/7. After all, people are cycling to the club!
It’s easy to bar hop around Kodbyen so I won’t tell you which to visit, but for pre-going out dinner, here are two of my favorite nearby restaurants:
BioMio – In a converted Bosch warehouse dating back to 1920, BioMio is an airy, open space restaurant serving 100% organic, sustainable cuisine. There is a large, open kitchen where you can see your food being prepared by the chef. The fashionable set flocks here for healthy and innovative food in a chic atmosphere, so make sure you have a reservation on weekend nights. I especially loved the fresh ginger mint lemonade!
Mother – On a Saturday night, this Italian-owned place is literally hopping, with patrons spilling out into the street and the staff running around in a frenzy trying to find seats for all those waiting for a table. Mother seemed to be particularly popular with foreigners, as everyone was speaking English. Prepare to wait for a table here, but know that it’s worth it. Their famous pizza is *delicious.* I recommend the prosciutto! It was a little chaotic and seemed understaffed, so don’t go here if you’re in a rush. But if you are killing time before a night out and don’t mind having a few drinks while you wait, this is a very conveniently located spot with good people watching.
If you’re traveling on a budget to Copenhagen, Nørrebro is probably where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Immigrants, students, artists and other creatives all call this eclectic neighborhood home, and it’s becoming increasingly trendy as hipsters and young professionals move in (invade?). There aren’t as many hotels in Nørrebro as there are in more touristy areas, but there are quite a few affordable Airbnbs as well as hostels. I stayed at Sleep in Heaven, which isn’t as nice as Generator Hostel but was definitely clean and comfortable for a short stay. They even offered private rooms with queen-sized beds, which was a plus.
For breakfast, don’t miss GRØD, a tiny restaurant on Jægersborggade, a popular shopping and dining street. GRØD serves primarily oatmeal, and you can choose from several different options filled with nuts, fruit, etc. They cater to all types of dietary needs with lactose-free and gluten-free options. I had the gluten-free porridge with apples, nuts, and caramel and it was delicious. While you’re on Jægersborggade, there’s plenty to see. Make your way through the hundreds of bikes parked all over the street to check out all the little designer shops and boutiques.
Caffeine addicts: you can’t leave Copenhagen without trying a coffee at the famous Coffee Collective. There’s almost no room to sit inside this place, which is also on Jægersborggade. So you tell them your order, they make it in their giant fancy coffee machines and call you when it’s ready so you can take it to go or sit outside and sip on it. If you want some food with your coffee, Meyers Bageri is another well-known bakery across the street where you can get your fill of Danish pastries.
So what’s there to see in Nørrebro? On a nice day, you’ll find locals hanging out at Assistens Kirkegard, a cemetery. You’re probably thinking, who wants to hang out in a cemetery? Well once you see this one, you’ll understand: it’s one of the most beautiful green spaces in Copenhagen and is also the final resting place for some of Denmark’s most famous residents, including Hans Christian Andersen.
Copenhagen has a large population of Middle Eastern immigrants, and many of them live in Nørrebro. If you’re looking for tasty food on a budget, head to one of the neighborhood’s numerous Middle Eastern eateries. The local recommendation is usually Ahaaa. Their falafel is quite good and they have a huge variety of sauces and fresh ingredients that you can add to your pita sandwich.
Ahaaa is located on Blågårdsgade, a cool street to hang out on if you are spending your evening in Nørrebro. Just wander for a couple blocks and you’ll see there are plenty of packed bars and restaurants to visit for a fun night out. A short walk from Blågårdsgade is The Oak Room, a chic cocktail bar designed by award-winning Danish architect Kasper Rønn. The Oak Room serves some slightly fancier drinks and is a great place to start off your night. Just beware: most cocktails in Copenhagen surpass even NYC prices at around $18-$20 per drink.
A visit to Copenhagen wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Freetown Christiania, an autonomous hippie commune established in 1971 by a group who occupied some abandoned military barracks on the site and developed their own set of society rules. The neighborhood is a mix of houses (built by the residents themselves), workshops, art galleries, music venues, cheap and organic eateries and parks. A local rule prohibits photography, mainly due to hash dealing. You’ll see a sign of other “do’s and don’ts” as you enter, right underneath a banner that states “You are now leaving the European Union.”
All the stories about open drug use might make Freetown Christiania sound a bit scary, but when I went it was mainly tourists wandering among the hippies, with most people lounging around on the grass listening to live music. There is also a lot of cool street art, which makes pulling out your phone to snap a picture pretty tempting!
But I followed the rules, so I’ll sign off with another snap from Tivoli!