“It is warm work; and this day may be the last to any of us at a moment. But mark you! I would not be elsewhere for thousands.” – Horatio Nelson (at the Battle of Copenhagen)
The most striking occurrence of love at first sight I have ever known happened when I first set out to explore Copenhagen. It was the wrong time of year to be enjoying outdoor explorations in the Baltic – early February, the temperature was well below freezing, the wind was howling and it was basically dark for all but around four hours of the day. Work had taken me to Copenhagen, a place which – not fitting into the “tropical/exotic” box – my travel radar would not have otherwise detected.
Never one to pass up the opportunity to investigate, I wrapped myself up and set off to explore what was to be my city for the next eight weeks. I was instantly smitten. Despite the inclement conditions, the sky was blue. Brightest, cobalt blue. The shade of blue that only seems to occur in Scandinavia. The many coloured buildings glowed with a welcoming warmth despite the sub-zero temperatures. And the trafficless, stress-free centre of the city was abuzz with shoppers, buskers and street vendors. The weather didn’t detract from the café culture, or from the city’s cycling habits. The place was alive with people. I wandered the cobbled streets, breathed in the sea air, admired the architecture, drank the coffee, scoffed the pastries and marvelled at the most innovative buskers I’d heard in my life. To top off the day, I climbed up the Round Tower and witnessed one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen. There was no denying to which city my heart now belonged.
As soon as I was able, I engineered a permanent move. And while life anywhere is not without its ups and downs, I can safely say that more than two years in this beautiful city have not dampened my enthusiasm. I adore it more with each passing day. So, should you ever get the chance to visit, here are some of the things that have stolen my heart. Perhaps they’ll steal yours too:
1) Swimming in the Baltic. Let’s not even try to gloss over the truth here – it’s freezing. But so refreshing it washes all your cares away. Just a quick dip and you’re good as new. It’s like a stressful day never even happened. And the most wonderful thing? You can do this at Islands Brygge, in the very centre of town during your lunch break or in the middle of a day’s shopping!
2) Dinner at Tight. I’ll admit there’s some pretty pretentious dining in Copenhagen. But forget the likes of Noma, let your wallet heave a sigh of relief, and head straight for Tight to enjoy honestly presented, generously served, excellent quality, mouthwatering café food and the friendliest service in town. It’s unbeatable. Seriously.
3) Music, music, music. Copenhagen is a melodious place, there’s no doubt about it. From free Sunday concerts at the National Gallery and in the foyer of the Royal Opera House to two annual jazz festivals, a pre-season showcase by the Royal Theatre each summer in the Royal Gardens (bring a picnic and a comfy blanket and listen to/watch the coming season’s opera and ballet highlights) and weekly Friday evening rock concerts in Tivoli park throughout the summer, there’s musical entertainment in Copenhagen for all tastes and budgets.
4) Climbing to the top of Rundetårn at sunset. The photo above tells you all you need to know.
5) A leisurely bike ride north along the coastal road and a long walk in Dyrehaven (the Royal hunting ground). You can’t beat a bike ride north up Strandvejen to get a breath of fresh sea air, or a good hike round Dyrehaven to blow the cobwebs away. There are deer aplenty – if you’re early enough in the morning you can spot large herds of them. You couldn’t possibly feel further away from city life. And in the autumn the colours in the forest are magnificent.
6) Summer strolls near the Little Mermaid followed by fish and chips at Toldboden. Okay, so she really is Little. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard her described as “disappointing”. The clue is in the name, people! And anyway, don’t all good things come in small packages? Personally I find her enchanting. Wander down to see her on an early June evening. And while you’re at it, take in Amalienborg (the Royal Palace) and the Marble Church, and stop for posh fish and chips and a glass of something cold by the sea on the terrace of Toldboden. Take your time, watch the boats go by and make the most of those almost endless Scandi summer nights. Bliss.
7) The Boat Theatre – Bådteatret. Rather than visiting Nyhavn (the colourful canal that you see photographed in all the guidebooks and at the top of this post) the usual way, by walking up the north side of it and having an overpriced drink in one of the many pubs, I’d recommend an evening on the Boat Theatre. It’s permanently moored, has a wide variety of performances and makes for the ultimate intimate theatrical experience. You are literally lulled into whatever dramatic gem you’re watching by the gentle rocking of the boat, and the occasional creak of the timber reminds you you’re on the water. Performances here are often in English and are always a treat.
8) Standing in the “gods” at the Royal Opera House. The Danish Royal Opera House mixes Scandi minimalism with clever design and the most amazing light fittings you’ve ever clapped eyes on (see photo below). They Royal Opera Company has a packed and varied annual programme and is well worth spending an evening with. The fantastic thing is that you can get a ticket for a mere 195 DKK (about the price of two beers) to stand up in the “gods”, where you get a spectacular view and a comfy leaning post. And not to worry – you can have a seat in the interval while everyone else is stretching their legs. So no, a night out at the Royal Opera isn’t just for the rich and fancy.
9) Cocktails at Gilt. While a good old pint of Tuborg goes down a treat on most occasions, Copenhagen is fast becoming a city of cocktail drinkers. I’ve never known so many cocktail bars in one place . They range in style from sleek and minimalist, to underground and eccentric, through to gentlemen’s club-style lounges; they serve everything from classic whiskey sours and martinis to ginger and Thai basil infused champagne cocktails. My favourite of all (and I’ve tried a fair few) has to be Gilt. Hidden away behind an innocuous wooden door somewhere on the border between Nørrebro and Frederiskberg, Gilt is a gem: a classic, friendly, living-roomesque cocktail bar with a varied (but not overwhelming) menu, incorporating standard classics and some more original concoctions. Cosy and classy – what’s not to love?
10) Christmas markets and a glass of gløgg in Hviids. Let’s face it – the Scandis do Christmas like no-one else. Dark December days in Copenhagen are infused with light and life by sparkling illuminations, candles galore and plump, fluffy pine trees on sale at every corner. Little wooden huts spring up all over town selling yuletide goodies, and the general public makes a temporary emergence from hibernation to stock up on delicacies for julefrokost, buy armfuls of pressies, and bundle en masse into Hviids Vinestue – the oldest pub in Copenhagen – which ladles out the best gløgg in Denmark throughout the festive season. It’s strong stuff (gløgg differs from your average mulled wine in that it usually also contains a shot or two of schnapps) so make sure you grab a good shovelful of pebernødder (traditional little round ginger biscuits) to soak up some of the booze!