By Joëlle Koorneef
I am thrilled to write this Copenhagen City Guide for Almost Famous Writer. There is a very good chance that if you ever need travel tips to any big European city, I will have a ton of them ready for you. For me, traveling is a combination of planning and perfect coincidence. I can also get too excited in the planning process and will sometimes prepare a collection of twenty different addresses for coffee bars and a list of museum entry prices. However, you can’t plan everything, and no one ever experiences a city in the same way. That’s why I present to you my 5 days in the beautiful city of Copenhagen: do’s, don’ts and the things I wish I had done.
// Day one: dipping your toe in the water
You have just gotten to Copenhagen. My best guess is that you have arrived at Copenhagen Central Station or Nørreport Station. Transfers from the airport are perfect, but Copenhagen does not have a great underground or bus system like in London or in Paris. In Copenhagen you walk or you cycle! For a place to stay I highly recommend Copenhagen Downtown Hostel. It is very central and has a great atmosphere for socializing with fellow travelers. On my first afternoon I immediately joined a tour to Christianshavn with Copenhagen Free Walking Tours. The tour departs from Højbro Plads at 4 o’clock every afternoon. Maybe you’ll find Christianshavn oddly reminiscent of Amsterdam with the canals, the bikes, the occasional whiff of weed. The Paper Island at Christiansholm looks more like Katendrecht, my favourite place in gentrified Rotterdam, with the bicycle bridge, the food halls and the outdoor seating.
The walk ends at Freetown Christiania, where you are free to give your tour guide a tip and venture off into the Freetown by yourself. Christiania is an autonomous neighbourhood that was set up in the seventies. Even though selling and smoking weed is illegal in Denmark, this community has decided to live by their own rules. Visitors are more than welcome and join in on the Christiania lifestyle for an afternoon, but it is forbidden to take any photographs on your stay there. In August the Grey Hall, the largest concert venue in Christiania, has booked legendary slacker rockers Mac DeMarco and Ty Segall. I really, really wish I was there for those gigs. If you decide to inhale more than just culture though, be aware that you are living by the rules of Christiania, not Denmark’s rules.
// Day two: crossing off that tourist bucket list
Although Christianshavn is amazing, there are many cool sights in the inner city that are still left unexplored on your second day. Although everyone will tell you that the Little Mermaid statue is the most disappointing sight in Denmark, I can imagine that you still want to see it for yourself. You will be disappointed. Just behind the clouds of tourists gathering on the slippery stones to catch a glimpse of Copenhagen’s number one ‘it girl’ there’s the St. Alban’s Church. It’s a much more epic sight, with the Gefion Fountain just in front of it, picturing a badass Norse goddess in a carriage driven by animals.
Now that you have come all the way down here to get that mediocre post card picture on your phone, you might as well check out the start fortress Kastellet. Cross this island of The Citadel and have a walk in the green parks and even spot a windmill. Come back into the city through Bredgade and pass the Marble Church. It has an impressive dome, beautifully decorated when you look at in from the inside. Across the road is the Amalienborg Palace, where the Danish royal family resides. When you walk back down the boulevard you might be able to catch a glimpse of the Royal Yacht (I did, it was royal). At the Skuespilhuset they have lounge chairs by the water side where you can give your feet a little rest and enjoy the view of the Opera House and The Paper Island. Walk down the Havnegade and have a beer at the Mikkeler Haven Bar. This bar was set up and is co-owned by Aaron Dessner of The National, which is your random music fact of the day. If anyone knows how well sad songs and good beer go together, it must be him. Right outside the bar are some trampolines built into the boulevard, which I thought was really cool, and after a few beers you might want to take a jump there too.
// Day three: rose gardens and modern art
The reason I have not given any tips for breakfast or dining yet is because Copenhagen is expensive and I am cheap. One thing the Danish do well is giving you a good cup of coffee for the price that you are paying. Get a bathtub-sized coffee at Den Lille Gule, opposite of the Grand Teatret, an old-style cinema. I usually got myself a two-for-one cinnamon bun deal at a local Seven Eleven, because I am trashy and have no shame when I’m saving money. Take your buns and walk up to Kings Garden. You will pass the Round Tower and the Copenhagen Main Library. This neighbourhood seemed very good for fancy dining and drinking if you had friends or money, of which I had neither. On a lovely day you can spend many hours in these parks. The Botanical Garden has tropical plants and cacti galore. My absolute favourite spot of Kings Garden is at the rose arch with a view of the Rosenborg Castle.
On my way back I visited the St. Nikolaj Contemporary Art Centre. Their current collection surely isn’t everyone’s taste, but on a Wednesday you can check it out for free. Tasted art and now you want more? Good. Kunsthal Charlottenburg, on the other side of the colourful houses at Nyhavn, is free after 5 o’clock on wednesdays. Their collections tie into current affairs and they are much more political than any art museum I have ever been to. When I visited they had some very interesting stuff on whistleblowers and vigilantes, and the refugee crisis. After that you can decide to spend your evening playing board games at Bastard Café or enjoy Copenhagen Downtown Hostel’s happy hour from 8 to 9. If you decide to go out, bring your rich friends or make rich friends. Beer is liquid gold here.
// Day four: get lost (on a bike)
In my many years of traveling as a Dutch bike lover, I have raced through the streets of Bangkok, Sydney, San Francisco and London. Copenhagen is one of the most bike-friendly places in the world, so why would I skip out on cycling here? I took my rented red bike down to the other side of the water to Nørrebro. I spent most of my (slightly hungover) morning drinking coffee at Heimdalsgade 22. They had good coffee, cool records and plenty of art magazines. It was a trap for hipsters and I fell right in there.
Now that you’re in Nørrebro, don’t forget to visit Assistens Cemetery. Asides from being a cemetery where they still hold funerals, it is a beautiful park and a very peaceful spot for an afternoon stroll. Visit the graves of Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard, or if you’re like me, fail to find them but take a picture of the arrow pointing towards them. Der Grønne Sti is a beautiful cycling route that runs through this part of the city. Follow it down to Frederiksberg and cycle past the beautiful campus of the Faculty of Science of Copenhagen University. Then, to spice things up, get lost and cycle further than your map goes. You will think it is adventurous and fun, and it will be for a little while, but then you end up spending your day in parts of Copenhagen not even worth it to be put on the regular tourist map. So for now I will give you this tip: even though it sounds cute, don’t get lost in Valby. Find your way back to Visit Carlsberg. Once again, beer saves the day. You might decide to take a tour and do some beer tasting, or you just really want to get back to your hostel to take a nap. Cycle back to Vesterbro and make a mental note to have dinner here some time or to do some vintage shopping. Some other day, when you haven’t just cycled off the map.
// Day five: nosing around
Even though Copenhagen is a city that you can see in three or four days, adding a fifth day to your trip is not at all a waste of time. But if you are tired of the Danish I have heard that taking a daytrip to the Swedish city Malmö is worth your time. If you prefer to stay in the country, the city of Roskilde is not that far away. On my last day I was advised to go to the National Museum of Denmark. Although it was a morning well spent, it was not my favourite museum. The collections were very oddly structured, and did not make a lot of sense chronologically. I would recommend the Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket a thousand times more. There is a beautiful tropical garden in the centre of the building and they have an impressive collection of ancient sculpture as well as Danish landscape paintings. My favourite thing there was The Nasothek: a collection of a hundred lost noses that have crumbled off of the ancient statues.
The Glyptoteket is right next to Tivoli Gardens, so you might already hear the screams of people in the roller coasters. Tivoli’s entrance fee is already high enough, but on top of that you have to pay for all the rides individually. A trip to Tivoli can end up costing you a lot of money, just to have a little peek at some of the oldest amusement park attractions in the world. What might be worth your money though, is Friday Rock, which they organize on Friday evenings in the summer. By just paying the entrance fee you can see Lil Wayne and 5 Seconds of Summer perform there this August, if that’s your thing. Instead of spending your last evening in Tivoli, cross the Langebro bridge to Islands Brygge. Find a Netto or an Aldi to buy yourself a nice take-away sandwich and beer and settle down on the boulevard at Islands Brygge Harbour Bath. The boulevard is busy with local youths and has a lot of space for outdoor sports and even a little outside library. Islands Brygge is an awesome place to watch the city from a distance and to reflect on your time in Copenhagen.
By sharing my Copenhagen trip tips I hope to have convinced you to visit this awesome city this summer. These tips were all based on a low budget, so don’t let anyone scare you away from Copenhagen just because it is famous for being expensive. Go there, have a good time, and share my love for this city!