Founded in the 10th century as a Viking fishing village, Copenhagen became the Danish capital in the 15th century, cementing its status as a regional centre. Gayatri Bhaumik goes north to explore a city where cutting-edge design meets living history with a healthy dash of Scandinavian nonchalance.
Scandinavians are known for their slick, minimalist designs, and while from outside Hotel Skt. Petri (Krystalgade 22; +45 3345 9100; www.sktpetri.com) a Design Hotels property, looks like an unassuming industrial block, inside, it’s a cocoon of Danish cool. Expect clean lines, smooth curves, and quirky light fixtures on a white background, with Danish Artist Per Arnoldi’s signature cool blues and vivid reds enlivening the 268 rooms and suites. This former 1930s department store, a favourite of visiting stars like Pharrell Williams, is hot property, so check into the Star Suite – a fully-loaded penthouse with a cosy sitting area, wraparound balcony, and Jacuzzi and leave time for Restaurant Petri’s sumptuous buffet breakfast or a tipple at Bar Rouge.
The ideal pied-à-terre for boardroom-brawling visitors, the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel Copenhagen (Amager Boulevard 70; +45 3396 5000; www.radisonblu.com) sits just outside the city centre, and at the heart of its business district. One of the tallest buildings around, the hotel boasts 455 well-appointed rooms that meld modern minimalist aesthetics with natural elements. Gourmet travellers will enjoy international cuisine at the property’s three restaurants – European at Mamas & Papas; Japanese at Restaurant Kyoto; and Thai at The Blue Elephant – while punters can try their luck at Casino Copenhagen, the city’s only gambling den.
Edging into Tivoli, the fantastical gardens and amusement park that inspired Disneyland, is the Moorish-style palace that is Nimb Hotel (Bernstorffsgade 5; +45 8870 0000; hotel.nimb.dk), a sexy, intimate hotel of just 17 individually designed suites. In each, you’ll find antique furnishings, Geismar linens, Bang & Olufsen technology, and luxury AESOP bath products – most also have open fireplaces. Settle into the Executive Suite, which boasts 133sqm of unfettered luxury, including a separate bedroom and dining area, a sunken lounge, and a private balcony with unique views over Tivoli. Guests are also spoilt with a host of bars and restaurants, including Terasse, Tivoli’s oldest restaurant, the ever-popular Bar n’ Grill, and the Vinotek, an understatedly chic wine bar.
Noma might be the hottest eatery in town since being ranked ‘world’s best restaurant,’ but skip the months-long waiting list and book a table at the Michelin-starred Kodbyens Fiskebar (Flæsketorvet 100; +45 3215 5656; www.fiskebaren.dk). The hip, industrial-esque restaurant in Copenhagen’s meatpacking district is the brainchild of exnoma sommelier Anders Selmer, and serves up seriously fresh seafood and fine wines in a space that’s all concrete floors and tiled walls, with a 1,000-litre aquarium as an eye-catching centrepiece. Quality, sustainable ingredients from local producers is the focus here, so order up a serve of oysters from the raw bar, and the Limfjorden mussels steamed in apple cider and garnished with herbs.
There are several outposts around the city, but Madklubben Bistro-de-Luxe (Store Kongensgade 66;+45 3332 3234; www.madklubben.dk), in the heart of the city, is the original. The unfussy, restaurant features seasonal menus boasting dishes inspired by the Danish kitchen and bursting with fresh, local ingredients. Highlights of the one to four-course menus include fried langoustines with cauliflower and lobster soup; deconstructed apple pie; and The Irresistible, coffee spiked with 23-year-old Ron Zacapa rum served with petit fours.
Opened in 1877, Schønnemann (Hauser Plads 16; +45 3312 0785; www.restaurantschonnemann.dk) is one of Copenhagen’s oldest eateries, and the rustic restaurant still features original wooden ceiling beams, tall oak panels, fustian-upholstered seating, and sand on the basement floor. Once a favourite with local farmers, politicians and high-rolling businessmen now flock here to indulge in an extensive menu that includes everything from herring and chicken to eel and tartar, although smorrebrod – the traditional Danish open-face sandwiches – is the house special. The restaurant is lunch-only, so book ahead for a lingering meal, and finish with a chilled shot of one of the 130 snaps and aquavits on offer.
A city legend, Jazzhus Montmartre (Store Renegade 19A; +45 3172 3494; www.jazzhusmontmartre.dk) is an intimate jazz venue where greats like Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, and James Brown have taken the stage. The room is dominated by the stage – wreathed by rich, red drapes – and patrons are seated at tables ideally placed to catch the performance. Music lovers can dine early on ever-changing three-course menus inspired by Italian flavours, before catching the performances at 8pm.
Recently reopened, The Jane (Gråbrødretorv 8; +45 2613 4510; www.thejane.dk) is a sprawling nightclub and bar where Mad Men’s Don Draper would have sipped whiskey had he ever ended up in Copenhagen. The dark, sexy space is decked out with leather chesterfields and dark wood panelling, and boasts a fireplace and large wood bar in the main room – but adventurous guests will find that the old bookshelves that line the walls may just open to reveal hidden doors leading to other bar areas. Order the award-winning North Sea Lemonade, a tropical, crisp drink bursting with Nordic flavours, and brood over your next killer ad campaign.
A cozy bar in the city centre, Bar 7 (Studiestræde 7; +45 3211 1771; www.barsyv.com) feels like a sophisticated house party. Creatively divided areas featuring different design aesthetics, old-school TVs propped in corners, and an eclectic mix of furniture somehow come together to make you feel like you’re at a friend’s house – although most friends won’t have a glass-top grand piano or seven-metre bar in gleaming wood lying around. Settle into a conversation-conducive corner, and order a tipple from a drinks list that features innovative cocktails like The Kester, an indulgent concoction of exclusive tipples like Richard Hennessy Cognac and Gordon’s Orange Gin.
For a different perspective, head to the famous harbour area of Nyhavn and jump aboard one of Canal Tours Copenhagen’s (Nyhavn 3; +45 3266 0000; www.stromma.dk) big sightseeing boats to explore the city from the water. On the one hour cruise through the waterways, you’ll see the Little Mermaid statue; the Opera House; Christiansborg Slot and Amalienborg Slot, the two royal castles currently in use; the Old Stock Exchange; the Royal Danish Playhouse, Our Saviour’s Church; and the National Museum of Denmark, amongst other sights of interest.
The most engaging of Copenhagen’s many castles is Rosenborg Slot (Øster Voldgade 4A; +45 3315 3285; www.dkks.dk), an utterly atmospheric, gothic castle built in 1606 as a country summerhouse for King Christian IV. The historic fort now houses a plethora of royal memorabilia, including the kings’ coronation chair, the queens’ throne, and collections of art and artefacts, but the biggest draw lies in the basement, which houses the Crown Jewels, and the Danish Crown Regalia. Make sure to pack a picnic and spend an idyllic afternoon in Kongens Have; the ‘King’s Garden’ is Denmark’s oldest royal garden, and one of the most picturesque.
The magical fairy tales of Denmark’s most famous author were a part of many childhoods, and the ‘Walk in the Footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen’ itinerary by Copenhagen Walking Tours (+45 4081 1217; www.copenhagenwalkingtours.dk) offers an inside look at the city as it was when Andersen was resident. Explore 19th century Copenhagen’s crooked backstreets, quaint buildings, alleys, and secret courtyards; see old landmarks like the Tivoli Gardens, the Cathedral of Copenhagen, and the Round Tours; and get inside tips on local favourites, all while quickly orientating yourself in the city.