Besides design shops that look like they just waltzed right out of Instagram and thrift stores cooler than Janis Joplin’s closet, the Danish have whittled their way into hearts all over the world. From brands like ECCO, Mismo, and Georg Jensen, Denmark has managed to edge its way to the top of sleek and contemporary ‘normcore’ design – it’s no surprise the capital city of Copenhagen would reflect just that.
Embarking upon my 3 month European adventure I took advantage of Norwegian Air’s seriously cheap flights from the US to Scandinavia. My overnight non-stop flight cost me a whopping $350, which also included one checked item, an on board meal (meh), a hoard of inflight movies to watch and seat selection (hellooo giant emergency row window seat). Check out our other tips and tricks to finding the cheapest flights on the market. So even if Copenhagen isn’t your intended destination it’s absolutely worth a 24-hour layover along the way.
WHERE TO STAY: Nørrebro District
PRICE POINT: $$$
FOOD TO TRY: Smørrebrød
TIPPING: None but if service is excellent, 10%
EAT A SMØRREBRØD
After strolling through Copenhagen, one of the first things you’ll notice is that the Danes, even in jeans and a plain tee-shirt, are ridiculously good looking humans. Hello, yes tall, blonde blue-eyed Viking? I’ll take five, please.
By the time you check into your accommodations you’ll be hungry for a snack. Hit up one of the numerous cafes in the Nørrebro district for a smørrebrød, a Danish open-faced sandwich on buttered, rye bread. Keep in mind you’ll be paying anywhere between $12-15 for a sandwich, Copenhagen is mad expensive.
MEANDER THROUGH CHRISTIANIA
Meet the Ashbury Heights of Denmark. Residing on the island of Chrstianshavn lies Freetown Christiania, an abandoned military ground that was infiltrated by freedom seeking hippies in the 1970’s. Today there are over 850 residents who have claimed their independence from the Danish government. This is ever more evident by the wooden entry archway engraved with, “You are now leaving the EU (European Union)” and the reverse, exit side of the sign stating, “You are now entering the EU.” They implement their own laws and regulations based on consensus, police the area and employ the belief of collective ownership. However in 2012 after pressure from the Danish government, Foundation Freetown Christiania was created requiring the group to own most of the land and lease the rest to its residents.
Bordered by a spacious park with walking trails etched through woods with tranquil lake views, the main streets to Christiania are peppered by brightly painted homes built with anything from wooden pallets to corrugated metal shipping containers. On the main pedestrian paths, vibrant galleries and graffiti decorate the streets, a mom and pop hardware and grocery store are placed in the middle, and numerous beer gardens and food stalls welcome tourists and locals alike. Oh, and lots of cannabis (hence the strictly enforced “No Photos Allowed” rule).
TAKE A PEEK AT PUSHER STREET
While cannabis is illegal in Denmark, Pusher Street in the heart of Christiania has evolved as a vow of resilience and independence from the rest of Copenhagen. Here you’ll find stalls covered in camouflage (although against a backdrop of colorful warehouses not sure if it does much good) with vendors masked by bandannas and sunglasses selling anything from pre-rolled doobs to pot brownies. P.S. don’t buy the pre-rolled joints unless you want a mouth full of tobacco . The area is raided occasionally by Danish police and just a week after my own visit, an extremely rare shooting occured. So always keep in mind that although Christiania is largely a peaceful free-haven, it is still illegal to sell or consume marijuana.
MARVEL AT THE AMALIENBORG PALACE
Grab a tram to Amalienborg for a taste of decadence, a stark contrast from Christiania. With a collection of four white washed palaces, it marks the home for Danish royalty. Delight in the changing of the guard at noon, that occurs everyday between the military barracks by the Rosenborg Castle through the streets until reaching Amalienborg square.
PLAY TOURIST AT NYHAVN
If you happened to indulge in any of the Pusher Street offerings you’ll be craving a late lunch by now. As you novel past the rows of brightly colored 17th century townhouses lining the canal in the Navyhr District, you’ll get a taste of Copenhagen’s past. Once an area built as a gateway into the city for cargo and fishermen, the Navyhr district is constantly teeming with tourists, but don’t let that sway you from a visit. Word on the street is above the cafes and shops legal prostitution still continues to this day.
FILL YOUR STOMACH AT THE STANDARD
While I was exploring Nyhavn I met up with a nice Danish guy for lunch (AKA a straight up Viking) I had met a couple nights before. I should add he was also a chef so when we arrived at The Standard for lunch, stationed along the canal in all its Art Deco architectural glory, I figured this had to be good. I let my new friend do the talking and order for us, I figured chef knows best. He ordered us the Chef’s Special (could have guessed that one), meaning the real Chef would bring out three courses of whatever he wanted. But let me tell you, what came out next would be quite easily the best meal of my entire European adventure. I would try to explain the savory freshness of the luxurious yet simple dishes but it wouldn’t do it justice. You’ll just have to go taste for yourself.
P.S.: If you have a few hundred dollars to spare, please make a reservation (mind you months and months in advance) for NOMA and report back ASAP. Let me live vicariously through you at the No. 1 restaurant the world.
GET ARTSY FARTSY AT A LOCAL GALLERY
One of the best parts of traveling solo are the massive amounts of ridiculously suave and just blatantly cool people you’ll meet along the way. There were points in my trip that I actually felt socially exhausted from meeting so many people, something I never would have anticipated traveling alone.
One such rad ass person I met was an Aussie gal who also happened to be a sculptor on a travel grant. When she hits up a new city, one of the first things she does is look on social media for art gallery openings. Did you know art gallery openings typically offer FREE beer and food? As a lover of both art and food how did I not know this??? That said we walked on over to Galleri Nicolai Wallner analyzed, laughed, and admired the modern art exhibit while guzzling free Carslberg and sausages.
ENJOY A BREWSKI
Cap off the night with a brewski at Wessels Kro, one of Copenhagen’s oldest pubs opened in 1772. You won’t find much online about this establishment and if it wasn’t for the local Danes we had met earlier, we would have easily passed by without a second glance. A dark bar packed full of every type of Dane you could imagine, from young to old, hipster to construction worker off for the weekend, Wessels Kro had them all. Bypass the more touristy bars for a true traditional Danish pub experience like this one.
DON’T BE A DEAD BEAT
If you’re staying overnight in Copenhagen, even if it’s just for one night I highly suggest you stay in Nørrebro – a trendy district with cozy boutique cafes and shops dappled in Nordic design and culture. It wouldn’t be a complete trip to Copenhagen though if you don’t hang out at the Assistens Cemetery in Nørrebro after a brewski at the pub. The home of Copenhagen’s dead for 250 years, the cemetery is a popular hang out spot for Danish locals whether they’re relaxing during the day or headed home from the bars at night.Even though you must dodge swarms of aggressive bicyclers and it’s by far one of the most costly cities in Europe, the sense of welcoming you get in Copenhagen from the locals is unbound. It’s important to note, like many other Scandinavian cultures, the Danish uphold the Law of Jante – 10 rules that maintain no one person is better than another.
The ten rules state:
- You’re not to think you are anything special.
- You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
- You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
- You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
- You’re not to think you know more than we do.
- You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
- You’re not to think you are good at anything.
- You’re not to laugh at us.
- You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
- You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
While the Danish love to show off their home and its proud history and culture to visitors, there was an air of apprehension to outsiders who also wanted to call Copenhagen home. Although you won’t notice it right away, this set of Norse laws influence the disposition of the Danish by implying that in order to protect one’s happiness, you must be cautious yet humble.
And it may be hard for those from different cultures to truly grasp the social implications of the Jante Law; however, it may be because I was just a temporary visitor enjoying a small taste of Scandinavian culture, I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Europe.
Additional Things to Do:
- Tivoli Gardens
- Louisiana Museum of Art
- Botanical Gardens
- Rented a bike to ride around town
- Christiansborg Palace
- Carlsberg Brewery
- See deer in Jægersborg Dyrehave park