You won’t have to dig too deep to see why the Danish capital is called the happiest city in the world. Fathom editor-at-large Berit Baugher breaks down a long weekend in five parts.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark - With its idyllic canal-lined streets, world-renowned interior design, and innovative food scene, there’s a lot to be happy about in the charming Scandinavian city of Copenhagen. The city is particularly easy to navigate and most everyone speaks English, making it an exciting (but uncomplicated) long-weekend destination.
1. Spend Time on the Water
Copenhagen is practically surrounded by water, so it’s only natural that the city has a strong nautical vibe. Traditional canal tours are touristy, but also a wonderful way to get the lay of the land. Some companies will even let you drive a boat on your own. From late spring through summer, you will see locals swimming in the canals. Join in at one of the harbour baths (we like Islands Brygge) or visit a restaurant with a dock. We’re partial to La Banchina, a cozy sixteen-seat farm-to-table vegetarian and seafood restaurant with a stellar natural wine list and lively sunbathing scene.
2. Shop for Design Goods
Fans of Scandinavian interior design, will want to visit the Danish flagships for iconic local brands, like Royal Copenhagen, George Jensen, and Hay. For a more comprehensive collection of goods, there’s Illums Bolighus, a sprawling department store on the city’s main street that sells pieces from a range of Scandianvian designers across all price points. If it’s Copenhagen’s chicest design store you’re after, head to The Apartment, a one-room hotel/interior design shop with an irresistible and colorful “more is more” attitude.
3. Soak up Nature
Winters in Scandinavia tend to be cold and dark, so it’s no surprise that the Danes have an innate love of natural signs of life. Whether it’s a sprig of greenery in a vase or an afternoon spent reading on a park bench, they find a way to incorporate the great outdoors into the everyday. If you’re lucky enough to visit during one of the warmer months, take time to bask in the sun. Danes flocks to green spaces like Ørstedsparken, a traditional city park with a cafe, and Assistens Kirkegård, a gorgeous and historic cemetery where it’s not uncommon to see locals picnicking.
4. Eat Good Food
A certain Nordic restaurant blew up the Danish food scene in the early 2000s and it’s been drawing food-centric travelers ever since. If you don’t make it off the waitlist at Noma, you can always opt for a more laid-back Northern Sea-inspired meal in its former space at Barr. For something a tad more adventurous, there’s Alouette, an elegant fine-dining restaurant that cooks food over a wood-fired hearth in an old warehouse reached via graffiti-covered elevator. For a casual meal or snack, it’s impossible to go wrong with anything on the menu at Apollo Bar & Kantine. Set in the courtyard of an old palace off Nyhavn Canal, the tightly edited and ever-changing menu is made up of seasonal and local-sourced fare. Also worth a visit are two of Copenhagen’s most popular food markets. Reffen, a new multicultural street food market with over 54 food stalls, sits on a peninsula in the up-and-coming Refshaleøen neighborhood. Torvehallerne, which has more of a traditional market vibe, is equally delightful with its 60+ stands selling everything from smørbrød (Danish open-face sandwiches) to fresh fish and flowers.
5. Travel for Art
While there are plenty of quality art museums and exhibits in Copenhagen, the most exciting options are further afield. For a quick day trip, head to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in nearby Humlebæk. The most-visited museum in Denmark, which has works from Picasso, Warhol, and Calder in its permanent collection, is an easy one-hour train ride from Copenhagen Central Station. Travelers-in-the-know bring a swimsuit during warmer months and take a dip in the sound, which can be reached by a gate at the museum’s seaside lawn. Across the water in Sweden’s bucolic Skåne County, the medieval castle-turned sculpture park that is known as Wanås Estate has a new boutique hotel, a gourmet restaurant, and 100 acres of protected woodland dotted with contemporary sculpture art. By car, the drive is around two hours from central Copenhagen, but a train/taxi combo is also doable in a little over three hours. Take the train to Hässleholm and organize a taxi pickup through the hotel, which is a twenty-minute car ride away.
Where to Stay
Copenhagen’s hotel options range from old world mainstay Hotel D'Angleterre, to boutique properties like Hotel Sanders and Nobis Copenhagen. Earlier this year, Moxy Copenhagen opened in the city’s up-and-coming Sydhavnen neighborhood, filling a void with its affordable price point (rooms start at $110), stylish furnishings, and lively bar featuring beers from local breweries.