1. The world’s hottest cuisine
Danish food once meant pickled herring and pork. No longer. Today it’s synonymous with cutting-edge restaurants such as Noma, which pioneered a style of cuisine based on local and seasonal ingredients and put Copenhagen on the culinary map. Having reopened at a new location in February as Noma 2.0, it is once again the hottest table in town. But the cuisine it launched, New Nordic, has long since spread across the city, transforming its food culture. Indeed, with 16 Michelin-starred restaurants – many of them opened by former Noma chefs – plus an array of top-notch bars, cafes and bakeries, Copenhagen is a foodie’s paradise. Even traditional dishes such as smorrebrod, the open-faced sandwich, have gone upmarket, while every Dane’s favourite fast food, the hot dog, is more likely to be organic these days.
2. Cycling haven
There’s no quicker way to feel like a local than to jump on a bicycle. After all, some 62 percent of residents use a bike to commute to work or school every day. Not only is cycling fun, healthy and sustainable, but it’s almost always the speediest way from A to B in the Danish capital. Copenhagen now has a 350-kilometre-long network of cycle paths, the majority of which are segregated from traffic, making cycling in the capital extremely safe. Throw in plenty of iconic cycling infrastructure, like the eye-catching Bicycle Snake cycle bridge, and it isn’t hard to see why Copenhagen is the world’s most bicycle-friendly city. (Sorry, Amsterdam.)
3. New brews
Just as Copenhagen’s food scene has been transformed in the past decade, so has its drinking culture. Long gone are the days when bars only served Carlsberg. The city has witnessed a revolution in craft beer, driven by local microbreweries like Mikkeller and To Øl. Today, you can find their imaginative beers across the city, such as at brewpub BRUS and barbecue joint Warpigs. Likewise, local liquor manufacturers Empirical Spirits and Copenhagen Distillery are pushing the boundaries of quality and flavour. Natural wine is all the rage in Copenhagen, too, with many foodies eschewing conventional wine for ‘juice’ made with hardly any intervention and fermented only with naturally existing yeast. In fact, there’s been a boom in bars, restaurants and shops selling only natural wine.
4. Fairy-tale parks
Founded in 1583, Bakken claims to be the world’s oldest amusement park. It’s surely pretty, set amid the bucolic woodlands of Jaegerborg Dyrehave, a deer park just north of Copenhagen. But the real jewel is the city’s other amusement park, Tivoli Gardens. Located in the city centre, Tivoli has attracted thrill-seekers ever since its launch in 1843, including fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney, who was inspired to launch his own theme park. While adrenaline junkies flock to white-knuckle rides such as The Demon – featuring fire-breathing dragons and fireworks – most visitors are charmed by Tivoli’s impressive buildings, pretty gardens and spectacular lights, especially at nighttime.
5. Art from past to present
From the classical to the contemporary, Copenhagen’s galleries and museums showcase art to suit every taste. The National Gallery of Denmark boasts paintings by pre-eminent Danish artists such as Vilhelm Hammershoi, while the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek has a charming winter garden and a spectacular collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. Copenhagen’s meatpacking district and northern suburbs are home to several contemporary art galleries, while the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, north of the city, houses a world-class collection of 20th-century art and sculpture.
6. Asymmetrical architecture
It may lack world-famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty, but Copenhagen’s skyline is dotted with impressive examples of contemporary architecture, especially along its waterfront. A case in point is the Black Diamond, an eye-catching extension of the Danish Royal Library. Completed in 1999, the building gets its nickname from its black granite cladding and parallelogram shape. South of the city centre, meanwhile, are some of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels’s most iconic buildings, including the Mountain Dwellings, distinguished by their terraced roof gardens, and 8 House, a large residential complex shaped like the figure eight.
7. Harbour swims
Don’t forget your bathing suit: Copenhagen has cleaned up its harbour and made it safe enough for swimming. In fact, there are now four official Harbour Baths, which throng with swimmers and sunbathers during the summer. When it gets colder, you might even spot a few courageous winter bathers. And there are plenty of other spots for taking a dip in the harbour. One of the most popular is the pontoon outside La Banchina, a trendy restaurant with its own mobile sauna. Also popular with locals is the city’s 4.6-kilometre stretch of beach. And if you’d prefer to stay dry, spend a few hours puttering around the harbour in a Go-Boat: they’re solar-powered, easy to pilot and a delightful way to see the city.
8. All that jazz
Copenhagen has long been one of the jazz capitals of the world, a reputation bolstered in the 1950s and 1960s, when American jazz musicians such as Ben Webster, Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon flocked to the Danish capital. And its annual jazz festival still draws global fans. Audiences today can catch a show most nights of the week at venues such as Jazzhus Montmartre, where Getz and Gordon performed, and contemporary spots like Gaarden & Gaden, a restaurant in the trendy Norrebro neighbourhood. But the oldest and cosiest spot in town is La Fontaine. Famous for its Sunday night jam session, it once hosted a late-night set by Lady Gaga.
9. Mid-century design
Devotees of Danish design will be in heaven: high-end shops such as Illums Bolighus sell furniture designed by mid-century giants such as Arne Jacobsen and Finn Juhl, while boutiques like Hay House offer a stylish range of contemporary Danish design for the home. All the iconic pieces are on display at Design Museum Denmark, including a permanent exhibition solely about chairs.
10. Hygge life
Doubtless you’ve heard that the Danes are consistently ranked among the world’s happiest people. As well as their country’s low levels of inequality and high levels of trust – lose your wallet and chances are someone will return it – Danes point to their healthy work-life balance. Then there’s the Danish concept of hygge, a way of living that’s been trending globally in recent years. It means cosiness or conviviality, and you can experience it in the laid-back capital by picnicking in one of its parks, say, or by cosying up to someone in a candlelit cafe. That warm, fuzzy feeling? That’s hygge – or what Meik Wiking, head of The Happiness Research Institute, calls the ‘overlooked ingredient in the recipe for Danish happiness’.