Copenhagen beyond the mermaid

When my friend and Copenhagen-resident Mariel asked me what I wanted to see in the city, I answered: “Anything really, apart from Tivoli and The Little Mermaid”.
Of course I wanted to wander along the oh-so-famous canals and I was definitely curious to check out Copenhagen’s alternative community Christiania, but I was also interested in  the “everyday life”. After having spent a few days in Copenhagen, I would say, it’s a pretty good place to live!

What to see in Copenhagen in 3 days

1.Start off with a canal boat tour

I know, I know, it’s the most touristy thing to do and I wasn’t really planning on doing it, but I blame my Danish friends! “You have to do a canal boat tour when you’re in Copenhagen” they said. “Seriously, Els, it’s something you can’t miss!” And I hate to admit it, but they were absolutely right! My canal boat tour took me along the brightly coloured houses of Nyhavn, the expensive neighbourhood of Christianshavn and the majestic Slotsholmen, home to the Christiansborg Palace and the Danish Parliament. And yes, it also passes “The Little Mermaid”.

canal boat tour Copenhagen Nyhavn

2. Rent a bike

Denmark’s capital is pure cycling heaven. Just like Amsterdam, bikes are the kings of the road here. To follow the old adage “when in Rome, …” your best option to get around is to follow the locals and rent a bike. There is no shortage of bike rental places and they are pretty good value too! Be aware that it isn’t all going to be your slow average Sunday cycle though. Some of the cycle paths are like proper “highways”, with different lanes, so you’d better know where you are heading for. Whatever you do: don’t stop all of a sudden in the middle of the cycle path, unless you want a rough encounter with one of the locals!

cycling copenhagen

3. Stay in Copenhagen’s hipster district: Nørrebro

If you want a slice of “real” Copenhagen, I’d advise you to stay in Nørrebro, an area that is a perfect mix between hipster haven and multi-cultural neighbourhood. No busloads full of daytrippers here, but instead parents bringing their kids to school or locals cycling to the nearest bakery.
THE place to go for your daily dose of “kanelsnegle” or “tebirkes” (that’s cinnamon and poppy seed rolls to you and me) is “Meyers Bageri”. On a Sunday morning, people are queuing outside! Head just across the street to “Coffee Collective” for what has the reputation to serve “the best coffee in town”!

The perfect place to eat your freshly-brought breakfast is Assistens Kirkegård, the nearby cemetary. Not the most obvious choice perhaps, but Assistens Kirkegård is nothing less than the Danish equivalent of the Parisian “Père Lachaise” , a place where famous Danes are put to rest. Not only that, the place also seems to double up as the perfect spot for sunbathing or a romantic date and it’s dog-walkers heaven. It’s a great place for reminiscing and aimless wanderings until you finally stumble upon the grave of Copenhagen’s most famous resident: Hans Christian Andersen!

There aren’t any “must see’s” in Nørrebro, but it does have a great selection of cool bars, eateries and independent fashion stores! Jaegersborggade, Blågårdsgade, and Rantzausgade are a few of the streets you should definitely check out. “Tjili Pop”, a bar with a cosy interior and nice craft beers, soon became my favourite place to hang out! And where else can you catch a documentary about James Brown projected on an empty basketball court?

4. Check out Copenhagen’s Latin Quarter: Pisserenden

Nørrebro is not the only trendy area of Copenhagen. Smack in the city center is the “Latin Quarter” or “Pisserenden”. Close to the university, the vibrant streets are filled with independent fashion labels, quirky cafés and tasty eateries. “Paludan Bog & Café” is THE place for Sunday brunch or for one of their delicious home-made ice-teas amidst thousands of books.
Like it more quirky? Venture inside “Bankeråt“: taxidermy seems to be the norm here, together with spooky lamps and eccentric toilets!

5.Copenhagen’s food markets

One of my favourite pastimes in Copenhagen was to stroll (and taste) around its food markets! Since restaurant “Noma” won two Michelin stars, there seems to be a new wind blowing through the Danish capital’s cuisine. Copenhagen has now definitely earned its spot on the international food map!

The most central food market is Torvehallerne: Spanish tapas, Danish smørrebrød, Japanese sushi: there are over 60 stalls selling everything from fresh fish to French wines. I was here on a sunny Friday evening, the place was heaving and the outside tables very much in demand! Not a bad way to start the weekend!

A maybe lesser known market, on the other side of the canal, is Papierøen. Jumping on the hype train of food trucks, the food seems to be even more international here than in Torvehallerne! Turkish, Korean, Italian and even Colombian: you name it, it’s there! Needless to say, the deck-chairs looking out over the canal are very sought-after on a summer’s day!
Update:  in 2018 Papierøen has been replaced by Reffen. The concept stays the same, but it is now situated a bit further north from where Papierøen was, on the industrial island of Refshaleøen, a place that was once one of the world’s largest shipyards!

6. Christiania

The alternative and most controversial neighbourhood of Copenhagen, Christiania,  was founded back in 1971 on the site of unused military barracks to create an alternative to mainstream culture. The people of Christiania developed their own set of rules, independent of the Danish government. Ideas of freedom, recycling and organic food were amongst the rules, but Christiania quickly got a reputation for its legalization of cannabis and hash commerce. On a regular basis, the police raids the place and threatens to close the area, but so far it is still holding up against mainstream society.  I went on a guided tour of Christiania, with one of its inhabitants, which was really interesting to learn a bit more about their rules and ways of life. I would however recommend to come back on another occasion as well, during the weekend for example to share a drink with the locals at one of the area’s music venues.

7. Hygge anyone?

The word “hygge” has literally invaded the bookshelves in the UK over the last few years. Cosiness, a feeling of well-being, a nice and warm atmosphere: a lot of different terms have been used to describe that truly Danish feeling, but none of them come close and “hygge” seems to be one of those terms you simply can’t translate. For me it meant enjoying a nice Danish beer in a cosy pub late afternoon. To you it might mean eating Danish pastries wrapped up under a blanket or having a romantic meal by candlelight in one of the city’s many restaurants. Whatever it means to you, you can be sure that Copenhagen will have it!

hygge Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a city on a human scale. The bikes, the numerous parks, the canals and the general way of living make for a very high quality of life! It’s a place I could see myself return to, over and over again! And who knows, maybe one day, I might venture as far as the Little Mermaid…

Looking for tours/products to make your trip easier. I can hardly recommend the following:

Have you been to Copenhagen? Do you like to see “everyday life” in a city or do you prefer visiting the “must see’s”?

7 Replies to “Copenhagen beyond the mermaid”

  1. Laura

    I liked the Nørrebro neighborhood. Like you said, there wasn’t really anything to see there specifically, but there were a lot of great places to sit down for a glass of wine, or to grab a taco from a food truck. It’s an interesting cultural blended neighborhood too.


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