Copenhagen has quickly climbed up my list of favorite European cities. Having visited over the summer for their annual gay pride and then again this winter, I’ve discovered that the city has enough going on to make it one of Europe’s best destinations, and probably my favorite city in Scandinavia (sorry Stockholm). A city famous for its alternative culture, its arts scene and an easygoing, friendly way-of-life, Copenhagen has a lot to offer. The Danish people have been ranked as the world’s happiest and Copenhagen called the world’s most livable city. A lot of praise for a small European capital city, but after spending several weekends exploring the insider secrets and tourist hotspots, it’s obvious that Copenhagen is more than just cool. It’s one of those special cities full of life and energy that permeates not just the things to do, but the entire ethos and city culture.
To really see Copenhagen, book yourself a long weekend. Start your first day exploring Copenhagen’s main tourist sites. A Copenhagen Card gives you access to many of the city’s museums and attractions, plus free transportation on the bus, train and metro. But really, one of the best attractions in Copenhagen are the canals and waterways. Either book yourself a boat tour or catch one of the water taxis part of the public transportation system. The Nyhaven part of central Copenhagen was the one-time district famous for its go-go dancers and rowdy bars full of sailors. Today there’s a number of trendy restaurants, cafés and bars. A short walk north of the Nyhaven neighborhood and you’ll find your way to what’s Copenhagen’s most famous attraction: The Little Mermaid. Famous from the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, she’s located just a few steps into the water. A lot of travel guides like to point out how “disappointing” the monument is, but give it a chance because it really is quite a nice sculpture—even if there’s a bunch of industrial buildings visible on the opposite shore.
Nearby, the Design Museum in Copenhagen has a unique collection of Danish artifacts from fashion, furniture and arts & crafts movements. On until January 31, 2016, the museum is showcasing the award-winning MINDCRAFT15 works by Danish artists and designers. There’s also a nice shopping district nearby, centered around the Magasin department store.
Another one of Copenhagen’s most famous tourist attractions is the Tivoli Gardens—the world’s oldest amusement park. Located in the center of the city, it’s open late during the summer with beautiful flowers in-between the different rides, restaurants and games. In the winter, the park opens up for Christmas with picturesque decorations and lights throughout the entire park.
Copenhagen’s gay nightlife is largely concentrated along Studiestraede, a street in center of the city around the corner from city hall. The bars may be small and numbered, but the community is largely friendly and diverse. Denmark has long been an open and gay-friendly destination, and the summertime Copenhagen Pride draws in thousands of tourists each August. One of the more interesting gay bars in Copenhagen is Centralhjørnet, located on a corner opposite the City Hall and hosting a number of live events throughout the year. For up-to-the-date gay travel tips for Copenhagen, check out the city-run official Facebook page, Gay Copenhagen.
Start your second day in Copenhagen by getting out of town! Seriously. One of the world’s best contemporary art museums is located just a short 30-minute train ride north. You can buy a combined museum & train ticket from the ticket office in the central train station. The scenic ride up the Øresund coast is easy, and then it’s just a short walk from the station to the Louisiana Museum which hosts international exhibitions, artists talks and concerts. In the summertime, you’ll find the open grounds and sculpture gardens perfect for a stroll (though it was still very pretty on the cold winter day I visited), with a surprisingly relaxing view out to Sweden on the opposite coast. Currently, the museum is hosting an exhibition on the works from Yayoi Kusama—great for selfies, but really an incredible artist who often featured LGBT rights as part of her weirdly interactive exhibitions in NYC during the 70s and 80s.
After a few hours at the Louisiana Museum, make your way back to Copenhagen and head straight for the Torvehallerne—a food market hall popular with tourists and locals alike. A mix of wine bars, trendy cafés and small bistros, it’s a great place for an affordable meal. Copenhagen’s other best place to eat is the Copenhagen Street Food market, open year-round in a warehouse by the harbor with 30 different vendors selling everything from Moroccan to Mexican foods.
Two days in Copenhagen is pretty good to see the main sights, though if you want a leisurely holiday, there are plenty of other great museums and restaurants worth exploring. The café culture is alive and well in the city, with countless coffee bars. From Copenhagen, it’s easy to make your way across the bridge into Sweden—straight to the Malmö city center in under 40 minutes. Malmö’s best attractions are its parks—pretty even in the winter. The city is even often referred to as the “city of parks.” Take a walk through Kungsparken and Slottsparken where you’ll spot different gardens, a windmill and even one of the city’s museums, the Malmö Museum. Skip that museum, though, and instead head over to the Modern Museum, part of the same collection in Stockholm and with an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art.
If you’re looking to relax, Sweden’s famous for its spas. But be warned that in the winter, it’s common to visit the spas along the freezing cold waters of the coast and occasionally jump into the water between sessions in the spa. Too cold for me, personally, so if that’s not your style, head to some of the trendy cafés and restaurants around Malmö’s charming old town square, Lilla Torg, where you’ll find a Christmas Market in the winter. Warm food and good coffee are the norm in Sweden, especially during the ritual afternoon fika—an easy pastime to pick up even on a short weekend!
The Copenhagen Airport is located on an island almost exactly between both Copenhagen and Malmö, making it a convenient point of entry and exit for a holiday to both cities. Read more about Copenhagen on travelsofadam.com.
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WHAT TO DO: Design Museum Denmark, designmuseum.dk; Louisiana Museum, louisiana.dk; Torvehallerne, torvehallernekbh.dk; Get the Copenhagen Card, copenhagencard.com, for easy access to additional sights.
WHERE TO STAY: Radisson Blu, radissonblu.com — Located a short 15-minute walk to the city center, it’s a convenient location which has excellent views over the Copenhagen skyline.
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WHAT TO DO: Kungsparken and Slottsparken; Moderna Museet, modernamuseet.se; Lilla Torg, old town square
WHERE TO STAY: Park Inn Hotel Malmö, parkinn.com – Located on the outskirts of the city, the Park Inn has views out to the sea and is near the famous Turning Torso Building, a neo-futuristic skyscraper and the tallest building in the Nordic countries.
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Disclaimer: I was hosted at the Radisson Blu and Park Inn Hotels during my stay. Both properties were slightly outside of the city center but still centrally located.