Melanie Haynes grew up listening to her grandfather’s romantic tales and memories about his time spent in Copenhagen when he was in the Royal Navy. Coming from the little girl who, at the time, had an imaginary pet unicorn, she remembers how “it sounded so magical!” Though she was born in Kent, England, Denmark’s capital has been Melanie’s and her husband’s home for the past decade — and the place they’ve raised their five-year-old son. Melanie works as a freelance communications specialist and enjoys exploring the city in her off-time, blogging about her findings and working on her book about how to have a positive relocation experience, which she knows a thing or two about firsthand. To her, home is where the heart is, and Copenhagen has full grasp of her heart for the time being. Today, she’s thrilled to share her take on this vibrant city, bursting with culture and diversity. –Sabrina
I have lived in Copenhagen for nearly a decade and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else at the moment. As a capital city, Copenhagen is very compact with distinct neighborhoods. The tourist sites can be walked to and seen in just one day, but you could equally spend a week exploring each of the outer neighborhoods of Vesterbro, Nørrebro and Frederiksberg to get a more authentic experience of the city.
The thing I love most about the city is its vibrancy. There are new cafes constantly opening and street markets springing up — sometimes it’s hard to keep up with everything, but that’s what makes Copenhagen so special. As the summer begins, everyone is getting out and enjoying the city; on pavement cafes, in the harbor or just hanging out with a barbecue on one of the many urban beaches.
Many of my favorite places to eat are run by local entrepreneurs. It’s so nice watching their success and progress, making for an amazing story behind the business rather than a corporation.
Leckerbaer is a small bakery and coffee shop which opened early in 2015. Run by two chefs whose passion is pastries, this cozy little place sells various kinds of small delectable biscuits, cream puffs and madeleines, and wonderful coffee. The biscuits are beautiful and taste even better than they look, if that’s even possible.
The Danes love porridge, so the growing success of a small chain of porridge cafes in Nørrebro (and also in Torvehallerne, the covered market) should come as no surprise. If you’re looking for a suggestion, choose the first item from their menu (porridge with their homemade caramel sauce, crisp apples and almonds) and arrive at porridge heaven! They also cater for gluten-free diners.
Copenhagen may be the last place you would expect to find Bánh Mì (Vietnamese baguette sandwiches) but the trend seems to have caught on here. The pioneer of this was Nickie Mydung who opened her first Bánh Mì cafe in leafy Frederiksberg. It has been so successful that they opened a second location in the city center. Both places are always packed, but once you have tasted her signature dressings and sandwiches you’ll know why.
Serenity Cupcakes is a dainty oasis in the city center and (one of) the only cupcake cafes in the city. The feminine interior is the perfect backdrop to enjoy the beautiful cakes served on Royal Copenhagen china.
This little bakery and cafe in the trendy Guldbergsgade area in Nørrebro serves the best croissants I have tasted outside of France. The cafe is also super stylish and the restroom has to be the most beautiful one I have ever been in — and that is saying something in Copenhagen.
This cafe and bar in hip Vesterbro is one of the oldest and coolest cafes in the city. Located in an old pharmacy building, this cafe is often described as the place where dreams are made. The morning breakfast buffet is also pretty good. Overall, it’s the perfect depiction of what trendy Vesterbro is all about.
The avocado open-face sandwich in this city center cafe is Instagram gold, and the taste lives up to the hype. It gets busy very quickly, offering extra seating canteen-style on long wooden tables, but the atmosphere is both lively and cozy at the same time.
The beer served in the Mikkeller bars in Nørrebro and Vesterbro are the result of a math and physics teacher’s experimentation with beer-making in his kitchen, which has now become world-renowned. The bar aims to offer cool places for beer enthusiasts to enjoy unique and developing beers.
If you are looking for a stylish evening, enjoying a glass of champagne whilst watching the sunset set over Sweden and Copenhagen, the Sky Bar at the Bella Sky is the place for you. It is located in the new area of Ørestad, a short metro ride from the city.
Summer sunsets are a late and breathtaking phenomenon in Copenhagen and another perfect place to enjoy them with a drink and a plate of impossibly delicious sushi is the Sticks & Sushi restaurant on the top floor of the Tivoli Hotel. It offers views over the harbor and out across the whole city, perfect in the golden hour.
This is actually my local neighborhood bar, offering a wide and carefully chosen selection of Nordic beers and cocktails. There are a lot of libations to try, and to help you out with this, they offer a tasting selection of five beers, a great way to try new and strong beers without a huge commitment (or hangover).
Danish fashion is generally very stylish and monochrome, but there is also a love of vintage and quirkiness. Prag is one of the biggest vintage shops in the city, with two outlets in Frederiksberg and Nørrebro. If you want to take home the perfect Sarah Lund-inspired sweater or colorful tutu, this is the place for you.
I love this interiors shop located on Værnedamsvej on the border of Frederiksberg and Vesterbro. It is run by two women with two distinct areas of taste. One is in charge of selecting the best of current Danish design and the other brings in selected vintage mid-century items. The perfect places to pick up that unique Danish souvenir.
Located just around the corner from Dora is my favorite book store in the city. Whilst a lot of the books are in Danish, the owner has carefully selected the best translations of Nordic fiction so English-language readers can enjoy them. They also sell coffee table magazines and The Oak: The Nordic Journal is a great one to take home to get a real feel of what is new in Scandinavian culture.
The Danes are crazy about interior design and love to brighten up their white apartments with interesting art and ornaments. Everything in this shop is beautifully curated and selected in color-coordinating displays. The shop was the dream of one of the current owners, who sat in the cafe opposite, Bang go Jensen, and longed to make the empty shop across the street into the beautiful place it is now — that was 18 years ago.
This is another favorite shop of mine in the city selling vintage interiors. Lea, the owner, searches flea markets in Sweden to find the most perfect mid-century and vintage items. Another place to find that unique and perfect item for your home.
It is notoriously expensive to stay in Copenhagen, so Airbnb is the perfect option and allows you to stay in some of the more interesting parts of town and live like a local for a while. Many places are like stepping into the pages of a design magazine.
The Admiral Hotel in the harbor is perfectly placed to enjoy the city center; housed in an 18th-century harbor side warehouse, it offers amazing views of the harbor and is a short walk from the Little Mermaid and Nyhavn, the colorful historic harbor side.
This trendy boutique hotel is a little further out of the city center but offers beautiful Danish designed rooms and they recently added photography on the walls throughout the hotel by some renowned local Instagrammers.
Another budget option with locations all over the city is the Cabinn chain. The rooms are styled on ships’ cabins and are fairly compact to say the least, but they offer super comfortable beds, fast wifi in all the rooms and generally quiet locations.
Another budget option is the Wakeup Copenhagen located a short walk from the main station and with amazing views of the harbor. You can book a basic room and upgrade to be higher up the hotel and to get better views.
Tårnet (the tower at Christiansborg)
The tower at the parliament building, Christiansborg, has recently been opened to the public and gives amazing views over the historic part of the city.
This Gothic, cathedral-scale church is located a short bus ride from the city center and is a breathtaking sight both inside and out. The nearby cemetery has the best display of cherry blossoms in the city in the spring.
A new street food concept in the harbor offers an enormous amount of choices and its outside seating offers amazing views of the city across the harbor. Go for the twice fried (in duck fat) chips at Copper and Wheat.
Copenhagen is sometimes referred to as an architects’ playground with the likes of Bjarke Ingels’ work everywhere, and the new developments in Ørestad are a perfect example of this. 8Tallet or the Eight House is a must-visit for fans of modern architecture, but remember to be respectful to the residents.
There are three outdoor swimming pools in the inner harbor where, in the summer months, you can swim in the clean harbor waters, unthinkable 15 years ago. Be brave and dive in!
My extra favorites
In 2011 a new covered market, Torvehallerne, opened in the city center and it is one of my favorite places. It offers the best examples of Danish food (and more) and is a foodie’s paradise.
Walking around Nørrebro
I can recommend a walk from Assistens Cemetery in Nørrebro (where you can see Hans Christian Andersen’s grave) down Jægersborggade, a trendy street packed with interesting shops, cafes and restaurants and then right onto Stefansgade, the latest street to be hit with the trend stick. Favorites on Stefansgade are Good Life, a cafe cum vinyl record shop and Cafe Lille Peter, one of the oldest “brown pubs” (pubs that allow smoking) in the city for old-time atmosphere. Mikkeller, above is on this street.
Image above: by Rochelle Coote