Travel Diary: Copenhagen
I absolutely love sharing tales of my travels with all of you, but sometimes it’s best to let the experts do the talking. After all, there’s nothing better than getting recommendations for a new city from locals (the entire premise behind Nectar & Pulse, one of my favourite travel resources that I’ve shared before here and here). So instead of giving you a play-by-play of my recent sojourn to Copenhagen, I decided to do a little Q&A with Maria Jacobsen-Holmes, a Copenhagen resident, history buff, and all-around force of nature, who was more than happy to share her thoughts on her favourite eats, activities, and Danish royal in her chosen hometown.
By day, Maria is a professional tour guide, confidently leading the way through the cobblestone streets of the city while throngs of eager tourists try and keep up with her quick wit and her long 6’ stride. By night, she’s a catsuit-wearing, crime-fighting bombshell – okay, that’s not even remotely true, but with her waist-length fiery red hair and her larger-than-life personality, she totally could be. She’s funny, smart, engaging, and endearingly enthusiastic about Copenhagen. She loves to eat, and, according to her, she’s completely irresponsible and impulsive with life’s big decisions. But then, isn’t that always true of the most interesting people you meet?
So Maria Jacobsen-Holmes, your accent sounds distinctly un-Danish. Where are you originally from?
How long have you lived in Copenhagen?
On and off for a while now. This spell I’ve been here for about a year but this isn’t the first time I’ve lived here. I tend to travel a lot with no permanent home, but Copenhagen is my base/home city. It’s awesome – the best city in the world.
When is the best season to visit Copenhagen?
For me it’s hands down summer, but I’m a huge sun-fiend. The weather is constantly changing here, so you can have lovely summer days perfect to swim in the sea, cooler days in which to be more active, and rainy days when you can justify spending your time in the city’s countless cool bars and cafés.
Where is your favourite place to spend an afternoon in the city?
I like art and history so personally I like spending time checking out the temporary exhibitions that I haven’t seen yet. My favourite places – with regularly changing exhibits – are the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (they always have incredible things going on in a stunning location) and the National Museum of Denmark (where they have really cool and interactive displays on various parts of Danish culture).
Where is the best food in Copenhagen?
This is a dangerous question to ask, since my list is pretty much endless. I’ll try and limit it, although I may get carried away. Copenhagen is a brilliant city for food.
Budget eat // Chilimili do delicious salads for super cheap, I like going with friends and getting a bunch to share and take out then heading to Tivoli Gardens for a picnic.
New Nordic food // BioMio. In fact, all the places in the Meatpacking District (in Vesterbro) are amazing but this is my favourite. The menu is small but always changing. I’ve been more times than is socially acceptable and never had anything I don’t like. It’s organic, fresh, in season, and amazing! Plus it’s a really chilled out atmosphere and the staff are always kind and welcoming.
Traditional Danish Food // Det lille Apotek – the place where Hans Christian Andersen use to drink! It’s cozy, the menu is full of all the traditional Danish food you can handle and, although it’s not the cheapest, the portion sizes more than make up for it.
New Nordic Market // Torvehallerne is a great place to try loads of different things. It’s always buzzing and on a sunny day you can sit outside at a picnic table and enjoy the square. My favourite stalls are the Coffee Collective for iced coffee (and all other coffee), Grød for delicious Danish porridge, and Brioche Dorée for more calories in cake form than is ever healthy.
Café // Paludan Bogcafé is cheap and cheerful with a lovely atmosphere, full of people tapping away on laptops. The food is delicious with generous portions and there is enough variety to please almost everyone. Oh and also The Living Room for the cozy seating – make sure to head downstairs or you’ll miss it.
Ok, one more and I’ll stop: Street Food Market – it’s SO good. So many stalls all with amazing food and the best gin and tonics in Copenhagen (reason enough to visit)! It’s slightly hipster but not quite (it’s still a really welcoming atmosphere). It’s also cheap, well cheap by Copenhagen standards at least.
What are the best places to shop?
For Danish design, department store Magazin du Nord is a good place to start. For something a little different I like wandering around Nørrebro, straight down Nørrebrogade and around the area closest to the lakes going down all the little side streets. There are a bunch of little boutique shops plus lovely cafés and bars for when you’re all shopped out. In the centre, there are three roads that make up a little area with quirky little shops and funky design that I love, they are: Studiestraede, Sankt Peders Straede, and Larsbjornstraede. You can shop til you drop!
What are the must-sees for visitors to Copenhagen?
This is always a tough question as it totally depends on personal interests, I would say modern art lovers should see either Louisiana or Arken. History lovers should see the National Museum. Those interested in alternative culture should make it to Istedgade, the Meatpacking District and Christiania. Those with regal taste should definitely head to Rosenborg and Frederiksborg. Park lovers should make it to Frederiksberg Park and Dyrehaven in Klampenborg. Hipsters should head to Dronning Louises Bro bridge to chill with beers, beards, and music. And everyone should see Tivoli, Tivoli is just loveliness defined.
Best way to see the city – by boat, by bike, or by foot?
Definitely by foot, best by taking a free walking tour, with yours truly, and tipping very well 😉 But seriously, by foot is best and probably the easiest way to explore Copenhagen’s centre. If you have a bit more flexibility, I’d say rent a bike and explore outside the city. If you’re super pressed for time, a boat tour is a lovely way to see the highlights in just an hour or two.
A very touristy spot that’s totally worth it?
In Copenhagen there are very few spots that are purely for tourists, in fact, there aren’t really any at all. Of anywhere, Nyhavn is probably the most touristy, but it’s so lovely and definitely worth a visit. The colourful houses, the lovely atmosphere. And if you don’t care to sit on one of the patios lining the streets, you can grab a beer at 7-11 and just hang out on the side of the harbour, enjoying the sun and watching the people go by.
A place to avoid.
Strøget (the shopping street) on a weekend. It’s a nightmare on busy days.
Three things you should know about Danish people.
1. The communication is a lot more direct than some places and can come across as a little blunt at first. But once you get used to it, it makes life much easier and communication happens a lot faster.
2. Get used to being told off by random strangers for breaking rules, usually crossing the street without the little green man walk symbol or talking in the silent zone on trains.
3. Gender equality here is leaps and bounds ahead of a lot of places. Gender stereotypes, objectification, and casual sexual harassment does not go down well here at all (and rightly so!).
Three things you should know about Danish food.
1. There are two kinds, traditional (usually meat and fish with potatoes and root vegetables) and New Nordic (organic, locally sourced, in season and innovative).
2. There is not only one kind of pickled herring, oh no, there is standard pickle, onion pickle, dill pickle, curry pickle and so much more!
3. Hot dogs are the only true Danish street food, and they are fantastic, delicious, addictive crap! (as all good junk food should be.)
The most important thing about culture in Copenhagen is…
There is a lot more than meets the eye, it seems small and quiet until you scratch the surface. It’s a buzzing and lively city with so much going on all the time. Every weekend brings a new festival or event, often more than one.
Where should you stay?
If you want to stay right in the heart of the city, Downtown Hostel is a cool spot with a lively bar area, great staff, and loads going on. A little further out, Vesterbro is a really cool area and Urban House is supposed to be pretty cool. In general, Copenhagen is really well connected, so an Airbnb anywhere near an S-train station will provide easy access to the city.
What should you bring back as a souvenir?
A tiny little mermaid sitting on a tiny rock. OR a super cool, neutral colour item of clothing with a non-conventional, yet amazingly fitting hemline.
Favourite member of the royal family?
Queen Margrethe II because she’s bad ass, smart, creative, and a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, but mainly for this quote: “I will remain on the throne until I fall off.”
Favourite Dane in history.
Oh that’s tricky! The one I love talking about, because of the dramatic stories, is Tommy Sneum, a pilot during WWII whose life story reads like a series of James Bond films. But then I also love Karen Blixen and Lars von Trier is pretty cool too. There are too many! This question is impossible. Oh, and don’t forget Bjørn Wiinblad – I just got one of his plant pots from my great aunt and was more excited than I’ve ever known anyone to be thanks to a plant pot.
When you’re packing for Copenhagen, be sure to bring…
Understated smart clothes. People don’t get dressed up for nights out here but they’re always fantastically put together. Smart casual is the look, and flats are more popular than heels, so spare your poor feet!