Esquire’s travel correspondent Tom Barber cosies up to the Danish capital.
Reach into your mental filing cabinet for the folder marked Copenhagen and the chances are the information therein might be a little thin on the ground. A snippet about the world’s best restaurant, Noma? A grainy image of bleak cityscapes in The Killing? Maybe a moth-eaten memo on the Little Mermaid? That’s about it for most people, but to paraphrase one of Denmark’s finest exports, for me, for now, Copenhagen is probably the best city in the world.
The city is completely at ease with itself and offers the weekender serious gourmet dining, shopping for cutting edge designer goods, excellent nightlife and, particularly in midwinter, an all-enveloping sense of hygge – which is easiest translated as ‘cosiness’. A means the locals have developed of making the best of the dark winter months, while you may not be able to put your finger on it, hygge is everywhere in Copenhagen – from the candle-lit restaurants to the snug subterranean bars – making the whole city even more alluring.
Because even the most cynical types will feel warm, fuzzy and full of Christmas spirit in Copenhagen at this time of year. In particular, visit Tivoli Gardens, the most tasteful funfair in the world, or the charming harbour area of Nyhavn, with it’s brightly painted waterfront houses, for the Christmas market (11 November to 22 December), food stalls and stands selling festive gløgg, the wonderfully named Danish version of mulled wine fortified with yet more akvavit. If you hadn’t clocked it by now, the Danes do good grog.
1 | Stay
Hygge in practice, the Nimb Hotel is small and beautifully formed with only a handful of rooms (mostly suites) in a building that’s a dead ringer for the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Interiors are a little less OTT with the emphasis on a blend of elegant antiques and modernist furniture, which the Danes do so well. Add a superb wine cellar, Michelin-star restaurant (Nimb Louise) and the perfect location (right at the centre of town) and this is the place to rest your head.
Time for a smørrebrød, the Danish equivalent of tapas, consisting of a slice of creamy butter-smeared rye bread topped off with pretty much any foodstuff as long as it’s artfully presented. Head to Aamanns with its minimalist interior and emphasis on seasonality. First timers should start with the classic herring with dill cream, washed down with a local lager (Carlsberg’s microbrew offshoot Semper Ardens is actually pretty good). Alternatively try The Royal Café for ‘smushi’, a fusion of <smørrebrød> and sushi.
3| Have Dinner
A table at Noma? No chance. Then again, unless live ants (which taste like lemongrass, don’t you know) are your thing, that might not be a disaster. Better to sample the wares at one of the restaurants started by former Noma sous-chefs with a point to prove. Christian Puglisi’s Relæ, in the achingly hip Nørrebro district, is a good yet challenging option. As with Noma, don’t go expecting steak and chips – this is more of an elderberry-infused wild duck with burnt onions sort of place.
4 | Cocktails
So many perfect bars, so little time, but top prize goes to Ruby, one of many new cocktail bars in a town previously best known for its beer. Ruby is the quintessential ‘someone’s apartment’ establishment – albeit the chicest apartment you’ve ever walked into. Settle into a well-worn Chesterfield sofa with a Burnt Fig – a concoction of caramelised fig syrup, cognac and cream.
5 | Drink
Speaking of beer, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the eponymous owner of Mikkeller Bar, had a modest vision – to create the best beer bar in the world. He’s done a pretty tidy job, serving up superb beers from select international microbreweries to a grateful – and thirsty – young crowd in an intimate white space filled with quirky and contemporary mismatching furniture. Many of the 20 beers on tap change regularly, but of the regulars, try the Mikkeller Black (Barrel Aged Tequila/Speyside edition) – a stout with peaty (and Mexican) overtones that will put hair on your chest.
6 | Drink
Booze doesn’t come cheap in these parts but when the wines on offer are as good as those at Ved Stranden 10, who’s complaining. The décor is elegant Scandinavian simplicity incarnate and the staff are friendly and super-knowledgeable about vintages from around the world, which you can sample alongside plates of delicious local breads and cheeses. A deeply civilised set-up. Head over on Wednesdays from 5pm for the weekly wine tasting.
7 | Party
Like its New York counterpart, Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District is currently smoking hot, and at the heart of the heat is Karriere, a bar-cum-restaurant-cum-club with contemporary art-inspired interiors that attracts the city’s beau monde. Banking types beware: the menus warn that, “Yuppies will be charged extra”.
8 | Shop
Dodgy name, awesome store. Roxy Klassik is like a time capsule filled with the best design pieces from the mid 20th century – the golden age of Danish design. Taking a set of teak Arne Jacobsen chairs home on Easyjet might incur one or two excess baggage costs, so visit the shop to see what floats your boat, and then buy online back home.
9 | When in…
Be a coffee snob. The locals are obsessive about the black stuff and given that most nights out start around midnight and go on until 5am or so, they require coffee by the gallon. The best is served at The Coffee Collective on Jægersborggade, the epicentre of hipster hangout Nørrebro.
10 | Do
Refuel on route back to your hotel after a big night out. Order a pølse (hot dog) with remoulade (a sweet pickle/mayo sauce) from a street stand. Beats a kebab.
11 | Do
Knock back an akvavit, the local moonshine that will give you a Ready Brek glow on even the chilliest night. Make sure to make eye contact and toast, ‘Skål’
12 | Avoid
The statue of the Little Mermaid. She’s surprisingly small and out on a limb, and besides, there’s far more interesting and fun stuff to be doing.
BA, KLM, easyJet and SAS all fly to Copenhagen from the UK.