We spent this past weekend in Copenhagen, and I absolutely loved it.
I had wanted to go to Copenhagen for years. In fact, I found a note in my iPhone from January 2010 reminding myself to tell Al about an Oprah episode I had seen in which Oprah reveals that the people of Copenhagen are some of the happiest people in the world. (And if Oprah says it, you know it’s true, right?) After visiting Copenhagen this weekend, I see what Oprah was talking about. Copenhagen works so well, it’s off-putting. Everyone is tall and attractive; everyone bikes to work along picturesque canals lined with pastel buildings; everyone gets off work at 4 pm and goes to hang out with their families, eat hot dogs, drink beer, and stroll along the promenades dotting the city; everyone lives in stylish yet cozy apartments; there’s no litter; children play by themselves in public parks; the buses come on time; the food is good; people are polite; no one so much as jaywalks.
After spending a weekend in such an idyllic place, I started to wonder about the inevitable seething, dark underbelly that’s lurking under the perfect exterior. There has to be something, right? There has to be some dark force threatening to tear the fabric of Danish society apart, because otherwise, the Danes have got it made. They’ve figured the whole society thing out! The only downside to Copenhagen is that everything is brutally expensive. But, you know, we were just there for a weekend, so we decided not to worry about it too much and just enjoy what Copenhagen had to offer.
Al and I don’t like to over-program our sightseeing, but Copenhagen is a small city and it’s relatively easy to see a lot of stuff. We walked around and saw Nyhavn, the cutesy, slightly cheesy waterfront area where Hans Christian Andersen used to live; Christianshavn, the leafy neighborhood bordering Christiania, the self-proclaimed “free state” in the middle of Copenhagen; the Latin Quarter; the Stroget (or “Stroll”), the fancy-schmancy pedestrian shopping area in the heart of town; hipstery Vesterbro; Slotsholmen; Tivoli, the old-timey amusement park in the middle of the city; and a bunch of other areas. We also made time for plenty of eating and drinking, a bit of running, and lots of walking.
One of the things that struck me most about Copenhagen is the attention to design. There’s a healthy mix of the old and grand and the new and sleek in Copenhagen’s city architecture. And within their buildings, the Danes manage to conjure up a feeling of coziness and warmth while keeping things simple and streamlined. According to my Lonely Planet Guide, “The Danes love all things hygge, loosely translated as ‘cozy,’ but encompassing everything from flickering candles to bonhomie.” Turns out, I also love all things hygge, so I felt right at home in Copenhagen. Fairy lights and candles as far as the eye can see! The city won even more points with me when I noticed that bars and restaurants, many of which have outdoor seating, don’t just put out heat lamps, but also BLANKETS, so patrons can wrap themselves up while enjoying a beverage outside. SO COZY.
I think my favorite sight in Copenhagen was the Royal Library, which is stunningly beautiful and so clean that I wondered if it was actually a working library or just a really large movie set of some sort. Coming from a country in which most public libraries smell like pee, I couldn’t believe how beautiful and peaceful the Royal Library was. To be fair, Al claimed he saw some guy shaving his face with an electric razor in one of the reading areas, but if that’s the most outrageous behavior that takes place in a public library, I still think Denmark’s doing pretty well.
Al’s favorite part of the weekend was that everyone thought he was Danish. People would speak Danish to him every time and he loved it.
We stayed at the very Danish (and very reasonably priced) Wake Up Copenhagen, which was on the water and a not-terrible walk from all of the main attractions in town. It was also right next to the Central Station, which made getting in and out of town really convenient.
Our favorite meal was probably brunch at Bastionen & Loeven, a hidden-away cottage-style restaurant with views onto peaceful green gardens and water. We also had good meals at Pate-Pate and Madklubben Grill Tivoli, which was right in the middle of the Tivoli amusement park/gardens. After dinner, we walked outside and stumbled onto a big band concert. We stayed a while and watched a bunch of cute Danish people swing dance. It was pretty charming.
So, all in all, we loved Copenhagen. I told Al that I want to learn Danish and move there, so I can ride around on a bicycle with a basket and eat smoked salmon and walk along the canals every day. This probably won’t happen. But a girl can dream.
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