Contents : Københavns Lufthavn, Kastrup | Transportation to Downtown | Amager-Bakke Ski Slope | Amass Restaurant | Blue Planet | Cafe Victor | Coffee Collective | Copenhagen Opera House | Dansk Design Center | Geist Restaurant | Hotel Fox | Hygge & The Danes | Illums Bolighus | Kildeskovshallen | Kransekagehus | Land de Legenden | Louisiana Museum of Modern Art | Malerklemmen | Malmö & The Moderna Museet Malmö | Mikkeller Brewery | Noma | Nørrebro | NY CARLSBERG GLYPTOTEK | Ølfestival | Peter Beier Chokolade | Rosenborg Castle | The Roskilde Festival | The Royal Library, aka The Black Diamond | Rundetårn | Salt-Bar Restaurant | Smørrebrød | Tivoli Gardens | Travel Tips | UN City | World of Delights
Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport, or Københavns Lufthavn, is the city’s main airport. Sometimes referred to as Copenhagen International, the airport is located west of Malmö on the island of Amager and it serves Denmark, the Øresund region, Southern Sweden, and Zealand. It’s easily the best designed and most navigable airport I have frequented and a brilliant showcase of the minimalist, Scandinavian aesthetic.
Transportation to Downtown. To travel from Kastrup to the downtown area, or more specifically, Copenhagen Central Station, purchase your tickets at the DSB ticket office directly above the railway station in Terminal 3 and proceed down the adjacent escalator to the rail platform.
Trains run frequently and take between 12 – 15 minutes to reach Central Station. From there, cabs to local hotels and sites are abundant and affordable.
A promotional painting party takes place outside Central Station. Admittedly, it was totally goofy, especially in the chilly autumn weather, but the ever-increasing and curious crowd seemed to enjoy themselves.
One man’s trash may very well be another’s treasure but here in Copenhagen it’s actually architecture. This small nation has astutely figured out how to convert trash to energy efficiently, and more importantly, accomplish this while virtually undetected. The Danish architect Bjarke Ingels has built an urban ski slope right on top of the plant and, as only the Danes can seem to do, made it a stunning architectural destination unto itself.
The Danes could easily rest on their culinary laurels with just Geist and Noma to their credit. Their bragging rights, however, as the world’s most intriguing and emerging new cuisine is fully secured with the opening of Amass on Refshalevej 153. The restaurant’s creative genius is none other than Noma’s former head chef, Matthew Orlando. For those who assume Chef Orlando has simply recreated Noma―named the world’s best restaurant three times in row―they could not be more wrong. Amass’ menu, based on local ingredients, focuses on simplicity and the spontaneous whims of its creative forces. It’s also affordable with a remarkably casual atmosphere and attentive wait staff. The restaurant features an open plan where you can see first hand some fantastic meals being prepared and presented. The Danish monk fish with roasted vegetables is just one reason to visit, but it’s enough to whet your appetite for more.
Danish architectural firm 3XN quickly found itself in the stratosphere of the architecture world with the opening of Europe’s largest aquarium, located in Copenhagen’s Kastrup suburb. Known as Den Blå, or Blue Planet, the building resembles the swirling motion of water found in whirlpools and houses a number of exhibitions and ecosystems, the most impressive of which are the Ocean Tank, featuring sharks and visible through jaw-droppingly huge plate-glass windows; the Coral Reef; and the Amazonas rain forest.
It would be unwise to assume the Danes could not successfully up the ante on traditional French cuisine and in the process, completely reinvent it. That’s all the reason you need to visit Café Victor, a small and intimate restaurant located at Ny Østergade 8. Its large windows overlook the streets outside giving the interior a soft luminescence while simultaneously providing comfort from the chilly air of autumn. So delicate are the flavors of the food and so impeccable is the service, you should make the effort to visit a number of times. Stop by for breakfast, for example, for the smoked salmon & chives omelette. Or for lunch, to enjoy a traditional Danish smørrebrød of egg & tomato on bread and butter.
There are fans of coffee and then there are aficionados, purists who insist on only the finest ingredients, prepared with surgical like precision and technique so the best flavor is extracted from the beans which, in most instances, must have been harvested at the right moment and been fair-traded. The high standards are admirable and there are few pleasure which can be matched by a truly great cup of coffee, especially one prepared by highly trained baristas and served on a chilly day. Such purists finally have a place which not only meets their expectations but may very well exceed them―Coffee Collective, with locations at Torvehallerne, Hal 2 and Jægersborggade 10.
People have one of two visceral reactions to the cobble stoned city’s Opera House―love or hatred. Part of the problem is that in a country so well-known for a very specific design philosophy, one expects more of its cultural institutions and public buildings. Critics of architect Henning Larsen’s and engineers Ramboll and Buro Happold’s building wasted no time in sharpening their knives when the plans were revealed. In my view, however, they’re wrong. The construction of the building focused on the most important part of such a place―the interior, and this is where the significance of Larsen’s and Happold’s work comes into focus. The building is one of the most acoustically brilliant in the world.
To grasp how seriously the Danes take design, and understand the Danish aesthetic’s effect on the world, visit the Dansk Design Center, located at H. C. Andersens Boulevard 27. Designed by local architect Henning Larsen, the 5-story building is a wonderful tribute to clean lines and the Bauhaus approach.
Denmark’s sphere of influence on the culinary world has expanded with the opening of Geist on Kongens Nytorv 8 near the Kongens Nytorv St. Metro, further evidence that Noma, named best restaurant in the world, is no fluke. For the first time in recent memory, Noma’s Chef and owner, René Redzepi, may need to keep his eyes on the rear view mirror.
Located in the heart of the downtown area at Jarmers Plads 3 is the Hotel Fox, noteworthy because each of its 60 + rooms has been designed by one of two dozen artists. Upon check-in, you choose your accommodations’ design style, admittedly, not a task for those who want a simple, quiet room. Pictured, for example, is one of the more understated, muted styles. But the location of the hotel can’t be beat and its more than affordable. The Fox Kitchen and Bar is also a great place for cocktails and innovative, regional cuisine. For the global nomads out there, its ideal as there aren’t too many places out there like it and it does afford great bragging rights.
To appreciate the seemingly endless pleasures of Denmark, particularly her people, one needs to first understand the Danish concept of hygge, a design philosophy which does not translate to a single English word.
The premise is simple : one should create an environment which is comfortable, familiar, intimate, and inviting. It’s important to appreciate the effort in achieving this. Scandinavian winters are cold and harsh so one always needs to welcome family, friends and neighbors to environs which are instantly warm, not just in terms of temperature but approach, too.
Stroll down any street in downtown Copenhagen, for example, in autumn and locate a hotel and look in the windows. You won’t be greeted with cold surfaces and harsh lighting. Instead, marvel at a wall 5 or 6 meters high and composed of hundreds of votive candles all lit. Or, duck into a cafe and be charmed by tables adorned with tapered candles and a fireplace nearby. That’s hygge. What also stands out about the country is the civility and civic-mindedness of her people who are not prone to cut in front of others in a queue. Doors are routinely held open for others, particularly the elderly; people will walk out of their way to locate a trash can rather than littering; and its unheard of for pedestrians to cross a street against the light. Walk past any residential or commercial building and you will see hundreds of bicycles neatly lined up (over 40% of the population uses a bike as the primary form of transportation.) Without locks. Those same bikes will be there the next morning.
Founded in 1925, the Illums Bolighus store has always been on the forefront of Danish design, a deep appreciation of form and function. Located in the heart of the city’s downtown, pedestrian-friendly Amagertorv, the store is innovative and never fails to amaze. The items sold are beautifully displayed in furnished interiors allowing Illums the appearance of a museum as much as a store, and the Christmas displays are as fine as anything you’ll find on 5th Avenue during the Holiday season. They’ve also opened a store at Kastrup in Terminals 2 and 3, allowing you to shop for one-of-a-kind ornaments. You can have them gift-wrapped and still have plenty of time to make your flight.
Kildeskovshallen (“The Forest of Natural Springs”) features spas, public baths and a training pool. Being Danish, this is nothing like a community swimming pool. Minimalist design, Arne Jacobsen chairs, and healthy food all contribute to an oasis of calm and cool day trips.
Located at Ny Østergade 9 in the city center is Kransekagehuset bakery, one of the best in the city. Specializing in kransekage, a Scandinavian dessert made of marzipan and served on special occasions, this bakery serves an impressive selection of home-made sweets.
Special thanks to my friend and colleague C. Poulsen for recommending the following item of interest. “For anyone interested in Danish history and how we used to live, plan on visiting the Land der Legenden, i.e., The Land of Legends. It’s about a 35-45 minute drive west of Copenhagen.”
Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, located on the shore of the Øresund Sound in Humlebæk, north of the city, showcases contemporary and modern art. The museum itself is a tribute to Danish design and is known for its extensive and ever-evolving programs featuring acknowledged artists and emerging, new talent.
C. Poulsen also recommends Malerklemmen, located about an hour and 15 minutes southwest of the city. “It’s a great place to visit to enjoy aebleskiver, round Danish pancake balls. They also have a great Christmas buffet which serves traditional Danish dishes. It used to be a place where the Fogde (dated 1750) used to stay on his travels through the country to claim taxes for the King. It’s a place not too many know about, including many Danes. I used to visit at least twice a year.”
Make time to traverse the Øresund Bridge to Malmö in lower Sweden. The third largest city in the country, Malmo has experienced tremendous growth the past few years, partially due to its link to Copenhagen and partially due to its eye-popping architectural landmark, the “Turning Torso,” pictured below. Designed by Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, who’s also responsible for the transportation hub at NYC’s re-imagined World Trade Center, the Torso is typical of Calatrava’s visual brilliance. Its well worth the trip and the city has plenty to offer. The Moderna Museet Malmö, for example, is part of Stockholm’s Modern Museum and is world-renowned for its 20th-century art and photography collections.
Mikkeller, the Danish micro brewery, has 4 noteworthy ales : Wilder Winter, Spring, Summer Pilsner, and Autumn Porter. As only the Danes can do when it comes to design, the labels on the bottles change based on room temperature.
Noma, located at Strandgade 93, 1401 København K, has been rated the best restaurant in the world for the third year in a row. Chef and owner Rene Redzepi has elevated Danish cuisine which can now legitimately hold its own against French and Italian cooking. The result is worth the trip. Contact the restaurant for reservations as soon as you have your trip to the country planned as dining there, after you’ve already arrived and on a whim, will rarely result in availability.
One of the city’s 10 official districts, Nørrebro, northwest of the city center, is experiencing a sudden growth spurt. The revitalized area features pastry shops, coffee houses, restaurants and wine bars, and really, really cool stores.
For fans of artisanal and micro-brewing, check out Ølfestival, one of the country’s largest annual festivals.
Hand-made confections are raised to great art at Peter Beier Chocolate. Located at Falkoner Allé 43, 2000 Frederiksberg, Beier’s store is small but its an incredible showcase of his artisanal chocolate making. They have their own cocoa farms, too.
Also highly recommended by C. Poulsen are the following :
Rosenborg Castle is located about 5-10 minutes from the US Embassy in downtown Copenhagen. It’s where the crown jewels are kept and well worth a visit.
Roskilde Festival is one of the most sought after festivals for any band to play at. I used to live very close to this location when I was a kid and used to go every year. There used to be about 100, 000 guests and about 20,000 people working it, but it has been limited to 80,000 guests now. It’s the biggest festival in North Europe if not all of Europe.
Copenhagen’s Royal Library, the largest in Scandinavia, is home to books and printed works dating back to the early 15th century. Because of its historical status, significant holdings, and coveted location on the waterways near Christians Brygge, the building could not be demolished and a new structure erected in its place when available space became problematic. The Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen came up with a dazzling solution, which quickly became known as The Black Diamond. Named for its black marble and glass materials, the new modern structure, completed in 1999, not only expanded the library’s space but added a concert hall as well―without harming the library’s original building.
The two buildings are linked by suspended walkways and the interior of the new space features an 8-story atrium, characterized by the curved walls surrounding the entrance.
Located on the ground floor and facing the water is the Black Diamond’s signature restaurant, Søren K. Floor-to-ceiling glass envelopes the space and fills it with natural light, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. Atypical of the cafes featured in many museums, Søren K strives to be a destination unto itself and elevating Danish cuisine to international respectability. It succeeds with a menu based on local, seasonal ingredients, and reverence to their Scandinavian heritage. For example, the lunch menu’s herring, that staple of Danish cuisine, is from the local island, Christiansø, and served with egg, chives, and mustard. Not only is it a delicate dish and beautifully prepared, it’s proof that in the right hands, herring can be prepared and enjoyed by even the most finicky of fish eaters.
One of Denmark’s King Christian IV’s many projects, the Rundetårn, or “round tower,” was constructed in 1642. Originally intended as an astronomical observatory, the medieval structure is open to the public year-round and offers stunning views of the city.
Located across from the city’s Opera House, also designed by Henning Larsen, on the island of Holmen is Salt Bar-Restaurant. The modern restaurant takes an ambitious risk with French cuisine prepared with local Danish ingredients, but its one which pays off beautifully. The menu, which changes every couple of months to take advantage of the seasons, allows you to order in a number of courses and features organic meats and fish prepared delicately.
The Danes love their Smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich usually made from a medium to dark bread which is buttered, and topped with fish, meats, or spreads. The city is filled with restaurants and cafes serving them for lunch but you’ll also find tiny storefronts serving them as well. They’re perfectly proportioned and a great way to relax at mid-day without filling up on a heavier meal. Much debate will ensue if you ask a local where the best are made and served.
Much has been written about the world-famous Tivoli Gardens, located in the heart of Copenhagen’s city center. At 170 years old, the amusement park still dazzles, especially at night with its lighting displays and laser shows. One of the park’s best kept secrets is the free concert every Friday night during the summer months by world-famous acts.
Travel Tip. When you make a substantial purchase of items (other than meals,) ask for a VAT form. VAT, or value added tax, is a consumption tax paid by locals. As a visitor, however, you are entitled to a refund on that tax and, depending on how much you have spent on your trip, the refund can be significant (sometimes as high as 20%.) In Denmark, for example, if your total purchase exceeds DK 300 (roughly US $ 53.00) you can receive a refund upon your departure at the airport. It’s also to wise to use the same credit card for all your purchases to make the record-keeping as hassle free as possible.
― The store will complete the VAT form and attach it to your receipt;
― keep the receipts in one place;
― when you’re at Kastrup for your departure, head to the Global Refund Office;
― present your receipts and VAT forms along with the credit card used to make your purchases; and
― a credit will be issued against your account and will appear in a just a couple of days.
In spite of Royal Copenhagen’s prestigious reputation, the downtown store has a sense of humor. Look at the curtain tie backs.
Danish architectural firm 3XN has struck lightening twice now with the opening of the United Nations regional headquarters, consolidating far-flung offices and operations into a sleek, new and brilliantly designed building known as UN City Copenhagen. The star-shaped structure is constructed around a central hub, or atrium, through which everyone must pass in order to reach other parts of the building, an ingenuous approach to an organization whose philosophy is wholly dependent on diplomacy and working together.
For anyone who travels and, more importantly, loves to travel, the one obvious downside is the number and sheer monotony of airports. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of them has been cut from a cookie cutter approach to architecture where blandness rules, graphic design and signage is sub-par, and the efficiency and movement of people has been given little, if any, consideration. Luckily, Amsterdam’s Schiphol and Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airports do not fall into this category. And World of Delights is just one of the myriad reasons why. The Dutch store has a strong presence in both locations and those who have traveled to both cities can testify to the fact it’s a wonderful experience and as far from a typical retail store as you can get. Well over 50 years old, World of Delights has top-notch, locally produced baked items, cheeses and chocolates, coffees and teas.
Not merely content with being a gourmand’s wet dream come true, the stores also feature stylish clothing, earthenware and fine crystal, along with books, toys, and wine. As you would expect from the Dutch, everything is beautifully showcased and wrapped. Having fallen in love with the Danish outpost, heed my advice and pack light. You will want as much room in your bags as you can spare when you see all the great gifts you can bring home from this fantastic place.