As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I’m a bit of a Scandi fangirl. Yet despite my fervent interest in all things nordic, I’d not made a proper visit to Scandinavia in quite some time, my last visits being a day trip to Helsinki in 2010 and 4 days in Stockholm in 2003.
This time, I was determined to properly experience a part of Scandinavia, and so set my sights on the trendy and laid-back city of Copenhagen.
Admittedly, deciding to visit in early March was not my best idea, but in spite of the arctic winds and sub-zero temperatures, my friend and I had a fantastic long weekend in the Danish capital.
We had set our hearts on trying as much local fare as possible, and on the first night opted for comforting plates of Danish meatballs (Frikadeller), which came served with the typical boiled potatoes, gherkins and a rich gravy. Delicious.
I made the wise choice of accompanying my dinner with first a bottle of the local dark ale, Jakobsen’s (similar to Newcastle Brown Ale but more flavoursome) and later the Dane’s favourite cider, Sommersby’s (very fresh and fruity, unlike a lot of synthetic-tasting sparkling ciders I’ve tried). The Danes are also proud of their two most popular lagers; Carlsberg and Tuborg – they’re good as beers go but I’m not a massive fan of lagers so for the most part swerved these two.
A few days later we returned to the same cute restaurant in the scenic harbour area of Nyhavn for the more divisive dish of Stegt Flaesk (Fried Pork) – essentially a thin cut of pork with the fat left on which is then fried to within an inch of its life and then served with boiled potatoes and a parsley sauce. It was similar to eating some large pork scratchings with a nice dipping sauce, and I enjoyed the dish but am not overly convinced I’d order it again.
We also decided to get on board with the Danish tradition of munching on hotdogs when we were out and about. The main varieties are a Fransk Hotdog (a hotdog stuffed in to the top of a roll which has been hollowed out rather than sliced, then covered in a yoghurty-mustard sauce) or a Ristet Hotdog (topped with pickled cucumber, crispy onions, mustard, ketchup, and remoulade) – both are cheap and filling, but are impressively rich in flavour and ridiculously moreish. I’m still craving them a week on.
As well as overdosing on all things pork during our trip, we also made sure we tried several herring dishes (you can’t go to Scandinavia without eating pickled fish, it’s the law, like swimming in ice-cold water and disliking the Finns) and I started each day how any decent Dane should – with a strong black coffee and a Danish pastry. Proper job.
Walking the streets
Aside from all the fantastic food we stuffed our frozen faces with, Copenhagen also offered up an impressive wealth of things to do during our trip. The whole city is gorgeous, whether you decide to walk along the harbour or one of the cute and colourful shopping streets in the Latin Quarter. Probably one of the scenic parts of the city is Nyhavn, a small habour lined with boats, colourful houses and a little cobbled promenade which is perfect for sitting with a beer and people-watching (quite the sport in Copenhagen, considering everyone is indecently beautiful).
The most iconic symbol of Copenhagen is The Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue), a small statue at the end of the harbour, modelled on the tale from the much-loved Danish fairytale scribe, Hans Christian Andersen. We made the obligatory visit and posed for a photo, but overall the Danes don’t seem that attached to the famous statue and if you’re trekking out to that end of the city you’ll be more impressed with the neighbouring castille or taking in the view of the impressive opera house or nearby palaces.
Breakfast in the Freetown
Another must-do when in Copenhagen is to nip across the harbour to Christianshavn, a very pretty neighbourhood bisected by the canal.
Christianshavn was populated by merchants given a tax break in the 1800s by Christian IV (hence the name) who were influenced heavily by the Dutch style of building, so the neighbourhood bears more than a passing resemblance to Amsterdam. A lovely place to explore and stop in to one of the many gorgeous waterside cafes and Konditoris (cake shops). Plus Noma, currently voted the best restaurant in the world, is just down the road if you feel like being extravagant (and are happy to book months in advance).
A few streets back from the canal lies a distinctly different neighbourhood. Freetown Christiania (Fristaden Christiania) is a large-scale commune set up in a disused military barracks back in the 1970’s. For a long time the inhabitants didn’t pay tax (although this was changed a few years ago) and they have their own, very liberal, approach to drugs. ‘Pusher Street’ was closed down a few years ago, but I was surprised to still see stalls selling cannabis quite openly on the main street. It’s an interesting place to wander around mainly due to the murals, artworks and new builds dotted around the place.
End on a High (bar bill)
My final recommendation for Copenhagen would be to visit at least a couple of their fantastic cocktail bars. My trip was made complete by the impressive mixing skills of Bar 7 and it’s neighbouring bars in the latin quarter, although I’ve also heard great things about Fugu which is a bit more central. If you’ve already committed to hammering your liver, you might as well ask to try the local tipples – whether it be Akvavit, Gammel Dansk or Fisk (all appalling on first taste but they do get better).
As you can probably tell, I loved Copenhagen. It’s compact, it’s pretty, the food is great and the people are lovely. Count me in for a summer visit.