For today’s Destination of the Week, TPG contributor Brittany Shoot takes us on a tour of a Scandinavian city that’s been around for over 1,000 years, but which has endured as a center of culture, learning, fashion and now food. We’re headed to the Danish capital of Copenhagen.
Though the smallest of the Nordic countries, Denmark has been in the headlines quite a bit in the past few years. Chef René Redzepi and his world-renowned Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, have led the new Nordic cuisine movement that’s made its mark all over the world, Denmark has exported numerous popular television shows to the US and UK (The Killing, Borgen, and Broen) and year after year, Danes rank as the happiest people in the world. If you head to Copenhagen expecting an idyllic land of happy, stylist, bicycle-riding people—well, you might not be disappointed.
Spring and summer are the best times to visit the Danish capital. Summertime temperatures are in the seventies, and the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon until well past 9 or 10 pm. Music and art festivals like Distortion and holidays like the midsummer celebration Sankt Hans draw revelers into the parks, streets and beaches until all hours of the night. In any season, spending a leisurely afternoon sipping coffee at a café along the inner city lakes is a perfectly acceptable way to pass time in Copenhagen.
If you’re hoping to see the city like a local, be warned: forty percent of Copenhagen commuter traffic is by bicycle. Many visitors rent or borrow city bikes to cruise around, but surrounded by so many cyclists means there can be a steep learning curve if you haven’t ridden in a while. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the necessary hand signals. When in doubt, keep moving on the far right side of the bike lane. Never ride on the sidewalk, and whatever you do, never ride in the wrong direction.
WHAT TO DO
For tourists starting in the city center, your first stop will probably be Tivoli Gardens, the world’s second oldest amusement park. It’s quite hard to miss, and most visitors won’t want to, even if amusement rides aren’t really your thing. From atop the StarFlyer swings, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city skyline. On the ground below, grab a pølsevogn, a Danish-style hotdog tucked into a bun specially made for the sausage. Nearby Radhuspladsen, the city hall square, is bustling with vendors, tourists snapping photos, and the odd public chess game or musical performance.
From there, you’ll practically already be on Copenhagen’s main pedestrian street, Strøget, which features a mix of souvenir shops, high-end Danish designers—Bang & Olufsen, Georg Jensen, Royal Copenhagen, and housewares and design emporium Illums Bolighus—and chain clothiers like Topshop, Vero Moda, and H&M. Down near Kongens Nytorv, you can witness the daily changing of the guard while sampling some of the city’s best ice cream at Paradis. If you want to dine like locals for dinner, head to one of the nearby Halifax locations for enormous burgers (with delicious veggie options too), thick fried potatoes and creamy aioli.
If you want to avoid the crowds and chain stores on Strøget, head out to the quirky shopping mecca Jaegersborggade in Nørrebro. Lined with vintage clothing and coffee shops like Café Retro Nørrebro, the street is also home to Meyer’s Bageri, a side project of Noma co-founder Claus Meyer. Pop into Ro Chokolade or the Karamelleriet for melt-in-your-mouth chocolates and caramels. When you’re done collecting sweet treats, shop for impossibly delicate ceramics at Keramiker Inge Vincents, or browse the retro video game and styling products selection at Ruben og Bobby, the city’s only boutique-meets-hair salon. Of course you can see the real bling (and get a dose of Danish history) at Rosenborg Slot, a royal palace on the edge of the old town that now houses the Danish royal jewels, and after, be sure to walk to the waterfront north of the central city to pay your respects to Hans Christian Andersen at the famous statue of the Little Mermaid.
Another of the up-and-coming districts to enjoy some local flavor is Kødbyen, the old meatpacking district. Try the sourdough crust pizzas at Mother, and enjoy people-watching from the patio if the weather is warm enough. Another favorite, Fiskebaren, or The Fish Bar, is an oyster and fish bar housed in an unembellished former meatpacking shop. Founded in 2010 by one-time Noma sommelier Anders Selmer, it was recently designated a Michelin Bib Gourmand Inspector’s Favorite. Just beyond Kødbyen’s walls is basement bar Mikkeller, a local brewery specializing in microbrews. If art is your thing, stop by the V1 Gallery, the first in Copenhagen to exhibit the works of famous street artists Banksy and Shepard Fairey.
If you’re looking to get out of town for an afternoon, don’t forget to check out current exhibitions at seaside modern art museum Louisiana, about an hour north of Copenhagen on one of the regional trains. Kronborg Castle, famously known as Hamlet’s Castle, is also a relatively short ride to Elsinore north of Copenhagen and offers spooky tours of the Renaissance-era casemates below the castle grounds.
Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport is located six miles from the city center. In a taxi, expect to spend 15 minutes en route and pay 150 DKK, or $30 USD. You can also hop on the driverless electric Metro, which departs every few minutes, or one of the regional trains that depart every 10 minutes. On either shuttle, the cost per ride depends on where you’ll disembark in the city.
Air Berlin serves Copenhagen direct from Berlin (Tegel). British Airways flies direct from London (Heathrow). Finnair flies direct from Helsinki. Iberia flies direct from Barcelona and Madrid.
Using SkyTeam airlines, you can reach Copenhagen direct on Aeroflot from Moscow, Air France from Paris (Charles de Gaulle), and KLM from Amsterdam. Delta serves Copenhagen from gateway cities of Atlanta (Hartsfield-Jackson) and New York (JFK). As of 2012, Air Europa serves Copenhagen from Barcelona and Madrid.
SAS is the major airline that flies in and out of here and services destinations across the globe. Other Star Alliance airlines that serve Copenhagen include Air Canada from Toronto; Lufthansa from Frankfurt and Munich; LOT flies from Warsaw and Swiss from Zurich; Turkish Airlines from Istanbul; and United, with gateway cities of Chicago, New York (Newark), and Washington DC (Dulles) and plans to begin direct service from San Francisco in April 2013. The city is also served by Austrian Airlines from Vienna, Brussels Airlines from Brussels, Singapore Airlines from Singapore, and Thai Airways via Bangkok.
Other airlines that fly direct to Copenhagen include Aer Lingus from Dublin, Air Baltic via Riga, Air China from Beijing, easyJet from Berlin and Lisbon, Estonian Air from Tallin, Icelandair from Reykjavik (with connections from Boston, Orlando, Seattle, and more); Qatar Airways flies from Doha. Copenhagen is the main hub for Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia, with flights from Phuket, and low-cost regional carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle with service from Oslo.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
WHERE TO STAY
Radisson Blu Hotel Royal: This downtown hotel is probably the most famous in the city, and is convenient to most activities, just 20 minutes from the airport and a 10-minute cab ride from the Bella Conference Center. Hotel services include a full sit-down breakfast plus early-morning to-go options, three-hour express laundry, and express and late checkout. The Arne Jacobsen suite features 1960’s original décor from the Danish designer best known for his egg chair. Rooms start at $240 or 50,000 points per night in April. Gold Points + Cash starts at 15,000 points and $165.
Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel: Out on Christianshavn, this four-star hotel is right next to a Metro station, just a short commute to the inner city and right next to Copenhagen’s only casino. There’s an on-site fitness center, but many guests like to take advantage of jogging paths around Stadsgraven Lake or along the water on Islands Brygge. Rates from $265 or 44,000 Gold Points. Gold Points + Cash starts at 10,000 points and $175.
Radisson Blu Falconer Hotel and Conference Center: Located in beautiful residential Frederiksberg, this property is close to the Copenhagen Zoo, the Carlsberg Brewery, and the serene public Frederiksberg Gardens. It’s well served by public bus and Metro with the city center just a few miles away. Rooms from $160 or 44,000 points per night.
Park Inn by Radisson Copenhagen Airport: On Ørestad just a short distance from the airport, this hotel features 296 fully equipped rooms and six suites, all with flatscreen TVs and individual climate control. Services include an indoor swimming pool, solarium, and fitness center. Rooms from $155 or 38,000 points, or 10,000 points plus $95.
Hilton Copenhagen Airport Hotel: Near the airport and primarily recommended for business travelers with little time to see the city’s sights, this hotel’s amenities include high-speed internet, floor-to-ceiling windows in every room, and the on-site Ni’Mat Spa for road-weary travelers looking to unwind in style. Rates in April begin at $210 per night. This is a Category 6 property requiring 50,000-60,000 points for a free night.
Copenhagen Marriott Hotel: The Copenhagen Marriott features 401 rooms and luxury suites, many overlooking the harbor waterways. This property is a short walk from Tivoli Gardens and other city center attractions. Rates in March begin at $175 per night. As a category 7 hotel, award nights start at 35,000 Marriott points per night or 30,000 PointSavers.
Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers: Located out near the airport in Ørestad, this hotel is great for business travelers hoping to squeeze in a few rounds of golf at the neighboring Royal Golf Club Championship Course. Hotel amenities include a 24-hour fitness center, an Xbox-equipped social gaming lounge, and a free shuttle from the airport. There are electric cars and bicycles available to rent on-site. Guests in the Suites or Club Rooms are granted Club Lounge access free of charge. Rooms start from $110, 25,000 points, or 20,000 points plus $40.
Copenhagen has several fine boutique hotels to choose from, including the recently renovated five-star First Hotel Skt Petri (rooms from $175) and Hotel Guldsmen properties, which offer their own bonus points program for use at any of their hotels in Scandinavia, Bali, or France. The Axel, Bertrams, and Carlton Hotels all have rooms starting between $120 and $180.