I’ll be honest with you: at the risk of sounding like a spoiled brat, after nearly 12 weeks of traveling in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Greece, coming back to “real life” was a little tough. I love Copenhagen and I was happy to be back, but I definitely missed the food, beaches, and warmth of Southeast Asia. More than that, I missed the exploratory freedom of being a solo backpacker.
I had eleven weekdays off before I started my new job on June 1, and even though I had a long to-do list (with finding an apartment looming at the top), I also wanted to enjoy being back in Copenhagen. There's so many things in the city that I hadn’t done yet—some touristy, some less. So, armed with my new book, The 500 Hidden Secrets of Copenhagen, for inspiration, I set a goal to try to visit (or revisit) one special place in Copenhagen each day.
Having this little project made the transition back easier, and I had so much fun falling in love with this city all over again. Here are the 11 things I did:
1. Walked up the Rundturm (Round Tower)
I am almost embarrassed to say that I’d never been in the Round Tower before—I’d passed by so many times and it’s a landmark of Copenhagen. When I finally made it in, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a gallery halfway up with a lovely exhibition of drawings by the children’s book illustrator Sven Otto S.
Walking up the tower is mostly easy, with a gradual incline, until the very end when there is a very narrow, winding tower of stairs. The hardest part about this is simply the lack of space when trying to maneuver around people going in the opposite direction. The view from the top is (in my opinion) not super stunning, but it was nice to have a birds-eye view from the middle of the city, and I was happy to have finally seen it.
2. Ate amazing cheesecake at Bertel’s Kager
My friend Pia and I love to check out new cake places together, and she suggested Bertel’s Kager as a must-try place in Copenhagen for their cheesecake. Since I’d never been there, we went to the location on Kompagnistræde, which dates back to the early 1900s. There were many varieties of cheesecake to choose from; I had a cherry brownie cake, and my friend had key lime—both were absolutely amazing. I can’t believe it took me so long to go here.
3. Visited the Black Diamond
I’d been in the café inside the Black Diamond, Copenhagen’s modern waterfront extension to the Royal Library, but hadn’t spent much time exploring the building. I wanted to take a tour, but the English tours are given only once every few months, unfortunately (another incentive to improve my Danish!). So I decided to stop by and walk around on my own. The building is certainly beautiful and interesting with its mix of old and new styles, but the highlight for me was sitting outside on the waterfront with a coffee and watching the boats go by. This is another favorite place for Copenhageners to hang out on a nice sunny day, and I felt very much like a local.
4. Jumped on the trampolines on Havnegade
Nothing makes you feel more alive and childlike than jumping on a trampoline, and Copenhagen has several built right in the middle of the sidewalk along the harbor-front walk. On a whim, I decided to try it out, and I was surprised by how immediately gleeful I felt. It’s also extremely fun to watch kids (or adults) try to bounce from one trampoline pad to the next and hit all four in one go. You can’t help but smile.
5. Lay in the sun at Assistens kirkegård (Assistens Cemetery)
When it’s sunny out, the Danes love nothing more than to sunbath on a blanket—in a park, at the beach, or even in a graveyard. One of the most popular places for this is Assistens Cemetery, and while that might seem odd, it is truly one of the most beautiful graveyards I’ve ever seen, especially in the spring, with flowers and budding trees in every corner.
I took a stroll through to visit a few of the more famous graves: Niels Bohr, Ben Webster (American jazz musician), and of course Hans Christian Andersen. Then I found a sunny spot in the grass, plopped down, and read a book. It was lovely.
6. Ate a croissant at Mirabelle
In 500 Hidden Secrets of Copenhagen, I read that Mirabelle is known for having the best croissants in Copenhagen, so I had to give it a try. Mirabelle serves coffee, baked goods, and more hearty meals in a cute, trendy area of Nørrebro right around the corner from Assistens kirkegård, and so I stopped here for a latte and croissant after visiting the cemetery. The croissant was perhaps a little browner than I would have liked, but it was still crispy and delicious.
7. Biked to Arken art museum
For a bigger event, my boyfriend suggested we bike to the Arken art museum, an hour-ish leisurely ride along the water and through a nature bird reserve. If you’re a regular reader, you know I love biking around Copenhagen, so I was up for it. The bike ride itself was lovely, although quite windy on the way back (that’s quite normal around here though).
Arken is tucked away from the city in a small fishing harbor, which might explain why it was so quiet. The exhibits were all amazing, and I wish that we’d had more time to spend looking at the retrospective of Niki de Saint Phalle. We spent most of our time in the Damien Hirst room and then going through the Gerda Wegener exhibit. We took a short coffee break in the upstairs café which has floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of the white sand beach.
8. Walked to the Little Mermaid statue
I had never seen Copenhagen's most famous statue up close, partly because I'd heard it wasn't worth the trip. "The Little Mermaid", a bronze statue by Edvard Eriksen based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen, is a small figurine on a rock measuring just a few feet tall. I guess I understand why many visitors are disappointed to see her in reality—if you're expecting a grandiose sculpture, this is not the one for you. Far better to go to the Gefion Fountain just a few meters away if you want big and bold. But I find that there is something very Danish about her diminutive size and the lack of showiness of the piece.
The area around the statue is also perfect for a stroll on a sunny day (which I was lucky to have). I walked around Langelinie to admire the cherry blossoms and also checked out the gorgeous old buildings of the Kastellet, an old yet still-in-use military site surrounded by a star-shaped raised embarkment.
9. Visited the Design museum
Another museum I’ve been meaning to go to for a long time is the Danish Design Museum. I went with my friend Katrine to see the exhibit on how Japanese art influenced Danish design (and vice-versus). We didn’t have time to see the rest of the museum, but the exhibit was lovely, and had some nice furniture and tapestries. The museum is located in the center of town, not far from Nyhavn, and gives free tours on Sundays (even in English!) so it's worth another visit or two.
10. Danced at Distortion
(Ok, I may have cheated a little; going to Distortion actually happened the day after I started my new job. But close enough.) Every June, a few neighborhoods in Copenhagen turn into a pulsing mob of people dancing in the streets—this is Distortion. The music festival then finishes up on Friday and Saturday with "new dancy music in many genres" in the main festival venue of Refshaleøen. I missed Distortion last year but heard about how amazing it was, and even though I was starting my new job the week it started and moving into my new apartment on the weekend it was happening, I was determined that I would not miss the party again this year!
On Thursday, I went to a party at a friend’s place in Vesterbro right above all of the action—we had a great view of the street for people watching and it was a good way to participate in Distortion without getting lost in the crowds. Friday, I joined a few friends at Refeshaloen. We danced, ate amazing pulled duck sandwiches, sat in the sun, and danced some more. I left reluctantly at midnight just when the party was really getting started (the music on Friday and Saturday goes until 7 am), so I could get some sleep before moving the next day. Sometimes it’s hard to be a grownup, but I still had an amazing time.
11. Ate at Noma (and met Rene Redzepi!)
The highlight of my staycation had to be eating at Noma, an event I wasn’t sure if I’d ever experience, and one that probably deserves its own blog post. Noma has been called the best restaurant in the world several times, and the chef and co-owner Rene Redzepi is credited with kickstarting the entire new Nordic food revolution in Denmark. Noma serves local food in an extremely innovative and unusual way. Because of the fame, it's difficult to get into: you have to book tables way ahead of time during particular hours when their website opens up for 3-month periods. I was very lucky that a friend of mine here managed to get a reservation for lunch. We ended up there on a warm, sunny Saturday.
I was worried that the food would be “challenging” (the restaurant has been known to serve live shrimp to their diners), but it was just beautiful, fresh, surprising, and delightful. The artistry of the dishes, edible flower petals, seafood (no red meat was served when we were there), and windows open to the spring weather made me feel like I was eating a gorgeous flower garden. The Danish furnishings and incredible service made us feel comfortable and cared for.
After lunch, we were taken on a tour of the kitchens and test labs and happened to see Rene Redzepi (the owner and head chef) out watering plants. He was incredibly kind, posing for a photo with us and spending some time chatting with us.
What an amazing way to finish off the meal, and an experience that I couldn't have anywhere else in the world other than here, in Copenhagen.