Copenhagen’s sophisticated urban vibe, charming canals, and historic spaces combine to form one of Europe’s most enchanting destinations. Scandinavia’s unrivalled capital of cool has long welcomed international jet-setters seeking world-class design and architecture, and in recent years the city has firmly positioned itself atop the global gourmand’s bucket list. Copenhagen has also become one of the world’s most environmentally progressive cities. From efficient public transport and ubiquitous bike lanes to the wind turbines looming in the distance, the city wows first-time visitors accustomed to metropolises filled with idling cars and non-pristine air. Visit during summer, and you might even see brave souls taking a dip in the clean, chilly waters of the city’s harbour. Visitors to Copenhagen face unavoidable barriers—namely some of Europe’s highest prices, plus inconsistent weather—but the tourism scene looks better than ever, thanks to a hotel boom and the mid-2019 completion of the much-anticipated Cityringen metro line.
As Danish design has spread around the world, a growing number of design-minded travellers are flocking to Copenhagen to experience the city’s unique assortment of boutique hotels. The team behind Hotel Alexandra has been collecting Danish mid-century vintage furniture—including works by iconic names such as Ole Wanscher and Arne Jacobsen—for decades. Standard rooms are filled with colours and elements that harken back to the 1950s and 1960s, but it’s the top-floor suites, each of which honours a Danish designer and is filled with original pieces, that delight serious design lovers. (The ever-changing “Collector’s Suite” offers everything within for sale.)
In a city full of eclectic, inspiring places to stay, THEKRANE might just be the most eye-catching of all. In 2017, a disused coal crane from the 1970s was turned into a one-room luxury hotel in Nordhavn (North Harbour). The nightly rate of €2,500 (US$2,836) includes a dedicated private concierge and use of a BMW. For the full experience, take a break from the expansive views and make use of the one-room spa and glass-enclosed meeting room.
Another splashy newcomer, Nobis Hotel Copenhagen, is the first international offering from Sweden’s Nobis Hospitality Group, which has earned plaudits for its boutique properties around Stockholm. Located near the famous Tivoli Gardens, the stylish mid-sized property is housed in a 1903 neoclassical building that formerly served as the home of the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music. Design lovers enjoy the hotel’s creative mix of styles; the concrete reception desk gives way to a polished marble lobby and ornate central staircase.
Housed in a defunct 1960s power station, Hotel Herman K is an upscale option whose hip environs stand in stark contrast to the building’s industrial past and brutalist architecture. Like many businesses in this exceptionally green city, Denmark’s first “chemical-free” hotel boasts of its commitment to the environment, including the elimination of all chemicals from its cleaning products and processes.
Copenhagen has been an ever-present entry on the global culinary landscape for years thanks to Noma, one of the world’s most innovative and influential restaurants. Earlier this year, after closing the original location in 2017, the visionary force behind Denmark’s most famous restaurant, René Redzepi, opened the doors to what food writers around the world are billing as ‘Noma 2.0.’ After successfully navigating the online reservation lottery process, diners head toward Noma’s new home in a converted naval ammunition bunker on the shore of a city lake, near the infamous anarchist community of Christiania. Redzepi’s unique approach to tasting menus remains intact—expect wickedly creative dishes that incorporate elements of seasonality, sustainability, and science. When complete, Noma’s campus will include multiple greenhouses and a 2,000-square-foot garden designed by Piet Oudolf, who worked on New York’s High Line park. The changes don’t end with the physical space; Noma now divides its year into three seasons, each with a distinct tasting menu. Seafood season runs from winter to spring; vegetable season runs from summer to early fall, and game and forest season runs from early fall through the end of the year. From 2003-17, Noma enjoyed an unparalleled run in its former home, a 1765 warehouse that was used to store dried fish and whale oil. Over the summer, the acclaimed chef Thorsten Schmidt, in partnership with Redzepi, opened Restaurant Barr in the old Noma space. The new restaurant offers a more casual, accessible option, including a relaxed beer bar that’s perfect for taking a night off from the €300 tasting menus found throughout the city. The kitchen produces upscale comfort plates inspired by the traditional eating and drinking habits found along the North and Baltic Seas. Such is Noma’s influence across the city that it’s hard to spend a few days eating around town without crossing into its sphere of influence. There are currently 17 places operated by former Noma chefs: the suitably eclectic collection includes Bæst, which serves up some of the city’s best pizza; the Michelin-starred fine dining destination Relæ; and Juno the Bakery, where customers queue outside for exceptionally photogenic baked goods.
A variety of attractive, mixed-use facilities have opened in recent years, pleasing lovers of modern, progressive architecture. One of Copenhagen’s most notable development projects, BLOX has opened in a formerly industrial stretch of the harbour, featuring funky bridges and inviting public spaces. Designed by the esteemed architectural firm OMA, the event and exhibition building houses the impressive Danish Architectural Center.
Another new cultural destination along Copenhagen Harbour is Kulturtårnet (Culture Tower). A pair of copper bridge towers—formerly used to monitor harbour traffic—had not been regularly open to the public before, and the southern tower is now open to visitors. Beyond scenic 360-degree views, the tower aims to carve out a niche as a cultural hub where the public can enjoy pop-ups, art, music, gastronomy, and talks.
Art lovers have been heading below Søndermarken Park, in what was once an underground reservoir, to check out Copenhagen’s buzziest exhibition venue, Cisternerne. Located across from Frederiksberg Palace, this post-industrial, multimedia art space can be identified by the twin glass pyramids that mark its entrance and exit. After descending into the cavernous space, visitors encounter stalactites and stalagmites extending from the floor and ceiling; conditions typically stay below 50˚F, with 100% humidity. The Frederiksberg Museums commission an artist to create an exhibition for Cisternerne every year; each artist incorporates the darkness and echoing acoustics to create equally unusual art, and the series of tunnels provides a memorable backdrop for light and video installations.
Copenhagen’s cool kids are flocking to Refshaleøen, an old industrial area that was once home to one of the world’s largest shipyards. Today, the abandoned warehouses are being filled with a growing assortment of trendy restaurants, relaxed bars, creative start-ups, and event spaces. Copenhagen Contemporary, or CC, opened in June in an abandoned welding hall; the spacious art centre will focus on immersive and interactive installations, plus performance art and multimedia works. Given the giant, industrial space and commitment to showcasing the world’s foremost contemporary artists, CC will inevitably draw comparisons to the Turbine Hall in London’s Tate Modern.
Reffen, a creative playground in the early stages of becoming Refshaleøen’s cultural hub, will eventually offer more than 50 food stalls, bars, and shops. This being Copenhagen, all of the stalls have to follow sustainable practices while using organic, local ingredients wherever possible.
Credit: Eric Grossman for The Wall Street Journal, 9 November 2018.