Copenhagen is, by far, one of my favorite cities on the planet. It's historic, yet incredibly modern. Traditional, yet incredibly progressive. It's also just plain gorgeous — with a deeply-ingrained cultural respect for art, architecture and design in all forms, everything in Copenhagen is beautiful. Here are the CC Basics on Copenhagen:
There are 2 million inhabitants of the metro area, with about 1.3 million inside the city limits (similar to Dallas, Texas in the US, or Prague in greater Europe). 76% of these inhabitants are Danes, 24% are not.
86.39 square kilometers / 33.36 square miles — or only 10% the size of Dallas! Things are fairly dense here — there are 18,000 people per square mile, or 6,800 per square kilometer, which is somewhat like Boston, Massachusetts.
Recorded history mentions Copenhagen first around the 12th century, but archaeological discoveries have been found dating to 1020. It seems to have been some sort of settlement since the Stone Age.
Danish, obviously. It's one of the trickiest languages to learn and to speak — but luckily, most people speak fluent English (along with at least one other European language). Our waitress at Relæ was switching between five — English, Spanish, Italian, German, and of course, Danish. You should still learn a little to be polite:
Hej (hey) — Hello
Tak (tahk) — Thanks
...and that's all you'll likely need. You're welcome!
Copenhagen (and Denmark at large) have an incredibly efficient and inexpensive transit network. There are three main types of public transit within the city limits: S-tog, Metro and buses. The S-tog is a light rail system that is designed to get people in and out of the city easily, whereas the Metro is a true underground — they share some stations for convenience. The Metro is a fairly new thing, so buses may be the easiest way to get around depending on your destination — however, like many progressive governments in Europe, Copenhagen planned a circular Metro line to connect more suburbs with the city center a full 20 years before it was needed. It will be operational by 2020, right on time with population and transit projections.
All of the center-city transit operates on a fixed-fare system (like Paris) — as long as you're within the three city zones, it's one price. All tickets are valid on all services.
The DSB system is a light local rail system that connects further-flung suburbs and municipalities, much like the RER in Paris. It operates on a point-to-point fare system, so you'll need to buy tickets before each journey.
There is a national fare card for citizens and residents called a Rejsekort, but for tourists there is a Copenhagen Card. We bought them on our last trip and it was certainly worth it. It covers entrance to almost every museum or cultural attraction in the entire Capital Region, as well as all transit — S-tog, buses, Metro and DSB — so no fussing with tickets! They come in different validity lengths — 24 / 48 / 72 / 120 hours. You can buy yours online and have it shipped directly, or you can pick it up at the airport information desk.
CPH is the region's main airport, located about 30 minutes southeast of the city center on Amager Island. It's thankfully serviced by a direct Metro link, right into the middle of town. When we were there, it was under construction and the signage was less than adequate — somewhat shocking for the ever-designed, ever-beautiful capital. Make sure you get there with plenty of time to ask for help and get checked in, as the airlines seem to shift around with no warning.
Danish cuisine is experiencing a legendary renaissance as of late. Noma, the #1 restaurant in the entire world, redefined the very idea of Nordic cuisine with hyper-local, hyper-fresh experimental gastronomy — and then the chefs who began at Noma moved on to open their own restaurants. Relæ, 108, Geranium, Amass... the list is impressive, and boasts a large number of Michelin-starred boîtes and spots on the World's Best list. Noma closed in February 2017 to run a 3-month pop-up restaurant in Tulum, Mexico (it sold out in 15 minutes — at $1,000 a plate), and will be reopened in a new space in the Christiania neighborhood — and we all wait with baited breath.
Beyond haute gastronomie, there are plenty of incredible places to eat in town. Papirøen (Paper Island) hosts one of the world's largest street food markets. Mouth-watering Turkish and Middle Eastern food abounds in the northern neighborhoods. Most Danes are incredibly particular about what they eat, so don't be surprised when you find cold-pressed juice, fresh kale salads and turmeric tonics in the 7-Eleven where the Coca-Cola would be. Also, much of the food is organic (økologiske or øko for short) throughout the city and Denmark at large.
Denmark is a multi-party social democratic state, with a parliamentary representational democracy. The Queen is the theoretical source of executive and judicial power, but in reality has no real power. It has one of the highest standards of living in the world, with near-zero corruption and broad protection of civil liberties. The world's highest tax rate (at 42-62%) provides Danes with one of the highest quality educational and healthcare systems in the world. You've probably seen the reports that Denmark is one of the happiest nations in the world — and they're very right.
Currently and unfortunately, Denmark is experiencing a creeping rise in far-right populism, much like the rest of Europe and the United States. However, these far-right elements have been shown to have near-zero agendas beyond appealing to their base (also similar to Europe and the US), so their upward progression seems to have halted.
LGBT+ travel in Denmark is easy — it's one of the most LGBT-friendly places on Earth. Same-sex activity has been legal since 1933, LGBT persons have been allowed to serve in the military since 1978 and same-sex marriage has been legal since 2012 (civil unions were recognized in 1989).
From personal experience, no one gives it a second thought. I'm not big on PDA, but I held my future husband's hand many times, and never experienced as much as a sideways glance.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Dag Hammarskjölds Allé 24 — however, our Dear Leader recalled all American diplomats and staff appointed by Obama, so there is no current U.S. Ambassador to Denmark. The last Ambassador, an openly gay man, married his partner at Copenhagen City Hall — and was adored by the Danes so much that the national broadcasting company produced a top-rated documentary series about his life at the Embassy.
Call 112 for emergencies.
"Tourists do not qualify for treatment under the Danish National Health Service, except in cases of emergency. If, however, the medical facility determines that the emergency occurred as a result of a pre-existing condition, the tourist must be prepared to pay for all services received." — from the U.S. Embassy.
Be sure to bring any and all medicine you may need — including over-the-counter drugs. OTC medicine does not really exist in Denmark, as the healthcare system is efficient enough in treating all types of health issues — and holistic and alternative therapies are usually covered. Trying to buy ibuprofen in a pharmacy makes you feel like a heroin addict — they will only sell you one box of 20 tablets, and they are expensive. The logic behind this is that OTC medication and self-medication cause a fair percentage of liver and kidney failures — and in Denmark, the state pays for organ transplants.
In this day and age, having cell service abroad is a necessity. You could use your expensive U.S. cell plan while abroad (mine is $10/day on top of usage fees...) or you can use a local cell operator — always the better choice. In Denmark, I would recommend Lebara. You can buy a SIM card in the airport (the vending machines are at the baggage claim) and they offer pretty stellar phone support in English. I recommend registering your account at lebara.dk (use your hotel address) in order to easily top-up whenever you need to. The SIM from the airport is slightly more expensive than what's available in the city — but I believe I got 5GB of data for 50DKK (about $8).
Copenhagen plans to be carbon-neutral by 2025.
More than half of the city's residents commute by bicycle.
The water in Copenhagen's harbors and canals is incredibly clean — in the summer, you'll often see people swimming in it.
Strøget, in the center of town, is one of the world's longest pedestrian shopping streets.
"One of Copenhagen’s most popular tourist attractions, the Little Mermaid statue, has taken some serious abuse in its more than 100 years on display. It’s been decapitated twice, coated in paint and graffiti, had an arm sawn off, been blasted into the water, and had a sex toy glued to its hand." — from Mental Floss
There you have it! Stay tuned for the next few weeks as we go deep into Copenhagen — coming up next is a design tour of the northern suburbs (it's amazing, I promise).