Nordic design, stylish architecture, prize-winning gourmet cuisine: the Danish capital's special attitude towards life attracts ten million tourists a year.
You're never far from the water in Copenhagen, the city on the strait of Øresund. In this old port and trading city, the canals and shipping piers have been enlarged and extended time and again over the centuries.
The must-see program for tourists begins for many at the central port of Nyhavn. The branch canal, which opened in 1673, and the old townhouses along it are a popular subject for photos. Here there's one restaurant after another, and this is the starting-off point for the tourist boats to the iconic statue that symbolizes the city: the Little Mermaid from the fairy tale of the same name by the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen.
Copenhagen remained largely undamaged throughout World War II. That includes the royal palaces. While the Danish queen now resides in Amalienborg Palace, Christianborg Palace is the seat of parliament. Tivoli Gardens amusement park, in contrast, burned down during the German occupation when it was bombed by Nazi sympathizers in 1944, but it reopened soon after the war ended. Its charmingly magical atmosphere, with rides such as a wooden roller coaster and colorful shows, attracts more than four million visitors a year.
Copenhagen doesn't just boast nostalgic sights, but also unusual ones. The Round Tower, for instance, was built as an observatory in 1642. Astronomical books and instruments were taken up to it by coach on a spiral ramp. The Christiania commune is not exactly uncontroversial. The officially tolerated “free town” in the middle of Copenhagen is especially well-known for its permissive attitude towards cannabis. Founded in 1971 by the autonomous commune of Copenhagen, this hippie community has attracted many tourists since then.
Nowadays the people of Copenhagen are especially well-known for their environmental friendliness. That's easy to see from the countless cycleways and solar picnic boats. If it strikes your fancy, do what the Danes do and rent a bicycle to explore the city.
A perfect weekend
With a population of about 1.3 million Copenhagen is one of Europe's smaller capitals. What can and should you see if you have 48 hours to spend in the Danish city? DW presenter Meggin Leigh will be checking this out in Europe's most exciting cities, which she will also present in the series "Meggin's perfect weekend" on DW's Euromaxx.
Here are Meggin Leigh's personal tips for Copenhagen:
See icons of design history in the Design Museum Danmark, Bredgade 68
Enjoy a Danish street food market in an old shipyard on the urban island of Refshaleøen, Refshalevej 167
Visit northern Europe's biggest aquarium, 10,000 square meters (107,600 sq ft) in size: The Blue Planet Aquarium Den Blå Planet right on the strait of Øresund, Jacob Fortlingsvej 1, 2770 Kastrup
A capital with design in its DNA
Copenhageners are mad about design — from furniture to fashion. Every detail is taken into account, every niche made “hyggelig” — comfy. Since the influential Danish designer Verner Panton combined pop art and interior decor in the 1960s, Copenhageners have been cultivating good taste.
A stroll through the central pedestrian zone, Strøget, takes you to two places with some of the longest traditions of Danish interior design: the luxury furniture store Illums Bolighus and the oldest still-existing center of craftsmanship in the city, the Copenhagen Royal Porcelain Factory.
If you drift into the side streets of Strøget, you'll find young fashion and designer labels, including the minimalist design classics by Gubi. Like Panton's chairs, they're already museum pieces, but in central Copenhagen they can also be seen in the Gubi Showroom.
Word has spread that the former working-class and red-light district Vesterbro, behind the railway station, has become a trendy district for young creative people — with all sorts of individual shops. Another destination for design fans is the district of Østerbro, with the Normann Copenhagen flagship store, not least because of its unusual location: in an old cinema, the hip company combines modern Danish interior design with exclusive fashion.
These days there are an incredible 17 Michelin-starred restaurants in Copenhagen ! Beyond that, in the past number of years the trendy Vesterbro neighborhood has become a great place for high-quality cuisine to match the vibrant night-life. The Meatpacking District, in Copenhagen's old slaughterhouse area, is a hot spot where culinary life plays out every evening in the fish bars and restaurants.
Whether with meat or fish, lunch for everyone in Copenhagen is an open-faced sandwich known as a "smørrebrød". Its basis is a slice of buttered rye bread that can be topped in hundreds of ways. Ingredients such as herring, roast beef, seafood and egg are piled up so high that you can eat a true "smørrebrød" only with a knife and fork. According to legend, this was how the city folk wanted to show they were different from the farmers. In any case, you might call the "smørrebrød" business the greatest thing since sliced bread.
The Copenhageners are proud of their markets and market halls — whether they offer international street food or typically Danish treats such as "flødeboller". These cream puffs, covered, of course, in fair-trade organic chocolate, are also perfect as sweet souvenirs. And last but not least, ice cream in a freshly-baked cone contributes to that special Copenhagen feeling. It's guaranteed to keep you happy.
Giants on the waterfront
For many tourists who arrive by plane, Denmark's aquarium, newly opened in 2012, is the first thing they see. Den Blå Planet, not far from the airport, looks like a huge whirlpool in the sea when seen from above. It may well be the most spectacular structure to have been built on the city island of Amager in the past few years.
The harbor complex in the old port of Nordhavn is set to be Copenhagen's most sustainable quarter. The UN City Campus is already here. With its seawater cooling and solar panels, it's considered one of the most energy-efficient buildings of its sort in all Scandinavia.
You can learn more about the city's most exciting new building project on a tour, guided by the architects from the network "Guiding Architects" or immerse yourself in the city's vibrant architectural scene, drinking coffee in the COBE offices' in-studio cafe on Orientkaj while looking at the architectural models for the future of Nordhavn.
The architecture of the Copenhagen Opera House is already being mentioned in the same breath as Sydney
Even on a tour of the harbor in the city center starting at Nyhavn, the modern side of Copenhagen is unmissable: old and new buildings alternate along the shoreline, with highlights such as the opera house by architect Henning Larsen, which opened in 2005, and the Black Diamond, the striking extension to the Royal Library.