The Past (Backstory)
10 years ago (!!) I spent a semester of college in Copenhagen. I studied special education at DIS from January-May of 2013 and to be honest, I did not have a great experience! Just weeks before I departed for study abroad and a single day before my 21st birthday, I got in trouble at my college for underage drinking. I got called to a meeting with the dean of students, who told me I was lucky they were still letting me go abroad but as punishment I would not be allowed to live in the international dorms I was so excited for, and instead they would be putting me in a last minute home stay with a Danish family. Looking back this is SO laughable, by January I was 21 and living in a country where I had been of legal drinking age for 3 years, but I digress.
Upon arrival in Copenhagen, I was picked up at the airport by my “host mom” who turned out to be a woman trying to profit off boarders in her home and instead of living with a family, I was living (and sharing a bathroom with) a Romanian man in his 50s who spoke no English and would just stare & smile at me. Obviously, my parents were not comfortable with this living situation and reported it to the school, who hustled in the following days to find me a new host family who lived about an hour outside of the city. I packed my things, and upon breaking the news to my “landlord” that I would be leaving, was screamed at, had my door beaten down then was chased out of the building with my hair still wet from the shower. Safe to say, I had an unsettling start to my study abroad experience.
My next host family was lovely. A single mom and a daughter who were very kind to me, but upon learning of the tragic and sudden death of my best friend’s father back at home, nothing would have allowed me to have a good time. My study abroad experience was somewhat of a blur, commuting an hour to school every day, going out partying at night and learning the hard way that the trains stopped running in the middle of the night, being drunk and alone, stranded with no cell service and little money in a foreign country. I could go on, but I’ll spare you the details. Looking back, I just want to give that girl a hug. Despite these dark experiences, I never faulted the city of Copenhagen. I understood even then I was just having a bad time given my circumstances, and vowed to return one day when I felt ready for a new experience.
This past spring following my break up with my long term boyfriend, I thought that I should take a trip somewhere, and immediately felt called to Copenhagen. As I began to plan, I reached out to my host mom who I had lost touch with long ago on Facebook. A few days later, I received a message back from her daughter, informing me that she had recently passed away. A chill ran down my spine and a lump rose in my throat. I would have loved to go back and thank her for trying her best to support me during a dark time in my life, one which she inevitably knew about, but probably couldn’t understand because I shut her out instead of communicating. I felt deeply sad as I went on with my day, kicking myself for not staying in touch, for not going back to visit sooner. The more I thought about it though, I started to feel that perhaps it was her spirit who was calling me back, telling me I was ready. I booked my flights later that night.
The Present (Guide)
I’m pleased to report that I had the most wonderful trip to Copenhagen this time. I feel renewed, my 21-year-old self feels loved and my story with this city has been rewritten into a happy one. Below I’m sharing where I stayed, a little bit on neighborhoods, best means of transportation, what to pack, general impressions of Danish lifestyle and food, shopping & activities recs.
This gorgeous apartment is located in Nordhavnen, a quiet residential neighborhood in the northern part of the city. I loved staying here because it’s far removed from the touristy & commercial parts of the city, but is quick & easy to get around via bike or metro. It’s also near a fabulous spot for swimming.
A note: I booked my dates around its availability. The hosts only rent it out when they travel, so the openings are few and far between. In terms of neighborhoods, the only one in the city I would recommend not staying in would be Indre By because of how touristy it is. You’ll probably end up there anyway, so better to stay elsewhere to get a better sense of the city! I’m sharing two other Airbnb options I looked into below. People often ask me why I usually choose Airbnb over hotels, I think my answer is because they feel like home, are often nicer & cheaper than hotels, you get more space & privacy and you can have a full on kitchen so you can grocery shop & cook, which allows you to save money and feel more like a local.
If you’re into Scandinavian style, I highly suggest coming with a near empty suitcase. The shopping in Copenhagen is truly unmatched, and that’s coming from someone born and raised in NYC. The neighborhood of Frederiksburg is great for shopping, there are so many cute boutiques all in a row. Nørrrebro is great too, a little funkier!
- The Second Rag
- Acne Archive (Acne Studios outlet)
- Thrift Planet
- Lidkøb Østerbro
- Second Wardrobe
- Veras Market (open Sundays)
- Magasin (department store but carries a lot of good Danish brands)
- Studio Arhoj
- Stilleben No. 22
- Søstene Grene
- Palette 26
- Hay House
- Beau Marché (restaurant with a vintage design store in the back)
There’s great food in Copenhagen! I haven’t been but Noma, the best restaurant in the world, is located in Copenhagen! If you’re not ready to shell out $1000 per person for dinner, here are some other options:
- Cafe Pausa (try the Negroni spritz, thank me later)
- Lago- love this place so much, went back multiple times. Great setting for summer!
- Broens Gadekøkken (street food market)
- Ateiler September
- Apollo Bar
- Beau Marché
- Bottega Barlie
- Lille Bakery (so cute inside!)
- Juno bakery (always voted the best)
- La Banchina (my favorite!!! More info below)
If you go to Copenhagen in the summer and want to get a taste of the Danish lifestyle, you MUST check out one of the swimming spots and do a cold plunge in the sea! We went in July and although the air temperature was not hot (around 65 degrees Fahrenheit) the water was actually not that bad!
- La Banchina- love this place. The little restaurant makes surprisingly delicious food and the sauna is SO nice. We paid for a reservation but definitely didn’t need to. Would just go back and not pay next time!
- Kalvebod Bølge
- Nordhavn waterfront
- Broens Gadekøkken
- Ofeila Plads
- Islands Brygge
For a fun & relaxing day, I suggest pastries in the morning, then biking/walking over to Freetown Christania, wander through the town, check out the shops then head over to La Banchina for the afternoon. Have a bottle of natural wine & a snack (the hummus was amazing) a swim and sauna session, then head over to Broens Gadekøkken (street food market) for dinner.
If you’re there in the winter, swimming might not be the best option, so here are some indoor activity ideas (mostly museums!)
- Designmuseum Denmark
- Louisiana Museum
- New Mags (bookshop)
- Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
- Det Kongeilge Bibliotek
By far, the easiest and quickest way to get around the city is biking! Copenhagen actually ranks as the world’s most bike-friendly city, so I strongly recommend renting a bike, there are rental shops all over the city. I suggest doing this over the ride share bikes (like Citi bike) because they tend to be of not the highest quality. If biking isn’t your thing, there are busses which run frequently and the metro is really great too! It’s incredibly clean, efficient and easy to navigate. In some areas though you could be as far as a 15 minute walk from a metro station which is why biking is often faster. Walking is great too!
What to Pack
Weather in Scandinavia can be a bit unpredictable, and many things all at once. Of course, always check the weather before you go to make sure it’s not unseasonably hot or cold.
Summer– I was there in July, packed only dresses and didn’t wear a single one! Temps were around 65 degrees Fahrenheit at best, it was a bit chilly and rainy one minute, sunny the next, then rainy again. So you have to pack creatively, make sure everything goes together, and have layers you can remove (you’ll need them!). Below is a list of essentials:
- Classic button down shirt to wear alone or layer when it gets chilly
- A large purse you can keep a sweater in
- Birks! Great for walking and easy to slip out of if you go swimming
- Comfortable tailored pants you can dress up or down (these are my favorite!)
- A few tanks for that bottom layer
- A midi skirt
- Trench coat– I regretted not bringing mine nearly every day
- My all time favorite comfy white sneakers. (you guys ALWAYS tell me you’ll never buy another brand!)
Winter– I feel like this is more straight forward. Although temps might not be that terrible, you definitely need layers, and consistently low temperates make for a frozen ground, which can be very cold to your feet if you’re out walking all day and not wearing the right type of shoes. You always want to make sure you’re bringing the usual winter wear: a hat, scarf, gloves, etc. I suggest bringing comfortable walking boots like these and if it’s snowy, some thick snow boots like these. As for a coat, the Danes always look chic and I don’t recall seeing anyone in a not-cute coat. Think a thick wool coat layered on top of a chunky turtle neck sweater for reference!
Additional Notes & Ending Thoughts
Although not a cheap city by any means, the US dollar is much stronger compared to the Danish Kroner than it was 10 years ago when I was there before, so that’s good! Prices felt comparable to what they are in NYC. Yes, they still use Kroner, not Euros, and the city is pretty much cashless! Everywhere I went was tap to pay and I didn’t encounter a single situation where I needed cash, even a taxi I took one time was able to take a card. Speaking of taxis, there is no Uber or Lyft in Copenhagen. To get to & from the airport you just take the M2 (yellow) metro line and you’re in the city center in under 30 minutes. There are machines that sell single use tickets inside the stations.
Now that I’ve returned, I’m almost mad at myself for not immediately going back, Copenhagen is such a special city and the Danish way of life is truly a beautiful one. The culture, in many ways, feels polar opposite from that in the US. From an outsider’s perspective, it feels as though everyone is treated as an equal with standard healthcare and free education, there is a low crime rate, you never get rushed out of a restaurant and instead are made to feel at home, and of course, hygge. This results in a relaxed, yet orderly society where people seem to mind their business, but there is still a strong sense of community. Danes come across as serious but approachable and are very kind. I don’t know how else to describe it, but I just feel very safe there. I can’t say if I’ll ever leave NYC but if i did, it would be for Copenhagen.