I so love this place, I said. I really think I could live here.
'You can't judge a place by how it shows itself in the summer. You must visit it in the midst of winter to really understand whether or not you would want to live there'.
I have been traveling with different eyes lately. The eyes of someone who doesn't simply visit a place, but who is at the same time evaluating the elements of a life in that place. What does it feel to live here, I was thinking while walking through the neighborhoods of Copenhagen – along its lush parks and pedestrian streets. What does it feel to be able to bike everywhere, not having to take a crowded train to work, and living this lifestyle which seems so laid back, relaxed and human?
We have been lucky, they told us. It isn't always like that in Copenhagen, they said. Winters are long, and dark and harsh and demand a great leap of faith – the certitude that daylight will abound once again, sometime soon– to get through them. We were oblivious of all that for a while – everything was too bright and beautiful and warm and so very colourful in comparison to what we had left behind to picture such times would ever come. Only after a couple of days were we brought back to reality during a lunch at The Nordic Food Lab. We were, funnily enough, talking about the weather, praising the glorious days we had been gifted with, when one of the visiting interns said something that, for simple that is was, stuck with me since. 'This is just like any other day in LA'.
We left London on a rainy, misty day at the end of May and landed in a place where the sun didn't seem to ever go away. Days were long and warm, and we were pushed to the edge of our energies, eager to suck it all in, to see it all, to breathe the fresh air of a city where bikes outnumber cars and buses, where the breeze from the harbour clears the sky and allows the sun to shine bright, as high up as I had never seen before.
These thoughts, see, these glimpses would never even occurred to me if I was simply visiting Copenhagen, if I wasn't rather considering moving there. Would I be able to take it – the dark, the long winters, the cold, the expensive citrus? Would it be much different from London in that aspect? Would I trade a life in a place that is warm and summery and where I would feel like a living human being for most of the year for a life somewhere beautiful, slow-paced, functioning, yet so expensive and just, simply put, so Nordic?
The first impression I had of Copenhagen was that it looks a lot like the California you get to know through media – and the fair weather helped to complete the picture. Everybody is blond – I could have easily titled this post '50 shades of blond' – beautiful, tall, fairly fit, and surprisingly enough, lightly tanned. Every young couple seem to have at least one child, who is carried around in a bin-like attachment in the front of bikes. Everybody bikes in this town of over one million, which seems to reduce stress and crankiness, together with pollution, and is definitely facilitated by the presence of bike paths in both directions in every single road. Bikes have priority over cars. There are bike rush hours, they told us, and when it snows bike paths get cleaned before roads and sidewalks. I was in owe in front of such demonstration of civilisation, coming from a country where bike paths are a mirage and take decades to build, and living in another where bikers risk their lives among cars, buses, taxis and enjoy a good deal of fumes while at it.
I enjoyed walking around the quiet street of Kastellet, the citadel, so lush and green and peaceful, with its bright red buildings contrasting dramatically with the green of the hills all around. Copenhagen is a beautiful city, rich in history, beautiful architecture, museums and a beating city centre. We are not great at making a visiting plan as the way we like to see a place is by walking everywhere and stumbling upon things. But we feel we saw most of it – the entrance of Tivoli amusement park, the Town Hall, the Royal (Amalienborg) Palace, the Opera House, the King's Gardens and stunning Rosenborg Castle, the Old Harbour (Nyhavn).
Our main focus being food, we had rather made a map with all the places we wanted to eat at, or at least check out. Heavy with amazing recommendations gathered from friends near and far, we had a taste of the city and its diverse and up-and-coming (now worldwide-known) food scene mingling tradition and experimentation; its markets, its fervid coffee culture and growing, although perhaps still clumsy, passion for natural wines.
A few places.
We always had breakfast at the apartment, with ingredients shopped at the market and the bonus of a coffee machine. However, for a quick breakfast fix there are Emmerys (healthy bakery and cafe) all over town. If you enjoy your daily sweet treat at breakfast, you'll find great Danish pastries and cinnamon rolls at Meyers Bakery.
- Coffee Collective – independent roasters with a handful of coffee shops scattered around town. Excellent cold-brew and really nice atmosphere. I had my coffee fix every day in their location inside Torvehallerne market.
- Kent Kaffe Laboratorium – we didn't get to try it personally but heard great things, and the place looked very attractive from the outside. We just happened to be there at the wrong time for coffee (if such thing even exist!).
- Sweet Treat – located in the heart of Christianshavn, the island where you find Noma alongside Freetown Christiania, it is a great spot to stop, unwind and refuel if you have walked there from the opposite part of town. Their espresso was excellent and they have wi-fi.
- Torvehallerne market – a bit of a fancy market, but with good places where to grab a quick, light lunch (smørrebrød, salads, sandwiches and even a paleo meal, if you are in that kind of stuff). ££
- Kalaset – great brunch spot, confirmed by the high number of nostalgic American students/expats brunching there on a late Sunday morning. Abundant, diverse, with a vegetarian and vegan option. Great cold latte. ££
- Aamanns – great smørrebrød made on the spot, which you can enjoy in or take out. ££
- Bror – Set menu, small plates and small choice of wine by the glass. From one of the ex-chefs of Noma. Booking online in advance is highly recommended. £££
- Manfred & Vins – Inexpensive set menu of 7 courses, fun and informal atmosphere, and with a good (yet expensive!) choice of French natural wines. From the same team behind celebrated restaurant Relae. Booking recommended. ££
- Fishmarket – we heard you eat the best seafood in town here. We didn't make it, but the menu is very appealing. £££
- Strøget – the longest pedestrian street in Europe, packed of high-street shops alongside crappier or better ones. Worth checking out are the side streets, where the real not-so-hidden gems are.
- Ravnsborggade – for great second hand shops and props.
Where to Stay
We are keen AirBnb travelers and we found there is a very wide choice of places to stay all over town, and for all pockets. We were very lucky and found this one bedroom apartment, very well decorated and super clean, in the quiet and lush area of Ostbro. It is part of a complex of houses called Brumbleby surrounded by gardens and it has the feeling of a small commune. Highly recommended.
Rene Redzepi Desert Island Discs
Nordic Food Lab, and their amazing Family Meals, one of which we were lucky enough to share.
As some of the links in this post testify, I seem to be much more active on Istagram these days – follow along there for more up-to-date chronicles.