14 September 2015

Copenhagen Day 2: Exploring the City Centre

On Saturday morning, I woke up relatively early and headed for The Lakes, a series of three artificial rectangular lakes (divided into five basins) that curve around the north-west of the city centre, which I had identified as the best running spot near my hotel. The sun wasn't shining, exactly, but the weather was mild and quite pleasant.

After returning to my hotel to shower and change, I went to grab some breakfast at Granola, a popular, French-style café in Vesterbro. I got there just after 9.30 and there were still a few tables available, but people who arrived after 10 were facing a considerable wait. I ordered a cortado (35 krone, or about £3.50) and the oatmeal with apple, banana, coconut and cinnamon (55 krone) and soaked up the view of the cool corner of Vesterbro as it came to life. Until a big car came and parked in front of me, anyway. 

The oatmeal was very tasty, if a little overpriced, and the coffee was only OK (I guess they really are imitating those grand French cafés), but the atmosphere and experience were great. If there is a queue at Granola and you are seeking good coffee, try Rist, just across the street. And next to Rist are a couple of great shops: Dora, which has beautiful homewares, and Playtype, which is an altar to all things typographical.

Breakfast completed, it was time to crack on with the day's sightseeing. I am in Copenhagen for four days, but as I only arrived on Friday evening, this works out as three full days and an evening, which meant that there wasn't any time for dawdling. I walked past Tivoli to the National Museum of Denmark, via the Rådhuspladsen (town hall square) where celebrations of National Fish Day were in full swing. The museum is free to enter and has some good collections on the history and culture of the Danish people. I was in a bit of a rush so just explored the ground floor, which mainly focuses on Danish prehistory. There is free wifi and a decent gift shop too.

I crossed the bridge onto Slotsholmen ('castle island'), a small island that houses Christiansborg Palace and the Royal Library. Christiansborg contains lots of different buildings and you are mostly free to wander around the outside. I walked through the gardens of the Royal Library, said hello to Kierkegaard (his statue overlooks the fountain), and then joined the queue for the Tårnet, Copenhagen's highest tower. It's free to go up and, unlike some of the other towers in the city, there is a lift, and the view is indeed quite spectacular, even on a cloudy day. You couldn't quite see to Sweden (all of the towers highlight this possibility as the pinnacle of vistas), but the colourful buildings and red-tiled roofs did look very scenic.

By then, it was time for my second coffee and I crossed the bridge on the eastern side of Slotsholmen to get back onto the main city centre island. I went to Copenhagen Coffee Lab partly because its cosy basement ambience sounded lovely and partly because I had read that they did hand-brewed filter coffees. Unfortunately, when I arrived there was a big queue and only one barista and she looked as though she might cry when the guy in front of me tried to order a pourover, so I ordered a cortado (30 krone) instead. It was good, but I wish I'd arrived 15 minutes later because when I left, I saw some other customers enjoying a pourover. I'll do a full Copenhagen coffee guide at the end of my trip.

Heading northeast along the waterfront, I stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Almanak, which occupies the ground floor of The Standard, a large, pistachio green building that resembles a ship. Almanak specialises in smørrebrod — open-faced Danish sandwiches — and the restaurant itself, tastefully decorated in soothing shades of grey, is beautiful and elegant. Most of the smørrebrod were between 80 and 110 krone and you really need two to make a lunch, but you can also get the 'chef's quick lunch', which includes two smørrebrod selected by the chef for 150 krone. This seemed like good value (relatively), so I went for this option and was really impressed with how tasty and beautifully presented the food was. The smoked salmon with fennel and cucumber was my favourite, but the roast beef, horseradish and crispy onions was also very good.

A couple of blocks northeast takes you to Nyhavn, a scenic, if touristy, row of colourful buildings along the canal. Boats bob in the harbour and there are plenty of restaurants, but I feel like my meal at Almanak was probably much better value. I carried on walking until I reached the Design Museum Danmark, a place where all chairs hope to go when they leave this life. There are a lot of chairs in the museum, but plenty of pop art, fashion and style too. It costs 100 krone to go in but is free with a Copenhagen Card. Unsurprisingly, it has a great gift shop, stocked with plenty of lovely homewares, accessories and books.

I stopped for a third coffee at Kafferiet, a tiny, cosy spot near the Kastellet (fortress), and then, spurred on by the caffeine, mustered up the energy to fight through the throngs of other tourists to visit the Little Mermaid. I was surprised that they let you go right up to the statue (although you do have to negotiate some rocks on the shore), which meant that every person on every tour bus wants to get a photo of them touching the mermaid's fin and that it's difficult for everyone else to get a photo that doesn't have other people in it.

I left pretty quickly and walked back to the city centre through the star-shaped Kastellet, whose interior buildings are painted a vibrant red. There was a wedding taking place inside and it was nice to see people strolling through the grounds in black tie.

As I was in the area, I decided to visit a few of the design shops on my shopping list, notably Hay (a haven of colourful gorgeousness), Illum (a department store whose fourth floor has many lovely homewares) and Illums Bolighus (three floors of homewares, stationery and other beautiful products from a variety of Danish designers). All of these shops are located on Strøget, a 1km pedestrianised shopping street (pronounced — approximately — stroll).

I probably wouldn't have bothered taking one of the super-touristy canal-boat tours of the city (80 krone for one hour), but it was free with my Copenhagen Card and I was in need of a sit down. It was quite a nice way to see the city but as the guide was — impressively — conducting the tour in four languages, I didn't learn much more about the city than what I had read in my guidebook.

About an hour before sunset, the sun decided to peep through the clouds and as I was in the area, I decided to climb up the Rundetårn (round tower), a 17th century tower that allows you to amble your way up to the top via the steeply sloping but stair-free path. It costs 25 krone to enter (free with Copenhagen Card), and isn't quite as good a view as Tårnet, but I enjoyed the climb and it was nice to see the city at what was likely to be the closest I would see of a sunset in Copenhagen.

For dinner, I crossed the bridge over one of the lakes into Nørrebro and went into Sliders, a casual-cool burger restaurant that looks out onto the lake. There are nine options on the slider menu and you can order one for 45 krone or three and a side for 115. Naturally, I went for the latter, choosing a beef patty topped with corn, cabbage (!) and crispy bacon; a pulled pork and coleslaw slider; and a Thai-inspired chicken and duck patty with peanuts and spring onions. You order at the bar and when your food is ready, the staff bring it out to your table. The packaging is so beautiful — black paper adorned with gold stickers and text — that you feel like you are buying a gift at a fancy department store. The food was tasty too, although the pulled pork was a little disappointing. Next time, I would try more beef sliders.

I went for a nightcap at a hip little bar called The Barking Dog, a cosy, fun spot with friendly bar staff and great drinks. The cocktail menu has plenty of quirky twists on classic drinks as well as some of their own concoctions. I went for The Last Hipster (85 krone); because Copenhagen. Vodka (gluten-free, natch) is mixed with a spice syrup, a fruit syrup, lemon and a touch of absinthe and shaken over ice. It wasn't something I would normally go for but it was really good and probably won't be the last Last Hipster. Once I heard that the Christian J. Collins (also 85 krone) was a Tom Collins made with my local Jensen's Bermondsey gin, I couldn't not order one, and it was also expertly mixed. Finally, it was time to head home and rest my aching feet after a busy day.

Granola. Værnedamsvej 5, Vesterbro. Website
Copenhagen Coffee Lab. Boldhusgade 6, Copenhagen city centre. Website.
Almanak. Havnegade 44, Copenhagen city centre. Website.
Kafferiet. Esplanaden 44, Copenhagen city centre. Website. Twitter.
Sliders. Peblinge Dossering 2, Nørrebro. Facebook.
The Barking Dog. Sankt Hans Gade 19, Nørrebro. Website.

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