Spending a weekend in Copenhagen doesn’t have to break the bank. Andrew Doherty discovers the city can still deliver on experience while going easy on the wallet.
London’s streets are awash with morning sunlight as I sit ashen faced in the back of an Uber. Luckily I’m escaping the chaos that a certain referendum has caused throughout London, and heading to Copenhagen for a civilised weekend in Denmark.
First stop is the picturesque Central Hotel & Cafe. Situated in the happening Vesterbro neighbourhood, the hotel houses only one room and a small concierge desk squeezed in by the front door. The smell of freshly ground coffee and varnish lingers in the air as owner Leif Thingfeld leads me upstairs. Leif, a self-professed lover of all things antique, designed and built the hotel himself.
The room is reminiscent of a first-class steam train carriage with fold-up wooden seats, a vintage telephone and a slide-out writing desk. At only DKK 1,800 a night, roughly £200, staying here won’t burn a hole in your client’s wallets. I peer out the window that overlooks
the street. A jolly bearded man catches my eye and gives me a wave.
“That’s what we’re all about here, making guests feel like they’re one of the locals,” Leif says. Outside I rendezvous with Henrik Thierlein, my guide for the day. We take in lunch at the nearby Granola Cafe & Restaurant, also owned by Leif.
Opened in 2008, Granola is dripping with retro chic. The 1950s coat stands, Art Deco posters and even the staff in their bowties transports me back in time to a glamorous post-war world.
We dine on a selection of traditional Danish open sandwiches. I gorge on chicken salad and mushroom garnished with Danish bacon; baby potato with Norwegian lobster; and soft-boiled egg on rye bread with fresh mini shrimp. Not forgetting the desert we order a bowl of koldskal (Danish buttermilk with strawberries and sweet biscuits). “The kids love this, especially in summer time,” Henrik says.
With full bellies we head for a short jaunt around the Vesterbro neighbourhood. Once an infamous red light district, the area now houses an abundance of fashionable restaurants, clothing outlets and coffee shops. We stop off at Sort Kaffe & Vinyl, perfect for both music lovers and coffee enthusiasts. I lean back on one of the little wooden chairs outside and do a bit of people watching. I’m amazed at how great everyone looks, with their understated yet stylish fashion sense, beautiful skin and immaculate hair.
Henrik notices that I’m impressed. “We are the Paris of Scandinavia after all,” he says.
Before dinner I make a quick pit stop at my hotel. The 161-room Absalon in the heart of the Vesterbro district is a fantastic example of a modern Scandinavian hotel. Pale wooden floors, cream walls and royal blue pillows create an airy quality. It makes me feel so relaxed that I almost fall asleep in one of the plush armchairs by the window.
Dinner in the Norrebro district sees me eating in three of Madklubben’s restaurants. Although it’s a chain, there’s a big point of difference; no two look the same. Clients can choose up to four courses and pay a fixed price that won’t break the bank. I’m treated to Asian themed starters in Hanzo; a taste of the Deep South in Alabama Social; and puddings and espresso martinis in Grand Torino; three Madklubben restaurants that are handily connected together.
We make our way for a nightcap at the Brus brewpub to sample some of its finest craft beers. Once a locomotive repair station, the pub retains its turn of the 20th-century feel with exposed brick walls, high ceilings and copper plated beer taps.
Sine Schmidt greets me with a smile the following morning in the Norrebro neighbourhood. Sine works for Cph:cool, a company specialising in walking tours around Copenhagen. She leads me to Cafe Salonen, a gem from the rejuvenation of the 1990s.The cafe extends onto a pontoon at the city’s lakes. Clients can chill out on deck chairs with an ice cream or rent one of the swan-shaped pedalos.
“We wanted to bring the beach to the city,” Sine says.
One thing that strikes me is just how quiet the area is. With hardly any cars or mopeds around, the air feels clean. I take a deep breath and remind myself that I’m still in a capital city.
Copenhagen has gone to great lengths to provide its citizens with a higher quality of life, with a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2025.
Green schemes include public recycling points in the place of a waste collection service. “We put these on the streets so people have nowhere to hide if they don’t recycle properly,” Sine says. A public bike share service further reduces the need for automotive transport. The electric-powered Bycyklen is the world’s first smart bike service and have a handy touchscreen GPS beneath the handlebars. A Bycyklen app, free to download from bycyklen.dk, directs users to collection areas, mostly near train, metro or bus stations.
Passing through the shopping streets of Ravnsborggade, Elmegrade and Jaegersborggade, I notice that there are no chain stores. Sine explains that the locals prefer grassroot start-ups. “We still have everything in these streets that we need… breakfast, lunch and beer.”
Assistens Cemetery doubles as a public park. Sine directs me to the grave of fairytale writer, Hans Christian Andersen. A flute begins to play, and although I can’t see the musician, it’s like stepping into one of Andersen’s stories.
So far I’ve kept to a strict budget, but I decide to break all the rules before I go home and order the 15-course taste menu at Gorilla in the city’s meat packing district. The next four hours is spent indulging in dishes ranging from freshly caught oysters to succulent lamb’s shoulder.
When I finally make it out of the converted industrial building, the city skies are splashed with the rosy hue of the setting sun. It is Copenhagen’s final gift to me.
Although I am returning to the political turmoil of post-Brexit London, I depart full of inspiration, that one can live life like they do in Copenhagen.
Book it: Jet2holidays offers a two-night stay at the Absalon Hotel from £559pp with breakfast and flights included from Leeds Bradford airport departing December 9.
I change 100 DKK, roughly £11, ready to prove that one can have a full day in Copenhagen without splashing out the cash. First, since the city isn’t overly large, I save on not taking public transport or cabs. Besides, walking is perfect for exploring the green spaces and public gardens of Norrebro.
All the walking around certainly works up an appetite but never fear, one can dine on a budget. In Torvehallerne market I grab some Kimchi (a traditional Korean side dish made from seasoned vegetables) for 60 DKK/£7. If you have worked up a thirst then check out one of the city’s brown taverns and pick up a bottle of beer for around 15 DKK/£1.70.
A public bike, which is free for the first 30 minutes, can help you explore the streets.
I end the day at the Botanical Garden in central Copenhagen walking among more than 13,000 species of plants from central and southern Europe. Free admission means there’s just enough in the wallet for a honeycomb-flavoured ice cream.