Fall Travel: Europe's Happy Place is Copenhagen
Luggage in hand, I stepped up to street level at the Kongens Nytorv metro station and a flurry of activity greeted me. Apparently, I had arrived in Copenhagen the same day as a spate of unseasonably warm weather, and city denizens had come out enthusiastically to welcome it. Squadrons of cyclists whizzed past in every direction, and as I headed down the cobblestone streets of the Nyhavn — a 17th-century canal lined with colorful old houses — I found myself parting a sea of people. Here, thirsty sun worshippers packed cafés, street musicians entertained, and small groups of friends gathered along the waterfront to converse and drink beer. Yes, a palpable excitement filled the air and I wanted in. Copenhagen was enchanting.
Of course, one of Copenhagen’s most famous former residents, Hans Christian Andersen, practically invented “enchanting,” having penned fairy tales like Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, and The Little Mermaid. A statue of the latter, Den Lille Havfrue, perches delicately on a rock near Langelinie Pier and is one of the city’s star attractions, as evidenced by the crowd clambering over the water to pose with her. (Stroll the surrounding area too: Amalienborg Palace sits mere blocks away and nearby monuments like the Gefion Fountain are also worth a look.)
For a full-on fairytale experience, however, visit Tivoli Gardens (Tivoli.dk), the world’s second oldest amusement park, located in the heart of the city center. Twenty acres of beautifully staged themed areas showcase thousands of flowers, twinkling lights, restaurants, and theaters. There are thrill rides too, many visible in the skyline from around the city and each seemingly designed to propel, jettison, or hurl its riders in a unique, physics-defying way.
My “happily ever after” came at mealtime. In 2010, chef René Redzepi’s Noma was named the best restaurant in the world, causing an explosion in the Copenhagen food scene, and the city has since become a constellation of Michelin stars. Gastronomic hot spots have popped up in every neighborhood celebrating the new Nordic cuisine or the use of modern techniques on local, seasonal Scandinavian ingredients. Fish figures prominently, as do fennel, beets, dill, rye crumbles, and tarragon; but unexpected ingredients like nasturtium buds, pigs’ ears, and pine appear as well.
The finale of the Eurovision Song Contest was in swing, and Denmark’s competitor, Emmelie de Forest, was heading into the weekend favored to win. Although nearby Malmö in Sweden officially had hosting duty, Copenhagen seemed to attract its share of international tourists, especially among the competition’s huge gay fan base.
This shouldn’t surprise, considering Copenhagen’s long history as an open, inclusive city. An early adopter of LGBT acceptance, the Danish capital was the site of the world’s first legally recognized registered same-sex partnership and has the world’s oldest national LGBT association, founded in 1948. Copenhagen is both cosmopolitan and charming, possessing all of the trappings of a big city in an easily manageable package. Perhaps it is this relaxed, open attitude that explains why Danes routinely top the list of the world’s happiest people.
At nightfall, Copenhagen’s streets continued to teem with life, especially near City Hall Square where many of the LGBT-frequented bars and clubs can be found. In fact, a venue change requires no more than a few blocks’ walk from Centralhjørnet (Denmark’s oldest gay bar) to Men’s Bar (only men allowed), Jailhouse CPH (bartenders in cop uniforms), Heaven (weekend disco), or Oscar Bar Café (trendy with ample outdoor seating). As I arrived at the latter, I headed to the bar for a beer as a pair next to me passionately debated the comparative talents of each Eurovision finalist.
Twenty-four hours later I found myself in City Hall Square again, on my way to grab a beer at Oscar. Now, however, a large screen had been set up to broadcast the Eurovision finals with thousands of onlookers waving flags and singing along. In the end, Emmelie de Forest won, proving fairy tales do exist.
Photo: Courtesy Copenhagen Admiral Hotel
A converted 18th-century grain warehouse updated with modern Danish décor, The Copenhagen Admiral Hotel offers attentive service and proximity to Nyhavn, Amalienborg Palace and Den Lille Havfrue. The harbor views, massive wooden beams in the guest rooms, and brick arches that bisect the hallways almost give the feeling of staying on a grand sailing ship. Admiral-hotel-copenhagen.com
Alternatively, check in across town at the Andersen Hotel, with its hip, mixed crowd of guests, boldly designed rooms (in two color themes: princess or mermaid), and Friday night DJs in the lobby. Andersen-hotel.dk
One of Copenhagen’s most popular gay bars, the prison-themed Jailhouse CPH routinely packs a diverse, genial group of patrons into its surprisingly narrow downstairs space. JailhouseCPH.dk
Oscar Bar Café transforms from daytime lunch spot to evening watering hole of choice for a well-heeled set. A DJ spins every Friday and Saturday night from 10 P.M. to 2 A.M. OscarBarCafe.dk
Every Friday and Saturday, those in need of a disco can be found climbing the stairway to Heaven (really: it’s on the second floor) where they can drink and dance the night away to a playlist of mostly remixed American pop songs. Facebook.com/HeavenCPH
Restaurant Geist features innovative “medium-sized” dishes (neither appetizers or entrees, but something between) like West Coast turbot with fennel ravioli and lobster tartare with yogurt and hibiscus. Sit at the bar facing the open kitchen and watch as the battalion of young cooks with hip haircuts craft your meal. RestaurantGeist.dk
For a worthwhile splurge, order the five-course dinner with wine pairing at Marv & Ben. Each precision-plated, starting with the amuse bouche of crispy fried pigs’ ears through to the dessert of chamomile mousse perfectly highlights its local Danish ingredients. CargoCollective.com/Marvogben
Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In, which appeared at the festival.
There’s an app for that. Download GAY CPH to your mobile device for an on-the-go guide. GoGayCPH.dk