Nyhavn 1

32 hours in Copenhagen

You can do a lot with one night abroad.

When your holiday allowance is precious and funds limited, mini weekends are the perfect way to get a taster of a new place. Booked in advance, a return flight from Gatwick to Copenhagen costs £47, and a private room in a hostel just £25, leaving plenty of pennies for the odd luxury. I reckon the best travel philosophy is to only go abroad as long as you can afford to really enjoy yourself.

So, here’s how I made the most of 32 hours in Copenhagen. No, I didn’t make it to Noma, but there’s always next time…

Saturday morning: the postcard shots

Backed by colourful seventeenth- and eighteenth-century townhouses, the little harbour of Nyhavn might be touristy in high summer, but on a lip-numbingly cold morning out of season it was beautifully serene. According to Visit Copenhagen, Hans Christian Andersen lived at numbers 18, 20 and 67 during his life. I love a bit of trivia.

The harbour sits on the eastern shore of Indre By, the central district, beyond which is Christianshavn. I didn’t really get a feel for this area, but enjoyed pootling along its quiet backstreets and yacht-lined canals. Cafe Luna, a teeny diner full-to-bursting with twenty-somethings shovelling down shakes, burgers and enormous breakfasts, is a good shout for lunch.

Nyhavn 2

Copenhagen 2

Saturday afternoon: in search of a different side to the city

I’d heard a lot about the hippie “Freetown” of Christiania, founded in an old military barracks in Christianshavn in 1971, but left rather unimpressed. Perhaps once a utopian dream, today it feels run-down and seedy. The overgrown and graffiti-covered buildings are semi-derelict in places, and there’s a sense of uneasiness rather than community. You’ll find plenty of open drug dealing, gaggles of tentative-teens looking to get stoned and a market selling tatty bracelets and drug paraphernalia. (No photos, as unsurprisingly they’re banned.) Did I miss something?

Somewhat disappointed, we headed back to Indre By for a whirl around the free Leigh Ledare exhibition at Kunsthal Charlottenborg. This contemporary gallery sits in a Baroque palace arranged around a shady courtyard. The exhibition space is on a very manageable scale, and there’s a good coffee shop in the atrium. Ledare’s explicit but strangely fascinating photography makes for slightly uncomfortable viewing though, especially once you realise the main subject is his mother. I’ll leave you to Google some of his work.

Photos are forbidden in Christiana; this is as close as I could get

Saturday evening: the meat-packing district

Much-hyped Kødbyen, Copenhagen’s “meat city” if you translate directly, is a collection of low-rise industrial buildings now home to a plethora of cool restaurants and bars. The 1930s plastic-clad warehouses in the main section, the “white meat city”, are rather different to the red-brick conversions we’re used to in London. As you can see from the second pic below, it’s a little eerie at night.

After several recommendations, we chose Mother for Prosecco cocktails and excellent sourdough pizza loaded with mozarella di buffala. Their rough wooden tables were filled with friendly, international hipsters sporting the requisite uniform of denim with beards or great lipstick. The night finished up at at Karriere, a laidback, neon-lit bar with too-cool-for-school menus. I’ll never cease to be impressed that while Scandinavians put away just as much booze as us Brits, you never see people behaving like idiots and falling over on the street.

Mother Pizza, Copenhagen

Copenhagen 5

Sunday morning: a slow start

Lazily wandering east, we heard the beat of drums and stumbled across blue trouser-clad guards marching out of Rosenborg Castle, home to the royal family until the 1700s, towards the full changing of the guard ceremony at Amalienborg. It’s not really worth seeking out, but a fun diversion nonetheless.

Our main destination for the morning was Torvehallerne. Opened in 2011, this swish market consists of two permanent glass halls with outdoor stands in-between. You’ll find everything from fresh produce to bars where you can stop for a glass of wine. I’d really recommend adding this to your itinerary; you could easily while away an afternoon here.

Copenhagen 6 Copenhagen 7

Market, Copehhagen

Sunday afternoon: Nørrebro

A short stroll over the river from Torvehallerne takes you to chilled out Nørrebro. It’s marketed as an up-and-coming part of town, but thanks to the abundance of families and coffee shops it feels quite well-established, if not entirely polished. Choosing to seek out smaller sights on this trip, we took a wander around the Politi Museet in the city’s old police station. The cells are interesting, but the exhibits themselves range from the niche to the slightly grotesque. Be careful which cupboards you open.

Cafe Plenum, a stripped-back cafe with famous quotes daubed on the walls, thankfully provided restorative brew. I loved Copenhagen’s cafe culture, but the tradition of leaving babies asleep in the street in their pram made me nervous! (The BBC wrote an article about this recently, which you can read here.)

Copenhagen, river view

Copenhagen 8

Sunday evening: restaurant hopping

A long walk (and a bit of getting lost) brought us back to Kødbyen for a glass of wine and tapenade at another stalwart of the area, Bio Mio. Inhabiting an old Bosch warehouse, this rambling organic restaurant gets rave reviews, but it wasn’t really for me. I liked the canteen style service and Vapiano-esque card system, just found the super-healthy menu a bit much.

Intrigued by the very mixed reviews the Wimbledon export has been getting, we also squeezed in a visit to Sticks ‘n’ Sushi for a taste of the original. Thanks to the low communal tables, it feels rather like an up-market, Japanese version of Busaba Eathai. Everything we ate was perfectly nice, and I can see a niche for the concept in London, but I’m not sure I’ll be hot-footing it to SW19 anytime soon.

Sticks'n'sushi

We spent the night at Generator Copenhagen, which is by far one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in. It’s vast, but the social area, complete with a cheap-ish bar, TV screens and pool tables, would be a great place to meet people. Our private twin was immaculate and had a modern en-suite wet-room.

So, do you think one night is too short to see a new city? Or have you been on a great mini-break recently?

Many thanks to Diana, Lucy and Ed for the tips. Also thanks to Graeme for being an excellent travel companion – you can read his musings on all things science here.

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5 thoughts on “32 hours in Copenhagen

  1. Great post, thanks for the travel ideas! I love mini-breaks, especially in Europe you can see a lot in 48 hours. Im doing a trip from Gatwick to Stockholm next weekend too, its not as cheap as 47 pounds thats for sure, guess i booked too late!

  2. I will be in Copenhagen in 5 weeks and plan to use some of your tips. Cheers!
    I don’t think one night is too short to see a new city. It is enough time to decide if you like it well enough to return for a longer visit.

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