Full disclosure: Shopping, America’s national pastime, bores me to no end. I would rather watch foreign language re-runs of 1980’s golf tournaments than go shopping; I would rather spend an hour circling the parking lot looking for a spot than to have to set foot inside a mall. This makes me a bad American, I realize—or at least a bad tourist—because I have zero interest in participating in the big hustle of Bourbon Street, Sukhumvit Road, Ponte Vecchio, or Fifth Avenue, among a hundred other identical money traps around the world.
There is one exception—one city in the world where I actually enjoy the process of floating from shop to shop and soaking up all that merchandise—and that is Copenhagen. Denmark’s capital lacks the crass indulgence of so many lackluster shopping destinations. Instead, every purchase or near-purchase feels like I am curating the world’s most beautiful objets d’art, even if said object is a pencil sharpener or pot holder. Those who have been already know—everything in Copenhagen is so damn designy, who can resist it?
In order to better understand the inventive spirit that gave us the world’s greatest shopping ever, spend a few hours at Design Museum Denmark, where post-war necessity birthed a design industry ranging from modern furniture to motorbikes.
It goes without saying, but don’t miss the remarkable gift shop. Then, get out in the city and start exploring.
No, I do not mean the mainstream glitz of Georg Jensen and Illums Bolighus, which have successfully popularized Danish design globally. Yes, their shelves hold astounding things, but none of it tells the full story of Copenhagen; the real secret is that the stuff you find in this city cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. For me, that is the only reason to shop.
Instead, start with a small boutique like Zane, packed with weird treasures (like the coolest toilet paper holders ever), then move onto what is probably my favorite shop in the entire world: Notre Dame. If Martha Stewart were Danish, she would shop here. In all my visits, I’ve never seen the same thing twice. Think napkins, tablecloths, and porcelain pigs. Cookie jars and bike baskets, or crazy salt-and-pepper shakers, and every kind of decorative box you can imagine. Think artsy doorknobs. These are things that you cannot find anywhere else on the planet.
Another not-to-miss design shop is The Apartment in Christianshavn, a neighborhood of canals and cobbled pathways with live-in houseboats tied up all around (not to be confused with the hippie commune Freetown Christiana, whose open hashish market attracts its own kind of shoppers). Sample exotic blends of tea and buy smoky Lapsang Souchong in bulk at A.C. Perche’s Tea Merchants (founded in 1835). Stilleben is Copenhagen’s grand central for ceramics, and for something to fill the vase, go to Tage Andersen. Almost an arboretum, this intimate floral boutique boasts incredible displays and smells like heaven. Even if you’re not planning on buying any flowers—just go for the inspiration.
Copenhagen’s shopping is inspirational—the opposite of mass production. Designer and jeweler Charlotte Wendes never makes the same thing twice. “People come here and want something that no one else has. So I ask, what suits them? Together we can find a good idea, and then I make it.” Her small studio walls are pinned with ideas: sketches of flowers, snails, and birds and ancient Scandinavian motifs. With patience and play, all of this gets distilled into her unique pieces of jewelry. My personal favorite? Her asymmetrical, rough-hewn, masculine wedding bands—rings that resemble Viking gold, and custom-made for individual buyers. Objects with personality. Stuff that you cannot buy anywhere else in the world. That is my measure for good shopping, and Copenhagen has it (even the airport).