Copenhagen Culture

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Copenhagen Culture
A walk through Copenhagen is a walk through history. As capital of Europe's oldest continuous monarchy, and home to one of the world's most innovative cultures, the city is brimming with an exciting blend of new and old.
By Alex Berger, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Ty Stange/Visit Copenhagen
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    Architectural Masterpieces
    Early Copenhagen was largely constructed of wood, and catastrophic fires in the eighteenth century destroyed most of the city's medieval and Renaissance buildings. To get a sense of Copenhagen's architectural diversity, explore Magstræde (Copenhagen's most charming street), the creative elegance of Vor Freslers Kirke (Our Saviour's Church), the Rundetårn (Round Tower, built as an astronomical observatory), and the colored cafés along the Nyhavn waterfront. Consider a day trip to nearby Kronborg Castle (made famous in Shakespeare's Hamlet), and to Hillerød to see Frederiksborg Palace.
    Photo courtesy of Ty Stange/Visit Copenhagen
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    Promenades and Neighborhoods
    A visit to Copenhagen isn't complete without walking through the city's bustling, pedestrian-only shopping street, Strøget. Start in front of the town hall on Rådshuspladsen and continue to the public square, Kongens Nytorv, before making your way along Nyhavn. Afterwards, be sure to explore Copenhagen's neighborhoods to experience the city's economic rebirth. Gentrification has furnished the neighborhoods with very distinct attributes and character. These include the hip and exciting Vesterbro, the graffiti-covered Nørrebro, the affluent Østerbro, and the eclectic Christianshavn. Also included is Frederiksberg, which is still technically a separate city and is known for its businesslike personality.
    Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan/Visit Copenhagen
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    Nightlife and Bars
    Copenhagen's nightlife isn't confined to one central area: It's spread across neighborhoods with distinct personalities, which in turn shape the flavor of the bars located within. Østerbro is known for cocktail bars such as Kitjn; Vesterbro has plenty of cozy wine bars and clubs, such as Lidkoeb and KB3; and Nørrebro abounds with youthful watering holes like Barking Dog and Kind of Blue. Danes often prefer cozier venues to nightclubs, so there are plenty of relaxed basement bars and boutique cocktail lounges. Most bars close between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., so expect a long night out. Bodegas (tiny neighborhood dive bars) are a key part of the Danish bar scene but are exempt from the city's smoking ban.
    Photo courtesy of Lidkoeb
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    Kødbyen in Vesterbro is also commonly called the Meatpacking District and is one of Copenhagen's hottest locales. Still an active meat production, warehousing, and wholesale area, it also hosts some of the city's most popular and sought-after galleries, restaurants, and creative co-working spaces. At night, particularly between Thursday and Saturday, Kødbyen's thriving bar scene comes alive with a mixture of nightclubs, graffiti bars, and music venues. Start by visiting galleries such as V1 Gallery and Galleri Bo Bjerggaard before enjoying a meal at BioMio, Mother, or Kødbyens Fiskebar. End the night at Bakken, Jolene, or the Meatpacking District's largest nightclub, KB3.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Copenhagen
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    Museums and Galleries
    The Danish government has invested heavily in making a wide selection of museums available to the public. Some are free; others require you to pay admission. As a global center for creative art and design, Copenhagen has an abundance of both international and Danish talent, which draws world-class exhibitions. Both the National Museum and National Gallery are worth visiting and check out the Design Museum. Art lovers can also explore the city's many independent galleries and art cafés, and consider a day trip north of the city to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Be sure to research visiting exhibits!
    Photo courtesy of Poul Buchard/Visit Copenhagen
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    Performance Culture
    Copenhagen boasts world-class musicians and performers, and is home to one of the most modern opera houses in the world. The Copenhagen Opera House, accessible by water taxi, is an absolute must-visit for connoisseurs. For theater, check out performances at the Royal Danish Theatre and Royal Danish Playhouse. You can also investigate Copenhagen's extensive live jazz scene at venues like Mojo and La Fontaine. Keep an eye on smaller venues such as the Black Diamond and DR Koncerthuset, and watch out for the free concerts put on by the Royal Danish Academy of Music. Tivoli's Friday night concert series is also a local favorite, but is only available seasonally.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Copenhagen
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    Christmas Markets
    While Denmark is famous for its lack of religiosity, Danes love Christmas. A key part of the Christmas ritual is julefrokost, traditional Christmas lunches which revolve around candles, friends, food, and copious amounts of schnapps. So it isn't surprising that the major squares in Copenhagen transform into vibrant Christmas markets in December to provide for the festivities. A local favorite is the market located just off Strøget on Højbro Plads. Others include Tivoli's Christmas decorations, and a small market along Nyhavn. The holiday season in Denmark is all about Danish winter hygge, a special type of coziness which shapes the feel of Copenhagen's Christmas markets.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Copenhagen
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    Street Festivals
    Outdoor activities and festivals are a key part of Copenhagen culture. This is particularly true during the summer months, when Danes take full advantage of the long northern days. Don't visit Copenhagen without checking to see if any festivals overlap with your visit. Big events include the city-wide Copenhagen Jazz and Winter Jazz festivals, CPH:DOX for documentary film fans, the city-wide Copenhagen Opera Festival, and Copenhagen Cooking (northern Europe's largest food festival). Particularly wild is Distortion (in June), a high-energy electronic music festival that completely takes over several of the city's inner neighborhoods.
    Photo courtesy of Nicolai Perjesi/Visit Copenhagen
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    Inspiring Design
    Denmark is home to some of the world's greatest design minds. Danish artists, woodworkers, architects, and fashion designers are recognized throughout the world for their skill, innovation, and simple yet alluring creations. With such diversity, there's a genre of Danish design out there for everyone. Start with the Danish Design Centre and then focus your search on what interests you most. Architecturally minded visitors should visit the Tuborg Havn marina and take a water taxi the length of Copenhagen harbor. For fashion, explore the city's numerous flea markets and boutique shops in Nørrebro and Vesterbro before heading to Strøget. And don't miss Copenhagen's famous antique shops.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Charming Christiania
    The free town of Christiania, founded in 1971, embodies a distinctly Danish mentality. Situated on a former military base in the heart of the city, this quasi-autonomous community of roughly 850 self-governing creative minds stands in stark contrast to Denmark's organized society. This fascinating, safe, and mostly kid-friendly community has coffee shops, vegan restaurants, jazz bars, nature reserves, concert halls, and even a stable. Christiania is perhaps most famous for its Green Light District (Pusher Street), where marijuana and hash (technically illegal in Denmark) are openly sold and consumed (harder substances are not tolerated). Don't make the mistake of stopping your visit at Pusher Street—it's only one small part of Christiania.
    Photo by Peter Erik Forsberg/age fotostock