Cope a Feel – Copenhagen, Denmark

Biking is the best way to discover Copenhagen’s charm.


Photo credit: Ceesvan Roeden

“Skål!” chirps a friendly Dane,
moving to clink his glass in a toast. “It’s bad luck not to drink.” It’s also bad luck, he adds, to utter the traditional Danish toast (pronounced “skoal”) and not look your companions in the eyes. Seven years bad sex—everyone knows that. Not to mention, this is a Viking tradition. “It’s better to dine with the enemy so you know they’re not burning down your house,” he says cheerfully, again raising his glass.

Though Danish history is colorful with Viking lore, simplicity reigns in Copenhagen. On the eastern coast, the nation’s capital radiates the untranslatable hygge, a sort of social serenity that borders on the sublime. From the purity of the cuisine to the majestic horizons and forest-lush landscapes, this seductive city and its neighboring towns exist at the intersection of old-world charm and new-age Neverland.

Overlooking one of Copenhagen’s inner lakes, Hotel Kong Arthur is in line with the very serious push to make Copenhagen the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. In a city with five times as many bicycles as cars, locals almost exclusively take two-wheels. Do as the Danes and rent a bike from the front desk to join one of the daily cycle tours for a pedal-pusher’s feel for the city, or jet off on your own to discover the nearby Hipster Bridge (also known as Dronning Louise’s Bro) and Assistens Kirkegård, the cemetery where Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard are buried.

Explore the coast for a day and ride to Østerport Station, where you can board a train to Hellerup and Charlottenlund Beach Park. There you’ll ride along the coast, with views of Sweden, an old fortress and a building so highly designed you’d never guess its function—the Skovshoved Petrol Station was created in 1936 by Danish architect/designer Arne Jacobsen (of the Egg chair fame) and is still in use today.

End your ride at Jægersborg Dyrehave, or Deer Park, the aptly named royal hunting grounds founded in 1669 that span four square miles. At the top of a slow-climbing hill sits Hermitage Palace. To the south, the banks of a pond host herds of deer. Among them is an all-white breed, now extinct in its native Germany, with pale antlers in stark contrast to the red and brown varieties. As the animals drink, tiny butterflies flit from the overgrown grass, the palace completing the picture’s background.

Though Dyrehaven hosts the world’s oldest amusement park—Dyrehavsbakken, opened in 1583—Tivoli Gardens is the country’s most popular attraction. Some 170 years old, the 20-acre park’s enchanting gardens, fantastical rides, twinkling lights and playful atmosphere are said to have been the inspiration for Disneyland. Inside the Arabian-style palace toward the front of the grounds is Nimb Herman, a fine-dining restaurant. Serving superlative New Nordic cuisine, it’s an early entrant in the farm-to-table movement that uses traditional preparation techniques to draw out deep flavors for complex, yet clean, compositions.

While some sites are almost obligatory—the charming, albeit somewhat underwhelming, Den Lille Havfrue, the seaside statue inspired by Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and cast by Edvard Eriksen in 1913—the city contains countless treasures. Take note of Sögreni of Copenhagen, a custom bike shop that opened in 1981. The bikes are hand-built and world-renowned, and the shop itself is a paradise of parts: Frames hang from the ceiling; wheels dangle before the storefront window; bells in brass and steel line countertops; and vintage gear climbs the wall closest to the workshop, where the builders showcase their craftsmanship.

For an afternoon drink, head to the canals at Nyhavn, where hundreds of people line the streets, waiting to board the long, low, wide boats that tour the city. Buy a beer from a vendor and dangle your feet over the water’s edge for some grade-A people watching. Or for a night out, head to the city’s meat-packing district, or Kødbyen, which fills with the effortlessly chic around midnight. At Fiskebar, lounge chairs and crates encircle fire pits made from used tires. Grab a seat and raise your drink to your neighbors—“Skål!” Just make sure to look them in the eyes.

Traveler’s Checks
– Fly Icelandair for ample legroom and the option to extend a layover in Iceland to explore the Blue Lagoon.
– Save some serious kroner and tour the city like a Dane, by bike and public transportation.

Fiskebar Flæsketorvet 100, 1711 Copenhagen, Denmark; +45 32 15 56 56;
Hotel Kong Arthur Nørre Søgade 11, 1370 Copenhagen, Denmark; +45 33 11 12 12;
Sögreni of Copenhagen Sankt Peders Stræde 30A, 1453 Copenhagen, Denmark; +45 33 12 78 79;
Tivoli Gardens Vesterbrogade 3, 1630 Copenhagen, Denmark; +45 33 15 10 01;

This article originally appeared in the August 28, 2013, issue of The Improper Bostonian.