With dozens of wharfs painted brightly in primary colours and sandwiched together beside a canal, the picturesque quayside of Nyhavn is Copenhagen’s prettiest corner. Back in the late 1600s, Nyhavn (‘New Harbour’) was a thriving port. Vessels travelled from far and wide to trade here, creating a lively, international vibe that still lingers today. Nyhavn is at its best in the summer months, when tables from the plentiful cafes, bars and restaurants spill outside, each filled with jovial people drinking beer and tucking into plates of herring as tall ships bob in the water.
We recommend: Copenhagen Admiral Hotel
Next door to royal residence Amalienborg Palace and just a short walk from Nyhavn, this imposing 200-year-old former granary warehouse is one of the largest hotels in the city, with 366 rooms — but don’t let that put you off. It may not be boutique but big can definitely be beautiful. Beyond the two cast iron canons at the entrance is a neon-pink bar (great for a pre-dinner tipple), while guests retire to rooms showing off classic Danish touches such as teak furniture, low ceilings and original wooden beams. Best of all are the panoramas across the water towards the city’s shiny Opera House and Christiania: a view fit for royalty.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £108. admiralhotel.dk
Best for views: Hotel Bethel Somandshjem
What the Hotel Bethel Somandshjem lacks in style and luxury, it makes up for with the very best views of Nyhavn, sitting slap bang in the middle of the action. A former hostel and chapel for visiting sailors, it includes 30 comfy — slightly dated — rooms, some of which face the canal and its endearing, lopsided buildings. Such views come at a price, however, with more street-level noise than in those overlooking the quiet courtyard. Other perks include free coffee and wi-fi.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £77. hotel-bethel.dk
Best for singletons: 71 Nyhavn
While other hotels strive for the latest gadgets and gizmos, you get the feeling little has changed in this listed harbourfront hotel for two centuries. The same oak beams support thick, whitewashed walls, while the pretty red wooden shutters give the dark facade a splash of colour. Some of the 150 rooms are a little on the small side, so opt for a larger one in the newer of the hotel’s two buildings.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £59. 71nyhavnhotel.com
The edgy neighbourhood of Vesterbro is most people’s first impression of Copenhagen. Home to the city’s Central Station (and red light district), it was once a place best avoided, but much has changed over the past decade, and bohemian Vesterbro, while still gritty, is now the place to see and be seen in. At the eastern end is Tivoli, home to the historic Tivoli Gardens (said to be the world’s second-oldest amusement park). The Meatpacking District, meanwhile, nestled between the station and Sønder Boulevard, has seen a wave of trendy bars and restaurants open — a far cry from the days when peasants would travel here from the countryside to trade in the market square.
We recommend: Axel Guldsmeden
Wood, stone, marble and bamboo abound in this Far East-inspired 129-roomer. A Balinese theme is evident almost everywhere; it’s there in the plentiful Buddha statues (from Indonesian markets) but most noticeably in the huge demonic carving of a sword-swinging monster that guards the entrance. Billing itself as an ‘organic hotel’ with sustainable and responsible tourism credentials, everything from the holistic bath products to the breakfast buffet has had the Fairtrade treatment — even the towels are made from organic cotton. The rooms are chic, with four-poster beds, statement mirrors and modern art, while the peaceful courtyard is one of green plants and flickering candles. There’s no better way to end a busy day of sightseeing than snuggling up under a blanket beside its crackling outdoor fire.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £99. guldsmedenhotels.com
Best for couples: Nimb Hotel
Located beside the famous Tivoli Gardens and occupying a Moorish-style building, designed as a palace in 1909, the intimate Nimb Hotel has just 17 stylish and individually decorated rooms, all featuring antique furniture. Expect sublime views over one of Copenhagen’s most famous spots, bathtubs for two and peerless service, courtesy of your very own butler. Don’t miss the intriguing murals in the bar.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £466. hotel.nimb.dk
Best for business and pleasure: Andersen Hotel
Two colours rule supreme at the Andersen Hotel, located just a stone’s throw from Copenhagen Central Station: fuchsia and aqua. The 73 rooms come in one or the other, so pick one and settle in among the cutting-edge surroundings: furniture by Pedrali, Philippe Starck bathrooms and modern light fixtures by Le Klint — not to mention free wi-fi and LED TV in all rooms.
■ Rooms: Doubles from DKK925 (£102). andersen-hotel.dk
The Danish capital started small, growing slowly from the island of Slotsholmen in the 12th century. Before long, medieval bell towers took shape, cobblestone lanes were laid and grand renaissance palaces were built brick by brick. Much of that early charm remains today. Compact and a joy to explore leisurely on foot, the main thoroughfare is Stroget, a 1.5 mile-long pedestrianised street with cafes and some of the city’s best shopping. Elsewhere, you’ll find historical monuments, handsome public squares and Denmark’s finest museums and galleries.
We recommend: Hotel D’Angleterre
When explorer Roald Amundsen returned home triumphantly from the South Pole in 1912, he celebrated in the ballroom of Hotel D’Angleterre — the grande dame of Copenhagen hotels, which has been lording it over Kongens Nytorv (King’s New Square) since 1755. Fresh from a recent restoration, the 90 rooms have been spruced up with soothing grey-white walls, dark-green windows and bouncy carpets. All the mod cons are present: Bang & Olufsen technology, Nespresso coffee machines — even heated loo seats. The communal areas are no less impressive. Sweeping through the heart of the hotel is an elegant central staircase, with ornate steel balustrades. It leads down to Copenhagen’s only Champagne bar, the sublime spa and large basement swimming pool. Dining is no less impressive, with the hotel’s restaurant, Marchal, under the command of 31-year-old executive chef Ronny Emborg, receiving its first Michelin star in March.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £249. dangleterre.dk
Best for style: Skt. Petri
Clean lines, boldly painted walls and floor-to-ceiling net curtains have transformed this once inconspicuous department store into a hip design-focused hotel. There’s a strong emphasis on the minimalist throughout and many of the 268 rooms have balconies overlooking the city and nearby University of Copenhagen campus.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £99. sktpetri.com
Best for budget travellers: Generator
This centrally located, vibrant hostel is good value and its 175 rooms are simple and mostly en suite. But the real joy is the large sofa-filled lounge, where mismatched designer lampshades hang low over breakfast tables. The strong sense of community continues with karaoke nights, live DJs and barbecues on the terrace, spray-painted with striking street art.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £55. generatorhostels.com
Nørrebro and surrounds
North west of the city centre, Nørrebro is Copenhagen’s answer to London’s Hoxton. Arty and home to thriving Middle Eastern and Asian communities, there’s much to keep you busy. Browse antique shops and music stores by day and pick up a bargain at the weekend Ravnsborggade flea market. As darkness falls, sip cocktails in basement bars before dancing the night away in underground rock clubs. Just across the Dronning Louises Bro (Queen Louise’s Bridge) is the small, sleepy neighbourhood of Nansensgade, famed for its typically Danish architecture and independent fashion designers, focused around Nansensgade street.
We recommend: Hotel Kong Arthur
Tucked away down a quiet cobbled Nansensgade sidestreet overlooking Norrebro, the luxurious Hotel Kong Arthur was originally a boarding school for wannabe carpenters in the late 1800s. Today, it offers rather more auspicious lodgings. It’s still family-run but has since expanded to include four inter-connected buildings. The centrepiece of the airy and hushed lobby is a suit of armour, standing regally in the corner beside a row of wall-mounted medieval shields. Both potentially good talking points during Cosy Hour — the daily 5pm offering of free wine, beer and other treats. Upstairs, the 155 spacious rooms have hardwood floors, mottled headboards and contemporary art, in the form of framed black-and-white sketches.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £166. arthurhotels.dk
Best for Danish design: Ibsens Hotel
The ultra-hip Ibsens recruited homegrown artisans to create the funky interiors, offering a twist on everything from the pillows to bookcases. The room keys feature custom-made leather luggage tags by Piet Breinholm and the installation of graffitied safety deposit boxes is an arresting sight in the reception area. Elsewhere, in the restaurant/bar, a number of six-seater ‘Mingle Tables’ are designed to help solo travellers make new friends.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £133. ibsenshotel.dk
Best for families: Avenue Hotel
Complete with fairytale redbrick turrets, 19th-century Avenue Hotel is traditional on the outside and quirky on the inside — filled with works by acclaimed Copenhagen photographers and trinkets collected over the years by friendly owner Mal Kappenberger. Some of the 68 rooms can accommodate four, making the hotel an ideal choice for a family. There’s also a play area for the kids and a leather-lined bar for grown-ups.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £99. avenuehotel.dk
Published in the May 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)