Copenhagen is a hotbed for design and innovation but it also has an inspiring past. Felicity Cousins explores both sides of the Danish capital
Rosenborg Castle and King’s gardens
Start with some history. Set in the peaceful King’s Gardens in the heart of the city is the great sandstone Rosenborg Castle, which was built in 1606 when King Christian IV decided he wanted a country summer house. The result was this turreted castle, which was used as a royal residence until about 1710. Since 1838 it has housed the Royal Collections, available to the public for viewing.
Each room has a wealth of history and artefacts, and the décor, with detailed tapestries and painted ceilings, is quite incredible. The largest is the Long Hall, which features coronation thrones guarded by three snarling silver lions. Other highlights are the Glass Cabinet, covered wall-to-wall with Frederick IV’s Venetian glass collection, and the Mirror Cabinet – an extraordinary room with reflective walls, floor and ceiling. The Treasury, outside the main building, has three chambers and as you go further in, the pieces become more spectacular – from bejewelled swords to intricate necklaces, rings and tiaras. In the final chamber you’ll find the Crown Regalia – the royal crowns, an orb, a sceptre, an “appointing rapier” and an ampulla that used to contain anointing oil.
Leave some time to stroll in the King’s Gardens – you’ll get a good photo of the castle from here and there are some benches to sit on and admire its grandeur. Entry is Kr75 (£8.50) or free with the Copenhagen Card (see below), and you’ll need a Kr20 (£2) deposit to leave your bag in a locker. Open 10am-4pm in September and October with varying times throughout the rest of the year – check the website for details. Visit rosenborgslot.dk
Walk south until you reach Stroget, the main pedestrianised street that runs through the centre. You can turn off from here into the Latin quarter if you want to explore, or head down to Vester Voldgade and the 18th-century mansion that is the National Museum – the largest of its kind in Denmark. It’s another design gem and the light wooden interior and atrium give it a feeling of energy.
The permanent exhibitions showcase collections from Danish prehistory to the Middle Ages, as well as the “Stories of Denmark 1660-2000”, which includes a 1970s sitting room in a bungalow with fantastic brown stripy sofas and a hand-knotted woollen rug. In one dark room I found myself on what appeared to be a street of large doll’s houses, the lights from the windows enticing me to peep inside at the intricate rooms and furniture – it’s either creepy or the stuff of childhood dreams. Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm; free entry. Free guided tours in English at 11am Tues, Thurs and Sun, June-Sept. Frederiksholms Kanal 12; nationalmuseet.dk
Danish Design Centre Around the corner from the National Museum is the Danish Design Centre. This “professional knowledge centre for design and innovation” is a lovely space with a small shop, café and exhibition space. It is also used as a meetings venue – it has one large room that holds 240 people and can be divided into two. The “Denmark by Design” exhibition, on until May 2013, shows the development of Danish style from 1945 to the present – it really brings home just how much the imagination of this country has infiltrated our daily lives. Open 10am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-9pm Wed, 11am-4pm Sat-Sun. Entry is Kr50 (£5.50) or free with the Copenhagen Card. HC Andersens Boulevard 27; ddc.dk
Head back up Stroget and take a left on to Pilestraede to 42º Raw. Fresh from New York and Paris, Copenhagen is the latest outpost for the chain, having opened in December last year. The vegan café offers food and drink served in its natural state – “naked, nutrient-rich and delicious, just as nature intended”, as the website puts it. Luscious fruit and vegetables were being delivered as I waited for my coffee – there are no refined or dairy products here, so I had my drink with homemade almond milk and a drizzle of honey. Juices are whipped up before your eyes, and the café also sells aloe vera, goji berries and natural health remedies. Open Mon-Fri 8am-8.30pm, Sat 9am-6.30pm, Sun 10am-6.30pm. Pilestraede 32; 42raw.com
From here, take the metro one stop from Kongens Nytorv to the island of Christianshavn. It has the “free state” of Christiania in its north-eastern corner, and is a perfect example of how the strength of a few can stand against the establishment. Christiania dates back to the 1970s, when a group of people disillusioned with society took over an old military base and created an alternative community. The autonomous neighbourhood of about 850 people is still going strong today, and they even have their own laws – although the police have cleaned up much of the drug dealing, which was tolerated until 2004, you are still likely to catch a whiff of cannabis as you pass by.
Stroll around but don’t miss the other side of this island, with its pretty buildings along the canal and benches under the shade of the trees. Cross over the canal at Annae Gade and head to Strandgade and the waterfront. To the right is the Danish Architecture Centre, which has a bookshop and exhibitions showing the history and development of local building design. Upstairs, the Dacafé offers great harbour views. Open 10am-5pm daily (until 9pm Wed). Entry is Kr40 (£5). Strandgade 27B; dac.dk
For shopping in the city centre there is the Royal Copenhagen on Stroget (next to Georg Jensen), a collection of brilliant outlets over several floors. But if you want a bit more range head out to Fields, which claims to be the largest shopping centre in Scandinavia. Jump on metro line one for ten minutes to Orestad (in the direction of Vestamager) – you’ll find the mall opposite the exit. There are more than 140 retailers and an entire floor devoted to cafés, restaurants and entertainment. Built in 2004, its open design means it doesn’t feel crowded and is easy to navigate. Open 10am-8pm (until 6pm Sat, 5pm Sun). Arne Jacobsens Alle 12; fields.dk
Orestad is also home to the Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers, Denmark’s first carbon-neutral hotel. It’s a two-minute walk from Fields and is a striking piece of architecture with solar panelling clinging to the walls. The restaurant, Storm, serves locally sourced Scandinavian cuisine. Oerestads Boulevard 114-118; ichotelsgroup.com
Danish pastries are known the world over but in fact they are thought to have Viennese roots. It is said a strike in Danish bakeries in 1850 forced owners to hire workers from Austria, who brought the recipe with them. It was then adapted to become the treat we know today.
The Copenhagen Card provides access to more than 60 museums as well as discounts in shops and restaurants, and use of public transport around the city. It costs Kr229 (£25) for 24 hours or Kr459 (£51) for 72. Go to visitcopenhagen.com for details.