1 - NATIONAL MUSEUM
Once a Viking fishing settlement, Copenhagen is now home to 1.2 million people. Get a sense of the country’s roots by starting at the National Museum near the Tivoli Gardens. Prioritise the Danish Prehistory collection; there are cases crammed with Viking treasure and weapons, as well as leathery bodies found preserved in peat bogs – teeth, jewellery and all.
Highlights include a display of huge curly Nordic lur horns used in Bronze Age rituals, a creepy set of copper-coloured plaits of human hair from 350BC (cut off as a sacrifice to the gods), and the giant silver Gundestrup Cauldron found in a swamp in Jutland. It dates back to 150BC and mysteriously depicts exotic animals unknown to this part of the world.
Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm, free entry. Ny Vestergade 10; en.natmus.dk
2 - STREET FOOD MARKET
Separated from Sweden by the Oresund (or Sound), a 4km-wide watery strait, the flat city incorporates various natural and manmade islands connected by bridges. Take the Knippelsbro to pretty Christianshavn, a peaceful neighbourhood where the architecture softens to quaint cobbled streets, brick houses and canals dotted with moored boats.
It’s a good 20-minute walk to Paper Island but arriving with an appetite is a must. Follow the signs to Copenhagen Street Food, which launched in May 2014 and is located in two repurposed warehouses facing the Royal Danish Playhouse on the other side of the water.
Inside, dozens of shacks and trucks sell food from around the world – from Turkish shawarma and Colombian veggie burgers to Chinese crispy duck and Mexican tacos (US$8 to US$12 a plate).
There’s also a handful of bars, a coffee caravan, and at night lively music and bingo sessions for 300 people.
Open daily 11am-10pm (Sun until 8pm) from April – September (later for drinks). Warehouse 7/8, Trangravsvej 14; copenhagenstreetfood.dk/en
3 - CHRISTIANIA
Ten minutes down the road is an anarchistic corner of the city known as Freetown Christiania. This self-governing hippy enclave was set up by squatters in the early 1970s, and has since become an autonomous neighbourhood of almost 1,000 people who live in wood cabins among the trees. (As there is no private ownership, residents have to apply for a place to live, and cars are shared.)
You will spot the boundaries of the community immediately, as walls and buildings are covered in street art. You are welcome to wander around – there are cafés, a market selling smoking paraphernalia and Indian clothing, art galleries, ceramic studios, and even a women-only blacksmiths stocked with rustic homeware.
The most surprising discovery is the “Green Light District”, where stalls on Pusher Street covered in camouflage netting hide vendors who sell marijuana. Queues of people line up to buy bags of the stuff, which they roll into fat joints and sit around smoking. The air is thick with fumes so you may or may not want to hang around. The sale of weed is tolerated here, but not in Copenhagen itself. Hard drugs are banned completely.
4 - SKJOLD BURNE
Head back over the bridge towards the main square of Kongens Nytorv (most of it is sealed off owing to construction work on a new metro station opening in a few years). Dating back to 1928, Skjold Burne is the oldest liquor chain in the country and its flagship store stocks a wide selection of local tipple aquavit (akvavit). About 40 per cent alcohol, the spirit is clear or golden, depending on whether it has been aged in casks. Made from potatoes and sometimes flavoured with spices, it is drunk neat but not too cold.
The friendly staff can talk you through the different labels, but a good one to go for is the Ekvator Akvavit, which comes in a stone bottle. It has been matured in Madeira oak barrels travelling by ship across the equator on the MSC Susanna from Copenhagen to Cape Town and back again.
Open 10am-6pm (7pm Fri, 4pm Sat, closed Sun). Ostergade 1; skjold-burne.dk
5 - BALTHAZAR
Opened in 2012 and connected to the adjacent five-star Hotel D’Angleterre via a secret passage, Balthazar is the city’s first and only champagne bar. It’s an elegant venue popular among professionals for after-work drinks, with moody lighting and a floor-to-ceiling glass cabinet filled with vintage Dom Pérignon. With 160 brands available – from Krug to Cristal – there’s plenty to spend your money on. If you only have time for a quick preprandial, fizz by the glass costs Kr 135-380 (US$16 to US$46).
Open Wed-Sat 4pm-2am. Ny Ostergade 6; balthazarcph.dk/en