So you have chosen to visit one of the most special places in Europe and the happiest place in the world — Copenhagen. Overshadowed by many other European capitals sought after as typical tourist destinations like Paris, Rome, and London, it is hard to find many guides on the city of Copenhagen, especially for students. You arrive in Copenhagen, and then what? There is of course the Little Mermaid statue, Nyhavn (the most photographed spot in Copenhagen) and an abundance of pastries, but what is beyond that? What can this city offer you?
Geography & Demographics
With half a million people, Copenhagen is the biggest city in Denmark and the most visited city in Scandinavia. It is filled with canals, bikes, colorful buildings, hot dogs, and beautiful people (that is not just a stereotype—seriously, every Dane looks like a model). Copenhagen is also broken up into several smaller neighborhoods, all worth seeing.
Food & Culture
If you choose to eat traditional Danish food in Copenhagen, get ready to try some unique looking dishes. Danes love their herring, whether marinated in red vinegar, sweet vinegar, or the very popular cream-based curry sauce. With a ratio of three pigs per person in Denmark, pork is widely consumed in more ways that you could even think. If you have ever heard of a Smörgåsbord, an open-faced sandwich, well those come from Denmark. They are very popular, served on rye bread (Danes are crazy about rye bread), and smeared with lots of egg, herring, sauces, seafood etc.
As for where you can try traditional Danish food, it’s mostly eaten at home and traditional Danish restaurants tend to be very expensive. But don’t worry, you can find amazing food here, for a pretty penny, after all, it is Scandinavia’s food capital with 13 Michelin-starred restaurants with the revered noma, ranked the Best Restaurant in the World three years in a row.
Try the hot dogs. There are hot dog stands all throughout the city and any Dane will tell you their hot dogs are the best in the world. It’s true.
As for desserts, expect pastries on pastries on pastries, Denmark is famous for them. And they are delicious, and surprisingly, reasonably priced.
Sustainability, biking, parks, Danish Design, and hygge. Danish culture comes from a combination of its small size and views on equality. Danes recognize its smaller presence on a global scale, and many even view Denmark as an insignificant country to the outside world, and therefore, Danes have created a very tight-knit Aryan community.
Danes are quiet, reserved, and shy. On metros and trains, you hear silence; if there’s noise, assume it’s an American. Danes hate small talk. Asking “How are you?” is not an informal way to greet someone, but rather a question you pose to someone you are close to when having a serious conversation. Don’t feel like you did something wrong if you don’t see Danes smiling at you in the streets. Danes are all very friendly, sincere people. Don’t let this introverted behavior deter you, it is just a front Danes put up. If you want to actually talk and interact with them, catch them in a relaxed setting like a café or head to a bar where they’ve had a few beers and will open up.
Denmark is one of the most equal countries in the world. This equality correlates to why Danes are seen as some of the happiest people. The downside to equality: girls, don’t expect to be getting many drinks handed to you in bars.
That being said, the nightlife is very fun with endless options. Don’t anticipate the same nightlife you have heard about in places such as Barcelona and Madrid. Clubs and bars are small, cozy, and classy. To get into the best clubs, make sure to dress up and look as Danish as possible, and remember to check out the meatpacking district.
Lastly, hygge: this weird word that doesn’t translate to English. The closest definition is cozy, but it is more than that. It is a feeling you get when you are happy, comfortable, having a good moment with people you love etc, and it always contains candles. Seriously, Danes are all about their candles. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that most bars and restaurants have candles everywhere, some might avoid regular lighting altogether. Fortunately, they help make everything cozier, or more “hyggely.”
What Does a Dane Look Like?
Nine times out of ten: tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and beautiful. As part of their culture surrounding equality, people do not show off through clothing. You will not see women or men wearing big designer labels. Rather, Danes dress to blend in.
Women stick mostly to black. In the winter, they are wrapped in huge wool scarves with oversized sweaters or shirts and skinny black jeans with short black boots. When it gets warm, just remove the scarf. So simple, yet so stylish. Don’t be surprised if after a month or so, you are covered head to toe in black too. Danish women have it down, they work their style, looks, and messy, straight, middle-parted hair, and exude confidence. And they all look about five years older than they actually are.
Danish men button their collars up to the very top while sporting a short on the sides, long on the top haircut, which is always perfectly styled. They are Scandinavian hipsters, in the coolest sense.
Vintage is all the rage in Copenhagen, the city is actually well-known for its vintage and second-hand clothing stores. But in this city, Danes don’t go thrift shopping for a fun day-drinking outfit or themed-party costume; they know how to rock the vintage as everyday clothing. You might even notice that the Danes are a little bit stuck in the 80’s and 90’s when it comes to fashion, and music, which is seriously awesome.
Things to Do
Visit some of the city’s best neighborhoods:
Indre By: The historical city center. This area is made up of cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, and beautiful, old buildings and squares.
Christianshavn: Commonly visited by students to see and experience the Freetown of Christiania.
Vesterbro: Originally the red light district, it is now very trendy and hip.
Frederiksberg: A more upscale neighborhood that surrounds the beautiful Frederiksberg Palace and park, and the Copenhagen Zoo.
Norrebro: Filled with students, immigrants and the working-class; to many Danes, parts are known as the “ghetto”; but to others, it is a great place to find ethnic foods and a “hipster” nightlife.
Studying in Copenhagen
1. Denmark uses the Danish Kroner. The conversion is about 5.8 kroners to the dollar. An easy trick to remember is take the value in kroners, move the decimal over one, multiply by 2 and then subtract a few numbers, and that’s roughly the amount in dollars. So for example, 400 kroner would be around $75.
2. Taxis are very expensive, use the metro or bus system (they run 24/7). Or be Danish and bike.
3. Danish is a very weird language. Luckily, every Dane in Copenhagen speaks perfect English.
4. Don’t be alarmed to see a six-year old on the metro alone or baby carriages left outside grocery stores or shops, Denmark is very safe and everyone is very trusting of each other.
5. Be on time. Danish people are never late.
6. If you eat dinner with a Danish family at their home, expect to be there for 5-6 hours. Danish dinners last well through the night.
7. For route planning via metro, bus or train in Copenhagen, use rejeseplanen.dk
8. Soak it all in because you’ll cry like a baby when you leave.
9. You made a brilliant decision in choosing Copenhagen, enjoy your trip!