Copenhagen is a vibrant city of bike and beer culture, with sprawling boulevards, historic monuments, 100 year-old sculptures of the Little Mermaid and Michelin-starred restaurants serving up innovative New Nordic cuisine. But is it a good place to bring a baby? This under-the-radar European destination has a lot to offer the family traveler.
Copenhagen is a very family friendly destination. It’s a super liberal leaning town of cutting-edge design, plentiful green space, sprawling cobblestone streets (including the longest pedestrianized shopping street in Europe) and a harbor that’s clean enough to swim in.
The largest city in Denmark (with some 1.2 million people), the capital is often praised for her communal living lifestyle, commitment to achieving a real work/life balance and ‘world’s happiest people’ status. Monacle, a popular magazine dedicated to trends, technology and design, dubbed the city of Copenhagen the #1 “World’s Most Liveable City,” three years running based on overall lifestyle and quality of life. For the tourist who’s visiting, one can feel instantly feel her down-to-earth charm and understated coolness.
Having stumbled across an amazing deal from Los Angeles to Copenhagen on Google Flights, I found myself in the city for a few days on my way to a friend’s wedding in Italy. My husband and I decided to bring our 7-month-old baby (Miss P.) on this matrimonial mission.
The long-distance international flight went smoothly. She slept…well…like a baby. Customs, immigation, security all smoothe sailing until we hit the baggage section. Through half overheard conversations mumbled in foreign languages, I was able to piece the story together that airline baggage handlers had gone on strike and refused to return our luggage. When haggling and begging the airline representatives didn’t work, our tired troop of three left the airport luggage-free and vowed to return in the morning.
We sought refuge at the Ibsens Hotel, a centrally located urban boutique hotel steps from the famed Torvehallerne market. With no luggage, no necessities (like toothbrushes, toothpaste or concealer for the dark half circles forming under my eyes) it’s not like we had much to unpack. I made the classic error of not packing the must-haves in our carry-on. I’ve had the good fortune in my long travel career to have had very few misplaced bags, so I take it for granted that my luggage will be at my destination waiting to greet me. Not the case in Copenhagen obviously, so I made a mental note to plan for the worst case scenario next time. D’uh. Luckily I packed enough diapers, wipes, clothes and a carrier (which was a lifesaver) to last Miss P. a few days, plus I was breastfed so didn’t have to worry bottles or formula, so that made it easier. Stripped without all my ‘baby survival gear,’ I realized how little you can really need.
Co-sleeping with our daughter Miss P. we curled up into bed, fought the jet lag and got some sleep. Early morning began with coffee, diaper runs at the local phamacy and frustrating phone calls with the airline customer service. They suggested we go back to the aiport to retrieve our luggage in the afternoon, so we decided to spend the mornign make the best of our time and exploring Copenhagen.
We walked across the Louises Bro/Hipster Bridge to Jægersborggade, an unassuming street in the hipster neighborhood of Nørrebro lined with small indie shops, wine bars, and funky designer fashions. Jægersborggade (which literally translates to Hunters castle street) boasts some 40 specialty shops, selling everything from organic skin products, to handmade caramels, vegan burgers to artisanal jewelry, to the world’s only porridge café.
But, first and foremost, coffee. This is the best jet lag cure for any tired mama. Best to start any city sightseeing trip with a jolt of caffein in the form of liquid gold – I always say. We stopped into Coffee Collective for an espresso before crossing the street to Meyers Bageri bakery, a poorly kept secret among pastry addicts. Hmmm. The smell of home cooked baking wafting in the air, so warm and comforting, lulled and teased our taste buds as we waited impatiently in line. An anticipatory morning visit to this busy little bakery – with only enough standing room for some five people – was certainly worth the wait. There were chocolate scones, fresh out of the oven croissants and sinfully delicious cinnamon rolls (known as “kanelsnurrer”) made with Valrhona chocolate. They sold chocolate chip cookies, raspberry bars and rye breads so good even Atkins himself would make an exception. Established by Danish chef and entrepreneur, Claus Meyer, this bakery has achieved critical acclaim and, with several locations around Copenhagen, is one of the best ways to rev up your glucose levels and really get your day started.
Pastries and lattes in sticky hands, we strolled (with baby strapped to my chest in her carrier) through the green grounds of Assistents Cemetery, the largest and best known burial ground in Copenhagen dating back some 200 years. It’s the last resting place for a number of famous Danish personalities and literary heavy weights, including critically-acclaimed philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen. This lush garden setting is also a public park, where early risers catch up on their morning news, families come to picnic, bands rock out beneath the stars.
Devouring the pastries, we had the sugar fuel we needed to go back to the airport. Luckily the public transportation system in Copengahen is fantastic, so just a short metro ride away and we were back in terminal A, trying to find someone to help. A little finagling and we got our luggage back! Whoo! Whoo! I’ll know better next time and be sure to pack our carry-ons with all necessities, just in case.
We navigated from the airport, to drop off our luggage off at our hotel. This was the perfect opportunity to take a midday break, regroup, snack and rest. One of the most important things when traveling with a baby is to be flexible, take time to rest and don’t over plan your day with too many activities.
Over the next few days we made it to three of Copenhagen’s most popular attractions: Tivoli Amusement Park, Carlsberg City and Nyhavn.
In operation since 1843, Tivoli is the second-oldest theme park in the world that continues to delight children and adults alike. Often credited as an inspiring force behind Disneyland, this small but charming park in the heart of the city boasts one of the world’s highest chain carousels, a wooden roller coaster and plenty of candied apples and caramel popcorn clusters to keep kiddos of all ages on a permanent sugar high. If you’re not an adrenaline junkie (or like in my case – the kiddos are too young to ride most of the rides) Tivoli is a lovely spot to just stroll the grounds and people watch. Miss P, loved watching the colorful merry-go-round, anticipating when the roller coaster would pass us overhead and she even tried her first little ride.
From there, we visited one of the city’s most notable historic districts called Carlsberg City, an area in Vesterbro where the famous Carlsberg’s beer was brewed on the premises from 1847-2008. Tourists can stroll the grounds and learn about their famed brewery process. Beyond beer, this area is being developed into a new residential district and cultural center with dance theatres, art galleries and concert venues.
Feeling peckish, we then decided to stop at one of the many restaurants in the historic port of Nyhavn for a bite of the traditional open-faced Danish sandwich they call “Smørrebrød” (think freshly baked dark rye bread with spreads of cold cuts, fish, meats or cheese…delish!) The oldest part of the Copenhagen Harbor, this former quay turned pedestrian street is lined with picturesque pastel colored houses dating back some three hundred years. Against a backdrop of wooden sailing ships, buskers line the canal and perform jazz medleys and accoustic renditions of Beatles songs for delighted passerbys. With cozy cafes, high end restaurants and ruckus bars overlooking the canal, Nyhavn has been dubbed “the longest outdoor bar in Scandinavia.” Finding a spot at one of the many outdoor cafes, I ordered pickeled herring on tangy rye, washed it down with a cold beer called “Big Drunk Baby” from a local micobrew and took in the vibrant scene.
But it was the Copenhagen Street Food that really stole my heart. If you’re anything like me – a foodie with a food truck fetish – you’ll love this warehouse-like atmosphere, with some thirty stalls serving up all kinds of ethnic fusion cuisine, from Mexican-inspired pork canitas to Korean Bulgogi, Moroccan style barbecue, Brazilian grill and Italian style pizza. With long wooden benches for communal seating and a bedazzled cow art installation dangling overhead like a disco ball, the scene is playfully laid-back and super affordable without sacrificing on culinary quality. Cool thirty somethings dressed in leather jackets share authentic Belgian fries double fried in duck fat, sipping back Chilean-imported red wine or freshly pressed green juices. Needless to say…it was my happy place.
Beyond the New Nordic cuisine, the Royal palaces and the Renaissance style castles, much of Copenhagen’s charm is found in her neighborhoods, best experienced by simply walking the streets and tapping into the local vibe.