If Hans Christian Andersen were alive today, you’d probably find him in Copenhagen’s bougiest borough, Vesterbro, where he’d be sipping on matcha lattes while working on some starry-eyed story on his MacBook Air. He’d don a pair of Cecilie Bahnsen Asics, have his cargo bike parked outside, and intermittently update his Instagram story with wistful photos of half-eaten small plates (The Princess and the Jerusalem Artichoke, is it now, Hans?). Such is the Vesterbro way.
Once the city’s red light district, the area has undergone a radical transformation over the past two decades, from no-go zone to one of Copenhagen’s most sought-after addresses. Today, it embodies Danish living at its finest: diverse and stylish with heaps of convivial hygge. Our insider’s guide to Vesterbro will help you navigate the Nordic capital’s coolest ‘hood like a native…
WHERE TO DRINK
Set in its namesake square, Enghave Plads 9 is the epitome of local. Here, you’ll find gatherings of Vesterbro’s Ganni-est girls, couples sharing a bottle of date-night fizz, or clusters of colleagues rocking up for the comedy night after a not-so-long day in the office (4pm finish, anyone?). Natural wine is the main draw here, with an unusual selection of biodynamic tipples and funky pet nats. But craft ales, cocktails and – come winter – warming mugs of gløgg, are also on the menu. Interiors are stylishly sparse, with illustrations by friends of the bar adorning bare brick walls. If you’re visiting in the summer, pull up a chair on the streetside terrace and watch the world – and the outfits – go by.
Warpigs – It’s not the most alluring name for a bar, admittedly, but after a schooner or two, you’re unlikely to care. By now, a Copenhagen institution, this Mikkeller canteen-cum-beerhall has a consistently wide range of hip hops with 22 house-brews on tap, the occasional guest beer, spirits, and wine. There are sauce-slathered barbecue bites, smoked meats and stacked sandwiches to keep you grounded, and a leather-worthy soundtrack of rock ‘n’ roll classics from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, and (well, duh) Black Sabbath. For something more subtle, try Lidkoeb, a blink-and-you’ll-miss it cocktail bar spread across three floors of a former apothecary. As the sister bar of the city’s acclaimed Ruby, Lidkoeb already has cachet among clued-up liquor lovers, not least for its moody third-floor whisky bar. Head here on a Friday or Saturday evening for tasting flights, or prop up the downstairs bar for a Cosmo Highball or three.
WHERE TO EAT
Start your day right at Bageriet Brød, a low-key sourdough bakery whose loaded rye sandwiches may well be the city’s best kept secret. Choose from goats’ cheese with pickled kale, walnuts, cranberries, and apple; potato, kimchi and sriracha mayo; or pastrami, homemade Dijon-mayo, cornichons, and Vesterhavsost cheese. But be sure to save room for buttery Danishes, chocolate-topped gammeldags (sweet, doughy buns) and cream-filled fastelavnsboller (the Danish take on Swedish semla). For dinner, head to Cofoco, the namesake restaurant of Copenhagen Food Collective whose respected roster of eateries have been shaping the city’s dining scene since 2004. The menu here is full of simple, elegant small plates, inspired by the Mediterranean but made with home-grown Danish produce. We recommend going in for the five-course tasting menu to sample a little bit of everything.
Less polished but equally delicious, Café Dyrehaven is a one-of-a-kind, mid-century-style diner that looks like it’s been plucked straight out of Twin Peaks. Its wood-panelled bar and booths, low-hanging lamps, wall-mounted deer heads, and nicotine-stained paintings all serve as a reminder of the district’s shady roots. And yet, for all its vintage charm, it still feels very contemporary, bringing the 21st century in with hand-scrawled neons, candy-striped awning and super-cool staff who could just as well be walking for Raf Simons with their messy mullets and stick ‘n’ poke tatts. Expect seasonal dishes served on mismatched vintage plates: chestnut-stuffed pumpkin, salmon and fennel smørrebrøds and – our personal favourite – Guinness cake with whiskey cream.
WHAT TO DO
It’s hard to argue Vesterbro’s status as the coolest part of Copenhagen, but it wasn’t always so. By the 1990s the city was a far cry from the Nordic powerhouse it is today. Industry had moved to the ‘burbs, the middle classes had moved with it, andhings looked bleak. Especially here, as anyone who’s seen Mads Mikkelsen in Pusher can attest to. But that all changed when the city embarked on a large-scale programme of urban and cultural regeneration. Kødbyen, Vesterbro’s meatpacking district, is a symbol of those efforts, a place where abandoned butcheries and processing plants have been transformed into creative spaces, cafés and bars. Mostly. But don’t be alarmed if, on exiting the club at 5am, you encounter people in blood-splattered overalls ready for the morning shift– active processing facilities still exist in-between all the fun stuff.
Get your Kødbyen culture fix at V1 Gallery, a small but mighty space devoted to emerging artists and hailed by The New York Times as the city’s coolest gallery. Or, check out Fotografisk Center, a space dedicated to camera-based work where you’ll find a rotation of exhibitions all year round, alongside a programme of film screenings, workshops and artist talks, and a bookstore packed with specialist literature.
Tivoli Gardens, of course, is a must. This amusement park is one of the world’s oldest – founded back in 1843 – and actually inspired Walt Disney’s first Disneyland. Jump on the famed wooden roller coaster, the Rutschebanen, which has been dipping adrenaline-seekers for more than a century; take a stroll through a fantasy Danish market town; bathe among the blooms of Parterre Gardens; or journey to the far East at the open-air Chinese theatre.
If the weather’s playing ball, take a picnic to Skydebanehaven, and bring the little ones too – there’s a toddler pool for them to splash around in, and staff who’ll arrange treasure hunts and games. A short walk away, Kihoskh is Copenhagen’s answer to the Berlin-style ‘späti’ where you can grab a beer, coffee and a niche magazine to flick through, alfresco, while you sip. In colder climes, take shelter in Absalon, a colourful church turned community house, where you can mingle with the locals over bingo and a shared meal at the daily Fællesspisning, a Danish tradition of communal eating.
WHERE TO STAY
Those after a magical kingdom to temporarily call home will find it at Nimb, an Arabian Nights-style stay within the walls of Tivoli Gardens. Spend a romantic stay in monochromatic suites and fall in love with their eccentric details: carved armoires, chairs upholstered in floral silk and Philippe Starck bath tubs big enough for two. The grand ballroom bar makes for a fine sipping spot, with a crackling fire and blush-hued sofas to curl up on, while the brasserie dishes out Gallic goodies morning, noon and night. But the jewel of Nimb’s Disney-esque crown is up on the rooftop, where you can finish off laps in the emerald green pool with a Champagne-fuelled sunset session.
But if you’re more Saks Potts than Goldilocks, Coco Hotel is a fashionista favourite with a Parisian edge. The heart of the hotel centres around Café Coco, a bistro-bar where you’ll find Vesterbro’s creative crowd hanging out amid a backdrop of prints and paintings, rattan cabinets and plenty of terrazzo. As you’d expect, the wine is au naturel and the soundtrack curated, with live DJs manning the decks each weekend. Rooms, though cosy, are dressed to impress, some with bright, block-colour walls and others more muted but equally chic – think wood flooring, photographic artworks and bold textiles.
Ready for your next big Nordic adventure? Say hej to our full collection of Scandinavian stays…