Over the last decade design, fashion and architecture have all helped Copenhagen emerge as a stylish city break destination that’s even been called the Paris of the North. To some that might sound like a bit of an exaggeration but the minute I landed on Danish soil I could see why it has become such a cutting-edge capital.

Copenhagen Airport is steeped in Scandinavian style, from the sleek aircraft wing-shaped Terminal 3, bronze statues of two girls leaning over a balcony and seemingly surveying the passing passengers, glass birds flying near the ceiling and expansive art on the walls on a par with anything you’d see in  gallery. I made my way to the exit across tasteful, wooden floors instead of the garish, patterned carpets so beloved of airports worldwide.

The once-humble fishing village that evolved into the glittering capital of the Danish empire, and now home to  nearly one third of the country’s 5.3 million population, is a fascinating destination with a broad appeal for everyone, including families, foodies and culture vultures.

The Medieval streets encapsulate more than 1,000 years of history. They’ve been walked on by every generation of the world’s oldest royal family and have inspired generations of artists and writers, most famously storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, who spent much of his life in the city and wrote tales including Thumbelina, The Snow Queen, The Ugly Duckling and, of course, The Little Mermaid that has become the city’s symbol. Visitors can experience this heritage by wandering along cobbled squares and taking in the sumptuous palaces and copper-roofed town houses.

Compact city

Copenhagen is a compact, flat city and most of the main sights are within easy walking distance. It’s also packed with cyclists, so take extra care when you cross the busy
bicycle lanes; or why not join the locals and hire a bike or pick up a free city bike to explore on two wheels yourself?

I spent my first morning strolling around the charming narrow streets by Nyhavn Canal where Hans Christian Andersen lived. For a grand view of the past, head to Amalienborg Palace, originally built as mansions for 18th century nobility, and Kronborg, one of Northern Europe’s most important Renaissance castles and immortalised in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

A relaxing way to view the city is on a canal cruise or sailing trip around the harbour, the latter taking in sights such as the spectacular Copenhagen Opera House and one of the world’s most photographed ladies, the Little Mermaid statue inspired by the fairytale and a present from brewer Carl Jacobsen to the city in 1913.

No visit would be complete without taking in Tivoli. Dating back to 1843 and famed for its gardens and theatre, it is one of the world’s oldest amusement parks and is said to have inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland. It is particularly magical at night during the Christmas market season, when it is opened for a month from mid-November and lit by thousands of fairy lights.

The title of the world’s oldest amusement park is actually held by another Danish institution. Dyrehavsbakken – known simply as Bakken – opened north of Copenhagen in 1583 and is still operating today.

Another attraction that will particularly appeal to families is Copenhagen Zoo with its excellent children’s area, and look out for Copenhagen’s newest attraction, The Blue Planet aquarium, due to open in 2013.

Meanwhile, adults will want to make tracks to the Carlsberg Visitor Centre (www.visitcarlsberg.dk), historic home of the famed local brew where tours end with the all-important tasting.

Shopping

Running a mile through the city centre is Stroget, Europe’s longest pedestrian street and packed with well-known high street names and designer shops. Copenhagen is synonymous with the world-famous, hand-painted porcelain of the same name and beautiful tableware and figurines can be found, at a price, at the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain House (www.royalcopenhagen.com) in Amagertorv. More affordable is the factory outlet at Frederiksberg on the western city outskirts.

For stylish and quirky souvenirs and gifts, such as kitchen gadgets, visit the Danish Design Centre near Tivoli. The city’s oldest department store, worth seeing for the architecture alone, is Magasin du Nord, formerly a hotel where Hans Christian Andersen once lodged in an attic room. Ravnsborggade is the place to find antiques and bargain hunters should browse around Gammel Strand, a popular city-centre flea market that’s open Friday and Saturday from May-September.

Neighbourhoods

On the design theme this year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of architect and furniture designer Finn Juhl and his house at Charlottenlund, six miles north of Copenhagen, is a showcase to his work.

Although it’s relatively small, Copenhagen has several distinct neighbourhoods. Vesterbro used to be an infamous red light district but, following a huge investment, it has become one of the trendiest places in town. Christianshavn, the old working class neighbourhood, is a picturesque canalside area with narrow streets and charming 19th century houses. Other diverse areas include cosmopolitan Norrebro, a great place for vintage shopping, and the autonomous hippy “free town” of Christiania that’s celebrating its 41st anniversary this year.

When it’s time for a break there are plenty of places to eat and drink. In Nyhavn, stop off at one of the cafes or bars submerged in historic cellars or overlooking the water. Smorrebrod, the famous Danish open sandwiches, are traditionally served at lunchtime and toppings include succulent salmon, seafood, meat, eggs, cheese and poultry garnished with salad, sauces and herbs. I certainly had quite a job making my mind up at Ida Davidsen, where the menu has over 177 choices.

And if you want to push the boat out, Copenhagen boasts nine Michelin restaurants, totalling more stars than any other Scandinavian city. The latest newcomer to the list is the contemporary AOC restaurant, in a 17th century vaulted cellar.

Incidentally, don’t ask for a Danish pastry as there’s no such thing in Denmark. The closest sweet treat is weinerbrod or Vienna bread!

Copenhagen facts

When to go

Despite its northerly latitude, Copenhagen’s climate is fairly mild and it’s a year-round
destination. The coldest month is February, averaging just below freezing, and June-August is warmest, with temperatures of 19.5C.

Getting there

British Airways, BMI , easyJet, Norwegian, Ryanair and Scandinavian Airlines  fly to Copenhagen direct from London and regional airports.

The airport to city centre rail link takes just 13 minutes.

DFDS Seaways operates daily overnight ferry crossings from Harwich to Esbjerg and onward driving time to Copenhagen is just over three hours.

Accommodation

From luxury five-star and boutique properties to reasonably-priced family hotels, B&Bs and city apartments, Copenhagen has accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. The Radisson Blu Royal is the iconic hotel designed by Arne Jacobsen, famous for his egg chair, and 71 Nyhavn is an atmospheric harbourside property in two 19th century warehouses.

Getting around

Metro, buses and trains operate on a useful one fare system with tickets valid on all three. The cOPENhagen CARD, starting at €31 for 24 hours, provides free public transport, free entry into 65 attractions and other discounts. It can be bought at the airport, Visitor Centre and a number of hotels. Copenhagen is renowned as a bike-friendly city and free bicycles are available from 125 stands from mid-April to November.

Tourist information

Visit Copenhagen: www.visitcopenhagen.com
Visit Denmark: 020 7259 5958, www.visitdenmark.com


All prices and details were correct when published in tlm - the travel & leisure magazine, please check before you travel to Copenhagen.