Copenhagen, Denmark is a vibrant city of bike and beer culture — with sprawling boulevards, historic monuments, hipster cafes and Michelin-starred restaurants serving up innovative New Nordic cuisine. While it certainly has no shortage of things to do for adults, is kid-friendly Copenhagen a realistic prospect? As family travel expert Julia Dimon discovered, this under-the-radar European destination has a lot to offer for all ages.
Let’s begin with the basics. As the largest city in Denmark (with some 1.2 million people), the capital city of Copenhagen 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 instantly feel her down-to-earth charm and understated coolness. 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.
Having stumbled across an amazing deal from Los Angeles to Copenhagen, I booked a trip, packed the family and set off for Europe. Much to our dismay, when we landed at Copenhagen’s airport, we were told that baggage handlers had gone on strike and refused to return our luggage. Noooo! So there we were, after a long international flight, with none of our necessities. Frustration set in. When haggling and begging the airline representatives didn’t work, our tired troop left the airport sans luggage 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 or must-have items (like toothbrushes, toothpaste or concealer for the dark half circles forming under my eyes) it’s not like we had much to unpack, so we headed back out to hit Copenhagen with our kid-in-tow.
To get a feel for off-the-beaten path Copenhagen, we opted for a day tour organized though the Canadian-based company Tours by Locals. With guides in some 134 countries, their mission is to connect travelers with local guides for a more authentic and immersive vacation experience. Seeing the city through the eyes of a knowledgeable local can open up any destination and take you beyond the tourist traps to the heart of the hidden gems. Plus, this is great when traveling with kids because you can 1) customize the tour according to your family’s interests and 2) go at your own pace for those snack stops, bathroom breaks and inevitable tantrums.
Our guide Kristian, a tall blonde Danish-born entrepreneur dressed in khakis and Converse, greeted us with a warm smile, a hearty handshake and a promise to show us some of the city’s best offerings.
We walked across the Louises Bro/Hipster Bridge to Jægersborggade, an unassuming street in the 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, and the world’s only porridge café.
But, first and foremost, coffee. This is the best jet lag cure for any tired mama with no luggage. Best to start any city sightseeing trip with a jolt of caffeine 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 freshly baked goodies wafting in the air, so warm and comforting, lulled and teased our taste buds as we waited impatiently in line. My daughter couldn’t wait for her sugar fix. 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 low-carb diet advocator 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, our family strolled 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 and bands rock out beneath the stars. It’s a great place for kids to run around while parents take in a little history.
With the help of those pastries, we had the sugar fuel we needed to schlep back to the airport to retrieve our luggage. Luckily, the public transportation system in Copenhagen is fantastic (which is a great when you’re traveling with kids, so you don’t have to worry about car seats). The airport was just a short metro ride away. With a little finagling and a lot of patience, we were finally able to get our luggage back! Whoo! Whoo! I’ve never been so excited to see my stuff. Next time, I won’t make the rookie mistake of forgetting to pack all my must haves in my carry-on.
Flash forward to the next few days, where we made it to some of Copenhagen’s most popular attractions and ate our way through the local scene. First stop was a no brainer. Tivoli Amusement Park. A must when traveling to Copenhagen with kids.
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. Tivoli is a lovely spot to just stroll the grounds and people watch. Even if young kids can’t go on all the rides, the carnival-type atmosphere is very entertaining. Our daughter had a great time anticipating when the roller coaster would pass us overhead and would squeal with laughter everytime.
Feeling peckish, we 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 300 years. This is the Copenhage you see on postcards. 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. Our daughter poked suspiciously at the herring with her tiny finger, opted for white table bread instead and snacked away while marveling at the vibrant scene.
Copenhagen Street Food
But of all the spots we saw, the best local vibe was certainly the Copenhagen Street Food. This is a very family-friendly hangout, where people of all ages congregate riverside to play music, catch up, converse and most importantly – eat.
If you’re anything like me — a foodie with a food truck fetish — you’ll love this warehouse-like atmosphere, with some 30 stalls serving up all kinds of ethnic fusion cuisine, from Mexican-inspired pork carnitas 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 kids love it) the scene is playfully laid-back and super affordable without sacrificing on culinary quality. Cool 30-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 with the kids and tapping into the local vibe.
Julia Dimon is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Travelocity Gnomads, visit travelocitygnomads.com
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