Amsterdam Meets San Francisco: My First Impressions of Copenhagen

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

You know you love a place when you’re already planning another visit before you’ve sat down to unpack from your last trip.

With its canals, bikes, and Freetown Christiania, you’d be forgiven if you thought snapshots of Copenhagen were Amsterdam. Furthermore, with its relaxed vibe, famous bridge, colourful buildings and spacious green parks, Copenhagen definitely has a vibe of San Francisco too.

Likeness of Amsterdam and Copenhagen

My first impressions of Copenhagen left me feeling impressed by what I saw and experienced. So much so that it’s not just a place I want to visit again, but a place I could see myself living for a while. Like San Fran, Copenhagen is a very liveable city because, to me, liveable means being in a place with open-minded people and having access to recreational facilities that are stimulating as well as fun, including museums (yes, museums can be fun god damn it!) and pretty parks. If a city has these qualities then I immediately warm to it, but Copenhagen goes one step further by providing Danes and those who live there with free education. YES, COMPLETELY F-ING FREE!! For someone like me who lives in England where the university fees deter intelligent, hard-working people from going then hearing Universities are free in Denmark seems too good to be true. But it is. Obviously, their taxes are higher than most countries, but if a higher quality of life which includes free access to health care, arts, well maintained parks and education is the reward then I wouldn’t complain.

Rosenborg Castle garden

Going back to the bikes, they’re not just a big deal in Copenhagen, they’re a HUGE deal. More a way of life than a mode of transport. As well as giving the Danes buns of steel, all this cycling has benefited the city enormously – now regarded as one of the greenest cities in the world, Copenhagen is doing its part to reduce carbon omissions in a big way. And I’m pretty sure there’s a direct correlation between being the world’s happiest nation and living in one of the world’s greenest cities. This can’t just be a coincidence, surely…

Bicycle culture, Copenhagen

But beware, bikes rule the roads so try and avoid walking into the bike lanes (easier said than done) or you’ll be on the receiving end of some severe eye rolling.

Then there’s all the effort put into the arts; literature lovers can get lost in the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen or look for something a little more serious in Soren Kirkegaard. Both figures have been immortalised through their own statues, street names and various exhibitions. Whilst art lovers can head over to the National Gallery (free on Sundays!) and catch up with what some of the Greats left behind for us to take in and admire.

Hans Christian Andersen Street, Copenhagen
The world of Children’s fiction would be a sorry place without this guy! A statue of the author sitting aptly on Hans Christian Andersen street.

Roman Sculpture inside Copenhagen's National Gallery
The Greek and Roman room inside Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek comes highly recommended.

Copenhagen's Black Diamond Library
This is Copenhagen’s public library. It’s hard to believe that whilst England can’t get enough funding to stop libraries closing, Copenhagen has this beauty!! It’s known as the Black Diamond Library because of its exterior which is supposed to look like a black diamond when the sun shines upon it.

The Black Diamond Library in Copenhagen
And so it does!

I love how most areas are within walking distance yet the city still feels big and certainly interesting enough to know there’ll always be new things to discover. However, because I always prefer to walk where possible the only public transport I used in Copenhagen was the train to and from Kastrup/Copenhagen Airport. The train costs approx. £4 and takes about 15 minutes to get into the centre. Once I arrived in Copenhagen train station I went straight to my hotel to drop my bags off and was pleased to discover it was literally a 2-minute walk away. I stayed in the Andersen Hotel and would definitely recommend staying here if you’re not on too much of a budget. Like most places in Scandinavia, hotels don’t come cheap but they’re usually of a good to high standard, and this applies to hostels too.

Andersen Hotel, Copenhagen
Comfy bed, great location, tasty Scandic breakfast, fantastic service, and the TV swerves out from the wall (I’m used to travelling budget so these things are a novelty to me at least!)

If you’re looking for delicious as well as affordable food then head to the Meat Packing district. The hotelier told me that the Meat Packing district was only a two-minute walk away, and mentioned a place called Kødbyen’s Deli that served great food – and he wasn’t wrong! I ate Brazilian steak with mashed potatoes and mustard seed, thyme, red onions and carrot puree, and I enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t resist going back the next day to order Fish ‘n’ Chips Danish style! These were cooked from fresh in front of me, and were served in a container and eaten outside on tables or anywhere else I could find to perch my bottom. The majority were sitting on the curb side with a beer in hand and a sky full of sun. Relaxation personified!

The meat packing district seemed to be the epicentre of ‘cool’ in Copenhagen (think East London). Full of bars, cafes, gallery spaces, as well as ridiculously good-looking people (one thing you should know about Denmark is that EVERYONE is stylish and good-looking!)

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Well I’ve been back a few days now and all I seem to think about is what a lovely place Copenhagen would be a live, but I guess I’ll have to put that thought on hold for a while…

Have you been to Copenhagen? What were your first impressions?

A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.

'Amsterdam Meets San Francisco: My First Impressions of Copenhagen' have 21 comments

  1. August 26, 2013 @ 12:02 pm jerry januszewski

    Shing, what about the costs of general touring in Copenhagen? Hotel, meals and transport? I like thinking about what it would take to live year-round in places I visit. I’m guessing the cost of living there is on the high side? JJ


    • August 26, 2013 @ 1:09 pm admin

      Hey Jerry! You make a valid point about being more specific but I guess this post was more of a muse… ‘first impressions’ if you like. However, I did mention that taxes are usually higher in Denmark, and the point I was trying to make is that although the cost of living may be slightly higher, the standard of living is also higher, so to me, it’s worth it.

      I take your point though, everyone wants to know about food and where’s good to stay so I think I’ll extend this post! Thanks for the tip, and thanks for commenting!


  2. August 26, 2013 @ 2:28 pm Sanja

    Nice post, cool photos-especially the one from the library. My friends who have been to Copenhagen liked the city and the people there. However, it is one of the more costly places in Europe for living.
    Btw, I believe you do not need expressions such as f-ing, and similar to it. Your emotions are very clear with out them, though :)


    • August 26, 2013 @ 4:12 pm admin

      Hi Sanja, the library is a true gem – diamond by name, diamond by nature so to speak! I’m glad you heard good things about Copenhagen from your friends too.

      Haha, in retrospect I should avoid unnecessary expressions like ‘f-ing’. I got carried away with the idea of studying in Denmark and lost all of my manners! But I shouldn’t get too carried away, because as you pointed out, the cost of living is still comparatively high… Thanks for stopping by :)


  3. August 29, 2013 @ 3:13 am Mike | Earthdrifter

    Love the photo of HC Andersen’s statue. What a great city. Biking and free education are plain smart. They should be a ‘no-brainer’ everywhere but unfortunately they’re not. As you know, education costs can be atrocious in the US so here, if you were to use the adverb ‘effing’ to modify ‘free’, you’d be underestimating how amazing the concept of ‘free’ is regarding education. :-).


    • September 3, 2013 @ 8:27 pm admin

      I love how many homages there are to HC Andersen in Copenhagen, as well as Denmark (I would love to go to Odense next). In regards to the biking and free education, you describe it perfectly with ‘no-brainer’… if only more countries, well politicians, would take heed…


  4. August 29, 2013 @ 6:51 am Mary {The World Is A Book}

    Loved reading your first impressions of Copenhagen, Shing. I’m glad you had a great visit. I like how you compared it to Amsterdam and SF. I’ve thought of AMS but not SF. We loved Copenhagen and I could live there too except for that darn winter thing 😉


    • September 3, 2013 @ 7:53 pm admin

      Haha, when you’re used to perpetual sunshine in San Diego I don’t blame you Mary! The connection between SF and CPN is not physically as obvious as Amsterdam and CPN, but felt in it’s vibe nonetheless! It seems like a brilliant place to bring up a family.


  5. September 1, 2013 @ 9:56 pm Richard

    If you like your libraries, there’s a new one opening in Birmingham this week and will be the biggest in Europe. It looks even better than the black diamond. It looks a bit like a liquorice allsort wrapped in barbed wire. Great post – I enjoyed CPN and thought it was like a cleaner, less seedy AMS.


    • September 4, 2013 @ 8:26 am admin

      Thanks for the tip off about the new Birmingham library! The pictures of it look amazing… and your description of a ‘liquorice allsort wrapped in barbed wire’ is so true Richard!!


  6. September 2, 2013 @ 3:49 pm Lizzie

    I could definitely see myself living in Copenhagen, too. The laidback, open-minded atmosphere reminds me of my hometown Brighton :) Plus, I felt really, really safe there – a definite must for a place to live! Copenhagen reminded me of Amsterdam, too, with the alleyways, canals, and colour. Glad you had a great time, I can’t wait to go back! And the food… Oh, the food!


    • September 5, 2013 @ 7:51 am admin

      I love Brighton for those same reasons why I love Copenhagen too! Yes it does feel really safe, and advocating going ‘green’ makes it feel like a really healthy and pleasant place too. Mmmmm yes the food – Scrumdiddlyumptious!


  7. September 2, 2013 @ 7:42 pm Stefania

    Both Copenhagen and Amsterdam look like lovely towns. They are both on my list of places to visit next summer!

    About libraries: as an Italian, I really envy you for the British Library. I love it, it’s a lovely place to study and do some research!


    • September 5, 2013 @ 8:28 am admin

      Sounds like next summer is going to be filled with fantastic places Stefania!
      We do have some amazing libraries, especially in the south of England! However, at the moment with budget cuts we’re experiencing the close down of many libraries :(


  8. September 6, 2013 @ 4:03 am Arianwen

    I’ve never been to Copenhagen, but thought both Amsterdam and Utrecht were lovely. I love a city where people like to get around by bike!


    • September 11, 2013 @ 7:59 pm admin

      If you thought Amsterdam was lovely then you’re guaranteed to like Copenhagen! The bikes made me feel like I seriously needed to consider my own fitness and lifestyle!!


  9. July 15, 2014 @ 10:32 am Andrea

    We definitely have similar tastes! You put into words what I was thinking but wasn’t quite able to say in my post on Copenhagen. I just put the city’s greatness into it’s ‘cool vibe’. I’m really interested to read more of your posts now.


    • July 15, 2014 @ 7:38 pm admin

      It’s an awesome feeling when you gel completely with a city isn’t it? So completely that you can see yourself living there. Ahem, now I’m back to dreaming wistfully about Copenhagen…


  10. September 16, 2014 @ 3:01 pm Köpikseen! | Strictly Style

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  11. January 14, 2015 @ 5:06 pm Poul Madsen

    Hi there. Happy to learn that you liked Copenhagen. If you see a relation between Copenhagen and Amsterdam, it is no coincidence.

    Dutch architects were recruited to build the rennaisance city of Copenhagen. The harbour and canal layout is Dutch and many of the buildings (like Rosenborg and Børsen, the stock exchange) are classic Dutch rennaisance architecture. If you went to military baracks of Kastellet (The Citadel), it’s design is Dutch.


    • January 30, 2015 @ 3:22 am admin

      Really?! I didn’t know this Poul! Thanks for the background info, I’m pleased to read there’s a reason why it reminded me of Amsterdam!


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