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Copious Copenhagen

Tucked away on the chilly eastern coast of Denmark, Copenhagen is one of Europe’s more diminutive cities and can be crossed on foot in half an hour. Lucia Cockcroft discovers that, like Tom Cruise or the iPod Nano, despite its size it has a lot to offer


For its size and relative low profile, Copenhagen punches well above its weight in figures. The city is Europe’s second-best business travel destination, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2006 business travel index, a ranking of 127 worldwide cities based on factors such as hotel facilities, transportation and infrastructure.

The surprises don’t end there. The index ranked Copenhagen as the 17th best city in the world for business travel; and the number of city hotel rooms has increased by over 40 percent since 1999. Copenhagen now boasts 24,500 hotel beds, with five 5-star hotels and 36 4-stars.

Thanks in part to the vigorous efforts of Wonderful Copenhagen, the official tourist organisation, Copenhagen is now one of the world’s leading congress destinations, beating more obvious centres such as London and Barcelona.

It hosts five big corporate venues, and the flagship business venue, Copenhagen Congress Center, holds 17,000 delegates, and is located a handy five minutes from the airport.

After Sweden, British business visitors were for the largest overseas group in 2004, accounting for 208,140 bednights in hotels.

The city frequently sits at the top of international “quality of life” surveys, praised for the strong  environmental principles of its inhabitants, its clean streets and world class health, social and education system.

City centre transformation
Yet there’s considerably more to Copenhagen than its neat, squeaky-clean image might imply. The last few years have seen a flurry of construction work. The striking Oresund Bridge, linking Copenhagen to Malmo, southern Sweden, has made passing from one country to another a matter of an easy half hour train journey, either from the city centre, or direct from the airport.

The Danes are finally turning their attention to their city’s harbour area and last year, the gleaming new opera house opened its doors. Designed by Danish architect Henning Larsen, the glass-fronted building sports nine floors, covering 41,000sq m – a similar scale to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

Some have criticised it for looking out of keeping with its surroundings, and it’s safe to say that, with its bold 32m floating roof, and ultra-contemporary vibes, the opera house is a bold cultural statement.

Change is afoot elsewhere. There’s a new ultra-contemporary metro system and the harbour sides to the north and south of the city are sporting glass and concrete apartment blocks in keeping with harbourside developments all over Europe.

Former red light districts – such as Vesterbro, behind Central Station – have emerged as buzzing shopping and nightlife districts, and Istedgade, once a notorious sex street – has been transformed into an area packed with cafes and boutiques.

Spare time
For a business or leisure tourist, one of Copenhagen’s winning points is its size; most of its sights are contained within a four-square kilometre medieval centre.

Any free time in the city is likely to see you strolling down Stroget, the main shopping area, the most famous street in Denmark, and allegedly the longest pedestrianised shopping street.

Somewhat confusingly, Stroget actually comprises five streets – Ostergade, Amagertorv, Nygade, Vimmelskaftet and Frederiksberggade – and stretches over a kilometre from east to west.

It’s home to a vast mix of shops and boutiques, ranging from Louise Vuitton and Prada at the eastern end, towards Kongens Nytorv, to middlebrow chain stores such as H&M and Zara.

For a change of feel and tempo, you will inevitably find yourself in Nyhavn – a small, picturesque canal-side district which bursts into life as soon as the sun emerges from the clouds. Tourists and locals alike flock to the canals, bars and restaurants.

Nyhavn came into being in 1673 when soldiers dug the canal to allow ships access to Kongens Nytorv. A few centuries on, Dutch writer Hans Christian Andersen lived in three different addresses on the canal, and in this century (the 1800s) the quayside was the city’s principle red light district, and home to Copenhagen’s more colourful characters.

It’s a great place to wile away a few hours on a balmy summer daytime, but in general the restaurants should be avoided; better value can be found elsewhere.

Another good use of a few hours is to take a boat from the quayside at Nyhavn. Around £8 will buy you an hour’s tour of the city’s main canals, and this is a fantastic way to gain a very different perspective of the city.

If palaces and stately square are more your forte, head for Frederiksstaden, an upmarket residential area which is also home to four royal palaces, the city’s grandest church, and a clutch of art galleries.

Walking from the multicoloured gabled houses of Nyhavn to the wide, French-influenced streets, brings a sharp contract. A stroll down Frederiksgade leads to the four rococo palaces surrounding a grand cobbled square that together make up Amalienborg Slot (or Palace).

The palace was home to the royal family since 1794, and today the universally popular current Queen, Margrethe II lives in Schack Palace.

For a taste of Copehnagen’s political life, make a b- line for Stotsholmen, the city’s most historically important site, and technically an island.  This area is home to the Danish parliament, Folkestinget, Christiansborg Slot (or castle), and a range of museums.

Finally, if the child in you needs coaxing out, Denmark’s number one tourist attraction, Tivoli might just do the job. Visited by a staggering 4.5m people a year (more than Legoland!) the 20 acre gardens and theme park holds an almost-mystical place in the Danes’ collective memory.

To a foreign visitor, the magic may not be immediately obvious: the area is a strange, slightly garish mix of fairytale and commercialism. It does, however, have a distinct, charming atmosphere, and night-time at Tivoli can be especially atmospheric.

Eating out
It’s safe to say that Danish cuisine is not internationally renowned. Since the mid-nineties, however, the country’s gastronomy has undergone a minor renaissance and Copenhagen now has more Michelin stars than any other Scandinavian city, leaving Stockholm plenty of food for thought.

Most of the city’s best restaurants mix French dishes with local, seasonal fare such as game, fresh vegetables, cured or smoked fish and locally caught seafood.

Restaurateur Torven Olsen (owner of Cafe Victor, Dan Turells, Ultimo and Quote) has made a name for himself with new interpretations of Danish cooking married with international styles, along with stylish décor attracting equally stylish customers.

Business visitors aren’t likely to baulk at the prices charged at Copenhagen’s restaurants – even so, it’s best to make sure the expense account has a while to run. Even at unremarkable restaurants, main courses start at around £20, and a bottle of wine can add a frightening mark-up to the bill.

For a taste of the best of Copenhagen’s new restaurant scene, head for the new, uber-cool Fox Kitchen and Bar; the Bistro Moderne, or the Japanese-themed Umami.

Despite its modest reputation, Copenhagen’s user-friendly size, its buzzy, regenerated areas and  impressive congress facilities add up to a compelling proposition.

Add the mix an eclectic mix of restaurants, great shopping and a network of international flights, and Stockholm may well have a serious contender as Scandinavia’s business and leisure hub.

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