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The view from the tower at Christiansborg Palace is magnificent

48 hours in Copenhagen

Copenhagen, the ‘happiest city in the world’, offers a cosy sense of security, rather than overt expressions of joy.

Go on a cruise

This is the perfect way to soak in the city’s sights, as well as its seafaring past. Cruises start from the colourful Nyhavn (New Harbour) lined by picture-postcard, multicoloured houses. You glide along canals, passing old and new landmarks such as Christiansborg and Amalienborg palaces and the wistful statue of the Little Mermaid, rubbing shoulders with the ultra-modern Opera House, Playhouse and Black Diamond building. Make it a point to dine at one of the eateries in the harbour, such as Nyhavns Ferry Inn, to feel like a sailor from the days of yore.

Stroll along Stroget

From the atmospheric City Hall Square, take a 1.1-kilometre walk down this superb shopping street, closed to vehicles and crowded with humans on the lookout for a bargain. You will find funky designer boutiques, big names such as Prada and Gucci and the enormous flagship store of H&M. The cobbled streets and quaint houses add to the experience, and you can stop at the historic patisserie La Glace (1870) for a layered-cake orgy, or Hot Chocolat Copenhagen to indulge your dark addictions. For Danish souvenirs, stop at Royal Copenhagen, the founder of blue fluted porcelain, and Illums Bolighus, the Mecca of modern Danish design. If you suddenly see some colourful Lego beckoning, do enter the store to have a romp at its birthplace.

Pile it high

Did anyone think that a slice of black rye bread could be paired with so many other dishes, in the form of roast duck, Greenland shrimp, crumb-fried plaice, pickled eel and herring, gravlax salmon, chicken mousse and potato salad — all made the more tasty with dollops of horseradish cream cheese, mayo and mustard? That is the Danish classic of smorrebrod, best had at the legendary Schonnemann that has been serving these open sandwiches since 1877. The menu says, “How much can one eat?” and answers, “2 pieces as a start, 3 to be full, and 4 to finish with a smile.” But, if you are in a group, you can order a dozen varieties that will be served up on large silver trays groaning under their load. Be sure to wash them down with ale on the tap, or have a shot of Aquavit (140 types to choose from). In summer, the seasonal strawberry and rhubarb trifle is a runaway hit for dessert.

The birthplace of Carlsberg

In 1847, JC Jacobsen set up the Carlsberg Brewery, named after new-born son Carl, on a hill outside the town. Now very much in the central area of the city, this stone building has been turned into a museum, while the world’s fourth-largest brewery carries out its manufacturing elsewhere. Carlsberg, Tuborg, Jacobsen and other familiar brands all started their journey across the world from Copenhagen. Trace this history and see how ale, lager and pilsner are brewed in copper vats; gape at the world’s largest collection of beer bottles (65,000+); shop for retro posters of the different beers; and see the beautiful sculpture garden and stables. End your visit by tasting two brews (part of the deal) — we recommend Tuborg Classic and Jacobsen Original Dark Lager, based on JC’s recipe from 1854.

The Magic of Tivoli

Drop all your hang-ups about being caught at a theme park and walk into the Tivoli experience with a grin on your face. It will grow wider as you traverse the flower-lined paths, past fountains, palaces and pagodas, so quaint that they beat any historic movie set. The world’s second-oldest amusement park, set up in 1843, still runs the world’s oldest roller coaster with well-oiled precision. You can also sit in a Flying Trunk and soar past a tableaux of Hans Christen Andersen’s famous fairy tales. Much scarier and hair-raising rides are available, too. Have dinner at the fine-dining restaurant Brdr. Price, run by the celebrity brother duo, serving up classic Danish food — all buttery sauces and rich meats. And, to crown the evening, drop by at the Nimb bar, set in a regal ballroom from the 1870s, for a nightcap.

Cyclist Kings

Nowhere else in the world does this ring more true. Helmeted speed hounds whizz through the city on dedicated lanes — on their way to meetings, parties, shopping, or the kids’ crèche. You can join the gang by going on a cycle tour of the city. Pedal through the leafy King’s Garden, now a favourite public space; ride down the swanky orange Cycle Snake bridge, which connects to the harbour; and stop at the ultra- modern centre for dramatic arts, the Royal Playhouse, for a drink. There are many cycle tour operators who do thematic trips on architecture, local life, hip hangouts and more. But, if you’re free-spirited, hire a City Bike from one of the several stands across town. Enter your card details into a tablet on the handlebar and zoom off on a GPS-enabled tour.

Functional is beautiful

Design Museum Denmark proves that such places are not only for the arty types. You can go on a fascinating journey of how form and substance were changed into everyday objects of modern life, by greats such as Kaare Klint and Arne Jacobsen. See Jacobsen’s Ant Chair (1951), Denmark’s first industrially manufactured chair, or his modernistic forks and knives (AJ cutlery). Storage units, jewellery, textiles, art nouveau porcelain (including some funky stuff by Gauguin himself), and design breakthroughs of every conceivable shape and size are on display. Kay Bojesen’s impish wooden monkey hangs in the gallery ‘Century of the Child’, which shows innovation in school and nursery furniture, toys and picture books.

From Butchery to gastronomy

An enormous industrial square west of Central Station is Copenhagen’s trendiest hangout on weekends and evenings. Once Europe’s largest meat-packing centre, the 1930s buildings of this part of Vesterbro are bristling with bars and experimental restaurants. Some of them serve New Nordic, and you may as well try this hyped-up cuisine here, because its originator, Noma, is far too pricy and booked-out for two years at a time. Other restaurants are the vegan and organic BioMio, the grill specialists Kul (meaning coal), Kodbyens Fiskebar dedicated to seafood and Nose2 Tail, where every part of the animal is offered up cooked and garnished. Hang here to watch the trendy set who are amazingly understated, true to Danish character. In summer, there is daylight till midnight, confusing your senses. A huge concrete ox looks over the proceedings from the top of the central warehouse, reminding you that this zone was meant for butchers till recently.

Be a Viking

Where have all the Vikings gone? They’ve become civilised and settled down to be the happiest people in the world. But, the Danes like to remember their rough ’n’ tough heritage once in a while. Ride out to the seaside town of Roskilde (30 km from Copenhagen) to the Viking Museum, where five original Viking ships have been restored and put on display with other memorabilia. The most exciting part is getting to sail a faux Viking boat yourself — it’s the real deal, as they throw you to the winds, unfurl the sail and expect you to row ferociously back to the harbour. Yes, there are other pirates rowing with you, and an instructor, but your adrenaline rush is guaranteed. From here, visit the old town, with its Gothic cathedral, quaint shopping street and the oldest railway station in Denmark. If you visit in summer, you can catch the Roskilde Festival, one of Europe’s biggest, in July.