Studying abroad in Copenhagen: embracing the weather


By Benjamin Salmon, Deputy News Editor

The Croft Magazine//The Danish capital is notorious for its cold winters and dark nights, but with a warm coat, Copenhagen is a city that should be on everyone's burgeoning bucket lists. Having spent his Erasmus there, Benjamin Salmon tells you exactly what not to miss.

You may have watched enviously as your older sibling’s friend forged a typical Spanish tan on their study abroad placement in Valencia. You even feel like that is what studying abroad is all about – enjoying a six-month holiday in the sun. But you can still have the time of your life even when the temperature is not quite so Mediterranean. Taking the (literal, as will be explained later) plunge and choosing somewhere on the colder side of mild to spend my exchange was a decision I hold no regrets over.

An iconic vision of the Danish Capital...Epigram/Joshua Daniels

From February to July this year, I studied abroad in Copenhagen. The city may be known for Hans Christian Andersen’s cutesy fairy tales and the cutting-edge gastronomy at Noma, but there is a whole lot more to this city than the gimmicks. Denmark’s lamentable weather may seem to some as somewhat of a challenge, and at times it was, but it also opened up opportunities to live the life of a different culture.

One way is through an incessant use of saunas. These cosy wooden boxes are a way of life in this part of the world and with good reason. They bring warmth to the cold winters in Scandinavia and, as any good Dane will tell you, they can’t be experienced without afterwards plunging into the brisk but exhilarating (and surprisingly clean) waters around Copenhagen harbour. Before this exchange Copenhagen, I didn’t even like saunas!

The best sauna experience out there is at La Banchina – a restaurant/café/bar on the water about a 15-minute bus ride north of the city centre. Punters can enjoy world-class food and drink and then go for a staying the sauna, followed by a dip in the chilly yet remedial Baltic Sea – absolutely worth it, trust me.

If saunas and cold-water swimming make you hungry (they do), then there is a wealth of choice to fill that void. Nowadays, Copenhagen is rightly known as the pioneer of New Nordic Cuisine, which utilises overlooked local ingredients to produce out-of-this-world flavours – though these usually come with a hefty price tag.

In more of a student price range, Copenhagen is full to the brim with convivial restaurants and cheap eats to keep you sustained during the cold. For cosy vibes head to Café Halvvejen in the city centre. Traditional Danish dishes – think meatballs, stew and seafood – wood-panelling and good beer on tap transport you back to the Copenhagen of old. It is the kind of place Copenhagen’s own Søren Kierkegaard would have found the true essence of a good life.

The city may be known for Hans Christian Andersen’s cutesy fairy tales...but there is a whole lot more to this city than the gimmicks.

To sample truly hearty Danish food, trying smørrebrød is a must. Essentially a fancy open-faced sandwich, smørrebrød is somewhere near what tasty sustenance should be and most places do it nicely. Hallernes Smørrebrød in Torvehallerne food market provides hungry customers with this scrumptious and filling Danish staple – be it with roast pork, smoked salmon, egg and shrimp, or beef tartare – all for less than a tenner.

Nothing warms one up like alcohol does, which is great when Copenhagen has suitably cosy drinking establishments to fit the bill. Bo-Bi Bar is just one of the many ‘bodegas’ (traditional pub-like bars) found dotted around the city. Its faded walls and smoky interior may not sound like fun, but cheap prices (this city is very expensive) and a buzzy clientele with a wide age range provide the ingredients for a great bar. It is not uncommon for total strangers to end up best friends by 2am, buying rounds for each other.

The land of 'darkness'...Epigram/Joshua Daniels 

I received many queries before I set off on my semester abroad: why are you choosing to go to a land of darkness? why are you choosing cold weather when you could go to California or Australia? But I would not have swapped it for anywhere else. The city wears its frosty Nordic situation on its sleeve, showing what’s possible when it includes hearty food, copious drink and brilliant sauna action. When such a creative, accessible, welcoming, at times cosy, and effortlessly cool city embraces you whatever the weather, you know you’ve found a home.

Featured Image credit:Epigram/Joshua Daniels

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