Copenhagen: Danish design and royal knick-knacks

Chairs, inside the design museum

We couldn’t go all the way to Copenhagen and not indulge our love of Scandinavian design. 

And with rain falling on our first full day in the city, the Designmuseum Denmark was an obvious destination. Despite getting on the wrong bus and having to walk further than we expected in the showers, we eventually found it in a grand district of mansions and fine houses close to the royal palace at Amalienborg. Not surprisingly, the museum was busy with other visitors seeking an indoor option on a wet day.

One of Copenhagen's handsome squares
One of Copenhagen’s handsome squares

Housed in an 18th century building that was once a hospital, it turned out to be something of a mixed affair. First up was a fascinating smorgasbord of products designed by talented Danes, from sleek homewares, to stylish furniture and chairs, colourful retro posters and funky fashions. Some harked back to the past, some reflected the present, others looked to the future and the need for a more sustainable world.

But while the individual pieces were great to look at and learn about, there was no clear narrative and I left the museum none the wiser as to why Danes do design so well or what inspired their greatest designers. The much-heralded shop was a bit of a disappointment too.

Elsewhere the museum hosted a European fashion and textiles collection from across the centuries, as well as a special exhibit that showed how Japanese design had influenced Scandinavian designers. Neither of them really floated my boat.

Copenhagen's Marmorkirken
Copenhagen’s Marmorkirken

We lunched nearby on beer and smørrebrød – elaborately prepared, tasty and generously loaded Danish open sandwiches – and then found ourselves admiring the epic green copper dome of the Marmorkirken, otherwise known as the Marble Church or Frederik’s Kirke. Like the Pantheon in Rome, the church is circular, crowned by that magnificent dome, and it’s a stunning sight inside and out, even to an atheist like me.

The church took a long time to build too. The foundation stone was laid in 1749 but the money ran out and it wasn’t until the 1890s that it was completed.

The church looks out over Amalienborg Palace, home to the royals and a museum about the building and the family. The palace is actually made up of four identical buildings surrounding a square and a statue of Frederik V. In turn they’re guarded by soldiers wielding lethal automatic weapons but dressed incongruously in fairy tale costumes and bearskins.

Inside Copenhagen's Marmorkirken
Inside Copenhagen’s Marmorkirken

The highlight of our visit was a special exhibition called From the Royal Attics, which featured an extensive collection of goodies from the royal store rooms, including valuable artworks, jewellery and porcelain, as well as more intimate things such as photos, toys, knick-knacks, clothes and letters that actually told us much more about the family than the grand antiques.

Elsewhere in the palace we toured the rooms that kings and queens from the last 150 years used and called home. We do love a palace…

Later, we walked back to our hotel through the grand streets of the royal quarter and busy Nyhavn, via the shopping streets around Stroget. Sadly the global chains dominated, making Stroget look much like any other shopping district in Europe.

Amalienborg Palace
Amalienborg Palace

Come evening, we walked to Restaurant Cofoco just down the road in Vesterbro. New Nordic cuisine and handsome waiters were in evidence, as well as the usual high prices, but the collection of small plates we ordered were delicious including marinated salmon, a mussel soup and succulent lamb neck. A good Riesling washed it all down.

In the cold and damp, we walked off our food while aiming for Studiestræde – a street supposedly good for night life. But the gay bars looked lifeless and tacky so we found ourselves in the comfortable (dare I say hygge) surroundings of The Living Room, drinking cocktails and soaking up the atmosphere.