Is this the first weekend of summer in Denmark? Or was last weekend? Does it matter? The sun is out and the days are getting hot, hot, hot (well, hot for Copenhagen anyway!). Danish summer days can sometimes be hit or miss around here, but if the past couple of weeks are any indication, we’re in for a good one this year. And that’s just it, when summer is good in Denmark, it is so, so good.
It’s actually our third summer here (well, third full summer – you could argue that it’s our fourth summer season since when we first arrived three years ago it was August), and each year it’s gotten better. Copenhagen has really grown and diversified as a city over the time we’ve been here. So each year there are a few new things, but there is also no shortage of reliable classics that are staples to Danish summer days. If you’re new to the city here, or an old pro looking for a few ideas, here’s a list of all the things that we look forward to that help make a Danish summer, in no particular order. If you have favorites of your own that we don’t know about, please add them in the comments on the bottom! Happy Summer!
Arguably, the first thing I think of when it comes to Danish summers, because even if it’s raining, you can count on the sweet taste of these little red rubies. They’re smaller than what we get in many other parts of the world, but oh so tasty, and I don’t say that lightly. My grandfather grew his own strawberries in Poland, and those are tops for me, but Danish strawberries come an extremely close second. Naturally, they’re best served against the blue and white backdrop of any dish from Royal Copenhagen! They’re always at the store, but more fun to get at the little honor stands that fill the roads once you’re outside of the city, or go the extra mile and pick your own too!
2. Watch the Graduates
A wacky tradition if there ever was one, the summer is kicked off by flat bed trucks full of graduates, first with high school and then college graduates, roving around town from house party to house party (quick update: I’ve been informed that traditionally, the trucks are reserved for high school. So any of them roving around with the collegiate set are technically out of tradition!). They blast loud music and presumably enjoy libations (upon libations) while wearing little white Captain’s caps marked with their degrees, looking like they lost Tenille somewhere along the way. When you see them go by, cheer, honk the horn, clap – they’re young, they’re having a good time and you should take a cue from them and do the same!
3. Linger in the Summer Nights
At the height of it, it won’t get dark until after 10:30 in the evening. While not quite white nights, it does come close. This isn’t the time to take all those daylight hours for granted – eat outside, take a nap outside, enjoy the outside…when it comes time to hibernate for the winter, you’ll need those extra stores of Vitamin D and the belief that all that light will come around again.
4. Fried Chicken at Amass
Fried chicken and cold slaw, that’s just summer plain and simple. And the best place to get it is actually on of the best restaurants in town at Matthew Orlando’s Amass, who opens up a small fry shop in the back of the restaurant right on the water. Bring friends. Eat lots. Remember that the best things in life are the simplest ones, done right.
5. Get on a Boat
Be your own captain on a GoBoat in the canals, diva out on a Swan Boat on the lakes, take the helm of a sail boat, overwork yourself on a row boat, put the car on a ferry boat…the options are endless. But if it’s summer time and you haven’t been on a boat, you probably aren’t really living in Denmark. There’s a boat for every personality here, yours too.
6. Jump in the Water
Yes, the cold water. Which is not just for boats here, it’s for swimming too, and not only for the brave. Getting in the water here is kind of a rite of passage. If you’re city bound, these harbors will cool you off when air conditioning is nowhere to be found (and trust me, you won’t find it), else just outside of town Bellevue Beach to the north and Amager Beach to the south will do a fine job too and are easily accessible. If you’re a weenie or have wee ones, work your way up by starting in some of the splash pads around town, Dejlige Days has a great roundup of where you can find them.
7. Picnic in Kongens Have
The people’s backyard, as it’s affectionately known. This is a good one to do with the inevitable roster of summer visitors that will be coming your way. A quick stop by Torvehallerne before the busy hours for a few goodies, and a big blanket sets you up nice to enjoy the sprawling lawn, gardens and royal views along with the other half of the entire city.
8. Catch the Summer Arts
During the summer, some of the performing arts move outside, like the Royal Ballet who heads out to assorted parks around the city to perform for free, or catch the outdoor Hamlet in Hamlet’s Castle of Kronborg just a quick train ride away (bonus, this year is the 200th year anniversary of the performances at the castle so they’re going all out.) It’s sometimes hard to find out about these things in advance (especially if you’re not a Danish speaker) so keep an eye out for announcements the old fashioned way, with posters at the train stations and other central areas.
9. Find Your Island
Venturing out to an island is just part of summer here. For Danes, they usually have a summer home that they have been going to for years. For us expats, we’re not as lucky on that front, but it means you can sample them all to find your pick (or hope that you’re invited over to a Dane’s!): Bornholm, Aero, Samso, Mon, Faroe….all kinds of islands for all kinds of beats. If sampling is not your thing, now is the time to become better friends so to speak with someone who’s already done the legwork.
10. Ice Cream, Ice Cream, Ice Cream
So many options and so much ice cream goodness around here. Here’s a list of great ice cream options, but frankly, Copenhagen is full of ice cream shops and so are all the summer towns around here, and more and more are opening as parts of various markets around town. As much as I love all the gourmet fun stuff, I have to say that at the end of the day, my favorite “summer” nostalgic ice cream is a classic flavor from one of the Hansen’s Flodeis stands anywhere along the coast.
11. Dive In
Every year, Red Bull hosts cliff divers from around the world to do their best loop de loops off the roof of the Opera House right into the harbor. Because that’s the kind of thing you do around Copenhagen. We laugh at things like liability wavers! Watch from afar, or get a boat and come closer in, but this is a great social event to view that’s both as awe-inspiring as it is bonkers. The event is June 18 this year.
12. Light Your Sankt Hans Fire
This is it, the apex of summer and one of the longest days of the year (June 24), market with piles of bonfires and a few effigies (because why not?). There are speeches (of course), and group singing (of course) – the bonfires are all over various neighborhoods and kommunes and towns, so be on the lookout for the information on your area. This is what hygge looks like summer style.
13. Street Food Dinners
Over our three years here, “street food” (or what we would call “Food Trucks” in the US) has really taken off. While not always as cheap as you would expect, and while the lines can be annoyingly long when it’s a peak time, it’s still one of the best options for getting more diverse food here in Copenhagen, served hot off the whatever their cooking surface is of choice and many with really high quality. Papiroen is a great location over the harbor, but there are more and more stands outside at Torvehallerne, and the market at the Koedbyens Meatpacking District. Those are good places to start but be on the lookout, as I’m sure more will open or appear as pop-ups. Attending these areas are also a fine time to wear all your hipster accessories at once.
If you don’t have any hipster accessories, no fear, it will be the summer’s countless loppemarkeds to the rescue. Danes love a good flea market and the summer is full of them. In addition to selling all sorts of random wares that you never knew others wanted to buy, and maybe a few things that you actually do, the markets also usually feature local entertainment, sometimes food and plenty of people watching. Each neighborhood plays host to their own so it’s a very communal gathering.
15. See a Festival
Summertime in Denmark plays host to about a million music festivals of all kinds. Roskilde showcasing gazillions of acts you’ve heard of is the big one to write home about, and then the great migration of festival goers continues to Skagen Festival and Tisvildeleje. But there are also tons of smaller, extremely local festivals in many towns and islands featuring acts you likely have not heard of but are enjoyable all the same. Personally, I’m not great at the whole camping festival bit, but if you are, that part can be an adventure in and of itself and camping in general is big in Denmark, so this could be a fun way to make it part of your summer.
16. Head North
If you’re based in Copenhagen, you’re lucky enough to be just a short drive or train ride from some of the most charming towns and beaches in Northern Zealand that come alive in the summer time. Hello, Danish Riviera. Kind of like the local version of other European Rivieras but less crowded, less pretentious, and you’ll have much more time for rosé you should be drinking. Many of these towns are also home to beautiful sandy beaches that have great playgrounds for kids, simple seafood stands by the water, and well kept homes with beautiful gardens around. If you’re headed north, check out our Guide to the Danish Riviera.
17. Rent a Holiday House
If you can swing it, this is stuff of summer. Danes and most Scandinavians swear by summer homes, and contrary to what we think of in the US, instead of big fancy Hamptons abodes, these are usually simple but well-kept homes, located close to the water that become their second residence when the temperatures warm. There are lots of rentals of standardized holiday homes and then personal ones on sites like Air BnB but if you want to summer like a Dane, do a house for at least a weekend and just pretend you’ve been on vacation for three straight weeks.
18. Pour a Well-Chilled Koldskal
This is one of those things that took me a bit of time to figure out but it has become a sentimental part of summer. A “soup” that is basically buttermilk served cold (for me the colder the better), with the added bonus of strawberries and little crushed cookies called kammerjunkers (which, let’s face it, is as much fun to say as it is to eat). It’s best eaten on a plastic lawn chair, basking in the sunshine of that summer house you just rented (or invited yourself too). You can buy it in grocery stores in cartons, which is the easiest, but Nordic Food Living has a great recipe for it so that you can take it with you even after you leave Denmark.
19. Summer Hours at Tivoli
Eventually the summer days will come to a close, but the party will last the longest at the Tivoli Gardens. Whether it’s for the rides, for the kids, for the concerts, or for a stroll amongst the lights, Tivoli probably has become the most sentimental part of our hearts as far as Copenhagen traditions go. We love it any time of year, but it’s the place where we close out our summer, as the nights come earlier and get colder. If you have an annual pass, it’s easy to drop in here and there, especially during off peak hours, to take in how special the park really is and how quickly it all goes by. Make sure you make some time to see it in the last of your summer days, when fall is starting to call your name instead – there’s something about leaving the main gates at the close of the season, only knowing that you’ll be back once the winter holidays begin.
Need More Ideas? Scandinavia Standard’s June/July Guide has more scoops on what’s on in Copenhagen!
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