WHY GO NOW?
Copenhagen makes up for the descent into wintry darkness with its Yule festivities. The taverns have taken delivery of the spicy Christmas beer (Yulebryg), Royal Copenhagen's Christmas Tables opened yesterday and the fun park Tivoli ( www.tivoligardens.com) is also open between now and 30 December.
The parquet floors, airy halls and chic duty-free shops of Copenhagen's Kastrup airport are the first sign that you are in a design-conscious nation. SAS (0870 60 727 727; www.scandinavian.net) flies there from Aberdeen, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heathrow, London City and Manchester; Sterling (0870 787 8038; www.sterling.dk) flies from Gatwick; British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from Heathrow; easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyJet.com) flies from Stansted; and BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.com) flies from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
From Kastrup, trains whisk you into the central station (1) in just 12 minutes for a one-way fare of Dkr27 (£2.45). If you have more time on your hands, you can go by ferry and train via Harwich; see www.seat61.com/Denmark.htm.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Across from the station is the main tourist office at Vesterbrogade 4A (2) (00 45 7022 2442; www.visit copenhagen.com). From now until April it opens Monday - Friday 9am-4pm, until 2pm Saturday, closed Sunday. Here you can buy a Copenhagen Card, giving free entry to 60 attractions and museums, discounts to theatre, and free bus, train, harbour bus, and Metro travel in Greater Copenhagen. It costs Dkr199 (£18) for 24 hours; Dkr429 (£39) for 72 hours.
Bertrams Hotel Guldsmeden (3) at Vesterbrogade 107 (00 45 3325 0405; www.hotelguldsmeden.dk) is a restful boutique hotel in funky Vesterbro. It has doubles from Dkr1,495 (£136) including an organic breakfast. Another new opening is the harbourside Front (4) at Skt Annae Plads 21 (00 45 3337 0656; www.front.dk). With its shag pile-clad rooms, lively bar and Seventies-style decor, this is one for the stylish urbanite. Doubles start from Dkr1,590 (£145). Breakfast is Dkr145 (£13).
Budget rooms are few and far between in the Danish capital, but an excellent option, especially for solo travellers, is CabInn City (5) at Mitchellsgade 14 (00 45 3346 1616; www.cabinn.com) just behind Tivoli; its basic rooms start from Dkr525 (£48) a night; breakfast is Dkr70 (£6.40) extra.
TAKE A HIKE
The heart of medieval Copenhagen can easily be explored on foot. From the Town Hall Square (6), head east down Frederiksberggade, which is confusingly also the start of Stroget, the pedestrianised shopping street. Turn right at the square of Nytorv (7) into Radhusstraede, then left into Nybrogade, which feeds into Gammel Strand, the city's medieval harbour where fish was sold and some of the city's best seafood restaurants can still be found. Across the bridge at the end of this is the ancient island of Slotsholmen. Landmarks here include the 17th-century former stock exchange Borsen (8), whose bronze spire is comprised of twisted dragons' tails representing the Nordic nations; the Danish parliament (9); and Christiansborg Palace (10). Leaving Slotsholmen by the Marmorbroen (Marble Bridge) (11), head right along Frederiksholms Kanal, until you get to Magstraede. This medieval street feeds into Snaregade, where you turn left into Nabolos, following it through its permutations as Hyskenstraede and Klosterstraede. Turn right into Skindergade, at the end of which you'll see the Round Tower (12); built by Christian IV in 1642, it is Europe's oldest working observatory.
TAKE A VIEW
A cobbled path winds seven-and-a-half times up the inside of the Round Tower (12) ( www.rundetaarn.dk). The vista takes in Copenhagen old and new, from the spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke to graceful wind turbines and the Oresund Bridge to Sweden. Winter opening is 10am-5pm daily (Sundays from noon), admission Dkr25 (£2.30).
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Smorrebrod (open sandwich) is the Danes' favourite snack. An ideal introduction is at Slotskaelderen hos Gitte Kik (13), a family-run institution at Fortunstraede 4 (00 45 3311 1537). Options include curried herrings, liver pâté, and pale pickled salmon with dill. One piece starts from Dkr37 (£3.40), though the typical serving is three; bookings are essential. Another option is Mojo (14) at Gothersgade 26 (00 45 3332 0105; www.mojo.se), a cosy street-corner café that has Caesar salads for Dkr85 (£7.70), soup (Dkr75/£6.80) and bagels (Dkr60/£5.40).
For more than 40 years, Danish families have been making an annual trek to see the Christmas Tables at the Royal Copenhagen flagship store (15) at Amagertorv on Stroget (00 45 3814 4848; www.royalcopenhagen.com). Six people from different creative fields are invited to design their own table settings, and this year's theme is metropolises around the world. At more than £90 a plate, window shopping may be all one can manage.
The clothing stores in the tangle of side streets between Kobmagergade and Kongens Nytorv show why Denmark has become the fashion capital of Scandinavia. Noteworthy women's labels include Designers Remix (16) at Pilestraede 8, Bruuns Bazaar (17) at Kronprinsengade 8 and Rützou (18) at Store Regnegade 3. Also on the latter street at No 1 is Frydendahl (00 45 3313 6301; www.janfrydendahl.dk), which stocks a fantastic range of one-off gifts and homeware, from vintage chandeliers and hand-knitted toys to haberdashery.
There are also Christmas markets in Nyhavn (to 23 December) and the hippie colony of Christiania (10-20 December). At Tivoli (19), the classy Christmas market has an array of handmade crafts, food, clothing and toys. Amid the stalls are grottoes full of mechanical nisser (pixies), rollercoasters and rides, a concert hall and the spectacular new aquarium. It opens Sunday-Thursday 11am-10pm, until 11pm Friday and Saturday; Dkr75/£6.80 (00 45 3315 1001).
In prime shoppers' territory at Store Regnegade 3 is Café Dan Turèll (20) (00 45 3314 1047; www.danturell.dk). Take a window table, then order a kir royal - the café also does a roaring trade in burgers (from Dkr119/ £11). Otherwise, head to the Yulebryg tasting stalls on Nyhavn. Denmark has the most microbreweries per capita in Europe, so there should be a beer to suit every palate.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
A few minutes' walk from there, next to the cathedral (21), is the pedestrianised Grabrodretorv (Greyfriars Square) (22), where there are several basement restaurants offering excellent cuisine and a hyggly (cosy) atmosphere. One of the best for a classic Danish stodge-fest is Bof & Ost (Beef and Cheese) at No 13 (00 45 3311 9911; www.boef-ost.dk). A rustic, smoky affair popular with locals, it has whitewashed walls, pleasant waitresses in flowery frocks, and wine drunk and paid for by the centilitre. Wild duck with cranberry, apple, walnuts and artery-clogging stilton sauce costs Dkr189 (£17); cheeses start from Dkr45 (£4).
Café Zeleste (23), at Store Strandstraede 6 (00 45 3316 0606; www.zeleste.dk), is a romantic eatery that specializes in half lobster (Dkr255/£23). Other mains include fallow deer and organic beef. Three courses cost Dkr325 (£30), and it does a brunch (Dkr85/£7.70) that was voted the best in the city, for which bookings are essential on Sunday.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
The austere Lutheran interior of Vor Frue Kirke (Copenhagen Cathedral) (21) is offset by the huge marble sculptures of Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1884). It is open to visitors 8am-5pm daily, except during services; Sunday services are at 10am, 2pm and 5pm.
OUT TO BRUNCH
Surprisingly, Denmark consumes more coffee per capita than anywhere else, and has won best barista in the world four times in the past 10 years. Martin Hildebrandt at Café Europa (24), at Amagertorv 1 (00 45 3314 2889) across from Royal Copenhagen, set the standard in 2001 and now roasts his own blend. But your caffeine fix won't come cheap: its signature coffee, the cortado (like a milkier macchiato) costs Dkr30 (£2.70), with sweets from Dkr39 (£3.50).
A WALK IN THE PARK
Kastellet (the Citadel) (25) was built in 1662 and houses Europe's oldest army barracks still in use. However, its grassy, star-shaped ramparts are open to civilians from 6am-10pm. From the top you might be able to make out a cluster of bemused tourists on the seaside walkway; their object is the city's tiny, twee icon, the Little Mermaid (26). If you fancy a closer look, it's about a five-minute walk from the Gefion Fountain at the base of the Kastellet.
Until the end of January, the National Museum (27) at Ny Vestergade 10 (00 45 3313 4411; www.natmus.dk) has family activities based on Danish Christmas traditions. There is also an exhibition on the founder of Copenhagen, Bishop Absalon (1128-1201), and medieval Denmark. It opens 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday; admission free.
ICING ON THE CAKE
Get your ice skates on at the rink in Kongens Nytorv. A whirl around the tree-lined square (28) outside the National Theatre costs Dkr40 (£3.60) for an hour - about the limit of one's endurance anyway in the arctic chill.Reuse content