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Hidden European Neighborhoods

Martin Morrell Shopping on Rue Lepic

Photo: Shopping on Rue Lepic

Copenhagen: Vesterbro

Stretching to the west of central Copenhagen’s picturesque cobblestones and church steeples, Vesterbro’s 19th-century apartment blocks and storefronts have never lacked for color. The area has been, by turns, a working-class enclave, a hub for North African immigrants in the 70’s and 80’s, and, in the 90’s, a nexus for university students seeking cheap housing and a lively nightlife. Throughout, it has maintained a reputation as Copenhagen’s answer to Amsterdam’s Red Light District—sometimes not inaccurately. But consider Vesterbro today: sparked a decade ago by a trickle, and then a flood, of young professionals, fashion designers, and artists, the neighborhood’s evolution has turned it into a cleaned-up, dressed-up, downright chic destination for the city’s—and increasingly, the world’s—dedicated followers of cool. But in typically Danish fashion, Vesterbro has retained undertones of its previous lives: Istedgade is still dotted with halal markets and denlike student bars; and at Ricco’s, a doorway-wide coffeehouse, you might sip your faultless caffè corretto while squeezed in between a retired bricklayer and a fashion major from Seoul. Granted, there’s no proliferation of cobblestones and steeples here; but as truly authentic neighborhoods go, it doesn’t get better.—Maria Shollenbarger


Bertrams has the charm of an old-style boardinghouse: parquet floors, a creaky elevator, and decadent down-swathed beds. The owners of Bertrams also run the more luxurious Axel hotel; many of its 129 rooms have terraces and separate sitting areas.


Les Trois Cochons offers a three-course menu of dishes such as quiche Lorraine and foie gras in red wine sauce. A few blocks away, Cofoco serves classic French dishes with a pared-down Danish aesthetic. Locals can’t get enough of the authentic Vietnamese food at Lê Lê. Karriere specializes in straightforward brasserie food served alongside avant-garde art installations from the likes of Olafur Eliasson.


Skinny jeans more or less owe their ubiquity to Scandinavian designers such as Filippa K and Acne Jeans. Find them, and others of their ilk, at Samsøe & Samsøe. Donn Ya Doll, meanwhile, sells pastel dresses from the romantic Danish atelier Bruuns Bazaar. For pieces that successfully blend street style and glamour, head to Birna. The Designers Remix Collection has made its name with tailored dresses, trench coats, and a great selection of bags.


Spend an hour at the Københavns Bymuseum for a highly informative tour of the city’s thousand-year history. For culture of a popular variety, Vega offers three venues that host musicians from David Bowie to Interpol. Hackenbusch is Vesterbro’s most enduringly packed boîte—head here for a taste of the city’s traditional drinking culture.


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