Copenhagen is comprised of many neighborhoods, each with a distinctive atmosphere. The formation of these neighborhoods is an ongoing process and Copenhagen’s dynamic urban landscape is in a perpetual state of flux. Despite what you may have heard about the Western European demographic crisis, Copenhagen is actually experiencing a baby boom, with the population forecasted to increase by 100,000 to 637,000 by 2025. Thus, demand for property is very high and outlying areas are continually being developed and gentrified in response, encouraged by infrastructure improvements like the new Metro line. The rule of thumb used to be that the posh areas lay to the northeast of the city, while the south and west were seen as undesirable, but the conventional wisdom is rapidly becoming outdated.
Indre Byen: Indre Byen means “the city center”: this is the area bounded by the harbor to the South and the several lakes that used to form the medieval town’s moat to the North. Nearly all of Copenhagen’s major attractions like Tivoli Gardens, the Royal Palace, and Nyhavn, are located here, with the famous cobblestone shopping area Strøget serving as its central nervous system. This is also where most major events take place, with the greatest concentration of bars, clubs, food, and entertainment. Despite this variety, the inner city is charmingly compact: you can walk through downtown Copenhagen in under forty minutes at a relaxed pace.
Needless to say, the old medieval buildings of the city center are highly desirable, and property prices are accordingly sky-high. Residents in this area range from old money families to the most successful business people. If you are looking for a place in the area, keep in mind that the noise-level at night could be problematic, as the fun-loving Danes often take the party into the street at any time and on any day of the week.
Nørrebro: Nørrebro is a really mixed bag, and this is part of its appeal. This area lies just across the lakes from center and is considered the hippest part of Copenhagen (comparisons to Brooklyn welcome). Although Scandinavian fashion in general leans towards what other nations might call “hipster,” Nørrebro is where you will find the most style-conscious young people in the city. The rent is relatively cheap (though still exorbitant by American standards) and therefore is an attractive landing pad for students, young professionals, artists, and bohemians of all stripes. Nørrebro has accordingly developed the second-largest concentration of bars, clubs, food, and music venues in Copenhagen (after Indre Byen) all of which are at least a shade more affordable than their counterparts downtown.
In the past Nørrebro was a predominantly working-class neighborhood, and many of these long-time residents have so far resisted selling out to gentrification. In addition, Nørrebro is known as the most ethnically diverse area of the city, with an especially large number of Middle-Eastern immigrants and descendents of Turkish guest workers. These groups, historically underprivileged and discriminated against, occasionally stage demonstrations that can turn violent (read: riots). Also, Danish newspapers frequently publish sensational stories playing up the gang culture and drug trade in the area. In a nutshell, Nørrebro has that perfect blend of edginess, cool, and cheap that any trendy neighborhood seems to require. However all this ought to be taken with a grain of salt. Danish “edginess” is a far cry from the kind of thing you might see in the seedier neighborhoods of Chicago, LA, London, or Paris; crime rates are fantastically low throughout the city and Nørrebro is no exception.
Vesterbro: Vesterbro is the area to the west of the Tivoli and has historically been a working-class neighborhood; only very recently has it been invaded by yuppies, students, and new families, not dissuaded by the nearby presence of Copenhagen’s withering red-light district around Istedgade. In former times (esp. the 1960s and 70s), the red light district was much larger and garnered Copenhagen the reputation as a seedy capital of European sex tourism along with Amsterdam. This is hardly the case today; now it’s fully possible not to notice that you’ve even stumbled into the red light district.
Vesterbro is, however, much larger than the seedy, dive-bar-laden area just by the train station. Property prices increase as you get closer to Enghaveplads to the West, which is one of the trendiest areas in the city, and even Istedgade trades its sex shops for galleries past Gasvaerkvej. Vesterbro is also home to much-hyped Kødbyen, which roughly translates as “The Meat Town.” This was the old meatpacking district, and while still partially functional, has mostly been occupied (of course) by artists, gallery owners, and tiny bars without signs where the clientele stare at you until you leave if your jeans aren’t tight enough (personal experience). There are also a few clubs and music venues here.
Frederiksberg: Frederiksberg is an administratively independent town totally surrounded by the city of Copenhagen with a population of around 100,000. Frederiksberg, which lies just north of Vesterbro, is served by both the Metro and the S-Tog and is within walking distance of the city center. The town’s main points of interest are the Copenhagen Zoo, Frederiksberg Palace, and the highly regarded Copenhagen Business School. Frederiksberg is historically a well-to-do neighborhood, and is favored by young professionals for its convenience and quaint atmosphere.
Christianshavn: Christianshavn is the large man-made island to the south of the harbor, and is traversed by idyllic canals lined by cobblestone streets. The gorgeous helical spire of the Vor Frelser Kirke (“Church of Our Savior”) dominates the skyline here and offers the best view of the city if you’re willing to make the nerve-wracking trek up the increasingly narrow spiral staircase to the top. Christianshavn was originally a massive fortification, and the original earthen ramparts are still visible. In the 19th century, Christianshavn became heavily industrialized and many of the sea-side warehouses from that period have been repurposed as office buildings, chic apartment buildings, and architecture studios. Property here is highly desirable and expensive, and the area is inhabited mainly by the more successful young professionals and wealthy families. Christianshavn is also home to the would-be micronation Christiana.
Amager: Amager is the large island south of Christianshavn. Amager hosts the airport in its south and for most visitors this is their first glimpse of Denmark. Amager used to be known for its sleepy working-class and even crime-ridden neighborhoods, but this poor reputation is slowly changing now that the Metro has arrived. The main campus of Copenhagen University occupies the Northwest of the island, and this has attracted many students to its cheap housing and kollegiums (privately operated student residence halls). Recently, a massive new development has sprung up along the M1 metro line in a previously marshy area of Amager, including showpiece architecture by Daniel Libeskind and others. The new sustainable “city” of Ørestad contains concert halls, exhibition spaces, shopping, conference centers, offices, and cutting-edge “green” residences.
Østerbro: Østerbro, to the east of the Amalienborg Royal Palace and Kongens Nytorv (The King’s New Square), is largely residential and decidedly posh. Here you can find many well-to-do detached single-family homes. This is also the site of the football and event stadium Parken, where, if you’re lucky you can catch a game between archrivals FC København (the city team) and FC Brøndby (the suburb team). Just watch out for hooligans: the post-game riot is a standard fixture, even if it’s a tie (personal experience). Østerbro also hosts cruise ship and ferry terminals, from which transit to Oslo is possible. Copenhagen’s commercial port area, called Nordhavn, is located in Østerbro as well, but is undergoing downsizing and repurposing at the moment, with new construction aimed at remaking this section of the city’s waterfront into a center of culture and leisure surrounded by high-density residential properties.
Outer Suburbs: In general, the towns that comprise Vestegnen, or the western suburbs, are significantly cheaper to live in than those in the northeast. However, many of them are known to Danes as dangerous slums (again this is all relative; despite this reputation crime is very rare even in the worst of places). In particular, Albertslund, Glostrup, Ishøj, Brøndby, and Hundige, are considered especially rough, with high numbers of unemployed. These towns are dependent on the southern half of the B, E, and A S-tog lines. Brønshøj and Bispebjerg, in the area known as Nordvest (northwest of downtown) also have poor reputations. Despite such negative perceptions, the western suburbs can be quite charming with their freestanding gingerbread houses and the rent is attractively low. Remember to keep things in perspective: the shadiest town in Denmark is at worst mildly unpleasant and there is no Danish equivalent of South Central LA. In the Northwest you will find some of the most upscale neighborhoods in Denmark, including the towns of Hellerup and Charlottenlund and all the suburbs along the east coast of Sjælland. About an hour North by regular train are the well-kept towns of Hillerød and Helsingør, still convenient to the city but offering their own small-town charms. Both have renaissance castles and Helsingør is famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Malmö: Many Danes live across the 5-mile long Øresund Bridge in Malmö, Sweden, a major city in its own right, with over 300,000 residents. Property prices are slightly lower here, as is the cost of living. The downside is a 35-minute commute (by train) and a smaller, less vibrant city.