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The idea for CPH:cool was born in 2005 when Kristine Munkgård Pedersen, former Vesterbro resident and current teacher of Urban Geography at Roskilde University, became sick of tours that only showed museums and monuments instead of how the locals really use the city. Pedersen, along with a friend, decided to devise a way to include urban travelers into the local urban landscape and daily life. “Our idea with these tours was to show the contemporary urban life of Copenhagen, as well as things that we like ourselves,” says Pedersen.
Today, CPH:cool has four Copenhageners hosting six separate alternative tours of the city including a design, gastronomic, shopping, architecture and Vesterbro based routes.
But just because the tour eschews the museums and landmarks of traditional tours, doesn’t mean that it foregoes historical lesson and interesting facts. The tours are full of information and stories that you would only get from a guide, with the added bonus of not looking like a tour-goer (and also more fun than reading a Wikipedia entry off your iPhone on the street corner).
Tours are by appointment only and are intended to be enjoyed as a group. So if you don’t have any friends, you better have some deep pockets, as the price for the tour is a set 1500 DKK to be divided among the total number of participants (up to six people, prices decrease as group size increases beyond six).
The following is but a brief overview of the areas covered on the CPH:cool Vesterbro tour. To book a tour of your own, contact CPH:cool.
In the early days of Copenhagen (we’re talking Medieval times early), Vesterbrogade was the main entrance road into the walled-off inner city. Although the ramparts are gone, Vesterbrogade still remains the main artery into central Copenhagen.
The whole of Vesterbrogade stretches 1.5 kilometers and passes by Københavns Hovedbångarden, the main train station. As a junction of travel and transport, the beginning of Vesterbrogade (running west from Rådhuspladsen) has a very industrial, impersonal feel.
It is here where you will find some of the tallest buildings in Copenhagen, as well as some of the most experimentally designed. The Radisson Royal SAS Hotel is one such building, designed in the late 1950s by famed Danish architect Arne Jacobsen. Jacobsen (the Egg Chair guy), not only designed the building’s exterior, but everything thing about the interior as well, from the furniture down to the flatware.
Although it is not a spot where you will find most Danes hanging out, Vesterbrogade has a reputation of being gauche but fun, and was quite a popular nightlife spot in the 1920s.
Today, this area of the street is home to some generic chain burger restaurants and kitschy Irish pubs.
This kilometer long stretch of street is known throughout Copenhagen for its seedy reputation and sex-centered goods (and services).
Denmark became the first country to completely legalize pornograpy in 1969. As Istegade dead-ends into the side entrance of Copenhagen’s main train station, it became the place for people to hop off a train and hop onto the street in chase of their erotic pursuits, thus earning it the reputation of The Redlight District of Copenhagen.
Despite attempted clean-ups by the government, the section of Istedgade running from Gasværksvej to the central station is still home to many cheap hotels, sex shops and wanton wanderers.
Intersection of Istedgade and Gasværksvej
It seems that all of Vesterbro is a study in juxtapositions: the old and the new, the tawdry and the trendy, the rough and the refined, the afflicted and the unaffected.
While Vesterbro has always been the neighborhood of the blue-collar worker and back alley occupier, renovation efforts in the past 10-15 years have seen an increase of growth -- as well as gentrification -- of the area.
While exteriors remain largely unchanged, apartment building interiors have been re-imagined from their original one room/single tenant floor plans, to open, multi-room spaces for young professionals and families. Toilets have been moved indoors, smaller living quarters inside courtyards (typically inhabited by the poorer population) have been removed, and prices have gone up.
Today, Vesterbro hosts a space for two very different worlds: hipsters in one place, hookers in the other. The convergence of these two spheres manifests itself at the intersection of Istedgade and Gasværksvej. This junction is widely regarded by Copenhageners to be the boundary between the seedy and the chichi. Here, it isn’t uncommon to see young, fedora-topped fathers and their toddlers/future Urban Outfitters models cycling past homeless men sipping on their 9 am beer.
Cross this line and continue down Istedgade toward the main station, and you are in the aforementioned Redlight District, over and up the other direction, and you are in the recently refreshed “hip” area of the city.
An Instagrammers paradise, this latter area of Vesterbro is loaded with interesting architecture, cool cafes, trendy restaurants and boutiques and beautiful people.
Kødbyen (The Meatpacking District)
The oldest part of Kødbyen was constructed in the late 1800s as a means to get slaughtered cow guts off the street and into one confined area. Motivated by increasing fear of cholera, the city set up a marketplace and slaughterhouse area at the end of present-day Halmtorvet (The Hay Market). Today, the area is still used for such purposes (the White Building, specifically), but to a much lesser extent than in the past.
In the early 2000s, the butchers and cattle began to move out, the creatives began to move in. As with other major metropolises, the term “meatpacking district” has seemed to become synonymous with expensive loft spaces, galleries, underground bars and 4 am parties.
Kødbyen Copenhagen is where the cool kids hang out, and is known today for its high-profile galleries like Galleri Bo Bjarregård, all-night parties, both in stylized bars like Karriere Bar as well as in raw-feeling warehouse spaces, and specialty restaurants like Nose 2 Tail, a pork-centric eatery serving all parts of the pig, from the nose to the tail.
This two block stretch of street runs from Vesterbrogade/Frederiksberg Allé intersection to Gammel Kongevej, connecting Vesterbro with Copenhagen’s more bourgie neighborhood Frederiksberg.
Værnedamsvej was originally occupied by butchers and cheese shops, earning the street the nickname “ the stomach of Copenhagen.” Present day, many of the raw meats and pungent cheeses have been traded in for fashionable cafes, boutiques and specialty shops. In keeping with the theme of most of Vesterbro, Værnedamsvej is tres trendy.
Some favorites of this Parisian-atmosphered street include popular vintage inspired eatery Granola, which serves typical French fare (foie gras, croque monsieurs) as well as some Danish favorites. Mad Synergi Købmand which, founded by Michelin restaurant chefs, is a small grocery store with many pre-prepared, gourmet take-home dinner options. And Juul’s Vin og Spiritus, a world-class wine and spirits shop with the most extensive offering of whiskey in all of Copenhagen.