Travel

Why Copenhagen Is One of the Greatest Cities for Summer Swimming

Grab some natural wine: these local Copenhagers are taking us swimming.

With 5,440 miles of coastline, it’s no surprise the Danes are big swimmers. As a seafaring nation hailing from the Vikings, ocean dips are deeply ingrained in Danish culture. And in the capital city of Copenhagen, a glimmering, picturesque harbor isn’t just window dressing for tourists; on a warm day, it’s lined with locals lounging about and diving into the sea.

Scenic docks, urban beaches, and harbor baths (man-made recreational bathing spots -- some of which were designed by starchitect Bjarke Ingels) are found throughout Copenhagen, enticing locals and visitors alike with a dive. 

“It’s easy to find a great swimming spot without going very far,” says Joachim Kornbek Hansen, a 28-year-old design director at the superbly cool Danish design brand Menu Design (which has a showroom in NY). “I prefer an early swim to avoid the crowds.”

Even in the dark of winter, it’s not uncommon to see eager Danes brave the frigid 40-degree temperatures for a quick dip in the harbor. For many Copenhagers, it’s a daily ritual. “You can leave work during lunch, jump in, then head back to the office,” says 24-year-old Sascha Ratchinsky.

In the far-more-preferable summertime, swimming in Copenhagen is often a social, languorous affair where friends spend long afternoons listening to music, sipping on wine, and plunging into the clean water. “I’ve always said that swimming in Copenhagen in the summer makes it the greatest city in the world,” says Ratchinsky. 

Right by the city center, one of the most iconic harbor baths in Copenhagen is Islands Brygge. With skyline views, five pools, and a lawn for sunbathing, you can’t really go wrong here. But for visitors looking to sidestep crowds and get a feel for different neighborhoods, there are plenty of less-hyped places to swim in Copenhagen. Here, a couple of locals share their most treasured swimming spots.

Know before you swim

While the harbor baths are free and open to all, certain unspoken rules do apply. “It isn't legal to swim everywhere in the harbor,” warns Kathrine Simonsen,  a 35-year-old Danish PR consultant who spent many years living and working in New York before recently moving back to Copenhagen. “It’s a working harbor so there are ships and boats, too.”

Also, don’t be startled if you see nude swimmers -- it’s quite common in Denmark. “You’ll see naked bodies for sure. Please don’t stare,” Simonsen says. 

Lastly, be on the lookout for flags in the harbor. “Even the cleanest harbor in the world isn't always clean enough to swim in, especially after heavy rain. If the flag is red, don't swim.” But if you see a blue flag, dive on in!

Krøyers Plads

24-year-old Copenhager Sascha Ratchinsky is the Community Manager at LifeX, a community startup that connects young professionals with co-living spaces. 

According to her, the deck area on Krøyers Plads is one of the most scenic spots to swim in the city.

This island located in the main Kobenhavn canal has “the best view of Nyhavn with its beautiful buildings and boats,” she says, “as well as the Inderhavnsbroen bridge which opens up for big boats [to pass through].” Mostly frequented by young professionals, the dock also serves as a superb people-watching spot. 

Nearby: After a swim, Ratchinsky heads to Nærvær restaurant for fresh seafood, situated right behind Krøyers Plads. “Sitting out there in the summer staring at that view with a glass of white wine epitomizes summer vibes,” she says. Also nearby is a street food court, The Bridge Kitchen. And back on the other side of the canal, “Gasoline Grill has the best burgers in the city and live music every weekend, which is great for a boogie after a dip in the water.”

Sandkaj Havnebad 

One of Joachim Kornbek Hansen’s favorite swim spots is just a three minute walk from his office and the Menu Design showroom. Located in the emerging, former industrial neighborhood of Nordhavn, this free harbor bath isn’t as crowded as more popular spots like Islands Brygge.

“During summer I use it in the morning and after work to freshen up. It’s really convenient as I shower afterwards in one of the rooms at The Audo Hotel (designed by Menu),” says Kornbek Hansen. Anyone keen to scope out Copenhagen’s unique harbor baths could also try the Ingels-designed Kalvebod Brygge in Vesterbro.

Nearby:  The Nordhavn area is developing at a lightning-fast clip, and there’s no shortage of tasty pre- and post- swim offerings. “For bread and cakes I drop by Andersen & Maillard -- their sourdough bread is my favorite. To cool down, try Is-tid organic nitrogen ice-cream in a funky colorful setting right next to the water. And finally, The Audo’s courtyard, where you can get a glass of wine before dining at newly opened Restaurant Lola.”

La Banchina

This hip all-day cafe is a true hidden gem in Refshaleoen (where a humble restaurant called Noma also happens to be located). The tiny waterfront hang-out offers fresh seafood bites and a killer selection of natural wines, plus the chance to take a dive off their long dock. It’s a go-to spot for Kathrine Simonsen. 

“It’s part of Copenhagen’s very clean harbor, so the water is super deep,” explains Simonsen. Snag one of their 16 seats, or just plop down on the sunny dock with your wine. “Depending on the time of day, I get either a flat white or a glass of orange wine. There’s also a sauna, which is nice in the colder months,” she says.

Nearby: Simonsen also recommends trying the fried chicken in the garden at Amass, a drink from Empirical Spirits on the water, and a doughnut from Lille Bakery.

Hellerup Strandpark

This sandy beach, a few miles north of the city center, is a favorite for Thanos Feskos, the assistant head chef at Copenhagen’s swank three-Michelin-star Geranium restaurant. The tawny beach enclave, with a long dock that leads swimmers out into the ocean, reminds him of one of the beaches he grew up going to in Greece. 

“It's an actual beach, whereas some of the other areas in the city are just docks where you can dive off into the water,” says Feskos, adding that it’s not only great for swimming and sunbathing but also a great area for sailing, kayaking and paddling. “It's rather small but really charming and there are many options for food, coffee, snacks and juice nearby,” he says. 

Nearby:  When Feskos hits the area, he often swings by Lagkagehuset (Ole & Steen in the US), a Danish bakery chain that serves up delicious open-faced sandwiches on rye. “It’s great for a coffee and pastry or sandwich.”

Cafe Slusen

Dutch-turned-Copenhager Priscilla Nieuwbuurt is the 28-year-old head of digital marketing at Miinto, an e-commerce fashion platform that connects independent European fashion retailers. She’s a fan of the laidback Cafe Slusen in Copenhagen’s South Harbor (Sydhavn). 

Here, locals tuck into sourdough bread and grilled fish and drink glasses of frizzante at long harbor-side tables. “It's the perfect starting point for discovering the south part of Copenhagen, which has a super interesting mix of modern architecture, water and nature,” she says. “I love this place because it's outside the busy center which means there are less people.”

The café has a number of docks where swimmers can sunbathe and dive into the water. “In between swims you can have a glass of natural wine, a simple lunch, or an Italian gelato from my favorite ice cream parlor Siciliansk Is.”

Nearby: Visitors should also pop across the water to check out Sluseholmen canal, which Niewbuurt describes as “the Danish version of Venice.” 

Mary Holland is a South African writer based in New York. She’s written for Monocle, WSJ Magazine and Condé Nast Traveler and has traveled to Copenhagen many times.
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