The red light district of Copenhagen, Vesterbro, might not be officially closed for business—but a transformation is underway. This formerly neglected neighborhood located to the west of the central train station has received a facelift with bustling cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and bars. In Vesterbro, leave behind the tourist attractions and instead rub shoulders with locals eating brunch, picking up groceries, or shopping in boutiques filled with Danish design.
1. Brunch at Granola
Turn onto Værnedamsvej and pass a shop overflowing with blooming bouquets of flowers to reach Granola. A row of bikes will be lined up in an orderly fashion on racks outside this café and restaurant. Inside, locals take their time over wholesome, tasty brunch dishes featuring traditional Danish ingredients like dark rye bread. Note the design details, like old stained glass shelves, that give the café such character.
2. Browse the Food Street, Værnedamsvej
Beyond Granola, Værnedamsvej has a reputation as the "Food Street" of Vesterbro. Get to know local ingredients and delicacies by browsing cheese and chocolate shops, bakeries, and grocers. Stop into Helge's Cheese (#9) to sample Danish cheeses, Summerbird Chocolaterie (#9) to nibble handmade chocolates, or Juul (#15) to browse one of the city's best wine shops. Tucked just off Værnedamsvej is a shop called Din Baghave (translates to Your Backyard), stocking farm-fresh produce along with Danish cookbooks and specialty items.
3. Coffee and Records at Sort Kaffe and Vinyl
Step into Sort Kaffe and Vinyl on Skydebanegade to see a record spinning and a barista preparing coffee to order. While waiting for a fragrant cup, browse through the dozens of records lining the walls, all organized by genre. A small back room has space to sip and flip through records with views into a back garden where locals hang laundry to dry.
4. Photography Exhibitions at Fotografisk Center
The Gallery for Fine Art Photography moved to a new location—in the old Carlsberg brewery on the edge of Vesterbro—in 2010. Bright galleries are filled with exhibitions of photographs from both Danish and international photographers. The Fotografisk Center also has a small bookshop and digital workshop.
5. Boutiques Along Istedgade
Istedgade is a street that stretches from the doors of the central train station straight into Vesterbro. It once was a particularly neglected area of the neighborhood, but thanks to a mix of creatives, students, and immigrants is now home to some of the city's best boutiques. Check out Donn Ya Doll for fun accessories or Asfalt for women's clothing.
6. Restaurants of the Meatpacking District
Vesterbro is also home to a high concentration of butchers in the Meat District. While parts of this neighborhood are still used by butchers today, other clusters have been transformed into restaurants, galleries, and nightlife spots. Sample fresh fish and oysters at Fiskebaren, nibble on tapas at Pate Pate, or descend into the cellar of Nose2Tail to see how chefs are sustainably using the whole animal in delicious ways.
7. Mikkeller Beer Bar
After dinner in the Meatpacking District, take a short stroll to Mikkeller Beer Bar. Descend the steps into this cozy space to try some local beers. The brewer here, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, started brewing beer as a hobby and has quickly gained recognition in Denmark and beyond for his tasty concoctions. Ten of the taps here feature Mikkeller's own beer. Ask the bartender for a suggestion or order blindly based on fun names like "the American Dream".
Some attractions in Copenhagen are timeless—Tivoli Gardens, a boat tour in Nyhavn—while others are linked to a moment in time. As Vesterbro emerges from its somewhat seedy past, the time is now to explore its cafes, boutiques, and nightlife.
Insider Tip: Pick up a Copenhagen Card (available in different time increments, such as 72 hours) that provides free transportation on the Metro, train, and bus along with free admission to sights and museums. The train ride to and from the airport is covered with the Copenhagen Card.
Thinking of a trip to Copenhagen?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our Copenhagen Travel Guide.
Freelance writer Jessica Colley covers cuisine, culture, the arts, and experiential travel. She is currently based in New York City and called Dublin, Ireland home for several years. You can follow her on Twitter @jessicacolley or check out her "Writer in the Kitchen" series on her blog The Great American Travel Dream.
All photos courtesy of the author.