MANY DANES WILL TELL YOU it’s more appropriate to say “if” and not “when” when referring to the approach of Danish summer. Some summers are cool and drizzly, and others offer weeks of uninterrupted sunshine. But the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world for a reason. They don’t have high expectations about anything, so when good things happen, they’re always pleasantly surprised.
Here’s to a summer full of pleasant surprises.
1. May Day in Faelledparken
The anarchists, communists, and marxists come out to play on Copenhagen’s annual May 1st Labor Day celebrations. While many Copenhageners view May Day as an opportunity to enjoy a day without work and a party in the city’s largest public park, pontificating radicals are an expected part of the scene. Stump speeches by mainstream as well as fringe political parties are allowed throughout the afternoon, but when the politics get old, live music, beer vendors, and hot dog wagons attain favored status.
2. Distortion Festival
Spanning 5 days in late May and early June, Distortion Festival is a series of street parties hosted in each of Copenhagen’s major neighborhoods. Many young people come prepared with their own six-packs of Carlsberg or Tuborg and wander the streets from stage to stage, drink with friends on the curb, and climb on stages, trash cans, or vehicles to dance.
Young residents hang out of their 4th-story windows to rain confetti and bubbles on the festival-goers below, and the parties last long after the music has stopped, much to the chagrin of local authorities.
3. Harbor Baths at Islands Brygge
The season for bathing in Copenhagen runs from June 1 to August 31, and these stoic Scandinavians are known to swim stubbornly on a chilly, overcast day in defiance of their decidedly un-summery fate. A system of wooden docks extends into the harbor from the northwestern edge of Amager, giving bathers the sensation of being suspended between the island of Amager and the island of Zealand, home to downtown Copenhagen.
The Harbor Baths include calm areas for laps, children’s pools for splashing, and high, wooden platforms for diving or chickening out. The neighboring Harbor Park has food vendors, and the nearby Fakta grocery store is good for stocking up on beer before a lazy afternoon by the water.
4. Sankt Hans Aften
The summer solstice is celebrated in Denmark on June 23rd by burning witches made of straw set atop giant pyres of wood and twigs. The tradition pays tribute to the innocents burned during medieval European witch hunts and a variety of other pagan Viking traditions that date back much longer.
Crowds of reverent Danes sing traditional songs as the witch goes up in flames, and the gatherings descend into rowdy, night-long bonfire parties as the pyres catch fire. These witch burnings are ignited throughout the city and typically burn on docks set afloat on lakes and canals. The most iconic burnings take place on the beaches of Amager, on the canal in Nyhavn, and on the lake in Frederiksberg Garden.
5. Roskilde Festival
In early July, the train platforms in Copenhagen begin to crowd with 20-somethings towing backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and shopping carts full of beer. They’re headed to Roskilde, a 45-minute train ride from Copenhagen, for one of Europe’s largest summer music festivals.
The week-long event plays host to big-name musical performers from all over the world, but it’s the 100,000-person community formed in a field in Roskilde that makes attending the festival such a special experience. Artists spraypaint murals, skaters erect a skate park, towering zip lines traverse the open field, and people eat, sleep, and get drunk in the dirt (or the mud, if this summer isn’t one of those pleasant surprises).
6. Brunch at Kaffe Salonen
Weekend brunching in Copenhagen is a sacred ritual. Traditional Danish brunches are geared toward the indecisive owner of a vicious hangover, offering brunch plates that give you a taste of everything: a crepe or pancake with jam or syrup, a selection of breads, cheeses, spreads, and vegetables, scrambled eggs, breakfast meats, yogurts, and granola. Smoked salmon is known to make an appearance. Most place serve an equally varied and delicious vegetarian plate.
There are few things that feel more like Copenhagen to me than brunching in the sunshine at Kaffesalonen on a Sunday afternoon, where diners sit at tables set on a wooden dock extending into Peblinge Lake. Brunch on the lakes in Copenhagen = summer.
7. Concerts at Loppen
Loppen is a concert venue located in Copenhagen’s “freetown” of Christiania, a self-proclaimed independent commune that has enjoyed autonomy from the Copenhagen municipality on and off since 1971. Once a haven for largely harmless pot-smoking artists, residents have faced numerous police interventions in the last decade as a result of the prevalence of harder drugs being trafficked through the area.
Loppen lists three recommendations for attending: 1.) Danish debit cards and cash only. 2.) Doors open at 9:00, music starts at 10:00. 3.) No fucking hard drugs.
The residents of Christiania are serious about maintaining an area for only soft drugs and peaceful souls. Most concerts are cheap by Copenhagen standards, and stay under 100 kroner (20 bucks).
8. Amager Strandpark
Amager is an island that neighbors Copenhagen, and you can bike over the bridge to get there in 2 minutes flat. Amager Strandpark is located on the northwestern shore of the island, and it’s where many Danish families go for sandy beaches, windsurfing, sea kayaking, and witch burnings.
The Kastrup Sea Baths, also referred to as “The Snail,” are a highlight of a trip to the beaches of Amager. An imposing, multilevel wooden dock extending into the ocean, it’s where everyone from families with small children to nonchalant skinny dippers climb, dive, and sunbathe. The structure is unsupervised after the summer season, so it’s also available for impulsive, Carlsberg-fueled skinnydipping in October.
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Emily Hanssen Arent
Emily Hanssen Arent is a writer and traveler who has found a home in Boulder, Copenhagen, and Jerusalem. She is currently a graduate student of Middle Eastern Studies in Tel Aviv, Israel, where she writes, studies, and struggles daily with Hebrew and Arabic. You can follow her @emilyharent.
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