This is an older post I wrote a while back but I have updated it as I think it still has value to newer expats. So here are my ten tips to enjoy life in Copenhagen when you are new to living in the city.
1 Adjust your expectations
Denmark is a small country and much less consumer driven than the UK. There are some larger shopping malls including Fields, Fisketorvet and now Frederiksberg. They are no Bluewater but combined with the shopping opportunities in the city centre offer a wider choice and variety than at first appears. Visitors from the UK often observe how many individual shops there are here and how refreshing it is. There are limited internet supermarket shopping opportunities but there are many supermarkets so shopping shouldn’t be a problem.
2 Invest in a good daylight lamp
Yes, the winters are grim! The run up to Christmas is bearable with the widespread sparkle of Christmas lights everywhere but January and February are tough. The best thing I did was invest in a daylight lamp which can be set to wake you up with a ‘natural’ sunrise and give you bursts of sunlight through the day. Or make like a Dane and light some candles!
3 Don’t compare prices
It is very easy to get caught up in the comparison of prices of things with your home country and finding that Denmark falls short by seeming very expensive. Budgeting is important but so is realism. This is what stuff costs here so unless you can find an alternative source through friends and family or the internet, you need to decide if you want something or not and pay the price. You can shop around, especially for groceries with Aldi, Lidl, Netto and Kiwi as good budget supermarkets. If you are desperate for food from home (if home is the UK, or the States) this is a good website or you can visit Superbest.
4 Embrace the adventure
I moved here with a positive attitude and treated every day as a new adventure. We chose to move here and I understand that many expats are not so fortunate but it is exciting to experience a new country and culture so my advice is get a city map, transport pass or bike and get exploring. Copenhagen is an eclectic mix of the surreal and the mundane and well worth the time and legwork.
5 Junk mail is your friend
Each week you find your post box full of a pile of aviser or promotional pamphlets from local stores. Don’t dismiss this as annoying junk mail. The supermarket brochures will tell you where the bargains are and also give you a good snapshot into the food and consumer culture of Denmark. You can also see which are your local supermarkets and which are in line with your budget. If you get sick of these though you can opt out or chose which ones you want via the post office.
Yes I know most Danes put us to shame with their English but although many people say Danish is hard to learn it is worth giving it a go even for a few basic modules of study. Both Frederiksberg and København Kommunes offer free Danish classes to holders of CPR cards at a number of adult education schools offering both morning, afternoon and evening classes. By speaking some Danish many expats feel less isolated here.
7 Get on your bike
Thousands of people everyday use a bike in Copenhagen as their main mode of transport. Cars have limited value in a flat city with dedicated cycle lanes and regular and safe public transport. Biking here is a mode of transport not a means of exercise and often the fastest and easiest way to get around.
The easiest way to get to know some Danes is to be friendly to your neighbours. I don’t mean knocking on their door every day as most people I have met here don’t seem to like that but make sure you chat and smile when you do see them. A bit of Danish goes a long way to get them to warm to you so a smile and a God Morgen starts the ball rolling. We invited our neighbours in for traditional English christmas fare of homemade mince pies and mulled wine a few days after Christmas the second Christmas we were here and they loved it and knew when to go home!
9 Celebrations and holidays
Danes, like a lot of Europeans, celebrate most big festivals the night before so Christmas is celebrated in Christmas Eve. It is important to remember this holiday in particular as the shops all shut early on that day so there is no chance of Christmas Eve last minute panic buying. A number of public holidays fall on Thursdays and Easter is a day longer here. Here is a list of this year’s public holidays so you don’t get caught out.
10 Opening hours and holiday time
Leisure time is quite rightly important to the Danes so many shops shut around 2pm or 3pm on Saturdays, and a lot of small shops and restaurants will shut for the whole of July when most Danes are on holiday or at their summerhouses. At first this can seem restrictive when you are used to 24 hour supermarkets but it doesn’t take long to appreciate the use of free time for things other than spending money.
Some other useful English language resources
Expat forums on Facebook for example this one.