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Gay Copenhagen: Most gay-friendly city on earth?



Photo by Planetstar

The capital of the first country in the world to introduce registered same-sex partnerships–way back in 1989– Copenhagen is a must-see city for any gay traveler, and is probably the leading contender for the title "most gay-friendly city." Recently gaining a place in Forbes' survey of best places to live, it has a compact, historic center with narrow streets just waiting to be explored, fabulous beaches a few minutes away and unspoiled nature within easy reach. Some very beautiful and interesting people round out the fantastic mix.

It is said that its most famous son, fairy-tale author Hans Christian Andersen, was probably gay. Surely his Ugly Duckling is a coming-out story, people wonder. His statue is next to the City Hall, right by the boulevard that bares his name. And just a stone's throw away from Tivoli Gardens, where fairy tales mix with modern-day theme park rides, rock concerts and some of the best restaurants in town.

That's twice we've said the word probably-and if it seems familiar that's because it also probably boasts the best beer in the world, Carlsberg, which is made in Copenhagen. (Although these days the company makes lots of other varieties which Danes craftily keep to themselves. Try Carl's Special or Jacobsen Ale for a real treat while you are in town.)

Danish cuisine is excellent, too, and Copenhagen boasts two restaurants with Michelin stars. One of which, NOMA, recently came third in Restaurant magazine's list of best restaurants in the world. Book months ahead if you want a table.

Restaurants in Denmark are all non-smoking. Bars and clubs bigger than 40 square meters are, too, and some have smoking rooms. But smaller bars are exempt from the smoking prohibition. You'll find that most gay bars are smaller than the limit, in a few cases using rather creative accounting.

You pay for your beer and food in Danish kroner. Credit cards are widely accepted, even in small bars, but it is best to ask first–and many places will charge an additional fee of a few percent, so it can be better to use cash. Euros are accepted in some large shops in tourist areas. Tipping is not customary but in restaurants, five percent for good service is common but by no means expected. No tip is expected in a taxi, especially if paying by credit card.

In bars few locals tip and it is not unheard of for visitors to be chased around the bar by the bartender trying to give them their change! Instead of tipping, the custom is to buy a round of shots and offer one to the bartender. Joining in this tradition is a rite of passage for all visitors, but best avoided if you need to get up early the next day.

The only Danish word you need to know–as it's an impenetrable language in many respects–is ‘skål', which is what you say to toast everyone before those shots are downed in unison. Another useful word is ‘hej' meaning ‘hello', and even more usefully, ‘hej hej' which is ‘goodbye'. To make things easy, the word is pronounced just like ‘hi' in English. There is no word for please, but thank you is just ‘tak'.

On the weekend, it's possible to drink all night, moving from one bar to the next. So in summer, with Copenhagen being so far north, it's possible to go into the bar in daylight and come out again in daylight, the night having happened while you were inside. It's awesome to go home in the early hours with birds singing, and the Dronning Louisa bridge across the lakes near the city center is regarded as the best place to see the sunrise.

Copenhagen is bicycle central. Recently voted the best bicycle city in the world, locals almost all get about by bike. Anyone without one is regarded as strange and expressions of sympathy or more likely bewilderment will be forthcoming. It's simply the best, fastest and easiest way to get around. No lycra, spandex or helmet needed. A third of commutes are by bike. You'll see a guy cycling to the leather club dressed in full gear alongside stylish women in stilettos, all pedaling happily along the special cycle lanes and tracks separated from the rest of the road by a curb. As a tourist you can hire a bike at the main station or borrow one of the free city bikes–you deposit a coin like you would for a shopping cart. But beware, Copenhagen cyclists take things seriously–they are in a hurry and won't tolerate people treating cycle lanes wrongly. Only cycle in the direction of the traffic, keep well to the right to allow others to pass, put your hand up to signal you are stopping and above all, turn left at intersections by keeping to the right and then waiting for the road to be clear–you don't cycle out into the left turn lane with the cars.

Cycling keeps Copenhageners healthy, and the Danish health authorities are very pragmatic too–they provide free condoms and lube to all gay establishments. If you don't see them, just ask.