By  on July 26, 2005

Even the grittier parts of copenhagen, a pristine, compact capital, are picturesque by metropolis standards—and getting hipper by the minute. Vesterbro, once the cradle of prostitution and porn, is today dotted with fashion boutiques and hip cafes that morph into seriously cool bars after dark. And the cultural renaissance extends to the entire city, thanks to a bold new crop of restaurateurs, architects and fashion designers—the latter group emboldened by their glamorous young patron: Crown Princess Mary, a chic Australian who has put her weight behind an industry that represents Denmark's fourth-biggest export. The Danish fashion community is still searching for a handle for its look, but "Nordic bohemian" is a good starting point. Think of something chic to wear on a bicycle.

For an introduction to Danish brands, stroll the thronged pedestrian corridor Strøget and you'll discover a whole new world of popular labels: B Young, Matinique, Sand and Mads Nørgaard, to name a few. But make like the locals and detour at will. "Danish people who are into fashion like to turn in and out of the small streets," says fashion designer Christina Julsgaard, who planted her gallery-like Yiip boutique next to others off-the-beaten-path at 5 Bagerstraede. Don't miss her new Yiip jeans, with long and low back pockets. Other out-of-the-way boutiques worth the extra steps are Pede & Stoffer at 19 Klosterstraede, which carries European and Scandinavian brands; trendy Dico at 21 Ravnsborggade, and the newcomer Bark |at 26 Elmegade and 3 Lille Kirkestraede, whose knits printed with lines of Danish poetry are a highbrow alternative to the usual souvenir T-shirt. Over in funky Vesterbro, start at the western end of Istedgade and dip into an endless number of small design, thrift and fashion shops. Donn Ya Doll, at 55 Istedgade, is stuffed with clothes made with retro curtain prints that are a hallmark of Scandinavian design, and also stocks toys and novelties. Independent designers gravitate here, and you can often find them sewing in the back. At Asfalt, at 83 Istedgade, Hanne Zachariassen makes dresses and skirts from old tablecloths— a sort of kitchen couture.If you want to eat like a princess—and, yes, Mary has eaten here—head for Kong Hans Kaelder, at 6 Vingaardsstraede, which is one of Copenhagen's most historic (and expensive) restaurants, tucked into the former royal wine cellar and mint. The Danish cuisine is divine—for dessert they sprinkle hibiscus salt on the sheep's milk ice cream that sits on three types of rhubarb—and the service is impeccable. Or, given the city's casual nature, just head to a cafe and order a salmon sandwich with dill cream or, better yet, smørrebrød, Denmark's famous open-faced sandwich. Among the funkiest cafes are Bang & Jensen, at 130 Istedgade in Vesterbro; Pussy Galore's Flying Circus at 30 Skt. Hans Torv in Nørrebro; Apropos at 2 Halmtorvet in the former meatpacking district Øksnehallen, and Zirup at 32 Laederstraede. Asian food is also popular among locals. Check out LêLê, a mobbed Vietnamese fashion hangout at 56 Vesterbrogade, or Sticks & Sushi, an industrial decor eatery at 62 Istedgade. After dark, beautiful young people flock to Nørrebro bars like the futuristic Rust, at 8 Guldbergsgade, or the cozy Oak Room, at 10 Birkegade. In Vesterbro, best bets are the posh-design lounge Strassen, at 128 Istegade, or the louder, darker, music-driven Ideal Bar, at 40 Enghavevej.

Boasting a lively bar off the lobby called Rouge, the Hotel Skt. Petri, at 22 Krystalgade, is the city's most famous upscale-design hotel—complete with its own DJ-mix CD. But more adventurous types might consider the new Hotel Fox, at 3 Jarmers Plads, where 21 emerging artists were given carte blanche to decorate 61 rooms in styles that range from wacky and wonderful to downright weird. Unless you are seriously into Mexican wrestling culture, avoid room 308.

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