Photo: DAC

Column: Experience Architecture All Alone

By Maj Schubert

February 14, 2024

With its many architectural masterpieces, Copenhagen is the perfect place for singles – simply because architecture itself is great company. And that’s quite fortunate, given that half of Copenhagen’s residents live alone.

This is an opinion piece. It reflects solely the opinions of the writer.

Are you, like me, single by choice and tired of the glorification of relationships as the good, the true, the beautiful? Or perhaps swipe fatigue has gotten the better of you? Then take a step back from Tinder and take two steps out into the city.

Experiencing architecture alone creates space to linger and sense, and for me, moments of pure happiness. But where do you start your architectural single life? I’ve gathered some of my best tips and places for those who want to get even more out of the city – and themselves.

Exercise Your Mindfulness Muscle Without Meditation

Lots of people like to climb a tower of some sort to gaze over a bunch of roofs when viewing the city. I’ve never really understood that. For one, experiencing architecture doesn’t need to be a project. And I think architecture is best experienced from the street. Instead, look up and be mindful of what you see.

Many of us are not present when we walk around in architecture. It’s mostly about getting somewhere else, or just looking at your phone, and it’s a pity, because life is always right now. The city helps me keep that awareness, and it (sorry for annoying expression) grounds me. You probably also save loads of hours at the psychologist by being in the world like this.

Tip: Be curious as if you were on vacation in a new city. Notice colors, heights, and materials. If you have time, it can be pure Zen to get close and marvel at how granite, brick, or concrete feels, or just how wonderful it is that a building from the 1800s still shines.

Photo: DAC

Support the Urban Space from the Movies

The safest space for singles is the movie hall. Nobody can see you in the dark. Start here if you need to muster the courage to be alone. Unless I’m watching films with explosions that require good sound, I visit Palads at the godforsaken Axeltorv, reminiscent of a teenager in eternal process of finding its identity.

You might think Palads is Copenhagen’s worst cinema. But I love it because, with Aase and Poul Gernes’ pastel colors on steroids, it lights up the sorely needed square.

The future life of Palads is continuously debated, and although it may seem very 2010s to demolish and then build new, it might not be long before the iconic building’s last breath. So, visit it as much as possible, to soak up memories to cherish for many years to come.

Tip: Go to the movies in the middle of the day if you can. There’s something incredibly satisfying about sitting almost alone in a hall watching a film while it’s Tuesday outside.

Maj Schubert is studying journalism at the University of Southern Denmark and is currently working as a journalism intern at the Danish Architecture Center. She has a side business as a painter and loves Rome.

Travel Abroad in Your Own City

Staying alone in a hotel in your own city is so silly, it’s fantastic.

I love lying in the bathtub in a beautiful bathroom and sleeping in a high-quality bed someone has prepared for me. It’s great self-care, and it completely recharges me.

Copenhagen has increasingly many nice hotels with various styles, but I’m especially fond of 25hours right by The Round Tower. The place is an example of a very successful transformation of already existing buildings, which were once part of the University of Copenhagen. And although the hotel is housed in classic Copenhagen architecture, it feels almost like being abroad inside, because the decor and colors are not in a subdued, Nordic style.

Tip: Order a glass of champagne in Assembly Bar, listen to podcasts, and watch people – or order food in one of the individually decorated rooms, which are an exciting design experience.

Let Time Pass Slowly at the Pub

One of my favorite activities is going to a pub. That should sound less alcoholic than it does.

There are many fine ones, and each offer something different. Byens Kro is for serious drinking late at night, Borgerkroen is good for dates, and Trykbar is for seeing friends who are not fond of passive smoking.

In Copenhagen, my alone-favorite is Bo-Bi Bar in a protected building from the 1730s. Here, there are deep red walls, checkered tablecloths, hard wooden chairs, dimmed light, and jazz in the speakers, and the regulars read newspapers and drink bottled beer at the end of the workday. I usually order a Limfjordsporter and read fiction.

Architecture constantly affects our mood, and it’s incredibly apparent at Bo-Bi, which always makes me calm and content. Time goes slower inside. Stepping in here opens a small universe of its own, and the hustle from Købmagergade and Pilestræde disappears. Across the street is Gyldendal’s historic headquarters from the same period in subdued, Danish baroque architecture, and the spirit of old Copenhagen hangs heavy in the air on the narrow street, Klareboderne.

Tip: Chat with the regulars or read a book. Visit Bo-Bi with respect for its spirit on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Afterwards, it becomes more of a nightlife spot that loud young people and tourists have long discovered.

Photo: Joakim Züger

Consume the Architecture of Art in Bite-Sized Pieces

Experiencing art together is highly overrated, as one often ends up chatting while half-looking at the works.

Denmark is full of high-quality art in all forms. In Copenhagen, for example, you can visit The Meatpacking District (Kødbyen) or Copenhagen’s Nordvest neighborhood for contemporary art in converted industrial buildings. You can also take a walk in Bredgade or Holbergsgade if you, like me, are into old men and grand architecture.

My highest recommendation, however, is the National Gallery of Denmark – SMK. Both the collections and ongoing exhibitions are excellent, and the café is a beautifully and warmly decorated space (with possibly the city’s best pancakes). Most of all, I love the place for its dual style. The sculpture street in the center of the museum excellently unites Vilhelm Dahlerup’s grand building with the minimalistic, newer part. I can get utterly architecture-high from how majestic a space the two buildings create.

It might be too much to see all the works and spaces in one visit. As with a meal, it’s best with art to stop before you’re completely full. Make it a habit to visit small sections of the museum often.

Tip: Generally, visit museums and galleries on non-vernissage days. Then you can look at art instead of people who want to be seen.

Photo: Peter Skov Friis

Look Inward in the Church

The church space offers something no other architectural works can. I usually visit Church of Our Lady because I love its classical, clean style and Thorvaldsen’s many marble statues.

The church is not for the phone-dependent, delicate single souls. It’s possibly the only place where it would be downright awkward to use it. The space is for soul-searching, perspective, and introspection, and you can’t escape the silence or yourself.

It’s a good way to be reminded of one’s small place in the grand scheme, and gratitude is a feeling that often arises in me here. It’s magical how great an effect it has if you let the space board your mind.

Tip: You don’t have to be religious to use the church, so find your very own favorite.

Sail Through History and Into the Future

Canal tours are a delightful discipline, even though it’s the most touristy thing to do next to drinking glühwein in Nyhavn.

However, I jump on board undaunted if I want to “do something” and see the city from a different perspective. The longest tour starts in the innermost part of the city, and you experience, among other things, Christianshavn’s (almost) unspoiled buildings and atmosphere, Sluseholmen’s glass obsession, and Nordhavn’s take on the city of the future. Here, for example, is 3XN’s starshaped UN City and Cobes glimmering Tip of Nordø.

Nordhavn and the Århusgade area are exciting because the architecture is constantly being developed in a direction where planetary boundaries are respected more. Coastal protection, green spaces, and new materials with built-in CO2 storage are considered from the start. Henning Larsen’s Marmormolen with a skeleton of wood is a testament to a new reality, and so is BIG’s headquarters in a more climate-friendly type of concrete. I look forward to seeing all the new things popping up out there.

Tip: If canal tours aren’t for you but you still want to see Nordhavn, take the metro to Orientkaj. It’s a beautiful station, and from there you can explore the area on foot.

Don’t you live in Copenhagen? No problem.

Across Denmark, there are versions of my architectural recommendations, and all you need to recreate the single experience is your own curiosity and the following:

  • Old town center
  • Cinema at risk of closing
  • A museum or local gallery
  • A hotel, preferably with a bathtub
  • Dive bar or mall pub
  • A church
  • A former harbor area with new development

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