Copenhagen—København in Danish—has no glittering skylines and hardly any of the high-stress bustle common to most capitals. Throngs of bicycles glide along in ample bike lanes at a pace that's utterly human. The early-morning air in the pedestrian streets of the city's core is redolent of freshly baked bread and soap-scrubbed storefronts. If there's such a thing as a cosy city, this is it.
The town was a fishing colony until 1157, when Valdemar the Great gave it to Bishop Absalon, who built a castle on what is now the parliament, Christiansborg. It grew as a centre on the Baltic trade route and became known as købmændenes havn (merchants' harbour) and eventually København. In the 15th century it became the royal residence and the capital of Norway and Sweden. From 1596 to 1648, Christian IV, a Renaissance king obsessed with fine architecture, began a building boom that crowned the city with towers and castles, many of which still stand. They're almost all that remain of the city's 800-year history; much of Copenhagen was destroyed by two major fires in the 18th century and by British bombing during the Napoleonic Wars.
Despite a tumultuous history, Copenhagen survives as the liveliest Scandinavian capital. With its backdrop of copper towers and crooked rooftops, the venerable city is soothed by one of the highest standards of living in the world and spangled by the lights and gardens of Tivoli.