Returning to Copenhagen on the train from our trip across the Øresund, we dropped our bags off at the Cabinn City Hotel and eagerly headed out to explore this historic capital city.
Only staying for a couple of nights, it would just be enough time to get a taster of the place, so we had to prioritise what we wanted to see and eat and with city map in hand, we set off.
To get our bearings, we made our way to the City Hall Square or Rådhuspladsen a huge public square that was full of people making the most of the sunny weather, little craft stalls and food huts created a welcoming atmosphere. We did a quick loop of the square, passing the city hall building, the dragon fountain, and the Hans Christian Andersen statue, planning (but failing) to return later that weekend.
High on my list of things to see was the Little Mermaid statue at Langelinie Pier. Erected in 1913 the statue commemorates the fact that the Hans Christian Andersen story was not only written but also published here in Copenhagen in 1837 and is now a top tourist attraction. Made even more special for me as I reading it and more of Andersens fairy tales during my stay, as I often like to read a famous book or two from places I am travelling in.
Disclaimer – I look back now and realise just how much we missed on our whistle stop tour, but it was more about 2 friends reconnecting and having a quick city break, than a full on sightseeing weekend, but reviewing the photos 5 years later, I know I need to return to see more.
At the time, I had a colleague who had family living in Copenhagen, so before the trip she had given me a list of places to eat and drink, so in need of a good pastry, we made our way to one of the branches of The Coffee Collective.
With a chain of shops all over Copenhagen, including one housed in an old telephone booth, the collective have won numerous awards including gold in the world barista championships and with the coffee freshly roasted on site, you would expect it to deliver, and it did. If I had brought a bigger travel bag, I would have been tempted to taken a jar back home, but instead we ordered our pastries and sat back to soak up the culture.
It was only a short walk from the coffee shop to Assistens Cemetery but probably not far enough to burn off the pastries unfortunately. So we explored the tree lined paths across the park, making time to pet any local dog I could find, before locating the graveyard. Famous for being the final resting place of many notable Danes, including Hans Christian Andersen, disappointingly though his grave had been defaced with graffiti.
There are three rectangular lakes in the city, so with the sun still shining and our feet holding up, we followed the locals and went for a afternoon stroll around the waters edge, crossing bridges, admiring the incredible buildings along the shoreline and dodging cyclists of which there were plenty.
That evening we lost ourselves in the magical wonder of one of the most visited amusement parks in the world, Tivoli Gardens. Built in the 1800’s parts of the park, (deceptively right in the heart of the city centre), have a vintage feel, the fountains, the flowers, the food stalls, the gardens. But don’t be fooled, there are some serious rides here too, like the Demon and the Golden Tower that shoots you 63 meters high up into the sky, before dropping you back down again.
Visiting at night time, we got to experience the more sedate parts of the park, especially with the gardens all light up, it was serene and quiet, until the loud roar of a rollercoaster nearby rudely brought you back to reality. We then spent far too much time deciding which stall to eat dinner and which stall to eat dessert, it was a tough job but we finally went for the family run Vaffelbageriet for a late night treat of sugary pastries and hot chocolate. Then to work off the sugar high, we explored the shopping area, from the Lego store, to the souvenir shops and trying not to fall in love with absolutely everything on display in the Danish lifestyle stores, I absolutely love all things Scandi when it comes to homewares and design and it felt like we were at ground zero. I made a mental note to increase the shopping budget for my return trip.
We started our 2nd morning as we meant to go on with more pastries, how could we not, being in the land of the multilayered, sweet breads known at least to outsiders as ‘the Danish’. We headed to another recommended bakery for our breakfast, the delicious and organic Emmerys.
We then spent an hour indulging our Nordic Noir obsession at the time, by visiting some of the sites featured in both The Killing and The Bridge, including the Police Headquarters only a short walk from our hotel. Many tour guides now offer bespoke Nordic Noir walking tours if you really want to get deep into the genre, but again we were short on time and our budget was tight. We had achieved our goal of travelling across ‘the bridge’, so a few photos of recognisable buildings and streets would have to do for this trip.
One place I did want to make time for was the unique, alternative community known as Freetown Christiania. Originally a former military barracks, when they moved out in 1971 local homeless moved into the vacant buildings and the families from the nearby neighbourhood transformed some of the land into a children’s play area. Within a few weeks, the entire space had been proclaimed a free town, appealing to people across many communities, including ‘hippies’, anarchists, artists and all people looking for a more communal and collective way of living.
50 years on, this place has now become one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city. You can take guided tours, or a take a self guided walk, as we did, exploring the amazing and colourful self built dwellings, workspaces, craft shops, art galleries, concert halls, nightclubs and cafes. We cautiously walked along Pusher Street, the notorious area where cannabis is bought and sold, obeying the rules to not photograph a single thing, took a lovely sunlit nature walk around the lake, admired local art on display pretty much everywhere and finished up with lunch in a cafe.
It was late afternoon by the time we were leaving, passing by the spiral topped Church of Our Saviour, adding yet another thing I need to visit when I can make a return trip.
With a few gifts left to buy, we explored the fascinating and colourful area of Nørrebro which had piqued our interest the previous day when we visited the cemetery. As well as little independent stores and vintage shops, coffee houses and restaurants, there was some incredible street art too, there was a real vibrant feel to the place, too much to explore in the short time we had.
Our final stop had to be the world famous flagship Lego Store, not to buy anything particularly, but to marvel at the largest toy company in the world. Inside as well as boxes and boxes of every kind of lego block you could image, there were large scale replicas of pirates and cycling Danes, as well as reconstructions of local landmarks of the city all built from those little plastic infamous blocks, it felt like the perfect place to finish our sightseeing for the weekend.
Settling down for our final meal and a local beer, I tried to take in all that we had squeezed into our long weekend, covering two different cities, across two different countries. Short and sweet, increasing my fascination and appreciation for all things Scandi, while quietly hoping I would be lucky enough to return someday to explore some more.
COFFEE AND CAKE – the Coffee Collective we visited was the one on Jægersborggade, only a short walk from Assistens Cemetery. We loved Emmerys too, with a number of locations both in Copenhagen and Århus, they serve both breakfast and lunch, with an amazing selection of cakes and pastries.
EATS – If you are visiting Christiania, definitely plan to stay for lunch, there were some quirky indie places to eat and drink, we ate our lunch outside at Grønsagen and had their buffet lunch. We also combined our trip to Tivoli with our evening meal to save time, the Tivoli Food Hall is slightly separate to the actual gardens, so you can enter here for free to eat and drink, paying an entrance fee only if you then want to venture into the amusement park itself. Next time though I am saving up to try and get a spot at the world famous Noma.
TOP TIP – Plan for at least 3 nights, which we didn’t, ha! Writing up my travel journals on this blog is just a personal place for me to reflect on all my journeys to date, but this particular post has made me realise there was so much more I have to see, so hopefully there will be a Copenhagen part 2. Copenhagen is an expensive city though and although there are lots of cheap flight options, accommodation prices are often anything but. If you go when the weather is likely to be warm, there are loads of free things to do outside, all the parks, lakes, markets and if you are staying for a few days, and want to cram a lot in, its probably best to invest in a Copenhagen Card.
ALWAYS BE POLITE – Tak – ‘Thank you’, Hej – ‘Hello’, you can also use Hej Hej for ‘Goodbye’