Like an 18 year old embarking on a Contiki of Europe and venturing beyond London, Paris and Rome, I didn’t really know where I was going en route to Copenhagen!
Not that I was off on some hedonistic bar-hop of the continent, though – my cluelessness stemmed less from a general apathy and lack of direction. It wasn’t far from Berlin or Amsterdam, our next spots to visit, and Emirates flew here, which made it an easy jump from Dubai.
It’s not that I didn’t want to visit Copenhagen, it’s just that I was a little unsure of what made it a destination, or what we’d be doing. Until this week, words like Nyhavn and Tivoli meant nothing, and though I had a vague recollection of knowing the author Hans Christian Andersen, I couldn’t have told you he wrote The Little Mermaid, or that we would be visiting her famous statue at Langelinie promenade.
What a pleasant surprise! Copenhagen is beautiful, surprising, and has an interesting culture and history. Its people are among the friendliest and happiest of the world, and everyone we encountered was very hospitable and generous in giving information and suggestions to this idiot abroad.
We spent 3 days exploring, which would be plenty for most – especially if you are doing so on foot.
Most of the residents cycle, as do the tourists, but it’s such a small city that it’s also perfectly suitable for walking, and it also helped to combat a multitude of Danish pastries consumed!
The city, an old Viking trading village, is built by the water: the sea and the canals. Our hotel, Kong Arthur (translation: King Arthur) located by Pebbling Sø in central Copenhagen, was the perfect spot from which to begin our walking tour each day. Whether North to Langelinie or South East to Tivoli, we were just close enough to the centre of the city, but with a little more peace and privacy. Staff were wonderfully friendly and helpful, and we took advantage of the ‘Cosy hour’ complimentary drinks each evening to chat to the bartenders about where to go that evening and the following day.
The hotel has overlooked the beautiful waterfront spot on Nørre Søgade since 1882 and features interesting pieces of history including the suit of armour in the lobby – though rooms are modern. We are very used to small European hotel rooms, but Kong Arthur’s room was pleasantly larger than expected, with a couch, closet space and beautiful large bay windows opening onto the hotel’s dining courtyard.
Breakfast was a combination of continental, local options (including Danishes), a couple of hot plates and a waffle iron, which we enjoyed in the courtyard.
Often the most difficult decisions made in foreign countries are where to eat, especially where you cannot decipher or translate the menu, and as you get hungrier and hangrier. Copenhagen is an absolute foodie’s paradise, though – with Michelin starred restaurants and creative, modern and interesting cuisine, not to mention the pastries (again).
Relae and Radio are highly recommended for a fine-dining experience; the best burgers in the city were across the river opposite our hotel at ‘Sliders‘; I had fantastic steak at Ravnsborg; the Copenhagen street-food collective at Papiroen, or Paper Island was all kinds (literally) of delicious, and all the coffee we had around the city was excellent.
Unfortunately, hanger took over at Tivoli Gardens and we ordered (what transpired to be) terrible pork ribs, and frozen fish fingers at Restaurant Promenaden. At $179 and $199 DKK respectively, we expected better, so don’t be fooled by how beautiful the design and decor are at all the Tivoli restaurants – if planning to eat there do a little forward planning. Gemyse looked fantastic but Blair wasn’t feeling the day’s vegetarian menu.
Our top expeditions and suggestions would be to visit The Round Tower, Christiania, the Palaces, Nyhavn, and The Tivoli Gardens.
By bike you could probably tick all of these off in one long day, but give yourself a couple of hours in Christiania and Tivoli if you can. The Little Mermaid statue is a popular tourist attraction but is quite literally “Little” and IMHO neither the statue itself or the walk around the area is particularly noteworthy, sorry Hans. You can’t take a selfie with Ariel either, incase you’re wondering, as she’s surrounded by water.
The Round Tower: Close to our spot in Norreport we discovered the Tower – a great place to start your tour, not least because it’s quite a steep hike to the top and after 2-3 days on Cobblestones your feet might dissent by the end of the trip. It also gives you a beautiful Bird’s Eye View of the city, from the terracotta rooftops to the steeples of famous churches, royal palaces and a slot or two (castle).
Christiania was particularly interesting – a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of about 850 residents (aka a hippie commune). Its 84 acres sit on an abandoned military base, and it was founded in 1971 by squatters and artists as a “social experiment”.
Upon entering the town, you pass a sign that says “You Are Now Leaving the European Union” and soon find yourself on a street of cannabis shops operate 24 hours a day and sell 30–40 types of weed, just incase you’re interested.
Nyhavn is a much more conventional tourist attraction, a 17th-century waterfront area which was originally a busy commercial port has been turned into a colourful canal and entertainment district. Hans C.A used to live in no. 20 – this is where he wrote my favourite fairy-tale of ‘The Princess and the Pea’. He also lived twenty years in no. 67 and two years in no. 18!
Finally, The Tivoli Gardens, which was the nicest surprise of all. Just a 20 minute walk from our hotel transported us to the most beautiful historical amusement park – perfect for kids of all ages. Tivoli is second-most popular seasonal amusement park in the world, and the second oldest too (the oldest being Dyrehavsbakken in neighbouring Danish city Klampenborg)! Just be careful with where you eat (as above).
For someone who arrived in this city without knowing why or what to do, the beautiful Danish capital was a welcome surprise – I might just give in to my cluelessness more often!