Copenhagen, without a doubt, managed to completely steal our hearts.
Maybe it was the endless sunshine, maybe it was the “Good Morning!”s from total strangers, or maybe it was the endless show of drunk naked people on canal boats. But we left saying that we would move there in a heartbeat.
Of course, that is a little unfair. Sort of like how every one of our guests has visited a bright and sunny Helsinki and instantly falls in love- they are missing the 300 days of the year where it is anything but bright and sunny.
Fortunately there are frequent and affordable flights from Helsinki to Copenhagen throughout the day, and we were landed, checked-in, and eating breakfast at the hotel club lounge earlier than we are on most weekends.
We were staying, again, on points earned through our IHG account. This credit card membership has turned out to be one of the best choices for us, as they have many properties in Europe. This time, we stayed at a Crowne Plaza just north of the city center in what turned out to be an incredible location. Initially nervous about the distance from the city, the 24/7 metro was extremely convenient. It also happened to be in a neighborhood with some of the most interesting and green architecture in the city- which is saying a lot for a nation well known for energy efficient design.
The hotel was voted the “greenest” in the world in 2010, was covered tip to toe in solar panels and connected to a business center by what they called “The Forest” which was also a breakfast area for large conventions. Our status got us an upgrade to the 24th floor (and a spectacular view), free mini bar (which happened to have supplies fo morning mimosas) and access to the club lounge & patio, with breakfast served each morning and cocktail hour each evening (complete with a lovely spread of meats, cheeses, pickled bites and breads.)
After a quick freshen-up, we hopped aboard the metro and into the main touring district of town. Pretty much all roads lead to the Nyhavn; Copenhagen’s most photographed canal, lined with colorfully painted houses and bustling cafes. Worth a walk through, but we found it to be so packed with hoards of people boarding canal cruises and shuffling absentmindedly around the narrow street. From the Nyhavn, we walked to the main waterfront and took a right, heading down towards the city. We passed the hugely popular Standard Jazz club, sidewalks with trampolines and endless places to sit and have a lunch or a refreshing drink in the sun. We ended up coming back here to a boat for fresh fish’n’chips following our canal boat cruise.
Before I get to the canal cruise, here is a brief overview of Copenhagen by land:
In the main city, there is very much to see. Unfortunately, there was also a lot of construction on a new metro line that will create a loop to many of the sites; as you might imagine, many of these sites were covered with construction zones. The Royal Danish Theater and the very old Copenhagen City hall were two of these. However, Christiansborg Palace was open for viewing. We found that around the back side and into the courtyard is great place to see it, as many tourists are pre-occupied with the canal-facing front façade. Also in this area is an old traders warehouse, fascinating spires and plenty of remnants of Copenhagen’s past.
We also eventually made it out to Fredrik’s Church, a domed rotunda with a fabulous vantage point down to the canal and the new Opera House opposite. Trinitatis Church is also in a charming square with cafes and shops surrounding. We intended to return to it for a bite, but, alas, there is just so much great food in Copenhagen and so little time!
For those with the time and interest, the Castle fortress is a ways walk down the opposite direction from the Nyhavn and is a popular destination. It also happens to be near to the famous Little Mermaid statue, based on the tale-turned-Disney Classic by Hans Christian Andersen. We opted, instead, for a different palace (detailed in the next post) and saw the famous Little Mermaid statue while on the canal cruise (without the psychotic crowd
So Copenhagen has a lot of canals, eh? In fact, it is on an island off of the main land of Denmark, directly across from Malmo, Sweden. Basically, there is a lot of water there. And, yes, the thing to do is see it by water, which can be done a number of ways. For starters, you can rent kayaks and paddle your way around. However, I will caution that the main canal is very wide and active with large boats and ferries: for the strong paddler only.
If traveling with a group of 4-8, I suggest you rent a little boat with a picnic table and cruise around at your own leisure. GoBoat seems to be the most popular, but Friendships was also our on the waters. The price and size of the boat was a bit impractical for two people, but I was half tempted to just grab some random people just to make it a crowd. They look so fun! (See one pictured below. They all have picnic tables in the middle. Apparently, there is no rule about drinking and boating on the canals of Copenhagen…)
The easiest (and most affordable) way is via canal cruise. Having had a great experience with this in Amsterdam, we went this route. It is a great thing to do on your first day in the city, as you see a ton of places that you will want to return to during your trip. I highly suggest boarding the Yellow Line cruise from Kanalrunfarten, off Ved Stranden. Not only is this line is far less crowded as all others depart from the top of Nyhavn, but it is also directly across from a 7/11, where you can purchase some refreshments for your 1-hour tour. However, do buy your ticket in advance and wait very near to the boarding door if you want to get a canal-side seat in the open-air portions.
You will cruise through Copenhagen’s darling neighborhoods, biggest attractions and most prominent architecture. The biggest bonus is that you have a guide on a mic and get to learn about the city as you cruise-unless of course, you raced to the best seats in the back and are also surrounded by Italians who talk at Italian-levels the entire time…There were some flying hands and, probably, some crass jokes. Or maybe it was just momma’s meatballs they were discussing? I don’t know.
If seeing the Little Mermaid statue is super high on your list of things to do in the city, get up early and go. We cruised by at 1pm-ish and there was a massive crowd swarming to get a photo of the small little bronze. The poor thing has had a rough life- doused with hot pink paint, decapitated multiple times- now she has to sit there and take dorky pictures with every tourist in the city (“ok, now do your best mermaid pose…flip your hair like Ariel…selfie!!!”)
One of the city’s most well known neighborhoods is Christianshavn. Modeled after Amsterdam (in the interest of attracting Dutch immigrants) it is exceedingly charming. You can join the locals in an al fresco café, or simply sit on the canals edge with a local Carlsberg Beer and wave at the silly tourists on the boats. Or, try to snag a table at the well-photographed canal-side Carlsberg Bar.
Christianshaven is also well known for its not-so-quaint commune-esque neighborhood, Freetown Christiania. This self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood is only inhabited by about 1000 residents, but is visited by over 1-million people each year. Although this is a freetown, it is regulated by a special set of laws established in 1989. Since 2004, the sale of cannabis has been restricted and the area is subject to raids (as indicated by the signs “No running, it causes panic”). No photographs are allowed inside, but we did take a pass through to see what the hype was about. We were expecting a free-love hippie vibe but were instead greeted by a Euro-trash techno party scene with some very intimidating huts selling things that I was not in the market for, but could be smelled throughout the area. We made an obligatory tour and were on our way.
Copenhagen is also well known for spectacular food. As home to Noma, the 2-Michelin starred, 4-time winner of “Best Restaurant in the World” by Restaurant magazine, great, local, and well thought food is deeply engrained in the culture. As we strolled the streets, we noted many eateries with beautiful settings and impressive menus. Reservations are highly recommended a week in advance- or a few months in the case of Noma. However, as we booked our trip pretty last minute and wanted to enjoy more budget-friendly fare, we opted for a different style of cuisine.
The city’s old meatpacking district, just south west of the central train station, has been reborn into a foodie mecca. As I started to research, I found rave reviews for many of the locations in the area: Fiskebar seems to be the sure bet for a dime G&T and Danish fare. Being the deprived Americans that we are, we landed at WarPigs Brewpub, where smoked meats are carved by the quarter pound and accompanied with house-made BBQ sauces. If you aren’t drooling yet, add a side of mac’n’cheese and a dessert of bourbon pecan pie, then wash it all down with a house brew. Be sure to get there earlier in the evening: when they run out, they run out!
We finished out evening here at Bollyfood for a cocktail on a Persian rug (ok, 2 cocktails- we hit the end of 2-for-1 happy hour, but you have to get 2 of the same and we just couldn’t agree….)
This area was so fun and alive with Danish funky vibes, I would have to say that you simply cannot miss it. Go for lunch, go for dinner, go for at least a drink, but do not skip it.
In a follow-up post, I’ll detail our slow, less-tourist centered day(s) in Copenhagen, including a long bike ride outside the city center, Disney World’s predecessor, Tivoli Gardens and a few more!