“Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, salty old queen of the sea….” On my first trip to Europe, as a teenager, I landed in Copenhagen humming the catchy tune from the movie, Hans Christian Andersen. Ever since, when I’m in Denmark I think of the song, because Copenhagen truly is wonderful. It’s a beautiful harbor city of islands, museums, parks and palaces; narrow cobblestone streets, wide boulevards and winding waterways, all waiting to be discovered.
A boat tour on the canals is fun and gives an easy overview. Or take the hop-on, hop-off buses (water or land) and stop wherever it suits you. Nyhavn is the place to stroll and people- watch, sit at a sidewalk cafe, and listen to street music. This quay by the harbor is lined with colorful buildings on one side and bobbing boats on the other.
Everyone wants to see the city’s emblem, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale statue, the Little Mermaid. Tourists are sometimes disappointed — it’s only a tiny statue, after all — but the Mermaid has charm. Since August, 1913, she has perched wistfully on a rock in the harbor, and every August, swimmers dive in and swim in formation to create the number of years she’s been there. Assuming the tradition continues, it will be 100 in 2013.
During your exploration of Copenhagen you’ll see striking modern architecture, such as the controversial Opera House, with its swooping roof and enormous crystal chandeliers, which opened in 2005. More recently, the big blue Concert Hall opened in January 2009 with state-of- the-art acoustics in its four halls.
Not-to-be-missed attractions in Copenhagen
The Round Tower, built in 1642. Walking the spiraling ramp to the top (268 meters; 880 feet) takes you to a panoramic view of the city. The tower is the oldest functioning astronomical observatory in Europe.
Amalienborg Palace, the elaborate, Rococo winter residence of the royal family. Of the four buildings in the complex around a large courtyard, two are open for tours. Every day at noon, tourists gather to watch the changing of the Royal Guard.
Christiansborg Palace, in the center of Copenhagen, has been Denmark’s seat of government for 800 years. You can take guided tours through the fabulously decorated rooms, including the throne room. Don’t miss the underground part — under the palace are the ruins of a castle from 1167.
Tivoli Gardens, the world’s oldest amusement park, is a place of wonder and enchantment. The park’s colorful lights, restaurants, thrilling rides, and performances make it a continuous celebration. It’s gorgeous at night.
On many streets you’ll see nude photographs and posters in shop windows. Most Danes have no problem with this; they not only don’t like censorship, they consider an open attitude to be healthy. And good health is valued here. Danes bicycle on brightly decorated bikes, walk a lot, and eat well — plenty of seafood, smorrebrod (open-faced sandwiches) made with dark rye bread, and hearty Danish beer. Denmark has a reputation as the happiest country in the world. Do you think there’s a connection?
Copenhagen has so many outstanding museums with superb collections of art, ancient artifacts, and historical treasures, they deserve special attention. Look for those in my next post. Meanwhile, go shopping. Stroll the Stroget, Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street, and find hundreds of shops and every major designer house. Lots of street performers are there, too. Three of Copenhagen’s best-known and loved stores are Georg Jensen Silver, Royal Copenhagen Porcelain, and Rosenthal Studio-Haus. They’re all fun to visit, whether you purchase or not. Royal Copenhagen’s “lifestyle store” on Amagertorv now has a pink-walled cafe offering open-faced sandwiches, delectable cakes and coffee and tea, all served, of course, on the company’s fine porcelain. With nods to Danish design, a royal heritage, and humor, it is declared an “anti-Starbucks experience.”
Copenhagen is a gourmand’s delight, with a multitude of restaurants, several boasting Michelin stars. They range in price from sidewalk stands selling tasty hot dogs topped with shredded onions to ultra-pricey food palaces. At the high end, Noma springs to mind. This fabulous two-starred restaurant, in a renovated waterfront warehouse, is considered to be one of the world’s ten best. The menu features elegant, contemporary Scandinavian food and great wines.
Era Ora, also expensive, is arguably the best Italian restaurant in the city, serving light and sophisticated Mediterranean meals along with excellent wines. It’s in an 18th-century building by the canals. Kong Hans Kaelder is known for world-class, inventive cuisine. Everything here is top-quality, including the fresh seafood prepared and presented with style. The restaurant is in a vaulted cellar in Copenhagen’s oldest building.
Leaving the spendy stratosphere for a bar and restaurant that is easier on the wallet, Barock provides a quiet, romantic setting and good value. Here you’ll find contemporary Danish cooking and a well-considered wine list. There are outdoor tables in summer. For even fewer krone, and a delightful change, take a picnic to a park. A few choices: the Kastellet area near the Little Mermaid, the Botanical Gardens, and the Kongsgarten, Take-out foods are available in myriad delis and bakeries.
A Few Copenhagen Hotels We Recommend
Those looking for the ultimate in discreet luxury, stay at the posh Hotel d’Angleterre, a 250-year old monument to civilized living (closed for remodeling until 2012). Many notable names are on its illustrious guest list.
The 5-Star Radisson Blu Royal Hotel is located near the Tivoli Gardens and the Rosenberg Castle ans has easy access to the train station. Relax in this modern, but comfortably designed hotel.
The Less luxurious but providing charm and comfort, 3-Star Hotel Alexandra is centrally located, only 500 meters from Tivoli, and has 61 rooms. The decor is Danish, the breakfast excellent, and the friendly staff will lend you a bicycle if you wish to ride.
For the modest budget, we recommend the 2-Star Saga Hotel, a family-run property located in the heart of Copenhagen, in the trendy quarter of Vesterbro, near Central Station and the Tivoli Gardens.
Written by Marilyn McFarlane for EuropeUpClose.com