After our successful “8 things to do…” guides to Lisbon and Barcelona, we are going to present you in this article the capital of Denmark. Copenhagen is a compact, walkable and trafficless city. This is a clean, calm, and easygoing destination with exceptional sights, museums and restaurants. It is a perfect combination of traditional and modern, and also the embodiment of the Danish cosy and sociable way of living, the Danes call “hygge”.
1. Stroll around Stroget : The word Stroget (which means “stripe”) cannot be found on any of the street signs in Copenhagen, however, every citizen and visitor is familiar with it. It is Copenhagen’s main pedestrian walkway, made up of five different connected streets. It was created in 1962, and since then has become the heart of downtown Copenhagen and a favourite walking ground for the locals. Along its streets, you could find exclusive boutiques, department stores and second-hand shops to cafes and restaurants. Some of the prettiest squares of the city are also along Stroget, like Nytorv, Gammeltorv and Amagertov. The best place for a coffee break during your walk along Stroget is the central and always crowded Cafe Europa (Amagertov 1), while for lunch or dinner a perfect choice would be RizRaz (Kompagnistraede 20 – just 200 m from Nytorv), a vegetarian buffet restaurant, which will astonish you with the quality and variety of its Mediterranean cuisine.
2. Take a detour through the colourful Grabrodretorv : While walking down the bustling Stroget pedestrian shopping street make a detour to visit this colourful cobblestone square at the centre of the Latin Quarter of the city. Grabrodretorv dates back to the 13th century and its name refers to the so-called friary of the Grey Brothers, Franciscan monks, who built here the city’s first monastery. The square was destroyed by fire in 1728, bombarded by the British in 1807 and twice rebuilt. Once the site of a market hall and during the 1980s a hot spot for local college students, today it’s a quiet oasis, home to restaurants and bars. Do not miss the chance to visit this lesser-known place and especially to have lunch or dinner at the outside tables (if the weather allows it) of the picturesque restaurants on the square. Our choice here would be Peder Oxe (Grabrodretorv 21), a restaurant with delicious seasonal cuisine in a 17th-century townhouse, whose basement was once part of the Franciscan monastery.
3. Stare at the beauty of Nyhavn : This long canal, lined on both sides with colourful houses, is probably the most visited and photographed place in Copenhagen. Nyhavn (which means “new harbour”) was constructed by soldiers in the 17th century in order to enable ships loaded with merchandise to sail into the centre of the city. When Hans Christian Andersen lived here, the area was a notorious red-light district with a bad reputation. Nowadays the boozy sailor joints have been replaced by excellent restaurants and the area is extremely popular during warm summer evenings. Although touristy and crowded, the beauty of the place never stops to amaze visitors. Stand on the dock and just stare at the canal for a few minutes and this will be enough to transfer you to the sailing past of the city. Cap Horn (Nyhavn 21), with a history that dates back to 1687, was the first restaurant to serve organic food in Denmark in the 1990s and is one of the best places in Copenhagen to taste baked or smoked salmon.
4. Feel the loneliness of the Little Mermaid : The tiny lonely figure of the Little Mermaid (Den Lille Haufrue), sitting on the rock and gazing at the ships, is Denmark’s best-known landmark. The sculpture was inspired by the ballet version of “The Little Mermaid”, which was based on the classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The sculptor, Edvard Eriksen, wanted to use as his model, Elen Price, the prima ballerina of the show. But when the dancer learned that the work was to be placed in a public spot, she allowed only her face to be used. The sculpture was placed in the harbor in 1913 and since then has been several times vandalized as part of various protests (for example in 2017 it was painted red as a protest against whaling in the Faroe Islands). Although the place is always crowded with tourists, the loneliness, the longing and the bitterness of the mermaid are always evident. You could combine your visit to the Little Mermaid with a walk around the nearby wonderful Kastellet park.
5. Admire the Danish royal legacy at Amalienborg Slot : At the northern part of the city lies a grand cobbled square surrounded by four Rococo palaces, which together make up Amalienborg Slot, which is the home of the Royal Danish family since 1794. The palaces were built by wealthy traders and were confiscated by the royal family after a fire destroyed its previous palace. The best time to visit the area is at noon when the daily ceremony for the changing of the guard takes place. Amalienborg Slot is a beloved place by the Danish people. Their love for their Queen Margrethe II is a paradox of their national psyche. Although they have a strong and healthy democratic tradition, at the same time they are proud of their royal legacy. Let’s not forget that the Danish monarchy is the oldest continuing line in the world. Queen Margrethe II’s heritage can be traced back to the year 900. Just next to this grand square, Marmorkirken (also known as Frederikskirken) is a spectacular church with one of the biggest domes in Europe.
6. Discover the “Little Amsterdam” of Copenhagen : The district of Cristianshavn, which is referred to as the “Little Amsterdam” because of its many canals, it was actually built in the 17th century based on a complex plan inspired by Amsterdam’s grid of canals. It was constructed to protect the city from attack and ease overcrowding within city walls. The peaceful and not touristy neighbourhood is characterized by its charming houses and courtyards. The centre of the area is the Vor Frelsers Kirke (Church of Our Savior), whose 90-metre-high spire could be seen from most parts of the city. Spend an afternoon wandering around the canals, sit at a canalside cafe and watch the real life of the city unfolding in front of your eyes. During your walk don’t forget to buy tasty Danish pastries from Lagkagenhuset bakery (Torvegade 45), like the delicious tarts with fresh fruits and banana stuffed muffins.
7. Visit one biggest sculpture collections in the world : NY Carlsberg Glyptotek is a world-class museum with a collection that boasts over 10.000 art treasures including Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman sculptures and the largest collection of Etruscan art outside of Italy. At the same time, it exhibits paintings and sculptures of the Danish “Golden Age” and some works by French Impressionist masters like Renoir and Degas (one of them is Degas’ most famous statue, “The Little Dancer”). Finally, the world-famous sculpture “The Kiss” is one of the 35 works by Auguste Rodin, which constitute the largest collection of his works outside France. At the centre of the museum the Winter Garden, is a green oasis of palm trees under a glass dome, perfect for relaxation after a long walk around the buildings of the museum. If you are an art lover, this unique museum must be definitely included in your visit to Copenhagen (for more information visit the official site of the Glyptotek).
8. Amuse yourself like a Dane in Tivoli : In many ways a visit to Tivoli is the absolute Danish experience. It is a characteristic expression of “hygge”, the unique type of cosiness that Danes try to create in all aspects of their life. They consider it as one of their national treasures. Like most of Copenhagen’s landmarks, Tivoli has royal roots. In 1841 the King commissioned the building of the park as a distraction, a place where people could amuse themselves and forget politics. Situated in the heart of the city, this large park is planted with almost 1.000 trees and over 400.000 flowers. In the park you could find thrill rides, hot dogs, candy floss, ice cream and beers, and everything related to family entertainment. The highlights of the garden include the spectacular Moorish Restaurant Nimb, the Chinese style Peacock Theatre and a pastel-coloured indoor concert hall. Tivoli’s mix of escapism, joy and traditionalism will surely win you over and make you feel part of the Danish way of living (for more information visit the official site of the park).
During our visit to Copenhagen, we stayed at Absalon Hotel and really enjoyed our days there with their excellent service, clean rooms, and wonderful breakfast, and of course the very convenient location.
Copenhagen is really the Beauty of the North and a visit there is an unforgettable and colourful experience.
*[Photos of Stroget & Tivoli are from iStock]