We arrive in Copenhagen at 6.30am feeling very refreshed after a good sleep in business class and move through airport formalities surprisingly quickly. We get some Danish Krone from the ATM and I realise that I got out rather more than anticipated but Mum’s card wasn’t accepted so good that I had plenty for both of us.
From the information desk, we purchase our 2 day Copenhagen Cards: these give you free rides on all public transport (including the train from the airport) and free entry to the vast majority of Copenhagen sights.
Then we head to Track 2 for the train and where we were on the platform ended up being right at the end of the train when it pulled into the station. We jumped on board and got settled – then realised that we were sitting in the first class cabin. Oh well, there was only one other man in there and he smiled at us so we decided to stay put and no-one kicked us out.
It was only about 15 minutes to Copenhagen Central Station. We walked up the platform stairs and after asking a passerby realised that we were literally about 3 minutes walk to our hotel (Cabinn City). Of course it wasn’t yet 8.00 in the morning and we couldn’t check in until 3pm. We sat in the foyer for a while sorting ourselves out and then left our bags in storage before setting off to explore.
Our hotel is extremely well located near Tivoli Gardens and City Hall, the centre of town is very compact and it is easy to walk to most of the sights. We wander a side street towards HC Andersens Boulevard and on the way discover a delightful little garden complete with statues such as Rodin’s The Thinker and some mythical beasties. We discover that this is at the rear of the NY Carlsberg Glypotek – a modern art museum. Then we wander along past the Tivoli Gardens and find a statue of Hans Christian Andersen near City Hall Square.
We arrived at the front of City Hall fortuitously just in time to join a free Grand Tour of Copenhagen walking group and decided that it might be a good way to get our bearings and hear some history of the place. Our guide Daniel regaled us with all sorts of stories including life in general, social security etc.
Copenhagen started as a little Viking fishing town on the edge of the Baltic Sea in the 10th century and became capital of Denmark in the 15th century. It has survived two major fires, plague, invasion and just about everything in between to become a cultural capital: design hub, foodie heaven, and land of fairy tales. We hear about warrior bishops (Bishop Absalon in the 12th century), kings (all called Christian or Frederick) and queens (and the current Princess Mary from Tasmania).
It is quite a strange city in that it is hard to know exactly what its character is. It has a strange combination of character from lots of other places, when its forefathers travelled abroad to places like Italy and decided to come back and build in the style they’d liked there. There seem to be all sorts of different styles all jumbled together and joined by cobblestone streets and masses of bicycles everywhere. You have to look right, then left, then right again, then again for bikes!
One part of the city’s character seems to be its selection of rather strange statues of strange and mythical fairytale beasts alongside classical images (and a selection of modern art as well). They all seem over the top for my liking, are invariably green and verdigris covered – and extremely plentiful. Everywhere you look is a statue or a fountain of some sort all covered with verdigris.
Daniel teaches us some Danish that we can use: saying hello is very difficult – you say ‘hi’, and goodbye is doubly difficult – you say ‘hi, hi’. Thank you is ‘tak’ and there is no word for please so you just say ‘tak’ in advance if you feel the need. Beer is øl so you can say ‘øl tak’ and ‘cheers’ is ‘skål’.
We head through the old part of town and learn how to distinguish old buildings that weren’t destroyed in the fires from ‘new’ ones that have their corners cut off to allow the horse-drawn fire trucks to get around the corners more easily and so that fire hoses didn’t get caught on the corners. We cross over the bridge to Christiansborg Palace and see the stables and horse grounds.
Kings New Square (Kongens Nytorv) is a good place for a break as there are toilets and Danish pastry shops (and masses of bicycles). We are also lucky to see the palace guards coming from their barracks for the changing of the guard at Amalienborg Palace.
NyHavn (New Harbour – about 300 years old) is a very popular part of town these days but we hear about how it used to be a very run down red light district. They decided to smarten it up by painting the old houses in bright colours and eventually people started coming to visit for new reasons (although there are still ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ to be seen along that area).
Amalienborg Palace wasn’t always a royal palace but is in fact 4 houses that used to belong to the gentry until the royals took them over. They are set around a public square that vehicles still drive through and there is no significant security in evidence (despite the guards) and members of the royal family live in 2 of them. You can tell when they are in residence because there is a flag up the flagpole. The beautiful Marble Church can be seen down one of the roads.
Daniel leaves us there and Gill and I head down to the riverfront for a hot chocolate and coffee (from the cutest little coffee truck I’ve ever seen) and a much needed sit down. Despite being warned that The Little Mermaid is the second most disappointing sight in the world (number one is the Little Boy pissing in the fountain in Brussels) we decide that we will walk along the waterfront for another 10 minutes or so to see it as it is lovely walking. It is a very small statue almost dwarfed by the people around it (including tour boats on the seaward side) but it is pretty and we’re glad we’ve seen it.
By that stage the long travel and jet lag have caught up with us and our bodies are complaining so we decide to walk slowly back to the hotel, stopping several times to just sit and rest. We walk down Stroget (the main pedestrianised shopping street) that is about 1km long running from City Hall to Kings New Square and is full of very upmarket stores mixed with chain stores that are the same the world over.
Back at the hotel at last we are able to check into our room and discover why it is called Cabinn City: the owners used the concept of ship cabins to give small affordable accommodations. Thankfully we have avoided having bunks but our room is exceedingly small with the twin beds pushed up together and virtually no room to put anything. The bathroom similarly has the shower almost on top of the toilet. But it is very well situated and it is only for 2 nights.
After a lie down, we head off out again to see the 175th anniversary parade that is being held at the Tivoli Gardens currently. We aren’t sure what to expect but we want to see the gardens anyway and it is close and included with our Copenhagen Card. Tivoli Gardens are a very strange combination of amusement park and a wide range of different themes all jumbled up together (much like the city itself). There are lawns with lots of people in deck chairs, a stage, lots of little cafes, shops, children’s playgrounds, fountains, glasshouses and duckponds.
The parade is very Disneyesque and circles round the main lawn area seemingly popular with the children. We then wander around the park and end up sitting at a lovely little cafe enjoying a beer in the late afternoon sunshine looking at a lake and trees in one direction and a 100 year old roller coaster in the other. We then continue walking around and then opt for fish and chips under a Chinese pagoda with a roller coaster overhead and screams from all sorts of rides all around us. Then definitely time for an early night.
Please join me over the next several posts as I take you on our Journey to the Arctic (and more).
Arctic Express: Northern Lights
Day 1: Copenhagen to Reykjavik
Day 2: Reykjavik to Constable Point, Greenland
Day 3: Scoresby Sund: Frederiksdal & Flyvefjord
Day 4: Scoresby Sund: Nordvestfjord & Ingmikortilaq
Day 5: Scoresby Sund: Eskimobugt & Immikkeerikajik
Day 6: Scoresby Sund: Danmark Island & Vikingsbugt
Day 7: Scoresby Sund: Cap Hope & Ittoqqortoormiit
Day 8: Scoresby Sund: Steward Island & Constable Point
Day 9: Constable Point back to Reykjavik
Day 1: Reykjavik: Blue Lagoon
Day 2: Golden Circle
Day 3: South Coast
Day 4: Jokulsarlon
Day 5: Eastern Fjords & Moorudalur Valley
Day 6: Moorudalur Valley & Lake Myvatn
Day 7: Akureyri & Trollaskagi Peninsular
Day 8: Grabrok Volcano & Snaefellsnes Peninsular
Day 9: Snaefellsness to Reykjavik
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
Note: After people telling me they had booked an Intrepid Tour on my recommendation, I now have affiliate links with the Intrepid Travel group of companies and may receive a commission if you book a tour online within a couple of months after clicking through to these sites. So if you are enjoying my tips and stories and finding them useful in choosing your own travel, please click on these links and help me to bring you more .