Last updated: 24th October 2021
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We decided to take a trip to the cosmopolitan design capital of Copenhagen (or København in Danish) We discovered it really is chic, arty with a laid back vibe and full of fairytale gems, perfect for a weekend break from the UK. Denmark is not a cheap country as the Danes have a very high standard of living, so it was to be another of our budget weekends. We booked some cheap flights with and paid for some budget accommodation, so we could splash out on eating out instead.
Getting to the city – Read and double check!
Ok so note to self, don’t assume you know how to get from the airport to Copenhagen. We took the Metro to the city centre and got our final destination completely wrong. No idea how that happened seeing as the metro map is not exactly complicated! Coming out of the Metro station we decided to walk to our hotel as there were no taxis outside. We soon realised how compact Copenhagen was, it was actually on of those happy mistakes, great for getting our bearings and a flavour of street life with a few sights along the way.
The first sight we went to see was Nyhaven meaning ‘new harbour’ home to Copenhagen’s iconic, colourful and historic buildings from the 18th century. The buildings line the harbour canal on each side (you’ll have seen this place in all the glossy travel brochures). It used to be a busy trading port where ships would come to dock, and was a notorious red light area where sailors and prostitutes mixed. Nowadays it’s perhaps the most picturesque part of Copenhagen. It has lots of intimate restaurants and cafes selling seafood dishes, we didn’t eat here, but a few beers instead. We loved the people watching! there were plenty of people chilling out and sat on the jetty edge soaking up the summer sunshine.
The famous Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen made is home in this area. He lived at No.20 where he wrote ‘The Princess and the Pea’. Despite Nyhan being a bit of a tourist trap, it has a lovely ambience. There are tons of photo ops here too, we were so lucky to capture the brightly coloured houses with perfect blue skies!
Nyhaven is where we boarded a sightseeing canal cruise which gave us another perspective on the city. We headed out to into the channel to see the Trekroner Island Fort, and other sights like the Little Mermaid along the way, it’s about an hour long trip.
The (really) Little Mermaid
Ok when they say ‘little’ they really mean it! Copenhagen’s iconic bronze statue sits just 4 feet tall. She is a tribute to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale about a young mermaid. It was commissioned by the brewer Carl Jacobsen who gave it as a gift to the city in 1913.
We noticed this was a popular saucy pose with the Little Mermaid, but she got her own back on one guy we saw making his way back from the stones – he fell in water!
Another view from a river boat cruise we took, I think we photobombed all these people’s photos!
Attractions around Copenhagen
The main thing that first strikes you about Copenhagen is the number of bicycles everywhere and how well the city is set up to cater for cyclists just like Amsterdam. Just shows when you have a good infrastructure like Copenhagen, people really ditch the cars and make use of it. You can hire bikes everywhere too, we didn’t instead mostly walked the city and also used a hop on and off sightseeing bus to get our bearings, which was good for getting to the Little Mermaid.
If you want some mainstream retail therapy then Strøget is the place to go. A large pedestrianised street lined with department stores, high street fashion and high end boutiques. It’s really popular with tourists and families. We loved looking around the flagship contemporary design and homeware store located here called Hay House, sadly couldn’t find anything to buy, as much as we wanted a little Danish souvenir, but it was great for browsing. This is also where Garth took the above photo of Strøget.
As we walked down Strøget we came across The Round Tower (or Rundetaarn) built in 1642. It has Europe’s oldest functioning observatory at the top. Instead of stairs or a lift we made our way up to the top via a huge spiralling ramp which spirals round the hollow core 7 1/2 times. The ramp was built for the King so he could ride his horse all the way to the top! The tower is 34.8 metres tall and the views were cool from the top as it is the highest point in the city.
By chance we stumbled upon Magstræde which is the oldest street in Copenhagen, lovely and again characterful and colourful old buildings dating back to the 1520s.
Here’s Phil outside Amalienborg Palace, the official residence of the Queen. The palace is made up of four identical mansion houses (Christian IX’s Palace, Christian VII’s Palace, Frederik VIII’s Palace and Christian VIII’s Palace) all facing each other in a courtyard. The Christian VIII’s Palace has a museum with lots of insight into the monarchy. We learnt Denmark has Europe’s oldest monarchy, who knew? Phil thought it was amazing you could walk almost to front door of the palace houses, well apart from the couple of guards! Get here at 12 noon and you can witness the changing of the guard.
Nyboder is a lovely area of the city where there are rows of terraced houses painted in a distinctive saffron-yellow colour. They were built in 1757 as Naval barracks for the expanding Royal Danish Navy, today they are still owned by the Navy. We loved the symmetry and colour, Garth went mad here taking lots of photographs of the residents bicycles resting against the distressed plaster work.
Freetown Christiania is an ex military camp that was taken over by hippies, about 800 people still live an alternative lifestyle here. We thought we’d take a look, after a short stroll we were hit with the smell of weed everywhere! People were selling it very openly in what we later found out was called ‘pusher street’. We’ll leave it you to decide whether you visit, but it’s unlikely you’ll come across anywhere like this again. We went for a brief look, but didn’t stay that long. It’s located in Christianshavn, which is really nice area of the city with lovely canals and homes, it’s here you’ll also find Copenhagen’s Noma voted the world’s best restaurant. (PS you have to book months in advance, sadly we didn’t and we missed out!)
We found the bronze statue of Hans Christian Andersen holding a book. He’s just outside the impressive City Hall, not far from Tivoli, well in fact he looks over to the Tivoli amusement park. Anderson was a prolific writer of plays and novels, but was best known for his children’s fairytales.
Our Favourite place in Copenhagen – Vesterbro
Vesterbro is a great area to visit, where the hipsters hang out in the area’s independent shops and cafes. The street pictured in our photos here is Værnedamsvej, it’s really nice. We loved wandering the market stalls as they had some really unusual items for sale, like old theatre lamps. Garth went to a specialist graphic design store here called Playtype but sadly for Garth didn’t buy anything even though he was desperate to! The area is also home to antique shops which specialise in Danish interior design, and there’s plenty of classic furniture design to choose from. We LOVE Danish 20th-century pieces, and have some at home including a sideboard, dining table and chairs.
We arrived at Værnedamsvej in the morning and had delicious Danish pastries at a lovely little bakery at the end of this street.
Probably the best museum in Copenhagen?
Also in Vesterbro is The Carlsberg Tour. The Carlsberg family had a massive influence on the Copenhagen. Founded by J. C. Jacobsen, his son Carl Jacobsen made many contributions to the city, including fine works of art which you can see in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek gallery and of course The Little Mermaid sculpture as mentioned earlier.
We walked to the Carlsberg tour located at their old brewery and passed old workers cottages on the way. It was quite interesting seeing their history, which you can do self-guided. Garth enjoyed the museum geeking out seeing old typography and how the Carlsberg brand has developed over the years including losing a swastika logo in 1945. The museum also has a fantastic collection of beers, behind glass on rows of shelves, claiming to be the world’s largest collection of unopened beers! We tried to work out how just many different ones we’d tried! Phil loved the stable block and seeing the horses.
The fun bit was when it came to tasting some booze! we got 2 free beers each, so that was probably worth the entry price. Outside in the courtyard was a horse drawn cart and a nice cafe serving you guessed it more beers!
Smørrebrød & Eating Out
We wanted to try the Danish speciality of Smørrebrød, which translates as ‘open sandwich’ We chose Husmann Vinstue, if you go here you won’t be disappointed! Opened in 1888 it’s small and traditional with wood panelled walls, and full of locals. We had a few different beers and tried their signature smoked eel and herring.
The other restaurant we tried and recommend was Schønnemann, it’s a Copenhagen institution as it’s been open since 1877 serving smørrebrød.
But our favourite meal was at the Michelin-starred Kødbyens Fiskebar located in the meat packing district, just a short walk from Central Station. We chanced it and managed to book a table that night, normally you have to make a reservation well in advance. The meat packing area is very hip and there’s other good looking restaurants, including BOB in the old Bosch factory, so we’d recommend heading here for eats.
If you don’t want any of this fancy stuff, good news – the Danish love hotdogs and it’s their favourite street food. You’ll find hot dog stands all over Copenhagen and they even have a cheap hot dog fast food chain called Steff-Houlberg.
Fairytale Borgs – The Rosenborg Castle
‘Borgs’ are essentially palaces. Rosenborg Castle was once the summer home of the Royal family. Today it’s home to the Royal crown jewels. We didn’t go in, instead we walked around the castle’s stunning grounds, which are also public parks.
Day Trip from Copenhagen – Castles & Palaces Tour
On our last day we took a coach trip to see some other fairytale castles and gardens, an hour or so away to North Zealand so not too far from Copenhagen. Along the way we passed through life in Denmark and some really cute villages with quaint looking cottages.
Located in Hillerød is Frederiksborg Castle, once the royal residence for King Christian IV of Denmark & Norway. Today it’s the country’s National History Museum. Looking like something straight out of a children’s fairytale book, the castle is built on an island in the middle of a lake. It was easily our favourite of all the palaces we visited.
We toured the opulent rooms with incredible ornate and elaborately painted ceilings and walls covered in historic paintings. The chapel survived a fire in the 1859 and was the probably our highlight as well as The Great Hall.
But it was the Baroque garden at the back of the castle that we really wanted to see. The box hedges were crisp and immaculate, with perfectly clipped pyramid shaped yew trees. We read the designer drew inspiration from Versailles and it’s famous garden designer André Le Nôtre. One of the hazards of taking a coach trip is that you are really short on time, Garth wanted to explore the romanic looking avenues more, but Phil being a stickler for time mean’t we had to head back to our seats. 🙁
Kronborg Castle was our next visit and famous because Shakespeare set his play Hamlet here. He called the castle ‘Elsinore’ the castle is built in the town of Helsingør which translated is ‘Elsinore’
Inside the castle, we learnt where the word Snipers comes from. On a banqueting table was a display with a snipe pie. The pie covered with pastry and would have had a real live snipe bird inside, the snipe was known to be one of the fastest birds around. The pie would be cut open and the snipe quickly flew out, where guests around the table would shoot at the it, these people then became snipers and the word is still used today to describe those that are quick with a rifle.
Fredensborg Palace is used by the Danish Royal family to receive visiting heads of states and to celebrate important events such as wedding anniversaries. The palace is also used as a home by the Queen and Prince Henrik for three months in the spring and autumn. We watched the changing of the guards, you can also walk around the huge palace gardens, sadly we didn’t have the time.
We ended our last day in Copenhagen with fun at Tivoli, Europe’s oldest amusement park that opened in 1843. Unusually its located right in the middle of the city. There is all sorts of entertainment on offer from a 100 year old rollercoaster called Rutschebanen to classic fairground games. There is also a theatre, Moorish styled hotel, restaurants and plenty for children. The grounds are immaculate and have beautiful flower displays everywhere which gives the place a real romance. We had loads of fun as it brought out the big kids in us, who doesn’t love an amusement park?
Garth loved the 1950s graphic design patterns and Art Deco designs. Phil loved the smell of candy floss in the air and the screams from terrified riders!
Copenhagen will go down as one of our favourite cities to visit. We loved the compactness making it ideal to walk around, which means you can do a lot in a weekend. We loved how cool and ridiculously stylish the Danes are, friendly and helpful too, no wonder they’ve have been voted the happiest people on earth.
Copenhagen Practical Information & Advice
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Copenhagen Tips
- Tip #1: Love Lego? then head to it’s flagship store in Strøget where they have a free playroom!
- Tip #2: Even though Denmark is in the EU, Don’t forget they kept their own currency – The Kroner
- Tip #3: Have a cheap picnic in a park – Buy your food at Netto, Demark’s low cost supermarket (like Aldi)
- Tip #4: Got a more time? You can pop over the river and visit Malmö in Sweden.
- Tip #5: Love Nordic tv dramas like The Killing or The Bridge? try a tour to see the locations used.