Copenhagen chic - a weekend escape in Denmark's lovely capital
Summer is nice to travel
The beginning of June is a very interesting time of the year as far as I am concerned. Summer is officially and technically around the corner. The days, at least if you are living in the Northern Hemisphere, are getting longer. Oh, almost forgot, it is also my birthday.
Usually, here in the Southeast of England, we are lucky to enjoy benign weather, with warmish days and relatively balmy nights, the perfect recipe for late outdoor enjoyment.
And it’s not only the Southeast of England that start to see the joys of summer timidly making its dress rehearsal before the grand entry (supposedly) come 21 June. Many parts of Northern Europe start to show signs of early summer bliss.
Many Northern capitals dust out their outdoor fare, socialising alfresco becomes the norm. Tanned bodies hardly clothed compete to catch the admiring eyes, whether they are fit or not. Cafés, parks, beer gardens fill with people ready to enjoy the beginning of summer.
That for me was the perfect excuse to book my next family holiday to Copenhagen. The beautiful Danish capital, with its canals, waterfront architecture, laidback atmosphere, rich, royal heritage, Tivoli amusement park, and let’s not forget, the mermaid.
It was a good idea after all. A city I’d never been to, a long bank holiday thanks to the Diamond Jubilee, and the beginning of summer. The perfect birthday treat.
Ok, I chose the place – well, it was my birthday after all! But, what is better than celebrating one’s birthday in a new city with your loved ones?
Celebrating one’s birthday in a new city with your loved ones, with good weather.
That is where things went slightly belly up. Let’s go back a few weeks. May, and most of Europe, including Britain, suffered a lousy end of winter, which was still overlapping an appalling spring, washed down as never been seen in years. Either God had fallen asleep and left the pipes open up there, or mother earth was having her revenge for all the messing around with the environment. In any case, someone at a very high level was simply having a laugh at our expense with the weather.
End of May, we see a respite. Warm days are happening, jackets, coats, all things woolly are to be confined to the winter vaults up in the loft (for those without lofts, under the bed will do). Boy, was I excited! It meant we would be travelling light. Well, you would in June now, wouldn’t you?
22nd of May, basking in the mid twenties, 23rd, 24th, up to the 30th, fantastic weather, bright blue skies, warm rays subtly dancing on your skin, hot and sweaty trains, stuffy buses and tubes (underground or subway for you funny foreigners), total bliss. By the 31st of May, things looked promising.
On the 1st of June however, the weather took an ugly turn. From 25° C we plummeted to something like 12̊ C! I checked the weather forecast; 14 C on Saturday, 11 on Sunday and Monday, 16 on Tuesday... that was for London mind you, when I checked for Copenhagen, my heart sunk so low, it bounced off my feet. Those same temperatures I saw for London but take away another three degrees.
I’ve booked the trip, paid for the hotel; I really want to visit Copenhagen. But that’s not the worse bit. After Copenhagen, I am due to fly to Hong Kong directly, well via London, but while my family stays home, I continue to Hong Kong.
What was the problem, you might ask? Well, simple. I was transiting through London on my way there. Three hours between flight, so no time to go home and change gear. My original plan was to travel as light as possible, i.e., no coats, no warm sweaters, jackets, nothing of the sort - after all, it was June.
With that gloomy forecast looming on the horizon, I reluctantly and stubbornly stuck to my plan of summer clothing, much to my better half’s disbelief, and subsequent rage, I would painfully realise. And quite honestly, who could blame her.
I was adamant that we were fast approaching summer, but it seems the upper half of Europe’s weather wasn’t aware of it, and had other plans.
Which of these Nordic capitals make a perfect weekend break?See results without voting
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How we got there
Anyway, with that prospect hanging on my shoulders like a marauding vulture, we set off on a cold 2nd of June morning to London Heathrow to catch our BA flight to Copenhagen. Happy birthday me!
We arrived at our chosen long-stay car park, just after 4 am, and after completing formalities, got whisked to Terminal 5 a few freezing minutes after.
Check in and security were completed fast and drama-free, and because of the early departure, 6.50 am, we barely had time to peruse the Duty Free area (result!) let alone find us something for breakfast. I was wishfully hoping that the BA (www.britishairways.com) check in lady would notice my date of birth when I produced my passport and offer a complementary upgrade to Club Europe (if only to have a proper breakfast on board…). We did manage a keep-me-alive-and-awake bite on the way to the airport at that ungodly hour we left home, so there was hardly any risk of fainting on our way to the aircraft.
Boarding was on time and it didn’t take long to fill the A319 aircraft that was going to take us the full 594 miles between London Heathrow and Copenhagen Kastrup. That was of course, if it actually managed to take off…
Some problem with the computer electronics or some gizmo or the other kept us grounded for over an hour. We did get copious amounts of one plastic cup of water while stranded at the remote site as the engineers worked on the problem to try to get us airborne as soon as safely possible. Because of this computer glitch, no one wanted to end up accidentally landing in the Shetlands or Inverness. Mind you, with my luck that weekend, they would probably have been warmer than Copen-freezing-hagen!
At least the crew kept up abreast of events and the co-pilot even toured the cabin, reassuring passengers that it was not a plane threatening issue, and explaining to the younger flyers (my son included) what was happening. My boy, however was more interested in the little badge and pin that this co-pilot gave him as compensation for his troubles. Nice touch.
Finally, at just after minutes past eight am, we took off. The hour thirty something minute duration of the flight went by without any major incident, as in, didn’t end up in Inverness or the Orkneys. The engineers certainly did their job properly it seemed. The mini Panini (more like micro in my opinion) came as a treat as I was already contemplating biting off the curtain partition that separated our cabin (economy) and Club Europe. It became more of a treat when my son didn’t seem to endear himself too much to his, erm, mini Panini*.
After circling parts of Copenhagen and catching a glimpse of Malmo as we landed, descending frightfully close over the Oresund basin, we finally arrived at Kastrup airport about 45 minutes later than scheduled.
Breezed through immigration and collected our bags in close to no time after deplaning. We went straight to the tourist information desk where we purchased our cOPENhagen card.
This card (http://www.visitcopenhagen.com) can be useful if you plan to use public transport even to go to the toilet, and are planning to visit many attractions, as this card allows free entry into many museums, galleries and some parks as well as certain city and canal tours. There is the choice of 24, 72, and 120-hour cards. It is free for kids under ten years of age. Ten to fifteen pay between DKK119-349, depending on the length of card and adults DKK249-699. We went for the 72-hour card as we were staying three days.
After completing the transaction and slapping the plastic with a whopping £102.00 for our two cOPENhagen cards, we dashed out into the almost Arctic 12˚ C to catch the 5A bus that would take us to our hotel. Airport bus fare included in the card.
The 25 minute bus ride cruised through sleepy residential streets lining the route from the airport in the Kastrup suburb of Copenhagen before dropping us exactly opposite the Radisson Blu Scandinavia hotel on Amager Boulevard 70.
The building, tall and not necessarily a striking beauty in terms of architecture, commands expansive views towards Christianshavn to the north and parts of the city centre to the west beyond the canal that separates the Amager islet with the rest of Copenhagen, joined by the Langebro Bridge.
We managed to check in fairly quickly, considering the large queue of guests doing the exact opposite as us; there we are, the absolute rebels, going against the flow!
Despite the delay taking off at LHR, we still managed to arrive at the hotel by eleven o’clock and they did find us a room ready.
* For the politically correct and child protection brigade amongst you, my son did have a more substantial breakfast than his father. Refer to paragraph 5 for details.
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The Hotel and other stuff
As mentioned above, the Radisson Blu Scandinavia (http://www.radissonblu.com/scandinaviahotel-copenhagen) is perched halfway between the airport and the city centre. Considering the airport is a mere 25-minute bus ride and the city centre is just on the other side of the Langebro Bridge which is probably a five-minute walk from the hotel, it is not a bad location.
Not the most beautiful and eye enticing of buildings – a legacy of that drab and minimalist architecture of the late 60s and 70s that plagued a big chunk of suburban Europe – the facilities are fine for a four star property. It does still exude a 70s feel in some aspects, especially in the common areas, however the rooms are quite spacious, even for two adults and a child (we had a double bed and a rollover). Free Wi-Fi, decent size bathroom with bath/shower, ample wardrobe space, and great views towards Christianshavn beyond the lovely Stadsgraven lake and its surrounding forest. The only snag I found was not having a safe in the room.
We were on a room only rate (basically, I used my work loyalty points to pay for the room) however we skipped the breakfast as I consider DKK175.00 (approximately GB£19.00/US$29.50) immoral for a breakfast, especially in a four star property. I was inclined to ask if that included a waitress to feed me as well. But then again, one has to consider that Denmark is not the cheapest of countries. But that aside, I found the hotel appropriate. In fact, I noticed many airline crews seemed to use this hotel as well, and if we take into account the location, I can see why.
Once we armed ourselves with our travelling weapons of choice, a city map, our cOPENhagen card, and many Danish Kroner, we left for our first taste of Danish adventure. We started off by going to the same bus stop we alighted at when coming from the airport. Taking the same 5A bus, we cruised from Amager boulevard into the city centre crossing the Langebro and onto Hans Christian Andersen blvd. where we had our first glimpse of this lovely capital city. Bordering the famous Tivoli, we went through back streets that took us past Copenhagen’s Central Rail station, which, alike many Central stations across Europe’s main cities, are not exactly known for their salubriousness and enchanting beauty. The main point of entry into the city for many visitors, again alike its European counterparts, is a magnet for huge crowds, dodgy dealers, witness of drunken night befores, as well as a place where dreams are conjured and promises are broken.
The first thing that struck me was the bicycles. Like Amsterdam, every other inhabitant or even visitor seem to travel by bike. Unlike Amsterdam though, here they seem to do it in a more orderly fashion, not the hoards of cyclists that seem to take over the main (and not so main) arteries of the city as if it was their divine right. I felt as if there was a more peaceful co-existence between cyclists, pedestrians and other motorists.
Another thing that struck me was the child friendliness of the city and for that reason, the amount of children and families with large number of kids going out and about without worrying whether any venue or area is well catered for kids.
We hopped off at Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) where we would initiate our self-planned city tour. I have to admit that unlike my previous trip to Warsaw, this time I did my bits of research as to what to do, where to go, child-friendly activities and the whole lot. Still feeling the strains of the early rise, we dragged ourselves to start our sightseeing and just as crucially, somewhere to eat.
Rådhuspladsen due to its central location and affiliation with the City Hall is a popular meeting place (more salubrious than the Central Rail Station for that purpose) and always popular with cultural events, as on this day where there was some sort of Turkish Heritage show going on.
After the current City Hall was completed and innaugurated in 1905, this square became probably the most central and important space in the city.
On the northeast fringe of the square is Strøget. This pedestrianized long stretch of commerce actually comprises of many different named streets, starting at Fredericksberggade and includes Nygade, Vimmelskaftet and many other street until if finally dies off at Kongens Nytorv (The King’s New Square). This popular tourist attraction is the largest stretch of pedestrian shopping area in Europe. Most of Denmark’s flagship stores, local and international, boutiques and major chains are located on this strip.
Of course we started our self-created itinerary on Strøget, at least to start the task off ticking off the ‘to do’ list.
Strøget, eating and heart attacks
Not having the most adventurous of sons when it comes to the fine art of eating, we aimed at the first McDonalds that crossed our line of vision. My quest for the ultimate Danish smorrebrod would somehow have to wait.
Now, one way I always have of gauging the cost of eating in any given city is by visiting a McDonalds and comparing the price of its meals with what I pay at home. Although not 100% the benchmark one can swear on, it does give an idea of what you’re going to pay in general for food. Well, let’s put it this way; after paying what I paid for his Happy Meal, I made damn sure my son finished every millimetre of cheeseburger, fries, drink (including the ice, even at the risk of brain freeze). I even considered for that princely sum of hoarding the ketchup, salt sachets and any other extra I could get my hands on just to justify the cost. At first I was under the impression eating out in Copenhagen was not for the faint hearted, or the eternally skint (broke for the American readers). Later during the trip, with a bit of savvy, I discovered it was possible to eat out without having to re-mortgage half your family.
Culinary wallet shock over, we continued to walk the length of Strøget, if anything to see the sights (window shopping) and try to discover any interesting looking (and wallet friendly) eating den for my birthday dinner later on.
After meandering around Strøget for the best part of the afternoon, discovering quirky little side streets, interesting boutiques and stores, of course we came upon the obligatory pit stop at one of the many Danish pubs that grace the streets and sidewalks of this part of town to sample the local brew. Carlsberg which according to the Danes, is probably the best beer in the world, was my first brew in the land. As much as I have tried it, and don’t get me wrong, bad it isn’t, I still can’t class it as the best in the world. They do have other decent brew, the likes of Tuborg – ok, acquired by Carlsberg some years ago, so probably not a level field of play…- Wiibroe Guld, Carl's Påske and others to name a few. It’s just a matter of being experimental and well, willing to pay a bit more than you’re used to, for your regular pint.
Beer pilgrimage completed – at least two visits, just to get it right – and continuing as part of my birthday treat, I decided my young son deserved his treat as well. Therefore, a visit to one of the flagship LEGO stores was a must; after all Denmark is the birthplace of LEGO, so what better place to see and indulge in all things Lego than in Copenhagen. I have to admit however, that when I booked this holiday, my initial idea, always having my son’s interest at heart was to visit the original Legoland, but that plan went down the proverbial, once I learned how close Legoland was to Copenhagen; pretty much as close as Manchester is to London! With travelling time between Copenhagen to Billund being approximately three and a half to four hours each direction, it proved to be unwise at least on this particular trip. I suppose I should soon plan another visit before he grows too old to enjoy it. On the other hand… probably… no, that would not be very kind of me. I do have my standards after all.
We reached the end of Strøget near Kongens Nytorv and after a quick peep towards Nyhavn (which we were to visit the next day) we took the metro back to our hotel.
Three stops from there saw us a brisk five-minute walk back to our hotel where we changed and prepared to return for my birthday dinner at an Italian restaurant we discovered on one of the side streets of Strøget.
We got to the restaurant just past eight in the afternoon. I forgot to mention, the weather was hideous. Not so much because it was cold, but because it was cold at the beginning of June. Of course, my stubborn self decided I could handle 15° C without a light coat or jacket. That was what I saw in the forecast anyway. Indeed, I declined packing in one before leaving the UK, as common sense dictates. Moreover, as would be expected, Murphy’s Law fell on me like a ton of bricks! 11° C was the maximum that day. So not only was I a year older, I was about to die of pneumonia on my birthday. Some celebration!
Suffice to say, dinner was unremarkable, probably only the beer was decent – and that, because it was not prepared on the premises, but already came bottled! Again, best laid plans and all that. At least though, I had my two loved ones with me to have a moan with. Family that moan together, remain together I say.
Day one in Copenhagen was not what I hoped for, yet I couldn’t find a reason to hate the place.
Day two - Tivoli and Nyhavn
I did mention about the mortgage-busting price for breakfast at this hotel further up. Well, in view of this and in order not to perish before leaving our hotel room, we did a little rekkeǂ around the vicinity of our hotel. We discovered a small number of local shops, supermarkets, and bakeries where we could get provisions for a wallet-friendly breakfast. Best advice I can give if you are in a similar situation. Unless of course, you mind not paying obscene money for a continental breakfast, or you are having it paid for on your behalf.
With our initial dietary requirements of the day duly met, we set out for a half day at Tivoli. Thanks to our cOPENhagen card, we didn’t have to pay the entrance fee, which is usually DKK95.00 per adult and children over 8 years of age. Once inside, each ride costs between DKK20.00 to 30.00 depending on the length, scare ok throwing up level. Alternatively, you can purchase a multi-ride ticket for DKK199.00 per person, which allows unlimited number of rides.
Tivoli is without a shadow of doubt a Danish institution, like the mermaid statue, Hans Christian Andersen, Carlsberg, Lego and, well Aqua (remember, that awful girlie pop band?).
Opened in 1843, Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park and pleasure garden in the world and one of the most visited themed parks in the world as well. It includes a variety of attractions, amongst them buildings in exotic Oriental style, theatre, bandstands, cafés, restaurants, flower gardens, and of course, amusement rides.
Fortunately, although being a Sunday, the small queues moved quickly and at the gate, we were told what we were entitled to with our free entry. Basically nothing, just a free entry.
We spent the best part of four lovely, albeit freezing hours wandering through the lovely gardens and deciding on what exciting rides, we would go on. We decided on three, or was it four rides, including a medium rage scary roller coaster. As mentioned, the weather didn’t show any signs of improving, so there was a bit of bother brewing in the air above us.
Not deterred by that and with our inner child satisfied with a half day at Tivoli we made our way towards Nyhavn, not on foot but by bus so we had the opportunity to sightsee on the way to Kongens Nytorv where we would alight to then walk the short stretch to the lovely yet touristy corner of Copenhagen.
Once we got off the bus and took the obligatory pictures, we saw the first glimpse of this lovely and fashionable part of town. The Memorial Anchor bids you welcome and offer more photo opportunities, in our case though, I had to patiently avoid murdering two petulant little brats who insisted in joining us for this memorable photo-moment. Unfortunately, by the time they tired of pestering our moment, half the town and their grannies were partaking in our picture. I suppose a family picture is not worth a prison sentence.
This Anchor commemorates the more than 1,700 Danish officers and sailors who sacrificed their lives during WWII. This version inaugurated in 1951 replaced a previous temporary wooden one erected back in 1845. Every year the Danes celebrate their Liberation day on 5 May with a commemoration service at the Memorial Anchor.
The place was heaving with activity with all the restaurants, bars, pubs, and canal walkways almost bursting at the seams with humanity.
Built by King Christian V between 1670 and 1673, with the reluctant help from Swedish war prisoners, Nyhavn’s original aim, was a gateway from sea to the inner city. Here ships handled their cargo and the fishermen’s catch of the day. At the time, with sailor as their main incumbents, it was notorious for the beer, prostitution and all that came with it.
Much more salubrious nowadays, it’s more about the beer, typical Danish fare and its beautiful facades. The northern and sunnier side is lined by brightly coloured houses. Here are where most of the restaurants, hotels, and bars are located. Number 9 is the oldest dwelling dating back to 1661!
The Southern side, more residential is lined by massive lavish mansions, including Charlottenborg Palace at the very end (or beginning depending where you’re looking from) near Kongens Nytorv. Also a point to note, author Hans Christian Andersen lived at No. 18 for some years.
As night draws in, Nyhavn takes a wintry Christmassy look, and the crowd still don’t seem to diminish. Considering that at this time of year, nighttime only starts making its timid appearance just after 11.30 pm its small wonder the place has such a beautiful buzz about it. Again, the miserable weather did very little to dent our enjoyment. The ride back to the hotel by bus, took us through the scenic route of this lovely side of Copenhagen.
ǂ reconnaissance trip for those unfamiliar with this terminology
Day three - Christiania, river cruise and back home
Our last day in Copenhagen still did not yield any progress in the weather department. Skies were just as grey and miserable looking but any threat of rain was fortunately held back.
We had out room service breakfast, courtesy of SuperBrugsen supermarket. We then took to Islands Brygge metro station for the single stop journey to Christianshavn. On a brighter and warmer day we may have been more adventurous and walk the Torvegade Bridge that crosses the Stadsgraven canal that separates Amager from Christianshavn, walking through the lovely Christianshavn Vold (forest).
Today we went to visit Christiania, the famous or notorious hippie, squatter enclave inside Copenhagen. This unique neighbourhood is considered a state within Denmark, with its own laws (no laws, basically) and very liberal, some even say libertine lifestyle. This area used to be the former military barrack of Bådsmandsstræde, which were finally abandoned in 1971.
In September that same year, neighbouring inhabitants broke down the fences surrounding the area to take over parts of the area as playground for the children. Some claim that this was a protest against the Danish government because of the lack of affordable housing at the time. Maybe, in line with that spirit, we can do something similar in London in say, Chelsea for example.
Since then Christiania turned into a peaceful mini hippie, collective, anarchist squatter state within Copenhagen.
Yes, I did say before that it was a lawless society, in the right sense of course, but it does have its few rules. To start with, you don’t require an entry visa. On the other hand, there are as I said a few rules, which, if you do abide with, should make your visit hassle-free. No photographs are allowed. No hard drugs either, nor running or making sudden movements. Cannabis and hash are ok. Cocaine, crack, heroin, no-no; that is not allowed.
It is not the most beautiful of places, let’s get that clear, it’s not a tourist (well, maybe a little, you know, spread the word and all that) trap, but more a social experiment.
We wondered about almost an hour, had a couple herbal teas at one of its cafés and mind you, not everyone, as many of you, my dear readers by now would quite rightly think, are down and out dope-heads and arty students. There were quite a few sixty-somethings and families or the odd middle-aged couples doing the same thing, some local, some foreign like us. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely a box to tick if you come to this city.
From there we took a bus to the town centre to start our river cruise, another attraction included free of charge in our cOPENhagen card.
This hour and a half cruise showed us most of the important sites of the city, including the Royal Palaces, the Old Stock Exchange, old breweries, warehouses, riverside neighbourhoods, the royal yacht, Christianshavn and the un-missable Little Mermaid (Den lille havfrue) statue. Located on Langelinie and based on the fairy-tale story by HC Andresen, it was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen in 1909. No more than 1.25 m (4 ft) tall, this unimposing statue is definitely the most recognisable Copenhagen icon. With a multilingual guide – he spoke in Danish, English, German, and Spanish – he gave a well documented tour of the sights and rich history of Copenhagen.
Thus ended our extended weekend escapade to the Danish capital.
Unfortunately, I left this enchanting city with mixed feelings. Most of it I have to admit, by my own doings. Had I heeded the missus’s wise and usually sensible advice and took at least a jacket, I may have enjoyed this city despite the unusually unseasonal cold weather. As I said earlier, I still could not find any excuse not to like this city and as with many places I have visited, I have to make the effort to return, visit some of the unseen sights, enjoy a proper and true Danish smorrebrod and discover any hidden gem that any if these European capitals always have hidden.
Day four was just the goodbye Copenhagen day basically. With a two pm flight back to London to drop the family and catch my onward flight to Hong Kong we checked out at around eleven am and caught the Metro from Islands Brygge station to Kastrup Copenhagen airport. Again, this 25 minute ride took us hassle free to the airport.
On this occasion, the flight left on time and our arrival into LHR was on time and trauma free.
Now, for the rest of this story (The Hong Kong bit), you can go to this link: http://tonyabacab.hubpages.com/hub/Hong-Kong-blues-A-June-travel-saga-part-II, and see how my June travel saga finally unfolds and also visit my flight review, if you’re into that stuff (http://tonyabacab.hubpages.com/hub/British-Airways-business-class-flight-review).
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