I WASN’T really sure what to expect about Copenhagen. It was never on my list of places to see. But now I’ve spent four days there, I’d definitely recommend you put it on yours.
The Danish capital is compact and user-friendly, filled with museums, art galleries, monuments and historic streets for you to stroll down. You can walk across it in a morning or use the excellent metro or buses to get around.
For a mini-break, there is plenty to see and do, whatever time of year you go. And with KLM offering flights from Bristol Airport, it’s simpler than you’d expect.
But if you go in the winter, as we did, be prepared for the weather. We were lucky experiencing glorious sunshine one day and snow the next.
As you walk along the city’s streets, what you really notice is how Copenhagen has excelled in combining the old and the new. Beautiful gabled 17th Century town houses, canals, green spires, and cobbled streets, combine perfectly with some of the most modern new design architecture I have seen. But it works and draws you in.
Copenhagen is famous for its design – it even has a design museum.
The other thing you can’t fail to notice is how many bicycles there are. Everywhere you turn, people are riding them, and every single railing or lamppost along the roadside is crammed with them.
So it’s hardly surprising to hear that with 55 per cent of Copenhageners commuting by bike on a daily basis, and the busiest biking lane in the world with up to 36,000 cyclists daily, that cities around the world are talking about ‘Copenhagenizing’ when they try to increase usage of this CO2 friendly means of transportation.
Every day Copenhageners travel 660,000 kilometres by metro but cycle 1.2million kilometres, almost double the amount. The city has more than 300 kilometres of biking lanes and an extra 50 kilometres are on the way. This place even has miniature traffic lights specifically for cyclists. And if you feel like living like a local, you can put 20 DKK (about £2.20) in the slot of a city bike locker and use the bike for the day. There are 110 city bike racks, and you even get your 20 DKK back when you return the bike.
Eager to take in as much as we could during our short stay, we had been recommended a canal boat trip. It provided the perfect introduction to Copenhagen from the waterfront. We were able to see some of the city’s historic buildings such as the Old Stock Exchange (one of the oldest buildings in Copenhagen), modern buildings like the Black Diamond, home to the Royal Library, the Royal Danish Playhouse and the Opera House, as well as the beautiful canals of alternative community Christianshavn, and see the statue of the Little Mermaid (which controversially I have to say was somewhat disappointing). For us this was one of the best ways to see Copenhagen, and ideal to do on your first day to give you some kind of bearings.
Other must-sees during your stay should include Tivoli Gardens. Denmark’s number one tourist destination, it is the world’s second oldest amusement park in the centre of Copenhagen, filled with rides, green spaces, gourmet food, firework displays and rock concerts.
If you fancy some more history, head to Rosenborg Castle, which houses some of Denmark’s greatest cultural treasures, not least the Crown Jewels and the Danish Crown Regalia. The Orlogsmuseet (naval museum) gives a fascinating history of the Danish navy. Or head to Amalienborg Slot - considered one of the greatest works of Danish Rococco architecture, the Queen’s residence Amalienborg is made of four identical buildings spread around the octagonal courtyard. You can even see the changing of the guard at 12 noon every day.
Another highlight of our trip was a visit to the Carlsberg Brewery (yes, I may have been persuaded by the promise of free beer). The visitors centre is located in one of the original brewery buildings founded in 1847. The tour features the world’s largest beer bottle collection, how brewing has changed through the years, and of course, beer tasting at the end.
But it’s not just beer that Copenhagen is renowned for. Food is a big thing here too, so it’s easy to see why the city is home to the world’s best restaurant Noma.
But it’s not just Noma which is serving fine food. Last year the renowned foodie bible, the French Michelin Guide, awarded Copenhagen’s restaurants a total of 11 stars. So they obviously know how to cook!
For those of us wanting authentic, but slightly cheaper fare, Copenhagen is famous for its open sandwiches known as smorrebrod. It is a daily staple for many Danes and is invariably based on rye bread, and can have an almost limitless number of different toppings from herring, to raw beef, seafood and egg. I can vouch for how tasty it is.
We headed for the famous Nyhavn, close to where were staying, for most of our meals, where the choice of cuisine in the restaurants and bars seemed endless. But a word of caution – Copenhagen isn’t cheap by any means. For example, one glass of wine set us back an eye-watering £9 on our first day, and that wasn’t a one off.
The Nyhavn, is probably one of the most photographed sights in Copenhagen, and to me was very typical of my limited expectations of the place. It is a stretch of colourful Dutch-style town houses that line the historic Nyhavn canal. Built in the 17th century to link the harbour to the city centre, it is now a popular destination for tourists and those wishing to sink a few beers on the cobbles.
It is also close to one of the houses lived in by Hans Christian Anderson – Denmark’s answer to Shakespeare and Dickens. His stories such as The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling have now been translated into over 170 languages.
According to a survey, Denmark is home to the happiest people in the world. Many a time I’ve written in travel pieces that the people are friendly, but in Copenhagen, random strangers in the street are friendly to you. Shopkeepers start talking to you about Plymouth Argyle going into administration and where they are in the league. And passersby recommend bars and restaurants for you to try out.
We stayed in Copenhagen’s historic Admiral Hotel, a converted grain-drying warehouse, originally built in 1787 on the harbour. Situated in the theatre district with the Nyhavn and shopping area just a few minutes away, it was ideally located and our room looked out over Copenhagen harbour.
As soon as you enter the building, you feel the maritime atmosphere and the rich history in its massive wooden beams and brick arches. It’s almost an attraction in itself.
Each of its 366 rooms is unique with rustic wooden beams, a constant reminder of what the building used to be. Rooms on the eastern façade look out over the harbour to the new Opera House, and those on the upper floors of the western side can gaze out to the Royal Palace with Copenhagen’s characteristic rooftops, towers and spires stretching into the distance.
The Admiral Hotel is also home to SALT restaurant, serving Nordic cuisine with a hint of French inspiration. With a menu change every third week, this restaurant appears popular with hotel guests and visitors alike.
The SALT restaurant also provides the dining room for breakfast each morning. The endless choice of fruit, cooked breakfast, cold meats, cheeses, and pastries was delicious. But with 366 hotel rooms, it was a free for all, not only to find and keep a table, but to help yourself to the food as well.
Denmark is renowned for the high standards of living it offers its inhabitants and Copenhagen is no exception. It is clean, beautiful, full of culture and has excellent shopping, transport links and accommodation.
We flew from Bristol with KLM on one of its six daily flights via its award winning hub, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. This was an adventure in itself – I’ve never seen such an impressive airport. But KLM flies all over the world with a choice of 15 UK departure points including Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds-Bradford, Birmingham, Cardiff and Liverpool.
So there’s no excuse. Go to Copenhagen with an open mind (and a full wallet), and you’ll love it. Make sure it’s on your list of places to visit. I’m glad I did.