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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Visitor's Guide - Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is a gem.  It is a beautiful, pristine, modern, friendly and generally cool city.  Step off the train and into the center of Copenhagen and you will be instantly amazed by the impressive bike lanes, the beautiful canal system, and how clean everything is. 

If you are thinking of visiting, know that you can see a lot of Denmark's capital city in just a few days if you plan it right.  From amusement parks and boat tours to the best swim spots along the canal... this is how we spent 3 and 1/2 days in the city; biking, boating, and eating our way around the canals of Copenhagen. 

The city is a little more expensive than I was anticipating (especially food) so with proper planning and budgeting, you can see it all without spending it all.  

The city is very clean and felt very safe.  There are beautiful public parks (free!) that are well maintained and can be found throughout the city.  

We visited in late August and it was the perfect time to visit.  The days were and sunny in the mid 70's and the evenings were perfection.  We could swim in the canal by day and dine outside at night.  If you do visit in the heat of the summer, be warned, Europe isn't keen on air conditioning and you will not find AC in many of the hotels.  We stayed at Best Western Hotel Hebron and only the fourth floor had AC.  

The train is the best way to get from the airport to Copenhagen Central Station (and I included all that information here).  Once in the city, the best way to get around is by bike (yep, a whole article dedicated to biking the city too!)  

A danish krone (DKK) is equal to 0.15 US Dollars ($).  You rarely need cash, but it's good to get some local currency for small purchases like coffee, or for shopping at small stores. 

The atmosphere around the canals is amazing.  People just lounging along the banks, swimming in the water, and boats of every shape and size making their way through the city.  We even saw these perfect little party boats, a table and chairs centered on tiny crafts serving as the perfect (moving) picnic destination.  The canal culture is a huge part of the city and something you have to experience while visiting. 

 A boat tour through the canal is the perfect way to start your stay in Copenhagen.  You will get your bearings while seeing the cities famous sights by boat and learning some history about the city.  We did a one-hour boat tour called the "Grand Tour" starting at 95 DKK (our experience further detailed here) that left out of Nyhavn.  A guide takes you throughout the city pointing out famous waypoints like Hans Christian Andersen's house, past the famous hippie commune Christiana, under and around famous bridges, and past the famous Little Mermaid statue.  The perfect way to start your stay in Copenhagen. 

Tivoli Gardens is a famous garden and amusement park in Copenhagen.  It is one of the world's oldest running amusement parts, and it was the park that inspired Walt Disney to create Disney World.  It has that old world charm, beautiful gardens and buildings, a thrilling amusement park, great restaurants, a lot of history, so much beauty and it's thrown right into the middle of the city.  It is a must-see (especially at night and even if you don't love rides like me) when visiting Copenhagen.  Guide to Tivoli Gardens

Amalienborg is the home of the Danish royal family.  Here, you can visit the home of one of the world's oldest monarchies from the palace square where you can watch the changing of the guards.  We did not pay for a tour but instead watched the changing of the guards and walked around the palace square and neighboring park.  Amaliehaven is the small park and fountain located between the palace and the waterfront.

 Another Must-See-Do-Not-Miss in my opinion.  It's an "Instagram famous" part of the city that is all waterfront and sunshine, colored houses, stunning sunsets and old sailing ships that literally create a floating museum.  It is a mecca of outdoor dining and cozy bars all along the waterfront. If you find yourself in Denmark, a trip to Nyhavn cannot be missed.  Spend some time in one of the most photographed spots in Copenhagen and stay for a drink in "The Longest Bar in Scandinavia".  Guide to Nyhavn.

Strøget is one of Europe's longest pedestrian streets with a variety of shops and restaurants down its 1.1-km walk.  You can find big names as well as the budget stores you are used to here in Stroget.  It is a lovely place to stroll and stop into a few shops without worrying about bike or vehicle traffic. 

We were immediately amazed and slightly intimidated by the bike culture in this city. We walked out of the train station that first day in Copenhagen to see hundreds of bikes parked outside the train station, restaurants, and public spaces. And then there was the web of bike lanes weaving through the city with bells ringing and commuters flying by. This wasn't just an illusion as bikes now outnumber cars in central Copenhagen and 9/10 Danes own a bicycle.  44% of all children aged 10-16 cycle to school.  It's not just for the Dane's though, you can rent bikes all over the city and it is the best way to zip around. Guide to Biking in Copenhagen

The Round Tower (Rundetaarn to the locals) offers a quick climb to great views of the city.  The 17th-century structure was built as an astronomy tower/observatory.  The entrance fee is 25 DKK per person and grants you access to the tower.  From there, you follow the ramp and stairs all the way up to the top of the tower.  Enjoy the views of Copenhagen on the rooftop before making your way back down the tower. 

When in Copenhagen on a hot summer day, do as the locals do and go for a dip in the canal.  Biking around, we saw locals swimming in the canal all throughout the city.  We eventually stumbled on Kavebod Bolge, a hip swimming area where all the locals lounge on hot summer days.  I quickly learned that there are no rules when it comes to swimming in Copenhagen and people were jumping off everything and anything.  Bring a towel and lounge in the canal with the locals.  No fees and it seems like no rules apply. 

Okay, let me be frank.  The Danes aren't known for their food like other European countries.  It's certainly different and I noticed a few trends: food is compartmentalized in tiny dishes and sauces are always on the sides and are offered family-style.   We also noticed that vegetables were rare unless they were pickled, and the quality of the meat was pretty poor.  

Nonetheless, when we visited an authentic Danish restaurant and when I ordered the "Danish Minced Meat" what turned out to be a bunless burger was saved by a runny egg and amazing sauce.  We enjoyed trying to local danish food, homemade (walnut) aquavit included, but none of us were too impressed by the food in Copenhagen.  We did love the open-faced sandwiches (SMØRREBRØD) for lunch that are offered on most menus throughout the city.  We tried the smoked salmon, beef tartar, egg and chicken salad and loved this perfect Danish lunch.  We also enjoyed the danish continental breakfast offered at the hotel which included pastries, cereals, yogurts, fresh fruit, crepes, eggs, meats and cheeses - a great variety. 

Danish Minced Meat 
Danish open faced sandwiches

Danish breakfast

Copenhagen was a perfect way to start our week long trip in Europe.  It is so clean and quaint and there is something for everyone in this city.  There is a lot more to see but this little guide will give you a great overview in just 3.5-days (with a detour to Sweden).  Don't miss an evening at Nyhavn or a dip in the canal.  Promise me you will rent a bike and experience the city on two wheels.  I loved this city more than I thought I would... there was something about its modern charm and the way people relaxed along the canal.  And a Copenhagen sunset on a bike?  Oh, that's a European memory that will be hard to beat. 

Thank you, Copenhagen for a lovely few days in 
Europe and for setting this trip on the right foot.  
Next stop?  Sweeden.  

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