When I was planning my trip from San Francisco to Prague, as the case often is, the most direct flight was also the most expensive. As such, I used my strategy for ticket hunting and ended up staying in Copenhagen for one and a half days. That is definitely not enough time to explore the whole city, but it was time well spent. I think I might return to Denmark someday, maybe in the summertime. There was another good reason for me to stop in Copenhagen - my son at that time was studying in Lund, Sweden; and Lund happens to be just across the Øresund strait, less than one hour by train. So it was a great opportunity to spend some time together!
Copenhagen welcomed me with rain (not unusual in mid-September) and after California's drought it was, actually, a nice change.
Considering the shortness of the stay, we chose a hotel near Strøget, a kilometer-long pedestrian street lined with shops and restaurants. This way, we did not have to use any kind of public transportation, as all the distances within the city center are perfectly walkable.
Tip: If you, like us, arrived at Copenhagen in the late evening when most of the eateries are closed for the day, you can find tasty and inexpensive food in kebab places. They stay open much longer and serve flatbread with gyros and salad.
The next day we started our walk along Strøget from the City Hall square. The red-bricked building itself is very interesting. It was opened in 1905, so for Denmark it is relatively new. The most prominent part of it (by all means) is the 105.6-meter-tall clock tower. If you opt for a good workout accompanied by nice views, you can climb some 300 steps to its top and enjoy the city view! The entrance fee is about $10. I did not make it to the top, taking pity on my feet after a long day of walking, and instead spent some time eyeing the dragons. Yes, the dragons! The ones that guard the City Hall from unwanted visitors:
So as you can see, the people in City Hall definitely do not want people to come with complaints of any kind...
While dragons might look scary, the tigers look appealing! We ran across a funny little shop full of interesting baubles. As often happens, we started to browse it just for fun and ended up purchasing a few small souvenirs that were a huge success back home. It is a chain that is present in many other European countries: "Flying Tiger Copenhagen".
On Strøget and the surrounding streets there are many places which offer a good breakfast: stop at any coffee shop and you will not be disappointed! I personally like rye bread very much, so I took advantage of the abundance of rye buns and breads available for breakfast sandwiches.
There are two kinds: customary for the US (bread/filling/bread) and traditional Scandinavian open sandwiches: Smørrebrøds. For those like me, who prefer less bread and more filling it is a perfect option. I enjoyed it immensely, so upon arriving back in the US, I bought a book filled with Smørrebrod recipes and they are now my breakfast specialty!
And of course, the traditional street food: Danish sausages cannot be missed (sorry, vegetarians!). You'll get lost in the abundance of small carts and kiosks offering an enormous diversity of just-off-the-grill sausages and various sauces for a very affordable price.
But if you have a sweet tooth, then do not miss Conditori La Glace!
First of all, it is a feast for the eyes starting from the display window, plus all the desserts are incredibly tasty. There is almost always a line outside, but believe me, it’s worth the wait! This bakery first opened its doors in 1870 and quickly became the Danish capital's landmark. It was run by six generations of the same family.
Their most famous cake is Sportskage – a series of heavenly light, airy layers of meringue with whipped cream, caramel and choux pastry balls. It is insanely tasty! Not very cheap, but since you paid for plane tickets anyway... And you can skip lunch for sure!
Relax in this cozy cafe and imagine Hans Christian Andersen sitting at the nearest table! Yes, he was a regular at this sweet place! However, his monument was placed not near the cafe, but near the City Hall:
I can easily imagine the great story teller walking down Strøget after eating a filling breakfast from Conditori la Glace back home to Nyhavn - New Harbor.
He lived there for a long time (more than 20 years), switching between several houses: numbers 20, 67 and 18. I personally feel that his tales were somewhat sad. I always wondered why, and after seeing the Nyhavn in the fall, I can imagine that in the winter it must be very cold and windy, with gray skies, rain and snow, so his mood might have been affected by the gloomy Danish winter weather...
We were lucky to be there in September, so despite the chilly wind, we were able to enjoy the walk and views.
Of course, we could not skip a Royal Danish Guard change show at Amalienborg Palace. Tourists start to gather on the square about half an hour before noon. At the same time, the royal squad starts marching from its barracks in Rosenborg Castle to Amalienborg palace, residence of Danish Queen Margrethe the Second. At noon the guards arrive and start to perform a long ceremony, which involves a few dozen soldiers and officers performing various moves and complicated patterns in order to relieve one guard from duty and put another one into the guard's shelter... To be honest, it’s a quite long and not very exciting ceremony, so unless you have never seen a guard change before, you can skip this entertainment.
Amalienborg is not the only palace in Copenhagen. This not-so-big city is home to 8 great palaces and castles that are open to the public.
This time we only had time to visit one, so we visited Rosenborg Castle.
The castle is situated not too far from the city center and is surrounded with Denmark's beautiful oldest royal garden. Get a ticket, leave your backpack (backpacks and large purses aren't allowed in the palace) in the cloak room, and feel like a royal visitor in the 400-year-old building that used to be a king's family summer palace on the then-outskirts of Copenhagen! All the rooms are very different in design: the Knights’ Hall where brass lions guard the coronation thrones; private quarters of royal family members, and so on. Most of the rooms are preserved in the same state, with the decorations the same as they were in real life. You can see nice tapestries, paintings, furniture, porcelain... One of the bedrooms made a weird impression on me: its ceiling is decorated with numerous cupids, which produce the strange scene of a multitude of babies trying to get through the wall... As far as I remember, it was a bedroom of one of the queens. And of course, do not miss the Danish Royal Collection museum in the basement.
The palace garden is free to visit and I can easily imagine spending an hour or two there on a warm, sunny day. This time it was chilly and rainy, which is not unusual for late September.
Any talk about Copenhagen would not be complete without mentioning Tivoli gardens.
Opened in August 1843, Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world, situated on 20 acres (82,717 square meters) of land right in the center of the city. Back in 1843 it was outside the city borders though!
By the way, did you know that the first theme park was also opened in Denmark? Another interesting fact is that in 1951, Walt Disney visited Tivoli Gardens, scribbling a ton of notes about everything: rides, food, entertainment; and that trip gave him the inspiration for creating and putting into life the idea of the "Greatest playground in America".
Unlike US amusement parks, the entrance ticket to Tivoli does not include the price of the rides, so you only pay for what you really use.
The cheapest, and maybe the most romantic way to see Tivoli is to enter it after 7 pm. The entrance ticket will cost less; the illumination will be on; in the darkness the park seems to be bigger than it is (it's bigger on the inside! - for "Doctor Who" fans), especially with the City Hall clock tower which can be seen from the alleys and looks like a part of the park decorations; and just before the park is closed, there is a special time for spectacular fireworks. I can only imagine how many proposals this place has seen under the velvety skies flowering with a bonanza of colors!
Lastly, a few words about the hop-on, hop-off bus. We tried it, as we thought it would save us time and prevent us from walking in the rain, but it turned out to be less convenient than it looked. First of all, we had to wait for the bus for more than half an hour, and then our idea to hide from the rain betrayed us in a different way. Because of the rain all the bus windows were foggy, so we weren’t able to see clearly what was outside. We ended up buying an umbrella and walking on foot.
When booking a hotel in Copenhagen, you might want to check whether reception is on-site. Sometimes hotels are situated in more than one building, so you might have to walk another 10-15 minutes to check in or out of your room. In cheaper places, bathrooms might be shared between several rooms. Some older buildings do not have elevators.