By Jim Ferri
Determined to pay a quick visit to Copenhagen after an absence of several decades, I decided to squeeze it in between a trip to Oslo and a long weekend in Brussels where I was headed to join my wife.
Arriving by train after an eight-hour trip from the Norwegian capital – quite comfortable despite its duration – I found Copenhagen’s Central Station exactly as I remembered it decades earlier, a meld of Old World architecture and Danish efficiency.
I had only two days to spend in the city so to make the best use of my time I set straight off for my hotel, about a 15-minute walk.
The Cabinn Hotel
I had made a reservation at the Cabinn Hotel, a Danish chain in five cities around Denmark, because at 745 DK (about $136) per night it was a great value compared to other hotels in Copenhagen and Scandinavia. It was also well placed in the central city (there are four in the Danish capital) and had high ratings on TripAdvisor. A big Continental breakfast added another $17 to the daily bill.
It turned out to be very basic but quite clean, modern, comfortable and safe, with two small basic beds, a small bathroom with shower, excellent Wi-Fi and a television I couldn’t get to work. All in all, it lived up to its motto “all you need to sleep.”
I didn’t need to sleep then, however, so I just dropped my bag in my room and walked back towards the station, and wandered around the central city for a while along streets where bicyclists greatly outnumbered pedestrians.
The Black Diamond and Royal Library
The next morning I boarded a red hop-on / hop-off bus to begin a quick tour of the city, getting off after just a few minutes at the Black Diamond and the Royal Library, surprised that no one else had gotten off since it’s such a spectacular bit of architecture.
The Black Diamond, so named for its irregular shape and black granite exterior, is the first of a series of cultural buildings slated for construction along the city’s waterfront. It’s beautifully wedded to the old Royal Library, which you can visit upstairs, and also contains a concert hall, cafeteria and some offices. When I walked out onto the waterside plaza in the rear I was surprised to find reclining chairs where people were sitting having their lunch and sunning themselves.
The World’s Longest Pedestrian Street
I left the Black Diamond and set off walking towards Strøget, the longest pedestrian street in the world. Along the way, as I passed behind Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish Parliament, I viewed the waterways and copper-clad steeples that peppered the skyline. It made me think that Copenhagen’s architectural style was likely influenced as much by Amsterdam to the south as it was by its Scandinavian neighbors to the north. Or perhaps it was vice versa.
In a few minutes I was on stylish Strøget. I window-shopped for a little while and then visited the Royal Copenhagen store, its flagship. When I exited 10 minutes later I was met by a dozen or so Danish officials and their police escorts chaperoning the First Lady of Vietnam on a shopping trip. I watched as they left in their royal limousines, then hopped aboard the next red bus to Nyhavn.
Lined with colorful, 18th-century gabled townhouses along a harbor-side promenade filled with sailing vessels, Nyhavn attracts plenty of visitors. (These included, some years back, Hans Christian Andersen who lived in several houses along the waterway.) It’s one of the most picturesque streets in Scandinavia and it’s a good place to have lunch, dinner or an afternoon beer in one of its many cafés or restaurants.
While I was walking along through the crowd in the afternoon sunshine we were all caught in an unexpected torrential downpour. With a few others I took refuge in a covered alleyway that led into Fyrtojet (The Tinder Box), a restaurant named after the fairytale of the same name by Andersen and written in the same decade as the building was built.
When the storm abated I continued up the street to the corner of Lille Strandstraede where I found a small ice-cream shop four steps down from the street in the basement of a little corner building. What attracted me was the sight of a man in the window making ice cream cones on a small waffle-like griddle. Inside on the other side of the shop a young Danish woman was doing a brisk business filling them for waiting customers.
Cone in hand I set off for Amalienborg Palace, home of the Royal Family and like so many places around the city, only a short walk away.
The palace is really four identical rococo buildings, quite stately and looking as palatial as any regal residence should. I had missed the formal changing of the guard at noon, which turned out to be a blessing since I now had nearly the entire broad cobbled square to myself.
The lack of a crowd also provided an unexpected benefit in that I was able to have a conversation with one of the guards on duty as he stood at his post. I was surprised to learn that he only been in the army six months, after signing up for a total of eight months, and he could extend his tour if he desired.
After our conversation I took the bus out to see the Little Mermaid, which looked even better than I remembered. While watching the canal-tour cruise boats slide in one right after the other with precision timing, I was amazed to see one German family have their small son climb across the rocks to get next to the Mermaid so they could take a photo of him. Perhaps the look on my face unexpectedly telegraphed my feelings, for the father turned and told me they weren’t crazy, “this is something we do all the time when we travel.”
The next morning I left my hotel and went back to the railway station to leave my luggage for my evening departure since I was going to nearby Tivoli Gardens, one of the city’s most famous attractions that’s been entertaining young and old since 1843. Luggage storage in the basement of the station costs 55 kroner (about $10) for a small suitcase, 65 for a large.
I enjoyed Tivoli during my visit years ago but now some of it seemed more carnival-ish, which I soon realized was due to me visiting in the morning rather than in the evening when myriad lights transform the place into an enchanting wonderland.
I was in the park about two hours when I again bumped into the First Lady of Vietnam, who this time was traveling in a much slower motorcade, a little Tivoli trolley moving along at walking speed with a phalanx of police officers around her.
Soon afterwards I decided to stop for lunch and after looking at the menus posted at several restaurants, as well as the number of Danes, not tourists, dining inside, I finally settled on a comfortable little place under the trees. I ordered a dark Carlsberg beer and then mistakenly ordered a mini-smorgasbord of a half-dozen small dishes, all of which I ate with the exception of the herring, which I don’t like. It all was very good but left me stuffed.
With another four hours to while away before my departure to Brussels, I decided to walk over to Rosenberg Castle, the former summer palace. The beautiful castle, whose design was influenced by the Renaissance architecture of the Netherlands, is home to the Royal Treasury which includes both regalia and jewels.
Most Danes, however, are attracted to Rosenberg by the attractive parkland about it, which includes a beautiful well-maintained moat around the castle, broad lawns and a lovely rose garden. There, amid the garden sculptures, people were sunning themselves among the perfectly squared and trimmed hedges, just reading a book or viewing the majestic scene about them. It was a beautiful panorama you expect to only see on the Hollywood screen.
With settings like this throughout Copenhagen it’s little wonder that Denmark continues to be such a happy place. It has, in fact, finished at the top of the United Nations World Happiness Report two years in a row.
If you go:
DK-1165 Copenhagen K
Tel: +45 3325 7400
Tel: (888) 438-RAIL (7245)
1568 1568 København V
Tel: (+45) 33 46 16 16