Guide to Copenhagen
Over the past decade Copenhagen has become a widely popular destination for tourists from all over the globe. Particularly during the summer period, where hundreds of cruise ships arrive at the ever more expanding Copenhagen-Malmoe Harbour, you see the air-conditioned buses loaded with tourists all over town.
And Copenhagen has lots to offer. The most obvious “must-sees” are: The Little Mermaid, widely popular among Japanese and American tourists, because of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale. Tivoli, one of the oldest amusement parks of its kind in the world. Danish Design Center, located just across the street from Tivoli, attracts thousands of tourists, who wants to get a closer look at what all the fuss about Danish design really is.
But it goes wider than that. There are quite a few museums that are worth taking a closer look at: Louisiana, located in Humlebæk, about 30 minutes north of Copenhagen. Here you will find an extensive collection of modern art with various very exciting theme exhibitions, oftentimes attracting thousands of guests within a short period of time. So check the website for details before you take the ride. Arken – Museum of Modern Art is located in Ishøj 30 minutes south of Copenhagen. Also here you will find many interesting names from the international scene of modern art, along with themed exhibitions. But as the museum is somewhat younger than Louisiana, their own collection is not yet as extensive. But still well worth the ride.
In the center of Copenhagen popular attractions include Our Savior’s Church with its outside spiral staircase going all the way up to a golden globe. NOT for the ones easily scared of heights! Amalienborg – The Royal Castle. Don’t miss the guards change of shift every day at noon! The Marble Church located near The Royal Castle is also a beautiful place, quite small compared to many churches I have visited. In the same area you will find The Russian Church, which is also a wonderful place to just sit for a short while to reflect.
Most of the architecture and infrastructure of central Copenhagen can best be viewed from sea. So an absolute mandatory point on your itinerary will be a Harbour Cruise. It takes one hour and will bring you through the most important spots of historical Copenhagen. Guides do the tour in many languages, but ask for further details when you buy the ticket.
Denmark has not missed out on the financial crisis, and certainly there has been better times. But even so, during the past couple of years, quite a few of the biggest international brands have opened up flagship stores in the pedestrian streets. Thus you will find Gucci, Versace, Burberry, Luis Vuitton, Abercrombie & Fitch, Tommy Hilfiger and many, many more. But as you will also find these stores in many other cities in Europe, I would like to point out the stores with a more Scandinavian touch. Royal Copenhagen and Illum’s Bolighus, located in the middle of the pedestrian area are the best places to visit. Royal Copenhagen even has a nice café where you can try some local specialty called “Smushi” – a combination of Danish “Smørrebrød” (open sandwich) and sushi, because of the small bites. All served on royal porcelain. The café has a nice and oddly trendy atmosphere. Sadly the serving staff has been somewhat inattentive the past few times we have been there, but in spite of that, it’s worth a visit. Other places good for shopping Danish/Scandinavian-style would be Illum’s and Magasin. Both well-assorted department stores dating back more than a century. Parallel to the main pedestrian street “Strøget” you find “Kompagnistrædet” with many nice cafés, antique-shops and shops with art and/or handcraft. The locals rather go for a walk in this street, instead of “Strøget” which is always overcrowded.
Being Dane, I always saw my own people as rather easy-going, laid back and friendly. That is, until I actually tried living abroad. All of a sudden I saw a different side, because I now had the possibility to compare. Danes are friendly, yes, but we are reserved. You do not get to know the “real Danes” until you have a somewhat thorough understanding of our culture and in particular our humor. We tend to use humor in many situations, and as it can be rather sarcastic and hard, many foreigners struggle to meet common ground with us. Danes like to hear that we are a cozy and friendly nation, but in reality we are reserved. I guess it derives from our past. It is not all that common to eat out as much as you do in other countries. The price level is simply too much “out of sync” with our wallets. We mostly stay in our homes. So instead we spend fortunes building, re-furnishing and decorating them. Eating out, meeting friends and foreigners in restaurants, bars and cafés is not a high priority. At least not once you get settled. The younger generation, living in the city is an exception. But once they get settled and start a family, they withdraw to their nests as well. We are a nation of nest-builders. We take care of our immediate family and friends. In our daily life there is usually not room for much more. Hence, some foreigners that find us friendly to start with, do find us rather rude and reserved at closer encounters.
So when thinking about places to eat out in Copenhagen, you may wonder why it is even possible for restaurant owners to maintain their business. Well, there is a local market for high priced restaurants in Copenhagen. Business people like to invite guests out to eat in one of the many world-class restaurants Copenhagen takes pride of. Italian Era-Ora or Nordic NOMA, just to mention two of the hottest ones. But you won’t find many locals here. Instead I recommend some of the hundreds of Cafés that are spread out all over town. Our favourite one would be Café Alma, located in the area of Islands Brygge, an old working class neighborhood, now extremely attractive for families with children, and for people working within “creative professions”. The area is located just a 10 minute walk from the city center. Café Alma is a fairly priced café/restaurant where you eat and drink well, without getting ripped off. This type of café is a popular “concept” in town. Many of these even have their own specialties. In Café Alma they tend to have a slightly French touch, but I usually just go straight for the house burger, which you can get with either beef or chicken meat.
One thing that many people notice when arriving in Copenhagen is the number of bicycles. The entire city is filled with cycle paths, so you can go almost anywhere without constantly having to be aware of cars and pedestrians. In Copenhagen you can rent bicycles on an hourly or daily basis, and thus cover a much greater area if you are visiting on limited time. However, a certain level of caution at all times IS advised as you will have to cross streets, intersections etc. The cycle path system in Copenhagen is apparently world class standard, second to none. Many people living in central Copenhagen have chosen not to have a car, and do all transportation per bicycle. I am mentioning this because many tourists are not used to people on bicycles coming at high speed through the cycle paths, that are always running parallel to streets and sidewalks. So pay attention! Also if you are just walking around!
In general I can always recommend a visit to Copenhagen. Having lived here almost my entire life I may not appreciate all the things that foreigners fall in love with. But I do see that it has a certain charm. The canals and harbor front will without doubt take your breath away. If you go to the opera or the National Theater you are in for some world class cultural experiences. And if you want to use Copenhagen as a hub for an entire Scandinavian adventure it has the perfect location, with the award winning Copenhagen Airport located just a few kilometers outside the city center, offering many daily flights to a number of Scandinavian cities. Everything is conveniently close. There is a nice and cozy atmosphere, both during summer (go to Nyhavn or any outside café/restaurant) and during winter, where you cannot miss the Christmas Market in Tivoli.
Velkommen til København!