I looked up at the sign again. I was on the right platform – at least I hoped I was. Boarding the wrong bus or train is part and parcel of travelling but I haven’t yet been faced with a train that could take me to the wrong country. This is the problem confronting travellers arriving at Københavns Luvthavn – an airport serving both the Danish capital and the third largest city in Sweden, Malmo. I looked up at the sign one more time and stepped onto the train – my weekend in Copenhagen was about to begin!
About 15 minutes later I was walking out of the city’s central station and into a cold November drizzle. I am not a fan of rain at the best times and definitely not while I am travelling. I made my way to what was to be my home for the next two and a half days, the newly opened Urban House in the heart of edgy Vesterbro. Sitting somewhere in between a hostel and a hotel, it’s already gaining an impressive reputation – I found out about it from a travel magazine in the UK.
I walked in through the front door into a spacious chill-out/bar/restaurant/check-in area and was glad to drop my bag into one of the lockers (check-in was not until 4pm). I took a little self-guided tour around the place – as well as all the usual amenities for travellers, it boasted a pool room, library, a cinema room and even a tattoo parlour! It definitely made a change from the samey hostels that tend to blend in to one another after a while.
After my mini-tour, I headed back out into the Copenhagen rain and made my way to the tourist information centre. I didn’t have much planned for the rest of the day except for meeting my Danish friend in the evening so I had some time to kill. After learning that the Carlsberg beer brewery was only just down the road, I decided to catch the free shuttle bus and learn about one of Denmark’s most famous exports. It had absolutely nothing to do with free tastings that were included in the price of a ticket!
We arrived at the visitor information centre and were given maps for our self-guided tour but I decided that a guided tour would give me a better idea of the brewery’s history. I had some time before the tour started so promptly ordered a beer and a sandwich so I wouldn’t have to drink on an empty stomach. Denmark’s idea of a sandwich is VERY different to the UK’s – I was expecting a couple of slices of toast bread but instead got this:
Over the next hour and a half, I learnt all about Carlsberg, its founder JC Jacobsen, his son Carl who the beer is named after, the brewing process and the beautiful Jutland horses which the brewery used to haul wagons and now celebrates in their own stables on site. Founded in 1847, the company went through constant improvements due to the inquisitive nature of JC and his son and today the Carlsberg Group owns almost 500 brands of beer and cider which are sold across 150 markets around the world. I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone remotely interested in beer or history of Copenhagen. I finished my visit with another beer and a walk to see the famous Elephant Gate before catching the bus back to the hostel.
I went up to my room (instead of checking in, you get a code sent to your phone once you pay for the room and you just punch it on a panel next to the door) and met some fellow travellers, which included a couple of Taiwanese girls and a Dutch guy in town for the Danish Open Memory Championship. I am never failed to be amazed by the people I meet while travelling!
After a refreshing shower, I headed to the bar to meet my friend. We first met on a boat trip around the beautiful Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and I only recently found out she lived in Copenhagen. After catching up over a few cocktails, we strolled down Strøget, a pedestrian shopping street running through the heart of the city. We looked at festive shop window displays and listened to buskers before finding sitting down for some much-needed dinner. Afterwards we just made it in time to grab some hot chocolate from a street stand. We finished the night with a house party in the heart of Copenhagen’s student quarter before I made my way back to the hostel (despite ending up on the wrong platform and waiting an extra half an hour in the freezing cold after missing a train).
Despite the late night, I slept well and after grabbing a fantastic breakfast from the hostel – piping hot bread, cold meats, cheese, yoghurt and coffee! – I headed to reception. I wanted to join a walking tour and Sandemans (http://www.newcopenhagentours.com/) just happened to be doing pick ups from the hostel. At first I seemed to be the only one waiting but then I looked up to see a girl waiting nearby. After confirming that we were both here for the tour, we followed the Sandemans guide who grabbed us and headed for the tour meeting point and chatted. She was from Devon in England (which, apparently, most people from outside the UK haven’t heard of!) and was on an epic 6 week tour around Europe.
After gathering in Rädhuspladsen (City Hall Square), we met our guide and introduced ourselves to each other (my compatriot’s name was Abii!). We learned about the history of the city and Denmark as we made our way through the cobbled streets, via Carlsberg founder JC Jacobsen’s house and the statue of Absalon, a key political and church figure in 12th century Denmark. We stopped to look at Christiansborg Slot, a royal palace that is currently the seat of Danish Parliament and strolled past the impressive tower of the former Church of St. Nicholas which now acts as an art centre (Nikolaj Kunsthal).
We continued past the beautiful Christmas decorations of the Magasin du Nord department store and the classy façade of Hotel D’Angleterre and cut around the Kongens Nytorv, a public square which was unfortunately closed for refurbishment. This is where we managed to lose the rest of the group who headed somewhere for a coffee break (we later found out they were in a cafe just across the street but we just couldn’t see them among the crowds of shoppers and tourists). Not to be deterred, Abii and I continued on our own walking tour.
We walked past the French Embassy and stopped to look at hundreds of people paying their respects to the victims of the Paris atrocities which happened just the night before. We looked at the rows of flowers and read messages from the Danish public and, for a moment, everything else just seemed insignificant in comparison. Later the following day I attended the memorial service held in the same spot, attended by the Prime Minister, French Ambassador and special guests and featured a concert to commemorate the dead. Thousands of people came together, lit candles and sang in defiance of the hatred that’s showed its ugly face again. It was beautiful and reassuring to be a human being at that moment.
Back at walking tour, we crossed the road and headed along Nyhavn, the famous waterfront area with its brightly coloured houses and wooden boats lining both sides of the canal stretching all the way to the harbour. We walked past cafes, restaurants and former homes of famous Danish artists – Hans Christian Andersen lived in no less than three different houses in Nyhavn! We walked to the harbour to have a look at Skuespilhuset (Royal Danish Theatre building) and the “Kissing Bridge” – a pedestrian and cyclist bridge that’s taken a long time to complete because the engineers made in error which meant the two ends wouldn’t meet properly!
We then bumped into a few other people from the walking tour who also got themselves lost, and we decided to go on the search for The Little Mermaid statue together. We stopped off to grab some coffee and Rugbrødsbolle (which I can only describe as a pumpkin seed covered rye bread cheese sandwich thing – I apologise to any Danish people who take offense to that!).
Our little international group (2 Brits, 2 South Koreans and a Moroccan) continued in direction of the Mermaid and soon arrived at Kastellet, an impressive star-shaped citadel which was built in the 17th century to guard the entrance to Copenhagen’s port. It is now a public park and we walked around the grounds for a while before stopping to look at the Gefion Fountain, depicting a Norse goddess plowing the sea with four oxen.
We walked down the Langelinie promenade, enjoying the sunshine, and soon joined throngs of tourists trying to get a shot of one of Copenhagen’s most famous attractions. The Little Mermaid was donated by, yep you guessed it – JC Jacobsen over a 100 years ago and was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. We tried not to end up in the harbour as we balanced precariously on the slippery rocks to take photos of the bronze statue.
We made our way to the center via the Frederiksstaden district and stopped at Amalienborg, which serves as the Royal Family’s winter home. We walked around the huge courtyard and checked out the four palaces and the statue to King Frederick V who found Amalienborg before going inside the imposing Marmokirken (Marble Church) and marvelling at the colourful stained glass windows and the beautiful dome. We spent a few minutes enjoying the silence of the church before walking back to the hostel for a break and I watched Abii get a tattoo at the in-house parlour. I was tempted to take the plunge myself but decided to leave it for another time.
We headed back to central area and browsed the German Christmas Market, enjoying a Currywurst and some glühwein (mulled wine) while browsing the stalls selling everything from knitwear to Christmas decorations. Our next stop was the famed Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park which gets a magnificent Christmas makeover every year. This was the reason why I wanted to come to Copenhagen on this specific weekend – catching the Tivoli Christmas markets is a definite highlight of any visit to the city.
We got our tickets and walked into the huge park. Christmas decorations and lights adorned almost every bush and tree as countless stalls sold traditional Danish staples like glögg (hot spiced wine) and the decidedly less Danish favourites like churros. We wandered through the park, checking out the beautiful lights and amusement rides while sipping hot apple cider from Christmas mugs handed out by the stalls. We passed a Japanese pagoda, a sultan’s palace and even a pirate ship. There is plenty to do and I would definitely recommend visiting in the dark when the lights make everything around look magical. We spent a couple of hours exploring before returning to the hostel and having a cocktail to finish off the day in style.
Next day, after breakfast, we decided to take a stroll to Christiania, a commune of around 850 people that was founded in 1971, allegedly as a protest against the Danish Government, and is still going strong today. While the infamous Pusher Street is more of a tourist attraction today, it is still possible to buy various kinds of cannabis from the shifty-looking characters dotted around the area. Cameras are still not allowed but the surrounding area is a photographer’s paradise with murals and graffiti covering many of the walls. In the summer the area is buzzing with people drinking in beer gardens, people watching in cafes and dancing in some of Copenhagen’s most popular music venues.
We walked around for a while before heading back to the central area past the helix spired Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Saviour’s Church) and stopping off at the Lagkagehuset bakery for a coffee and a rye bread based pastry with chocolate chunks (tasty and very different to anything in the UK). We walked through busy streets and sleepy alleyways, past canals and churches, through Christiansborg Slot and made our way to Rosenborg Slot, a renaissance castle built in the 17th century, which houses the crown jewels and coronation thrones as well as many other royal art treasures. We walked around the grounds before heading back to the hostel where I said goodbye to Abii who was heading off to Norway.
I walked to the Nationalmuseet (National Museum) where I learned about Danish history, Viking treasures and explored the Prehistory Collection which houses some of the oldest finds including well-preserved bodies such as the Huldremose Woman who is believed to have lived during the period around 160 BC and 340 AD. The museum is free and gives a great insight into the history of the country and its role on an international stories. Stories of Denmark 1660-2000 exhibition gave an interesting overview of the country’s evolution over the last five centuries.
I caught a train to Nørreport station and met my Danish friend. I wanted to check out the Torvehallerne KBH food market and we spent a while exploring the twin halls of this foodie gem, which contained everything from fresh fish to cheese to organic coffee. I have finally sampled my first smørrebrød, a traditional Danish open sandwich usually consisting of buttered rye bread and a choice of a multitude of toppings. I went with the roast beef one which was topped with toasted onions and remoulade – it was absolutely delicious. We grabbed some coffee and checked out the rest of the stalls before grabbing some flowers and heading to the memorial service.
After the solemn proceedings, we walked and talked about life before ending up at the German Christmas market where we tried one of Denmark’s most traditional Christmas dishes – Risengrød or rice porridge, topped with butter and cinnamon sugar. It was warm, sweet and we immediately felt very festive! This was a fitting way to end my first trip to Denmark – experiencing Copenhagen at its most festive was something that I definitely will remember for a long time.
After getting back to the hostel, I congratulated the Dutch guy on recording no less than 9 Dutch national records and thus having the best memory in The Netherlands. I had to be up at 4:30 to catch my flight back to London and I needed to be awake enough next morning not to end up taking the train all the way to Sweden. That trip would have to wait for another time.