Copenhagen Travel Diary
Guest travel post from Laura Feigin who visited Copenhagen in August 2016
“So, why Copenhagen? “– everyone I’ve talked to this year when they ask where I’m planning to travel to this summer.
True, it’s not the most conventional European city to visit; it’s not London, Paris, or Rome, anyway, but that’s exactly its charm: it’s special because of what it’s lacking. It’s not bursting with busy city residents on their way to work, there aren’t restrictive local rules that make being a tourist difficult (you must stand to the left on a New York City escalator!), and, for my August 1-5 trip at least, the oppressive heat of more southern countries. Even the short drive from the airport (only 15-20 minutes to downtown!) is lacking compared to most cities.
First, a couple of basics about Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark:
Language: Danish, but everyone is basically fluent in English.
Currency: Danish krone (DKK), despite the fact that they are part of the EU. The conversion is about 7DKK per dollar.
Weather: Rainy and a bit all over the place in the summer. Prepare for temperature swings between sweatshirt and tee shirt weather within an hour!
Time Zone: Central European Zone (EST +6)
Fashion: Casual, artsy. Baggy sweaters, black tights, white sneaks, leggings.
Copenhagen has an off-beat, artsy vibe. For every mile a New Yorker can strut in under 7 minutes, a Københavenere might have meandered to the end of the block, that is, as long as there wasn’t an inviting coffee shop along the way. Everyone is happy to share their time to offer advice or directions.
The hotel we stayed in embodied the Danish mentality perfectly. It was called Central Hotel and Café, a small one-room hotel located in the meatpacking district. It was surrounded by tons of great restaurants, shops, and nightlight in that area, and we had the added bonus of getting a more local perspective.
The funky nature of the hotel only capitalized on the hospitable Danish culture: the girl who worked in the shop was always available to offer personal recommendations for meals or nightlife, and included in the hotel fee was breakfast from a wonderful restaurant, Granola, just down the street, and an iPhone with free 3G so we could use Google Maps to get around. It was just far enough from the highly trafficked tourist areas that we could first-hand experience of local life, but close enough that with only a 30-minute walk we could get to Nyhaven, the quintessential canal waterfront district.
Day 1: Most people sign up for guided tours when they get to new cities, but we decided to try something different. We rented a boat (from a company called naturally). They gave us a labeled map and full control as we sailed up and down the canal. We were able to get an interesting vantage point of some of the most famous sights in Copenhagen without waiting in line:
The Danes are a refreshingly relaxed, friendly people, so of course there was no training whatsoever before we had to take the boat out. It was an absolute blast, not in the least because it was nearly impossible to steer and I almost crashed it into very other boat and tunnel on the canal. No one seemed to mind.
Some of the most famous parts of Copenhagen are right along this canal, so we were able to see them from a unique vantage point, and skip the line to most of them. The Little Mermaid Statue, for example, has drown huge crowds since 1913. It is beautiful, but might not be worth fighting through the crowds to see. From the boat, however, she lived up to our expectations. The bridges across the canal are also more than just function: they are themselves wonderful pieces of art. My favorite bridge was a pedestrian bridge called Cirkelbroden, aka The Circle Bridge. Just opened last August 2015, Cirkelbroden’s shape represents the masts of a ship, a nod to Copenhagen’s long shipping history.
Day 2: Having seen most of the important sights from the boat, we spent the next day walking from our hotel to Nyhaven via the Strøget, one of Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping streets. There are many famous brands ranging from Prada and Louis Vuitton to H&M and LEGO. We were originally going to take bikes (there is an impressive biking culture in Copenhagen), but it was threatening to rain, so we figured that walking would give us the option of taking a cab back if it did rain. There tons of places available to rent bikes, but it seems like a first time visitor would be best advised to take a guided tour the first time to get a handle of the rules of the road.
Day 3: We dedicated a whole day to visiting Helsigør, the Danish town that is home to Kronborg, the castle that inspired the one from Shakespare’s Hamlet. It was an easy 45-minute train ride from Copenhagen, and as soon as we got off the train, we could see the castle right ahead. The grounds themselves are beautiful and worth exploring, with the option to purchase a ticket to go inside.
The whole castle was filled with interesting facts about the life of Danish royalty dating back to the 1420s. On its own, it’s an impressive exhibit, but while we were there, they were celebrating the 400th anniversary since Shakespeare’s death. They had actors going around the castle performing “Live Hamlet” – a show series where the actors go from room to room performing the play in the different settings that inspired it.
We were able to see the castle in a unique way than your average European castle: instead of following an organized path that takes visitors from exhibit to exhibit, we left and returned to rooms over and over again, following the sequence of the play, and became very familiar with the layout of the castle. Despite only having been there for a few hours, the repetition of walking those paths helped create a permanent memory.
After the castle, we came back into the town. It is full of cute, local shops and restaurants that serve fresh, authentic Danish food, such as smørrebrød (open faced sandwiches) or fresh fish dishes. From there, Sweden is only a 20-minute ferry ride. It’s very easy to go back towards the train station and sail across the Øresund Straight to Helsingborg, Sweden. It is a picturesque little town with tons of shopping and restaurants within walking distance from the ferry. When we were there, we stopped at a small pastry shop with outdoor seating, enjoying the sun and listening to a musician playing out in the plaza. Thanks to Scandinavia’s northern latitude, it was still light out by the time we came back and were ready to head out for dinner.
So, why Copenhagen?
You tell me.
You can find more of Laura’s writing here.
Addresses and information:
Central Hotel and Café
Phone: +45 33 21 00 95
Room Rate: 1.800 DKR (~$270/night)
Phone: +45 5383 7878
375DKK (~$56) for one hour, 700DKK (~105) for two, 900DKK (~$135) for three, and 300DKK (~$45) for each hour thereafter
Phone: +45 3313 4411
Tickets: Adult 90DKK (~$14), Student 80DKK (~$12), Child 45DKK (~$6.75)