Copenhagen, Denmark: Magical city by the water
We arrived in Denmark from Norway on a quick flight that got us there early enough to begin exploring, so we followed the water beside our hotel figuring it would lead us somewhere, and it did! Right into Nyhavn harbor!
This is the quintessential Danish scene and as soon as you see the 17th century waterfront along the canal you think, "Yep! We're in Denmark!" It runs from Kongens Nytorv to the harbor to the south of the Royal Playhouse and is lined with cafes, restaurants, and brightly colored townhouses (the oldest dates from 1681) so we selected a table on the sidewalk and sat down to experience our first Danish lunch. It was the beginning of a week-long love affair with Danish food, we absolutely loved all of it!
From the smørbrød (traditional open faced sandwiches on rye bread) topped with pickled herring, roast beef, and other deliciousness, to the incredible fish dinner we had at Kødbyens Fiskebar, we became big fans of the food in Copenhagen.
Our friend, Rich, recommended we go to Kødbyens Fiskebar for dinner and wow, are we glad we did. Don't the let the unassuming location in an industrial area, or the cracked tile, cement walls and overall rundown warehouse decor fool you, this place is next level. The food was gorgeous to look at, the service was impeccable, and our meals were beyond delicious. Definitely a must-do in Copenhagen.
The weather was finally sunny and warm, so we were grateful for all the outdoor walking and sites we planned to see. But first we decided to take a boat tour to get a lay of the land (or the water) and it was a great way to start our time in Copenhagen. It allowed us to see many sites and figure out the city while going through the canals, which made it a lot easier for us to decide what we wanted to do during a time in this ancient water-side city.
After the cruise we decided to start at Christianborg Palace, which is the only building in the world to house all three branches of a country's government (executive, legislative, and judicial, in case you forgot). It's a beautiful cluster of buildings protected by guards that remind you that there is official business taking place there.
After the palace it was time to walk to the castle. Rosenborg Castle, originally built as a summer house for the royal family in 1606, is located in a park that is beautiful to stroll and take a break from the city streets.
It is also surrounded by the botanical garden and a moat, but it was only used twice as a royal residence, once when Christianborg Palace burned down in 1794, and again when the British attacked Copenhagen in 1801.
You can visit inside the castle, but we decided we'd skip this one because, we were just about castled out at that point in our travels.
One place we discovered on our canal cruise was the Kayak Bar, and we decided it would be the perfect place to take a break at the end of our day. Why's it called the Kayak Bar? Because you can rent kayaks right there on the dock of the bar, if you want. It was not exactly warm enough to kayak when we were there, so we took a pass (yes, we were actually wearing down jackets in July!).
The bar is located right beside the canal, and we sat there watching the boats and kayakers float by for a while, which is how we realized that there were lots of small GoBoats on the water and they seemed like fun. What is a GoBoat you ask? Well, you can rent a small boat and pilot it yourself on a cruise through the canals. You carry on a picnic and some wine and just enjoy a scenic, leisurely float through the city. We decided we had to do it!
The next night we found ourselves packing a picnic dinner and some wine to cruise around the canals of Copenhagen on our own for a few hours. It was awesome and we highly recommend it, the boat is easy to navigate and they give you a map to follow so you know exactly where to go.
Well, almost...except when you make a wrong turn and end up going around one of the loops twice! Oops, but we loved the extended journey and still made it back on time!
Of course, there is food everywhere in this incredible city, from sweets (of course we had to have Danish while we were there), to street food, to traditional smørbrød, so this was definitely a week of eating well!
If you like seafood, you are in the right place. We especially enjoyed the Spandauer, which is Danish pastry with custard or jam. Don't leave Copenhagen without trying one (or two or three)!
There were also a few things we knew we had to do because, well, they are things you do when you're in Copenhagen! First, the Little Mermaid statue. It's amazing how many people go to see this bronze statue by Edvard Eriksen, but it is a must-do in Copenhagen - thankfully it takes just a few minutes, and you can then walk to the Kastellet citadel park located right behind it, which is way more interesting and a beautiful place to stroll. There is even a windmill in the park!
In any case, we saw the mermaid that is based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale and commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobsen the son of the founder for Carlsberg beer. Apparently, Carl was so taken with the ballet based on the fairy tale, he wanted to gift the city a statue to commemorate the story of a mermaid becoming human. Our thoughts: see it but don't expect much.
Next up: Freetown Christiania, the former abandoned military base that, in 1971, was taken over by a group of hippies who decided to squat there and call it home. Today about 900 people live there in a community that has its own rules and regulations completely independent of the Danish government. It is an unusual place, filled with street art, eclectic homes in need of some upkeep, and the smell of cannabis wafting through the air in various places. We would skip this entirely, it was actually really run down and not interesting at all. In fact, if we hadn't been walking back from Copenhill and crossing through it on the way, we probably wouldn't have visited it at all. Which brings us to Copenhill.
When we learned that there was a powerwaste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen that also had a ski hill on top of it, we knew we had to go! You can actually see this facility (called Copenhill because, obviously, the roof forms a hill) from the city, it's slanting roof providing the downhill slope for skiers and snowboarders, but we didn't know what to expect.
When we got there, we climbed stairs all the way to the top and discovered that the hill is actually covered in an artificial surface that allows you to ski down in any weather - the day we were there we saw two people skiing down. Very cool idea, but in reality, not terribly exciting. We decided not to ski (you can rent equipment). Still, props to the people who had such a great idea (even if it does smell a little like a garbage dump on the climb up).
Finally, Tivoli Gardens! But first, a photo with Copenhagen's favorite guy, Hans Christen Andersen. A statue of this beloved writer is very near the park entrance.
This amusement park right in the city is beautiful! Even for people who don't like to partake in the rides, the gardens and amusements are so pretty, it's worth the visit. When you're walking around it's amazing to think that the park opened in August of 1843 and is the third-oldest operating amusement park in the world.
When we were there, we had lunch in the food market, including some of the best tacos ever. And, Joe was ruined forever by a soft vanilla ice cream cone rolled in nuts, now it's all he wants wherever we go! Truly, the food in Copenhagen is just out of this world!
One night on our way back to the hotel we were crossing to the Christianshavn side of the Knippelsbro bridge and looked up to see a few people sitting outside on the small deck wrapping around the bridge keeper's tower up in the sky.
We decided to find out what was going on, and that's how we found ourselves atop an old copper bridge tower with 360 degree views of the harbor enjoying a few glasses of wine at Kulturtårnet. There are only about eight stools and fewer tables ringing the outside of the small tower's railing, so you have to be lucky to get a spot. But since this is such a tucked away little place, we were one of the few people there that night and got to enjoy a drink and beautiful sunset over the city. They also serve dinner to a few (very few, probably eight) people inside the tower, but this requires advance reservations. This was a truly unique experience and one you would surely miss if you didn't look up. Don't miss it, especially for the stunning sunset!
So much of Copenhagen revolves around the water, so it's no surprise that you can eat and drink everywhere with amazing views. We really enjoyed the Broens Gadekøkken, or the Bridge Kitchen, a great outdoor food market in the Nørrebro neighborhood. There are plenty of food and drink stalls to satisfy any taste and it's filled with people enjoying themselves and the view of the water.
We also couldn't pass by the Tipsy Mermaid Bar without stopping in! The bar is actually on two wooden hull fishing boats from 1967 and 1942 - they are connected via a "plank" and it doesn't get any more authentic than this.
We sat on the deck and enjoyed drinks while watching boats float by. It was a great way to get a taste of old-fashioned ship life in Copenhagen and a sip of refreshment!
On our last night we were packing up for our departure when we heard pops and crackles outside our window. When we looked out we saw fireworks lighting up the sky in brilliant bursts. Tivoli Gardens was celebrating something and we got to watch from our room (we decided to believe it was the city's way of saying goodbye to us and sending us off in grand style).
At the end of our week in Copenhagen we both agreed, this is one of our favorite cities. We learned a new Danish word while visiting, Hygge. You can see a version of the definition below, but basically it conveys a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment. This word is a defining characteristic of Danish culture and it is a great way to express how we felt while visiting this magical city.
As the last country on our summer Nordic adventure, it was the perfect way to end our time "up North."
The weather may have had us bundled in down jackets one minute and peeling coats off while turning our face to the sun the next, but our experience here was perfect. Sad as we were to leave, it was time to depaert the Nordic countries and head to our next stop, the Netherlands!
Enjoy a taste of our travels with drink recipes on Instagram - Worldwide.Cocktails.