What can you get from an impulse 25-hour short break visit to a compact city crammed by a millennium of history and culture and a city that shines in its blend of old and new: cobbled squares, canals, 17th century houses and avant-garde and flashy architecture and design-conscious city elements? The city is astonishingly visitor-friendly with many areas perfect for a stroll, safe and easy to navigate, choices of public transports and the locals who are fluent in English. Hans Christian Andersen lived in the city for most of his life; offering a fairy-tale experience.
This is Copenhagen.
Copenhagen (Danish: København), the capital of Denmark, has repeatedly been recognized as one of the cities with the best quality of life and considered one of the world’s most environmentally friendly cities. The city is unfortunately also among the most expensive cities in Europe.
Hour 1. Easyjet plane has just landed in Kastrup, the international airport of Copenhagen (CPH), after 1 hour 45 minutes flight from Paris. The local time is 3.22pm and temperature is around 8 deg C. The airport is located on the island of Amager, 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) south of Copenhagen city centre. It is the largest airport in the Nordic countries, and one of the oldest international airports in Europe.
Denmark is a part of Schengen zone so flying from Paris I do not need to go through any immigration formality. I finished exchanging Euro with Danish Krone (the currency of Denmark) although it is possible to use Euro with any change in Krone in return (1 Euro is approximately 7.5 kroner). From the airport, I take a Regional Train to Central Station, the same train connecting Copenhagen with Sweden and many cities within the region. 12 minutes later I was already in Central Station, but I decided to move further to Norreport Station.
Hour 2-3. First stop is Rundetarn. This red-brick round tower was built in 1642 as an observatory for the astronomer Tycho Brahe (it is still functioning as an excellent stargazing platform). I haul myself to the top of the 34.8m high tower through the tower’s unique cobbled, spiral ramp to the open-air platform. From here, a magnificent view over the medieval heart of the city can be had. The tower is connected to Trinitatiskirke (Trinity Church).
My next stop is The Little Mermaid, one of HC Andersen’s famous characters. Back to the Norreport Station, I take S-tog train to Osterport, the closest station to the statue. For regional trains, S-tog and Metro a ticket must be bought and timestamped before boarding the trains. All public transport in Copenhagen operates on a zone system. The smallest ticket is the two-zone ticket that allows you to travel around Copenhagen in two zones for one hour. You can switch freely between all trains, Metro, and buses within this hour, as long as your last trip starts before the time is up.
A one trip ticket, a ten-trip klippekort, a day pass or a Copenhagen Card can be used to ride the trains.
S-tog is the backbone of the city’s public transit system, and is very similar to the Parisian RER system. The distinct red trains are clean, modern, and equipped with free WiFi, and special wagon for bicycle.
Back to the Little Mermaid, I go out of the station and direct my way to Kastellet. Kastellet is one of the best preserved fortifications in Northern Europe. It is constructed in the form of a pentagram with bastions at its corners. A number of buildings are located within the grounds of Kastellet, including a church, as well as a windmill. The area houses various military activities but it mainly serves as a public park and a historic site. On the ramparts are some excellence views to the Little Mermaid and the harbor.
“The Little Mermaid” (Danish: Den lille havfrue) is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen published in April 1837 in Copenhagen by C. A. Reitzel. It is a story about a young mermaid who surrenders her life in the sea and her identity as a mermaid to gain a human soul and the love of a human prince. The first statue of the Little Mermaid was unveiled in 1913. It was sculpted by Edward Eriksen with his wife, Eline Eriksen, acting as model.
The statue sits on a rock in the harbor of the capital of Denmark. The small and unimposing statue is now a Copenhagen icon and a major tourist attraction. The Little Mermaid statue is only 1.25 meters high and weighs around 175 kg. The relatively small size of the statue typically surprises tourists visiting for the first time (though not as surprising as Maneken Pis in Brussel). This statue has been damaged and defaced many times since the mid-1960s for various reasons, but has each time been restored.
Hour 4. I decided to check-in to hotel after finished with visiting The Little Mermaid. The hotel is located just 3-5 minutes from Central Station on Istedgade, part of Vesterbro area. Strolling Vesterbrogade dotted with many restaurants of any cuisine origin and fashion stores, I take detour before reaching the hotel. Istedgade was used to be the red light district, and while it still has some of the history proofs (i.e. sex shops), it has blossomed up during the last 10 years with numerous independent small fashion stores dotted along the length of street.
After check-in, taking a bath and praying, I decided to take a short night walking to Hard Rock Café and Tivoli.
Hour 5-6. Hard Rock Café (HRC) and Tivoli can’t be more strategic. Slap-bang in the heart of city center they are accessible by a mere 3 minutes walk from Central Station. HRC is my must stop for collecting its shot glass and HRC Copenhagen marks my 17th shot glass collection. Tivoli (the second oldest amusement park in the world) is Denmark’s number 1 tourist destination that offers a blend of fun park, flower garden, and food pavilions. It is one of the most romantic night walking places with Tivoli wows with a spectacular sound, laser/light and water show every evening.
My visit to Tivoli coincides with Halloween party and the start of school holiday, so sight of large crowds is inevitable.
Hour 7-17. Sleep. I sleep like a rock and wake up fresh in the morning. What I am afraid of before my departure does not happen – I mean those saying that shouts, gang quarrels, may disturb your deserved sleep. Nevertheless, display of “sorry souls” trying to make a living still there, if you know what I mean.
Hour 18. I start the day earlier than other tourists. After short breakfast in the hotel, I make a morning walk pass Central Station and Tivoli before going to Rådhuspladsen (the city hall square). The square is a public square in the centre of Copenhagen, Denmark, located in front of the Copenhagen City Hall. Due to its large size, its central location and its affiliation with the city hall, it is a popular venue for a variety of events, celebrations and demonstrations. Like this morning I see an “Occupy Wall Street” – like demonstration on the square.
The City Hall Square is located at the south-western end of the pedestrian street Strøget which connects it to Kongens Nytorv, the other large square of the city centre, passing Gammeltorv/Nytorv and Amagertorv along the way. Opposite Strøget, Vesterbrogade extends into the Vesterbro district. H. C. Andersens Boulevard, Copenhagen’s most heavily trafficated street, and Vester Voldgade pass the square on each of the city hall. HC Andersen statue is also located here.
Walking through HC Boulevard and then Vester Voldgade towards Slotsholmen, pass Dansk Design Center, and Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (collections of paintings and sculptures). In this early morning when temperature is still 5 deg C, sight of people biking is not uncommon.
Indeed, the fastest and most flexible way of seeing Copenhagen is on a bike. Forty percent of Copenhageners use their bike everyday and the city has been designed to cater for cyclists with separate bicycle lanes on most larger roads, ample parking spaces and facilities in train station and metro to facilitate easy transport of bicycle. If you ask Copenhageners why they bike, you probably get answers mostly for its efficient and fast, rarely due to health or good to environment reasons.
Hour 19-20. The Island of Slotsholmen has played a leading role in Copenhagen’s history. It was here that Bishop Absalon founded a fortress in 1617 and it was around this fortress that Denmark’s future capital city began to grow. Christian Slot the mighty neo-baroque palace dominating Slotsholmen. The Slotsholmen area also home to Det Kongelige Bibliotek (The Royal Library), Folketinget (The Danish Parliamentary Chamber) and museums (such as The Danish Jewish Museum, Theater Museum, and The Royal Arsenal Museum).
From the Christianborg Slot backyard, I cross Marmorbroen (The Marble Bridge), leading to the National Museum. This free museum portraits the national history of the country. I continue my walk then to Gammel Strand. Gammel Strand (Old Beach) fronts the canal that partially encircles the island of Slotsholmen. A row of perfectly preserved 18th century town houses is among the most picturesque in Copenhagen. A grandeur statue of Bishop Absalon, sourvenir shops and the canal tour boats are also here.
Next target is Stroget, Copenhagen’s main pedestrian shopping street or area as it is actually made up of ever increasing several streets and squares. Stroget is best explored on foot or by bike to see the fantastic range of small, independent shops, cozy cafes and trendy restaurants. Bear in mind though that shopping is very much a privilege not a right in Copenhagen with most shops closed on Sunday or closed early on Saturday. Not good for weekenders unfortunately.
I walked through two main streets on Stroget: Lederstrede, Kompagnistrede, and Nygade-Vimmelkaftet-Amagertrov, then passing Kobenhavn Universitet, and lastly Latin Quarter, before catching up train to Nyhavn (Kongens Nytorv metro station) through – again – Norreport Station.
Nyhavn is where the Dutch-style town houses that line the historic Nyhavn canals are, and is one of the most photographed sights in Copenhagen. Nyhavn canal was built in the 17th century to link the harbor to the city center but now it is lined with rather touristy bar and restaurants. Two canal tour operators can also be found here (DFDS and Netto Badene Kanal Rundfart).
Walking through the area down to Inderhavnen I come to a very nice promenade by the Royal Danish Playhouse (Skuespilhuset) overlooking Opera House and Christianhavn. Skuespilhuset is home to the Royal Theatre. Further north from Skuespilhuset is Amelienborg Slot. This is the winter home of the Danish royal family and consists of four identical classical palace/mansions, around an octagonal courtyard (Amalienborg Slotsplads); in the center of the square is a monumental equestrian statue of Amalienborg’s founder, King Frederick V. The palaces form an axis with Opera House and Frederik’s Church (Danish: Frederikskirke), commonly known as The Marble Church (Danish: Marmorkirken). As I walk to the palaces I pass Admiral Hotel and Ameliehave – the latter is a two-level garden featuring marble sculptures and a central fountain.
I purposely time my walking tour with the intention that I turn up at Amelienborg at noon, the time when changes of the guard takes place every day. At 11.50am, the square is starting to be jam-packed by the crowds. Fortunately I secure a good front spot. The incoming guards parade from their barracks beside Rosenborg Slot.
Hour 21-22. Besides changing of the guard, visitors, including me, also do not pass an opportunity to have a picture with the guard. Don’t be too close to them though.
Walking further north west from the square I come to The Marble Church. Officially called Frederikskirken, this impressive church built in 1740 imposes a massive presence on the Copenhagen skyline, with its 31 m. diameter dome, inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome. The church takes its name from the original lower part of the structure which is made from Norwegian marble. The church is undergoing some restoration projects preventing me from taking the beauty of its dome.
From here I aim my walk to Kongens Have. Rosenborg Castle Gardens (Danish: Kongens Have literally The King’s Garden) is Copenhagen’s oldest and most visited park with 2.5 million visitors per year. Today, the garden offers not only vegetable patch as it was used to be centuries back but also beautiful flower beds, children play areas, and stunning view to Rosenborg Slot.
Rosenborg Slot is a renaissance castle originally built as a country summerhouse in 1606. The castle is open to the public for tours and houses a museum exhibiting the Royal Collections. Some of these articles once belonged to the nobility and the aristocracy. Of special interest to tourists is an exhibition of the Crown Jewels and the Danish Crown Regalia.
Hour 23. Botanisk Have (Botanic Garden) is separated only by Oster Voldgade road from Kongens Have. The garden is located 200m north east of Norreport Station. The beautiful Palmehus (Palm House) is the main attraction of the garden. The garden houses about 20,000 species of plants from around the world. The good thing is that you can enjoy them for free, including free entrance to Botanic Museums featuring exhibits of plants from Denmark, Greenland and the rest of the world. When I visited the garden, the garden was under intensive renovation, but it doesn’t prevent people from flooding the garden with variety of activities: from sunbathing, strolling, chatting on benches scattered almost in any place, taking photographs, or kids running around and climbing up small hills. Botanic garden and The King’s Garden are only two of numerous open spacs/gardens/parks in Copenhagen. No wonder Copenhagen is one of the most livable cities!
From Botanic Garden, I direct my walk to city’s inner lake, Sortedams So, that separates Nørreport from Nørrebro. I stop at promenade near Dronning Louises Bro (bridge) and enjoy great view to Nørrebro. The area is probably the most vibrant part of Copenhagen, especially along the main artery, Nørrebrogade, with a mix of immigrants (with a large concentration of middle eastern immigrants), students, and original working-class Nørrebro-inhabitants.
Due to time limitation, I didn’t venture in to Nørrebro but instead made a U-turn back to Nørreport Station to go to Christiana via Christianhavn metro station.
Hour 24. Christiana is a self-governing “free town” established in 1971, a city within the city, on the site of a military barracks as an alternative to mainstream culture, although after 37 years of resistance the community buckled to mainstream pressure. The government has recently cracked down on long-standing activities such as the open use of soft drugs (hard drugs, firearms, and automobiles are among the items prohibited though). Nonetheless it’s quite safe and popular as a tourist site. Photography of the central “Pusher Street” will not be tolerated by the dealers (Wikipedia). The main entrance is located on Prinsessegade, after Christians Kirke. Small wooden gate welcomes me at Christiana before coming to Pusher Street where the center of activities takes place (small museum, craft selling, performance arts, restaurant, recycling arts, etc.)
The community calls the area as “Green Light District” symbolized by three green marijuana leaves. A bright board warns visitors on three rules while on the area: Have fun, don’t run (it may cause panic), and no photography.
Leaving Christiana through the same entrance gate, I smile from reading wording at the wooden arch gate “You are now entering the EU”.
Hour 25. Visit Carlsberg is my final stop. From Christiana I go back to Christianhavn metro station to catch a metro to Norreport and then change to one of the S-tog to Enghave Station, the closest station to former Carlsberg manufacturing factory turned-into visitor center. During the walk from Enghave Station to Carlsberg, I notice how design-conscious Copenhagen is. A bench for a community park for example is not just a bench but seriously designed aesthetically and functionally. The same applies to lamp post, ramp to aid bicycle up and down the metro station stairs, and parking structure element to hold bicycle up. Numerous independent design stores scatter around the city.
Carlsberg is one of the largest breweries in the world. Carlsberg has moved production from this historic location, to a modern facility outside Copenhagen. It however is still possible to visit the old brewery, and small scale production of specialty beers are still taking place here. Many of the buildings are quite stunning, the stables for the famous horse drawn Carlsberg carriages are still open and functioning. Carlsberg Visitor Center is also home to the world’s largest collection of bottled beers.
Though I don’t drink beer and alcohol, I enjoy the entertaining journey through the beer-making process and the story of Carlsberg’s. The 65 kroner price I paid includes beers or soft drinks for two that served at the second floor bar overlooking small production facilities.
It is at the Carlsberg brewery signature elephant gate (at Ny Carslberg Vej) that my camera (Canon PowerShot G12) battery gives up, a perfect sign that it’s time to go back to Paris. It’s 4pm, just 3 hour before my scheduled flight by Norwegian.
From Carlsberg, I go back to Enghave station, then to Central Station to catch up the same regional train to Kastrup Airport.
That’s basically Copenhagen. This 25-hour visit gives me an overview of why Copenhagen is lovable city. I feel I’ve seen it all in a day, but I should have spent longer to discover more.