“Why?” asked the hotel receptionist when I told him how much we loved Copenhagen. But before I could reply, a customer came up. That was just as well, because I did not have a simple answer. There were many facets on this gem. Copenhagen, a.k.a. Kobenhavn in Danish, is a very comfortable city for a North American.
Passport control is simple and there are no customs forms to fill out: “We just say welcome.” Streets are broad and buildings are relatively low. Modern urban planners say this gives a comfortable “room” feel.
Danes are very law-abiding; they don’t jay-walk. But you need to be careful stepping into one of the omnipresent bicycle lanes; they use bikes almost as much as in Amsterdam. There is some litter, especially cigarette butts, but the streets are relatively clean, and everything inside is very clean. Graffiti is confined for the most part to the outside of subway cars and railroad tunnels.
Denmark is the oldest monarchy in the world with a linage going back to Gorm the Old who became king around 958. Interestingly, the king was initially elected from the family. It didn’t
become an absolute monarchy until 1660. A constitutional monarchy was declared in 1849, but the monarch still had almost complete authority until an enthusiast for the parliamentary system ascended to the crown and a true system was established in 1901. Even then, the constitution wasn’t written down until 1953. The Danes appear to like stability, and we felt safe walking the streets.
One can see the current Queen’s family tree at Amalienborg, the Royal Winter Palace in the center of the city. And while not as elaborate as at Buckingham Palace, one can see the changing of the guard at noon each day. Some palace rooms are open to the public in a museum, and on Saturday, one can visit a few private rooms still in use. A combination ticket can be purchased for six museums including Rosenborg Palace where we visited the Royal Treasury.
We were stunned by the elaborately carved ivory pieces, the fabulously inlaid ancient weapons, embroidered and bejeweled saddles, and other decorated pieces in the Treasury. We learned the speed of light was calculated by a Dane and saw some of his ancient tools. And of course, there were the Royal scepter, swords and orb not to mention one of the world’s finest emerald necklaces – and the crowns.
Our meals ranged from good to excellent. We chose restaurants more or less at random as we walked along. On our first night, we ate at Chez Bruno run by Bruno Vandenbulcke at Gammel Kongevej 27. We had an excellent meal; Alie and I had lemon sole and her sister had a fabulous steak. The next day, we had lunch at a café near Amalienborg. We had sandwiches that were way above average. In the evening, we stopped for a bite while walking around Tivoli. Our expectations for amusement park food were low, but the open faced sandwiches — smørrebrot – one with brie and the other with smoked salmon, were superb. We will definitely go back to Anderson’s Bakery for tea and pastry. Our other meals were merely good, but none was poor.
Tivoli was fun. Imagine having a classic amusement park in the center of a city. The rollercoaster celebrated its 100th year in 2014. We were able to use a free wheelchair which made it easier to explore the crowded park on the last Saturday of the summer season; but most people were attending a rock concert in the center.
In general, we have found Nordic countries to be less than wheelchair friendly. Copenhagen is flat, but there are many cobblestones and uneven surfaces. But as Alie is able to walk shorter distances, we were able to get around fine.
Any true tourist worthy of the designation has to see the Little Mermaid statue. When we stopped, many Chinese were there. We were told it is such a favorite of the Chinese, the statue was taken to Shanghai to exhibit. While it was in China, there was a live video feed to a screen at the normal site in Copenhagen. But Chinese visiting Copenhagen were disappointed to find they had to go home to see the real thing.
On our final morning, we took the metro to Blue Planet, the national aquarium. There are many fine aquariums in the U.S., but we loved the Blue Planet’s sweeping architecture, the clear sharp tanks and the swarms of fish. It was a great place to take children.
It is easy to get around Copenhagen. There is a good system of trains, metro and buses, and taxis are readily available. The most economical method is to purchase a Copenhagen Card for 24, 48 or 72 hours which gives you unlimited public transportation in the region. It also admits you to a number of attractions and gives you a discount on others. You can buy one at the Central Railroad Station or get one at the airport to use getting into town. We used a 24 hour pass to visit the Blue Planet Aquarium outside town, taking the metro on our way out and a bus to return. We also used it to visit Helsinger (subject of a future posting). If you take a bus without a pass of some sort, you need exact change.
While a multi-day Copenhagen Card was the most economical, we chose to ride a Hop-on, Hop-off bus; the fare is good for 48 hours. We did so because our time was limited, so we did not want to waste time transferring between services or walking from bus stops or metro stations. Also, the tour buses give one earphones to listen to guides (in many languages) as you go along. There are three companies, and the largest offers multiple routes including a boat ride. Again, because our time was limited, we only were interested in one route. We chose to go on the “Red Bus” because they had virtually the same route, the driver cut his price to match the big company, and he was first at the stop and was very helpful explaining the system and giving us suggestions to make the most of our time; we were very pleased with the service.
Copenhagen, like most larger cities, is expensive. Were I a young student, I think I would do a lot of walking and buy my food in one of the many local markets; but it still would be a great place to see.
Why did we love Copenhagen? The architecture is not overwhelming. There were many interesting places to see. People were friendly and helpful. The food was very good. And perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit it: everyone spoke American English. They start learning in the third grade.