Oh, Copenhagen. Truly a hidden gem in Europe and I hope it stays that way. It was in Denmark that our love affair with Scandinavian countries began. I’m not sure why Michelle and I decided to add this city to our list, but we’re thankful we did. Part of me is almost certain that watching the film “Copenhagen” had something to do with it, so if you haven’t already seen the film on Netflix, do yourself a favor and watch it.
We arrived in Copenhagen only an hour flying time from Edinburgh. We were sad to be leaving Scotland and didn’t know what to expect from Denmark except what we had seen in the film. (Lots of bikes, pretty much). Our flight was quite pleasant. People from Scandinavian countries are known to…well, have “won the genetic lottery.” In simpler terms, everyone is beautiful and our flight over made us very aware of that right away. But more on that another time.
It was interesting arriving through immigration and customs. The first thing we had to do was to take out local currency and figure out the Metro system to get to our AirBnb. It was different arriving in a country not only where the currency isn’t a Euro nor divisible by tens, but also where the native language isn’t English.
Taking out currency was fun, yet unsettling. Not because of the ATMs or anything, but because even though we were taking our the equivalent of around $200, getting back over 1,000 bills worth of money felt like that’s what we were taking out in US dollars. The Danish krone is worth a lot more than our dollar, about a $1 – 6.75 kr exchange. We constantly felt like we were going broke during our stay in Copenhagen (which we probably did because the city is expensive as it is), but the money did throw us off and took some time to get used to.
The language also took some getting used to. At first, it was a bit of a struggle for us; more on Michelle never having been outside of English speaking countries before. We knew going into it, that the Danish (along with the rest of the Nordic countries), have some of the highest English literary rates in the world. But even still, it was silly of us to assume that everything would be in English because of that. For the first time, we actually felt like we were somewhere “foreign,” especially since Danish and English are nowhere near similar to one another, spoken or written.
Despite the initial fear of buying a metro pass and trying to pronounce street names or subway stops, we soon realized we’d be fine. We got off at Forum on the Metro, which we found was very easy to navigate, and walked ten minutes to our accommodation in Nørrebro, a trendy/hipster area of the city, we were told. One of the perks of being from a huge city like New York, and its complex subway system, is that anywhere else is pretty much a cake walk. And in a gorgeous city like Copenhagen, it was. When I say everything in Copenhagen was picturesque, that doesn’t begin to cover it. Even, the weather outside was perfect; strange to say especially in a country known for its cold, harsh winters. It was such a nice welcome.
We learned so much about Danish culture that we wouldn’t have learned or known about Denmark otherwise. One of our favourite trips in our 3 days was to Christiansborg Slot, or ‘palace,’ the official government seat of the Danish Parliament, Prime Minister and Queen. (England isn’t the only country with one.) And is it a palace for a reason: it’s gigantic! There were so many rooms, hall, entrances, underground ruins and areas to explore that we didn’t know where to start. So we decided to start from the top, up to the Tårnet, or ‘tower.’ The view was absolutely breathtaking, with a small panel beneath locating all the other historic sites clearly visible from the tower.
The best part of our trip to the palace was yet to come. Many countries in Europe, including Denmark, rely on something called the “honor system.” This applies on the Metro, restaurants and some tourist locations like Christiansborg. It basically means that you’re given trust and in return, are supposed to follow and obey the rules and not take advantage of that trust. There are no conductors on the metro checking your ticket. There is no one following you around to make sure you’ve paid your fare, your bill, nothing. You’re expected to know better and to be a good citizen or tourist and do your part.
Of course we didn’t purposely take advantage of that…we accidentally did. Some rooms in the Palace are an extra fee, something we weren’t aware of. There was no one standing at the ticket booth, so we figured we had already paid for the entire thing. Walking through the Great Hall and looking at the huge canvases and tapestries was stunning. Everything was well kept and looked so authentic and pristine that we felt wrong being there. It took Michelle to say, “The floors are SO shiny,” for me to realize our mistake. I walked over to Michelle photographing one of the tapestries.
“Michelle…look at everyone’s feet.” Everyone in the room had blue plastic shoe coverings. EVERYONE BUT US. When we figured out what that meant, we sprinted out of there, trying to take a quick look at everything along the way. We were so nervous, trying to not draw attention to ourselves and our quick exit.
When we got back to our Airbnb that night, it was more funny than scary. That would only happen to us! Even still, the Danes are very nice and we wouldn’t have gotten into any serious trouble. A warning at most, for the most valid reason in the book: “We’re tourists.”
Another cool thing I was able to do in CPH was meet up with a friend of mine from university whom I had met while studying abroad in London. She was in Copenhagen on a holiday with her family. Michelle and I caught her for dinner and a quiet night out before her flight to Stockholm the next morning.
One of the things I regret most about Copenhagen was not booking the trip during the weekend. I heard Danish nightlife is a truly unforgettable and drunken experience that any visitor must endure. While I did have a cute moment on a bar night out on my own, (I’ll save that story for another time), I know I have to come back and experience it like a true Dane! Sloppy and all.
Where To Visit:
Nyhavn – If you’ve ever seen anything regarding Copenhagen, you’ve probably seen this. Translated, it means, “new harbor.” The waterfront is known for the colorful façades along the canal and is rich with culture, history, boat tours, lots of expensive food and tons of beer. While there are tons of tourists around, it’s a must see after a long day of exploring.
Rosenborg Castle & Gardens – There are castles pretty much everywhere in Denmark. This one stands out because of its beautiful Renaissance style. What we loved most though were the gardens, also called The Kings Gardens. There is so much going on but lots of people watching to do. Just another place to go to relax. The Danes do love their down time.
Paper Island or Papirøen – I’m not even try to pronounce it the Danish way. I heard about this place from a friend who was in Denmark a few weeks before I arrived. If you’ve been to New York, it’s the equivalent of a Smorgasbord. It’s STREET FOOD! And good street food from all different parts of the world. Michelle and I were craving Hispanic food and we were pleasantly surprised and ecstatic that they had some…in Denmark of all places! (Platanos!) Everything was so delicious.
Kastellet – It is known as one of the most well-preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe. There are churches, windmills and memorials all over the place, but it’s also a national park and home to Hans Christian Andersen’s tale that we all know and love, The Little Mermaid. If you’re only going to see the statue, skip it. It’s surrounded by tourists and not all that special. The park itself is beautiful enough.
Strøget – Scandinavians are known to have impeccable style. Everyone was so well dressed without even trying. It might be because Danes hold a high regard for physical appearance and presentation. Something like going out in sweatpants that is done so often in America would not be the case here. So if you’re feeling inadequate about your look, take a stroll down this shopping strip.
Tivoli Gardens – One of the oldest amusement parks in the world, Tivoli isn’t just for kids. The park is always holding concerts and other fun events for everyone to enjoy. And during Christmas, it becomes an actual Winter Wonderland! Apparently Tivoli inspired Walt Disney to create his own park, famously now Disney World.
Christiana Freetown – Christiana is a small, self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of 850 residents randomly in the middle of Copenhagen. It’s basically like a hippie commune where everyone shares everything. It’s big on marijuana but any other hard drugs are prohibited. Pictures aren’t allowed inside either. What’s interesting is that the government allows Christiana’s residents to rule themselves so long as they are peaceful and obey laws. Michelle and I were apprehensive walking in here at first, but everyone was welcoming, kind and barely paid us any mind.
7-Eleven – This was so funny to us, but throughout Denmark, 7/Eleven’s are a huge thing. We were confused at first, since it’s an American chain of convenience stores, but it was nice to see that drunk munchies, cheap pizza and other finger foods is loved all around the world, and not just America.
Cemeteries – Another strange Danish phenomenon, but cemeteries are treated just like parks and are often places where people hang out. Our accommodation was located right next to Assistens Cemetery where many famous Danes are buried. It took us a month after we came back to the States to realize that it was even a graveyard at all!
Bicycles – Sometimes we felt like Copenhagen’s cyclists were more intense than their Dutch counterparts in Amsterdam. Though the city still falls at #2 for most people who utilize bicycles, it is very much because most people try not to drive, since cars are taxed so highly. Babies, older people, everyone you could imagine was on a bike. It was great to see and something I wish America would take into account.
Copenhagen easily became my favorite city last summer and I’m excited to continue to visit cities in Scandinavia and see what other beauty and history it has to offer.