A Visit to Copenhagen…
Wow. Where to begin? First, a qualifier: Copenhagen wasn’t really very high on my list of places to travel to. People don’t write about its food scene. It’s not known for its beaches. It’s just….kind of up there somewhere *points vaguely to northeastern Europe*
My BFF said she wanted to experience snow at Christmas for the first time in her 30-something years of life so we started planning a trip to Scandinavia. Now, before you cut me off, yes, I know Copenhagen isn’t the place to go for snow. I know. And that wasn’t how things started out. In fact, the original plan wasn’t even to go to a Scandinavian country at all! Originally, Brooke announced that she wanted to go to Finland. “Oh, cool!” I thought. Then she said what she’d really like would be to go to Rovaniemi, Finland – the “real home of Santa Claus.” “I am SO down for that – yessss!” says I. And THEN she said, “But I can’t spend more than $1300, including air fare.” ~cue the screeching brakes~ My response: “Uhh…Brooke? You’re talking about going to the most popular Christmas place in the world….during Christmas season. There’s no way to do that on a $1300 per person budget.” Not terribly phased, Brooke enthusiastically started looking at flights to Helsinki, and Stockholm (because Sweden’s a cool, snowy place), and maybe Oslo (ditto Norway). Meanwhile, I’m trying to crunch numbers to come up with something that’ll work to get my bestie to have snow on Christmas.
A couple of weeks go by. Brooke and I have a chat and I’m trying to convey my thoughts about how we can make this white Christmas happen but Brooke’s having none of it. Unbeknownst to me, she’s discovered there’s a Christmas market that’s open until New Year’s Day in Copenhagen, Denmark. Here’s how our conversation went:
Me: “Wha—? Copenhagen??? Uhm. Brooke. There’s no actual snow at Christmas in Copenhagen.”
Brooke: “No. But there’s a Christmas market and I really, really, really want to see it AND it’s the only Christmas market I can find that’s actually open on Christmas Eve. It’ll be really festive!”
So we flew into Copenhagen on Christmas Eve. And that’s how we discovered that it rains more in Copenhagen than it does in London (true story – look it up). Christmas Eve 2017 was no exception.
After we settled into our airbnb, we decided to head over to Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park in city center and home of the Christmas market Brooke so wanted to visit. So here’s the thing about rain in Copenhagen: the Danish are hardy folk. They are completely undeterred by rain. True northerner that I am, I was in heaven!! Brooke, my darling southern sunshine BFF, however, was not. She and her husband, Tyler, tried to rally (to be fair, I think Tyler would have been perfectly content exploring the city in the rain but he loves Brooke more than life itself so he sheltered her protectively while we were out) but, the more we were outside in the drizzly weather, the more she looked like a drowning puppy, poor thing. I, on the other hand, laughed and marvelled happily at the Danish, “rain?? pff, I’ll just put on some rain gear before I ride this rollercoaster!” attitudes. That’s really how they are! Riding rollercoasters in heavy rain, no joke! I loved it!
Brooke, however, had had enough and, to be fair, it was our first day in Denmark after a long flight so I pouted a little but back to our airbnb we went.
Well, the skies eventually cleared (kinda – but it was enough for Brooke) so we got to enjoy some real treasures in Copenhagen and I fell in love with the city. What did we do while there?
First, you need to know about riding the Copenhagen city trains
The Copenhagen city train makes it easy to get to city center from just about anywhere. Directions are in Danish and English (plus a few other languages) and very easy to navigate. As a visitor, you’ll want to buy a temporary pass (there are passes for different lengths of time so just buy the one that works for you). The pass you receive will be a paper ticket. DON’T LOSE IT. You don’t have to scan it or present it to anyone when you board trains but, if a police officer walks through the train to check tickets, you’ll need to show yours. And there is a zero tolerance policy for not having one – even for tourists.
As mentioned earlier, Tivoli (pronounced TI-voli) Gardens is located in city center. How to explain Tivoli Gardens? It’s kind of a retro amusement park in an adorable way. Think, “smaller scale 1950s Disneyland” and you’ll get the idea. It’s also full of lovely gardens, restaurants, and quaint little shops. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I was enchanted. Brooke never did go back to the Christmas market but I returned on New Years Eve and enjoyed strolling through the shops, warm mug of boozy hot cocoa in hand followed by wonderful fireworks.
Okay, I have to say something about fireworks in Denmark. The Danish looooooove their fireworks. No, no. You think you get it. I thought I did, too. But you can’t possibly unless you experience it first hand. I won’t elaborate too much but here’s all you need to know: at first, it’s all “oooh, ahhh, ohhhh!” like fireworks are meant to make you feel. But then you notice that a *lot* of bystanders seem to be lighting fireworks, too. Drunk bystanders. So you kind of laugh nervously but you get a little wary. After another 20 minutes, as the bystander fireworks increase, you rapidly think, “I, uh… I think I’ll wait this out inside that little restaurant over there,” and you make a run for it. Then, as you peer out from the cover of said restaurant, you think to yourself, “Dear God, I hope none of those idiots misfires one inside the door of this place because we’d be so screwed!” I’ve talked to several people who’ve been in Copenhagen on New Year’s Eve. Evidently, my thought progression is fairly standard.
Ah, Nyhavn! This is the famous canal with the pretty row of houses everyone thinks of when they hear “Copenhagen.” And it doesn’t disappoint! Bustling harbour, lovely shops, ice cream parlours, restaurants – Nyhavn has it all! We were only there for a few hours and it wasn’t nearly enough time. Also good to know: there’s a large, comfortable free public restroom near the canal tour boats!
Christiania is a fascinating district in Copenhagen. The lifestyle tone is peaceful anarchy. The walls are covered in street art with a strong nod to its early days in the 1970s. It’s grimy. Really grimy. But it’s also beautiful in a way. Would I want to live there? No. But I enjoyed my visit and I loved the warm friendliness of its residents. Also, easily the best Gløgg in the city is in Christiania right at the entrance to Pusher Street.
Speaking of Pusher Street (where marijuana is openly sold), photography is strictly forbidden in that area of Christiania. I know people who’ve successfully taken sneaky photos there but, personally, I think that’s incredibly tacky. Respect the rules and don’t perpetuate the stereotypes of obnoxious traveling Americans!
About 90 minutes south of Copenhagen (an easy drive – car rental is uncomplicated and driving in Denmark is identical to driving in the US; be prepared to pay more if you need an automatic shift car, though) lies the island of Møn – a magical place if there ever was one! Magestic chalk cliffs, a tiny thatch palace, woodlands, and in June 2017, UNESCO designated Møn as Denmark’s first biosphere reserve. Totally worth the drive!!
So, there’s a “ferry” that takes passengers on the cheap to/from Copenhagen and Oslo, Norway. Take it. First, you’ll get to visit another great city (Oslo and Cooenhagen are ranked #1 and #2 respectively on the 2016 world happiness scale, in case you’re curious). Second, the “ferry” is really an overnight 16 hour mini cruise, complete with restaurants, karaoke, and a spa. AND. Watching the sun rise from the top deck, cappuccino in hand was glorious!
One last thing: Hygge
Hygge! Have you heard this word? It’s a Danish word sort of pronounced, “hyoo-ghuh” that loosely translates to “cozy.” However, it’s much more than just a mere adjective. It’s an entire way of living and the Danish have definitely mastered it!
I could go on and on about how much I loved my trip to Denmark and I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I told you I didn’t spend nearly enough time there. And how about this? Even with all the things we did (I haven’t written about it yet but we also went to Oslo, Flåm, and Bergen, Norway), we came in right at Brooke’s $1300 per person budget! But, really, if you’re even slightly curious about experiencing the hygge (and I hope you are), you should absolutely go. Go!! Just don’t forget to bring an umbrella!