Saturday, 9 April 2016

5 Days in Copenhagen


When your boyfriend surprises you on your birthday with a city break to your current no. 1 destination, it's pretty much the best thing ever. When it's booked, paid for, but you're not going for another 4 months (because your birthday is at a rubbish time of year) and you have all that time to anticipate, get excited and, of course, do some thorough research, it's even better. After reading every single blog which so much as mentioned Copenhagen, and seeking out recommendations on social media, I was ready. Nearly every single blog or article I'd read referenced"48 hours in Copenhagen" or "how to spend 3 days in Copenhagen" but we were lucky enough to have 5 days, well, 4 and a half, and this is what we did on our lovely, long trip...

WHERE TO STAY
I had zero input in choosing where to stay as Simon had booked it all for us, but he got it totally right. Airbnb is great, and the more I use them, the more I love them. Of course they don't offer you the same sort of luxury as a hotel, but they're usually so much cheaper, more cosy and give you the option to do a bit of self-catering to save some money. We stayed in a lovely little apartment in the Amager East district, just under 2 miles walk outside of the city centre. Rented out only when the owner goes on holiday herself (so I can't find a link at the moment!), it was like being welcomed as house guests in someone else's Moomin-filled home. It was equipped with everything we needed - a little kitchen, bathroom and a lounge/bedroom hybrid looking over a balcony. It was comfortable, cosy and the perfect space to tap into some Danish Netflix after a big dinner and a long day of sightseeing, or to scoff some cereal in the morning to save on splashing out on Danish breakfast. There are loads of Airbnb options in Copenhagen - and I would recommend the Amager district. We felt like we were staying amongst the Danes, rather than surrounded by tourists - and there were more options for cheaper eating/drinking than in the centre of the city. The majority of hotels seemed to be in the Vesterbro district, only a short wander from the centre. Vesterbro felt a lot like East London, packed with trendy restaurants, cocktail bars and hybrid record/coffee shops. There are plenty of options for different types of accommodation - different bases from which to explore the city to suit all budgets. 

HOW TO GET ABOUT
Copenhagen is so flat, I don't think we walked up or down a single hill. We walked pretty much everywhere - from our apartment to the city centre, and around and between all the sights. The large majority of the city centre is pedestrianised, and there are few cars (but lots of bikes) in the areas which aren't. Wide pavements and open parks and squares make it the perfect place to explore on foot. Alternatively, you can joint the Danes and hop on a bike. We were excited to try out the City Bikes (basically the same as Boris Bikes but each has a tablet on the handlebars so you have SatNav - incredible) but unfortunately the Danes are a tall people, and I am a tiny people and my legs weren't long enough - a very upsetting realisation. However, if you do have legs long enough, I'd definitely recommend renting a bike and exploring the city since there are cycle lanes everywhere and it's such an easy, cheap and safe way of getting about. The Metro was the easiest way to get to the centre from the airport (and vice versa), and was a lot like the DLR so you can sit at the front and set where you're going which is fun. Bus travel was also really good. We only travelled on the bus twice, once to save our (my) sore feet and once to avoid the rain. At about £3 per person per journey, it's not the cheapest way to get about, but the buses are pretty luxurious, more like the coaches we have in the UK, where everyone sits down and there's WiFi. 

WHAT TO SEE
Copenhagen is home to a perfect combination of history, culture, art...and fun. There was so much to do, and having 5 days in the city was really nice, meaning that we didn't have to rush too much to see almost everything we wanted to. 

We stumbled upon Freetown Christiania by accident, a kind of hippy neighbourhood come commune, located right next to the city centre, the strong smell of weed and shwarma was one of our first greetings into Copenhagen. Freetown Christiania is a society in itself, made up of approx. 850 who live and/or work there, separate from the Danish government. It's hard to explain what it was like, and photos were prohibited since they were almost certain to reveal the illegal buying and selling of weed - which was in no way subtle, displayed on stalls much like those at a school fair. At first it looked a bit like a derelict playground, paths separating areas of land decorated with graffiti, with outdoor toys and seating. But as you found the centre of the micro-city, it felt more communal: there were shops, workshops, cafes, a stage, and it was buzzing with all different kinds of people. From what I understand, the future of Freetown Christiania is somewhat shaky, so definitely go now whilst you still can. It was a weird, but wonderfully freeing experience. 

We walked past Borsen and Christiansborg Palace on our first evening in Copenhagen, and went back the next morning to see it in daylight. Borsen is the old Stock Exchange, and the first thing we noticed was the enormous copper spire made of four intertwined dragon's tails - topped with 3 crowns to symbolise the Scandinavian powers of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. We had a little sneak peak into Christiansborg Palace, but many parts weren't accessible to the public since they're still used by the Royal Family and the government. It was pretty grand - high ceilings, gold edgings and lots of enormous mirrors - but it felt much more modern to me than palaces we see in other parts of Europe. We had a wander round the courtyard, before heading off on the next part of our sightseeing adventure. 

Unsure as to where everything was, and having not quite got our bearings, we decided we'd explore the city by boat. We jumped on a Canal Boat Tour, which was really reasonable at approx. £10 each for about an hour. The tour began outside Christiansborg Palace, and took us through the canals past the National Bank, to Nyhavn, alongside the National Theatre, up to the Little Mermaid, and back down in a big loop past the house boats, the city library and through the ultra-posh part of the city. The tour was really worthwhile, and we learnt a lot: the Danish flag is the oldest flag in the world, some of the canals in Copenhagen were redesigned to look like those in Amsterdam in an attempt to attract the middle classes, and the Little Mermaid statue has been decapitated twice. Finishing the tour windswept but wise, we were much more informed about where everything was (roughly) and it gave us some inspiration for more things we wanted to see. 

Can you go to Denmark and not go to the Lego shop? I don't think so. It was actually pretty much the same as every other Lego shop I've been to, but we made the most of it and created ourselves as Minifigures. You choose your own face, hair/hat, top, bottoms and accessory and then you're ready to go (well, once you've paid for it). We were slightly disappointed with the accessories available, and spent a long time looking for a sword for Simon but were met only with many, many pitchforks. In the end he, grumpily, settled for a cat whilst I took away a tiny chimp. Worth a novelty trip if you're there, but it's essentially just a normal Lego shop. 

Our trip to the Round Tower was one of our favourite things we did in Copenhagen. A 17th century tower located right in the centre of the city, you can climb up it (it's all sloped rather than steps so makes for a very easy climb) and see beautiful views over the entire city. Even though we went on a bit of a cloudy day, Copenhagen (and the surrounding area) is so flat that you can see for miles. Looking out to sea, and seeing all the wind turbines in one direction, and spotting other sights we wanted to visit in others - it was really nice to go up there and get a feel for the city, with all its tall spires and copper roofs, as a whole. If you have the chance to venture up on a sunny day, I bet it's even better. 

We both love a castle, and the realisation that Kronborg Castle (the one that Hamlet's based on) was going to warrant 90mins travelling each way was a little soul destroying. However, we then discovered Rosenborg Castle right on our doorstep, home to the crown jewels. As with lots of sights in Copenhagen, it shuts at 2pm (WHY?!) which we didn't realise...and arrived at 1.45pm with no time to look round. We had a bit of an explore from the outside, wandering round the castle grounds before heading over to the National Art Museum - the Statens Museum for Kunst. We first headed towards the Danish and Nordic art, anticipating forests, vikings and battles...of which there was actually very little. Then we made our way over to modern European art, which was pretty cool. My knowledge of art is non-existent, but we're talking cool light installations, hand-sewn flags with statements about freedom on them, and a stuffed man with really, really long legs. We only stayed about an hour, by which time I was in need of some sugar and a sit down, but the museum is huge (and free) and there's plenty to explore. If you know about art or are especially interested in it, I imagine it's really awesome. 

One slightly drizzly morning, with tummy's full of porridge (more to come on that...) we headed up to the Botanical Gardens. Again, awkward opening hours meant that we had missed the hour long daily opening slot to go in the greenhouses, but we could still wander around the gardens. Since it was early April and still pretty chilly, it was a bit bare - but reminded me a of a National Trust-esque garden, which I'm sure is beautiful in the summer. For us, it was a nice park, a big lake and some good rockeries which we could climb up and down. As it brightened up, we made our way towards the Little Mermaid statue which we'd seen on the boat tour. However, en route, we unexpectedly stumbled upon Kastellet - a star fortress with a church, and a windmill at the top of it. It was pretty deserted, aside from the odd jogger or dog walker, so I can't really tell you much about it aside from it being a really well preserved fortress which is now part of modern military barracks. It's definitely worth a visit - especially if you're going to see the Little Mermaid anyway! Hans Christian Andersen was from Copenhagen, and a statue of The Little Mermaid was erected in honour of his tale. It was really busy when we visited, with tourists clambering on the rocks to get their picture taken with the statue, but so iconic that you can't not go and see it. 

The rest of our time in Copenhagen was mostly spent just wandering. We wanted to make sure we saw the iconic Nyhavn (the place in all the pictures with the brightly coloured buildings); plenty of time was spent wandering up and down Stroget (the main shopping street/square); and in between all the different areas of the city - from our apartment in Amager, to restaurants in Vesterbro, to attractions in Christianshavn. There were still a couple of things we didn't have a chance to see that we really would have like to. Firstly, Tivoli Gardens - the theme park in the centre of Copenhagen! It looks magical, and we were constantly teased walking past it, knowing that it opened for the Spring on the day we left. I don't imagine it's cheap, but it looks like a small-scale Disneyland - and would, therefore, be almost certainly worth every penny. We went to the city library, named the Black Diamond, in the hope of seeing a highly praised photography exhibition; unfortunately, when we got there it was closed...open only from 1pm-2pm on a Friday (naturally...?). We had hoped to get bikes to cycle up to the Assistens Cemetery - a cemetery come park, described as "Copenhagen's answer to Central Park" - since it was a little way out of the city. However short leg crisis, followed an attempt to do the walk which only resulted in hanger (anger caused by hunger) and big rain clouds, meant we gave up and went in search of vegan pastries instead. Lastly, we quite fancied the look of the Experimentarium, which we think was a more hands on version of a science museum. It looked like really good fun, but it was never near enough the top of our list or bad enough weather for us to actually end up there - probably a really good rainy day activity though. 

WHERE TO EAT
Every single thing we ate in Copenhagen was really good...apart from one rogue, vegan pastry. The first thing we noticed was that you could buy a kebab anywhere. Literally anywhere. Every other shop sold shwarma. The next thing we noticed was that the Danish love sweets, with lots of shops entirely filled with pick 'n mix style buckets. Kebabs and sweets aside, food in Copenhagen was definitely all about the quality...but this did come at an expense. We're talking £50 for 2 bunless burgers and 2 drinks. We actively sought out the cheaper restaurants, avoiding eating right in the city centre, but generally I think you've just got to suck up the cost of the food and enjoy it while you're there (...and then spend weeks eating pasta when you're home). 

Breakfast/Brunch
After a glowing review from Katy, I knew we had to try Mad & Kaffe's Danish breakfast offering. It's a tapas style breakfast basically, where you choose 3, 5 or 7 small dishes which all come served on a giant board. It was pretty standard breakfast food: eggs, bacon, smoked salmon, fruit, pastries - you know - but it was all really tasty, and didn't leave you feeling bleugh and stodgy. We went on a Tuesday morning at about 10.30am, and it was packed out and we sat outside. To get a table at a weekend, I'd suggest you've probably got to hit it up quite early since they don't take bookings. Another recommendation from friends who visited a couple of months ago was Grod, Copenhagen's porridge cafe. So this place just serves porridge - but not only does it offer sweet, breakfast-style porridges, there's the option for savoury ones too. Simon tried a Dahl-style one, and a kind of soy/chicken/coriander rice-y oriental one. He loved both, and was always keen to go back for more. There weren't too many dairy free options, so I went for a gluten free oats and quinoa porridge with rice milk (literally felt like the most 'Whole Foods' gal ever), topped with apple, blueberries and almonds. Sure, it was tasty but, to me, it just tasted like a normal bowl of porridge. 

Lunch
We weren't really sure what to expect from Danish food, but turns out it was hotdogs. But incredible hotdogs - really good meat, lots of toppings, bread that's crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Magical. Our best lunch, without a doubt, was definitely a hotdog from Polse Kompagniet at the Copenhagen Street Food Market - an enormous indoor market full of some of the best looking food you've ever seen in your whole life. We had really hoped to go back to the Street Food Market, and had our eye on some tasty looking Korean stuff and some Argentinian barbeque, but unfortunately it was only open Friday, Saturday & Sunday and we missed our chance. 100% go if you get the chance. A couple of times we ended up in a Joe & the Juice for a coffee (or a juice), and this was another great spot for lunch. These cafes were everywhere - I'm pretty sure every street has a Joe & the Juice on it, and were designed as an answer to healthy takeaway/on-the-go food. I had a really good turkey sandwich, and there were lots of dairy free/gluten free/vegan options. Is it really lunch unless you finish it off with a pastry? Not for Simon. I was surprised by actually how few pastry shops there were, but the best one we visited was in another food market - Torvehallerne. It was called Laura's Bakery, and Simon opted for a cinnamon pastry topped with chocolate. At the same time, I visited a little vegan bakery down the road (which I'd read loads of good reviews of) and had the most average, actually well under average, pastry of my life. I don't think its vegan-ness had anything to do with it, it was just a really dense, slightly burnt apple and cinnamon pastry. I was sad.  

Dinner
Lots of options for dinner, but lots of really expensive options. There were Italian and burger restaurants everywhere, but we didn't fancy that every night. A recommendation from a friend to visit Neighbourhood Pizzas was an excellent one - and one of the best pizzas I've ever had (despite the fact I had to have it without cheese...). It's a pizza/cocktail restaurant, where everyone sits on long benches and it's all black interior and very cool. We took our pizzas to go, and they were ready super quickly and just SO GOOD. If you're in Copenhagen, you have to go here. My favourite restaurant however, was a Vietnamese place called LĂȘLĂȘ Street Kitchen which we went to on our second night, and chose to go back to on our final night. There was a choice of large main meals, or the option to get several smaller dishes - and all of it was really fresh, healthy and tasty. The highlight for me was this incredible ginger juice they served (which I've since looked to see if I can get outside of Denmark...you can't) which pretty much changed my life. It was also really good value, and our only real answer to Copenhagen cheap eats. One evening we decided to stay a bit closer to the apartment, and visited a little restaurant which had been busy every time we walked past called Cafe Pelikan. Run by a lovely Danish lady, the food was super tasty and the atmosphere very chilled. The whole menu was in Danish, so I can't tell you what they served other than the bunless burgers we had, but it was nice to feel like you were at a proper 'local' restaurant. 

TIPS & TRICKS 

  • Food in Copenhagen is expensive. You can try and save money by not eating in the very centre of the city and not buying too many cups of coffee, but ultimately you've got to eat and everything we had tasted so good. Beer, generally, wasn't as costly as we expected. 
  • Sightseeing in Copenhagen is pretty good value - the boat tour wasn't too expensive at all, some of the museums are free, and other sights aren't going to break the bank. 
  • Some restaurants add on a non-optional 25% service charge. Don't go there. 
  • Danish people are so happy & friendly. Ask them stuff - everyone we met was more than happy to help us. 
  • April is a nice time of year to go. We were quite lucky with the weather, with it only properly raining once, and it was a good temperature (with a warm coat) for walking round all day. I guess it's also pre-tourist season, so we didn't feel like we were surrounded by tourists all the time.
  • Download the app to buy bus/metro tickets - it saves so much time because bus drivers will only take the exact change. 
  • Shop around for postcards, and don't pay £6 for 4 postcards and a stamp as I did...
  • 4 and a half days was a really nice amount of time to spend there. We got to see plenty of things without rushing about, and had a chance to explore the places we didn't already know about. A week might be a bit too much - unless you're planning to go on day trips to other parts of the country or to Sweden. 
It was a really lovely city, and a really lovely trip
 - and I came home feeling like a really lucky girl. 

Have you been to Copenhagen? What were your favourite bits?
For more photos see my last Photo Diary post: http://bit.ly/1qux19b
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