With old world squares and palaces, colorful waterfront townhouses, copper spires, and modern glass buildings, Copenhagen is a fascinating smorgasbord of sights. It’s absolutely beautiful, and it was easily one of our favorite places we went on this trip.
We started and ended our cruise in Copenhagen, so we were fortunate to be able to tack on a few extra days there during our trip. Our original plan was to do most of our Copenhagen sightseeing over 2 days post-cruise, but when our cruise departure time was delayed about 8 hours due to engine trouble on the cruise before us, we ended up with an extra day in Copenhagen prior to leaving. This meant that we were able to spend a day before and a day after the cruise exploring the town and it also gave us extra time to get out of the city a bit.
Copenhagen is a city that is easily accessible for tourists. The people we encountered were so friendly, and everyone from the gas station attendant to the hot dog vendor spoke English really well. People were happy to help. In fact, we ran into the same metro kiosk attendant at two different stations on different days, and both times she went above and beyond to make sure we knew the right kind of ticket to purchase and the easiest way to get to where we were going.
Speaking of the metro, the city and outlying areas are all in one large public transportation system. For a single price you can ride buses, trains, and subways, getting you pretty much anywhere you want to go. This, along with the most pedestrian and bike-friendly roadways I’ve ever seen, make this city a breeze to get around. I mean, where else do the bikes have their own streets complete with lanes and stoplights?!?
In three days, we covered quite a bit, and here are some of our favorites:
Nyhavn: The quintessential waterfront on every Copenhagen postcard. The canal is full of tourists, but for good reason. It’s a beautiful stroll with outdoor cafes and wooden boats out front of the most colorful townhouses dating back as far as the 1600’s. Hans Christian Andersen even lived here for many years.
The Little Mermaid: Speaking of Hans Christian Andersen, a statue of the Little Mermaid sits a short walk away from Nyhavn. The city of Hans Christian Andersen has quite a few things around town honoring the author, including a statue of him near City Hall, but the Little Mermaid statue is the most iconic.
Canal Tour: Some of the best views of the city are from the water, so it was fun to take the open top canal tour on our first day to help us get oriented with the city.
City Walking Tour: Led by our good “friend” Rick Steves’ handy guidebook, we set off for a few hours on a walk through the city. This is one of our favorite ways to see a new city, and it didn’t disappoint in Copenhagen. We passed City Hall and Tivoli Gardens (an amusement park), strolled along the pedestrian boulevard (Stroget), and had lunch in the City Square (Gammeltorv). We wandered back alleys, walked past Christiansborg Palace and the copper dragon shaped spires of the stock exchange, and the meandered back to the piers of Nyhavn. From there we made our way to Amelienborg Palace where we watched the changing of the guard before strolling up to Kastellet Park home of the Little Mermaid Statue.
Strolling through the city: It’s such a pretty city to walk, that several times we found ourselves casually taking the long way through town or walking along the river just because we could.
National Museum: While Americans tend to know more western European history, I’ll admit that my northern European history is a bit lacking. The National Museum was a great way to spend an afternoon learning more about Scandinavian history spanning prehistoric times, the Vikings, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and modern times. Room after room of this museum is stuffed full of artifacts. It’s almost like a mini, Danish version of the Smithsonian.
On our last full day in Denmark, we decided we wanted to get out of the city and explore two castles that had both been recommended to us. We bought all day metro passes and then headed off to Fredricksborg Castle in in Hillerod and Kronborg Slot in Helsingor. Both were easily accessible by train, and devoting a half day to each seemed just about right. Plus the trains kind of make a triangle between Copenhagen and the two castles, making it easy to get out there and back.
Fredricksborg Castle: Built in the 1600s, Fredricksborg Castle is the largest Renaissance Castle in Scandinavia. Although there was a fire there in the 1800s much of it was restored, and today it holds the Museum of National History. The castle and the surrounding gardens were just breathtaking!
Kronborg Slot: “To be, or not to be: that is the question.” Regardless of the answer to the question of whether Kronborg Slot is or is not in fact Elsinore (the castle for the backdrop of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark), the castle stands on its own merits. Elsinore is apparently the anglicized way to spell Helsingor, the city where Kronborg Slot is located, and as such they’ve made a big deal about the tentative connections. This includes a Shakespeare festival, live performances of Hamlet, cut outs of Hamlet and Ophelia, and more. There was even a live acting performance of certain scenes while we were there.
The castle, complete with moats and turrets, sits on the coast guarding the waterway between the Baltic and North Seas. It’s strategic location allowed Denmark to control the entrance to Baltic, and the taxes they received helped make the kingdom of Denmark very wealthy at its peak. While quite impressive from the outside, the inside of the castle was Spartan due to having caught fire and then only being restored in a minimalist fashion with bare rooms and wooden floors. However, one of the more unique parts of the castle was getting to roam the crypts underneath.
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