Friday, 30 January 2015

COPENHAGEN, Denmark.

I've heard many people refer to Denmark as the happiest country in the world – I saw this for my own eyes on my recent trip to the fabulous Danish capital Copenhagen (‘København’ in Danish).  The thing which stood out to me most about the city was its friendly people, who always seem to have a smile on their face, even despite the gloomy January weather!  Copenhagen in a historic maritime city of Viking heritage, which from my experience had a very laid-back, liberal and fun atmosphere.  I fell in love with Copenhagen, as well as the Danish people and way of life.  Copenhagen is a small city compared to other European capitals.  There is so much to see though and it is easy to get round all the sights on foot.  A must see is the city’s fabulous 17th century harbour – Nyhavn (literally ‘New Haven’).  Filled with extravagant sea-faring vessels and lined with cheerful pastel coloured restaurants and café bars, this part of town is a real social hub and a great place to sit out and relax.  I visited in rather unforgiving January weather and was pelted by the elements, but from what I was told the place really comes to life during the sunnier summer months.

Nyhavn

Copenhagen’s historic centre is a charming maze of cobbled streets and brightly coloured shops and houses.  It is so nice just to let yourself get lost whilst wandering through these pretty streets.  The city’s shopping district is centred on a long pedestrianized street in the historical centre, known in Danish as ‘Strøget’.  This is the collective name for five streets, known individually as Frederiksberggade, Nygade, Vimmelskaftet, Østergade and Nytorv.  It is often claimed that this is the longest shopping street in the world, whilst this is actually untrue there is certainly more than enough shops to keep most shoppers busy!  What I would say though, is I was disappointed to see this historic shopping district overrun by the ‘usual’ high street brands. 

Pretty back streets of Copenhagen

No visit to Copenhagen would be complete without a visit to the famed Little Mermaid statue (Danish: Den Lille Havfrue), perched upon a boulder at the edge of the harbour.  This iconic bronze statue has become a symbol of the city.  It was created by sculptor Edvard Erikson all the way back in 1913 and is based on the Danish fairytale of the same name – ‘The Little Mermaid’.  The story tells of a beautiful mermaid who fell in love with a human prince, giving up her life in the sea for her heart-throb.  The statue is smaller than I expected, but I’m glad I took a trip to see it. 

The Little Mermaid

The Danish seem very proud of their royals!  This is evident from the numerous palaces in and around Copenhagen.  The most central of these is the grand Amalienborg Palace, which is actually formed from four identical palaces which sit around a courtyard.  Each day at around noon, the ‘changing of the guards’ takes place, a traditional ceremony which is popular with tourists.  The guards march between Gothersgade and Amalienborg.  The imposing statue of Frederik V watches over the courtyard.  To see the palaces from outside in the courtyard is free, but those wanting to see inside the Amalienborg Museum do so at a price of 70DKK on weekdays and 90DKK on Saturdays.  I didn’t visit the museum, but I understand it is a good insight into the Danish royal history.

One of the four identical buildings of Amalienborg Palace.

Copenhagen’s reputation as the ‘bike city’ is definitely well deserved – cycling has become engrained in the city’s culture.  Rain or shine, you will see bicycles everywhere!  The city is perfectly adapted for cycling – almost every street has a bike lane separate from the traffic, so cycling is easier and safer than in a lot of other cities.  You can hire bikes all over Copenhagen (I hired one from the hostel cheaply) – it’s a great way to get round all the sights, whilst keeping fit and protecting the environment at the same time.

Historic centre

Copenhagen has a fun and liberal feel.  This liberal feel is taken one step further in the self-proclaimed ‘free state’ of Christiania in Kristianshavn.  Squatters first took over an abandoned army barracks in the 1970s and established the community, governed by its own set of laws.  Guns, violence, bulletproof clothing and hard drugs are outlawed by residents, whereas marijuana features an active part of the culture.  The community has its own flag; a red banner with three solid yellow circles (representing the dots of the three ‘i’s in the word Christiania.  The flag can be seen flying around the streets of Christiania and is printed on souvenirs.  This is a very colourful part of Copenhagen, with barely a wall left uncovered by murals.  It is such a unique place to visit – I’ve never really seen anywhere else like it! 

A typical house in Christiania.

Before my trip, upon telling people I was going to Copenhagen, a very common response was ‘do you realise how expensive Copenhagen is?’  And indeed I did have quite a shock upon arrival as to how costly the city actually is.  Saying that, I managed to keep within my strict budget.  I stayed in the Copenhagen Downtown Hostel, which I cannot recommend enough (click here to see separate blog post).  Hostel accommodation certainly helped keep the cost down.  To keep food costs low, I ate at the hostel most days, as restaurant prices can be extortionate.  Another tip is to walk everywhere!  Copenhagen has the advantage of being a small and compact city, which really cuts down the transport costs!


Typical canal scene in Copenhagen

There are plenty of opportunities for daytrips outside of Copenhagen for those who would like to see the surrounding area.  There is the impressive Frederiksborg Palace at Hillerød, the grand Kronborg Castle (the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, also a UNESCO world heritage site) in Helsingør or the Viking Ship museum in Roskilde.  All three are easily accessible by train from Copenhagen’s central station.  Alternatively, you could take a trip over the Øresund into Sweden.  This can be done by ferry between Helsingør and Helsingborg, or by train using the Øresund Bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö.  I crossed the bridge and visited the cities of Malmö and Lund.  Although only a half an hour train ride away, the Swedish side of the water feels distinctly different to the Danish side and makes for a very interesting trip.  I’ve written a separate post on my trip to Sweden, which can be viewed here.

Lund Cathedral (Sweden) 30 minutes by train from Copenhagen

To sum up, I absolutely loved every minute of Copenhagen.  The Danish people are amongst the happiest and friendliest people I have ever met, they could not have made me feel more welcome.  Copenhagen is a small city with a lot of charm and a lot to see.

As always, thank you for reading!  Feel free to share your views in the comments below!

Elis Griffiths. x