I can safely report that there is nothing rotten in the state of Denmark. In fact, I can certify that Denmark is 100% fresh after spending a few days there (rotten tomatoes reference for us nerds).
Danes are known for their convivial spirit as embodied in the trendy term hygge (pronounced who-guh). There’s no corresponding English word, but it is approximated to cosiness in life, i.e. drinking hot chocolate with your friends by an open fire with a wool blanket while wearing yoga pants. Hygge is also personal responsibility: the Danish are have a great deal of respect and care for their homeland and fellow man. They’re said to be one of the happiest peoples in the world and it’s probably because of this trust and friendliness. People don’t lock their bikes up. This blew my mind.
I spent a culture, food, art, architectural jam packed three days here, and it left me wanting to go back and experience more of that hygge life. Read my itinerary and tips after the jump. Hygge down!
I wanna Dansk with somebody…
I flew Norwegian for the first time and it was pretty, pretty, pretty good. This is Europe’s low cost long haul airline, and it is pretty bare bones. You pay for everything, from carry ons to water, so it’s best that you plan ahead and bring your own stuff. Sorry to my seat mates for the smell of McD’s chicken nugs, but a girl’s gotta eat.
Despite the no frills set up, there’s still a difference between domestic and foreign carriers, and mainly that’s responsibility. We were delayed for a few hours and they provided meal vouchers for the airport. Try getting that from any American carriers when food was not even going to be served on the plane! Amazing.
Norwegian has a fleet of Dreamliners for these flights and in my experience these seats are way more comfortable than most. So much so that I don’t even really mind that I’m in coach. Honestly, I have short legs and it’s easy to sleep.
Arriving at CPH, I immediately picked up a Copenhagen Card, which is a discount card of sorts that gives you access to a ton of attractions and even more useful, gives you metro, bus and train access. Comes in 24, 48 and 72 hour increments and was invaluable, figuratively (it costs like ~$100 for 72 hours).
The trains are well marked and everything is also in English, so it was easy to get to Kobenhaven central station, about 15 minutes or so from airport platform 2. My hotel was a short walk away and after checking in, I hit the town running.
I walked to Strøget, Europe’s longest pedestrian street where there’s a mix of souvenir shops, touristy restaurants (TGI Friday’s) and high end designer stores. I headed straight to Ilum, the Nordstrom of Denmark, to their rooftop cafe, Original Coffee for caffeine.
The coffee was desperately needed and the view from the outside patio was incredible. There’s also other restaurants and bistros on the top level; the department store has a bottom floor devoted to an Italian market as well.
Copenhagen means merchant harbor, so the central area of town sits at the banks of the øresund strait, which leads to the Baltic sea. This means there’s Canal Boat tours, which was the ultimate relaxing way to spend an hour in the afternoon. This is included in the Copenhagen card if you leave from Gammel Strand, near the statue of Absalon, a bishop important in the founding of this city in the 1100s (!).
This tour took us past many landmarks and bridges including Christianbourg-Parliament, Amalienborg, the Ballet, Nyhavn (indirectly), Papiroen, Christiana, the Black Diamond, and the infamous Little Mermaid.
I’m glad I just saw her from the boat and didn’t make the trek to see her, it’s a rather underwhelming statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved character. Now, a statue of Ursula? I would make that a destination (fav Disney villain).
Denmark is known for its sleek design (think Georg Jensen, Jorn Utzon, Scarlett Johansson’s cheek bones) and amazing architecture, like the gorgeous Opera House and Black Diamond of the central library.
Speaking of HC, after the tour, I meandered down some of the streets parallel to Strøget (lined with cafes and character), until I reached City Hall (Rådhuspladsen). In this plaza there’s a statue of HC Andersen himself.
The father of fairy tales hails from Denmark and one can see the magic that inspired many of his fables in this city, especially when you look across his boulevard and behold super hygge Tivoli Gardens.
This little wonderland is world’s second oldest theme park (the first is also in Denmark, who knew?). It’s a charming little park (think weeping willow trees and twinkling lights) with roller coasters with inexplicably Asian themes, the theaters, and lots of restaurants that are surprisingly higher end. Entrance but not rides are included in the Copenhagen card.
Here I dined at Grøften (since 1874) and tried their smørrebørd, Denmark’s favorite open faced sandwich. There are infinite possibilities for toppings, but I chose the classic shrimp and mayonnaise and a potato bacon with pickled onions. I’m not a huge fan of rye bread but it’s the dense base these accoutrements need. Be forewarned, carb city–it’s a conundrum how the Danes are so lithe and fit–must be all the cycling.
Even though I was dead ass tired from traveling, I was only able to get three hours of sleep (time changes are a bitch). That did not keep me down though. I headed out early the next morning to Torvehallerne market for Coffee Collective latte and Grød porridge. Danes love their coffee and this place had all the hipster vibe and taste that I love. Seriously plop this place down in LA and no one would know the difference, down to the attractive baristas.
As an aside, can I just say, Danish men are good looking. Young ones anyway (older ones all kind of look like Lars Ulrich), they are lean and have the BEST hair. The gel ratio is spot on, perfectly coiffed despite wearing bike helmets! It shows that they care. I mean, great Danes indeed. Emoji heart eyes forever.
Grød is famous for serving porridge almost exclusively. Oatmeal in the morning and congee for lunch. Although it’s supposed to be healthy, pretty sure that goes by the wayside when you pour a cup of salted caramel on it. Shrugs.
In parts of the city, Copenhagen has old world charm with its copper topped churches and palaces. The Round Tower was used for astronomy purposes and it literally looks like something daVinci or Galileo would have worked in. Yes, I understand it’s the wrong country reference, but just look at it!
am a glutton had extra time before my walking tour, I went to La Glacé, the oldest bakery in the city, for some hot chocolate which was served with incredible pomp in a silver pot. Oh I can’t believe I hadn’t mentioned it yet, this city is really expensive. And I’m not so good at math which was better for me to be unaware of how much I was paying for things. I’m sure you could do this city on a budget, but I bit the bullet and did not. I’m sure the pain will come later when I see all the $5 coke zeroes from 7-11.
How expensive you ask? I’m pretty sure it cost $15 for the hot chocolate. It was good, not sweet, the way I like it, but would’ve liked it more if it were not the cost of 3 Starbucks ones. Viking culture, they’re pillaging us blind, but there’s a good welfare system, free education and socialized medicine so I guess there’s a good reason.
Highly recommend free walking tours in any city that has them. You just learn so much from the little anecdotes they have. I took a tour with Copenhagen Walking Tours which went for 3 hours starting at City Hall, winding through side streets to Christianbourg, then back to Kongen’s Place (end of Strøget) to Nyhavn.
If you’ve seen a picture of Copenhagen, chances are you’ve seen Nyhavn, a row of colorfully painted mixed use town homes sitting on a canal. HC once lived here when it was an area of ill repute, which makes me like him more. Methinks some spirits could have been involved in his creative process.
We then walked along the shore to Amalienborg, the royal palaces. The guard changes at 12, and we were able to catch the guards walking en route. Also saw either the prince or princess’s motorcade leaving the castle. They ride in a Land Rover. Royals, they’re just like us!
Even though my legs were about to break off (they didn’t even know what I had in store for them), I trekked across one of the marvelous bridges into Christiania. Papiroen is a large scale food hall with cheaper eats from Korean to Mexican to churrascaria to shawarma, which is what I ate while watching the kayaks and boats pass.
As kismet would have it, I saw a beautiful swan with its compatriots, ugly duckling style.
I then walked into Freetown, which is an unincorporated hippie commune where there’s no government control. It smells like Berkeley here, especially on Pusher Street, and while that’s not my gig (read: I’m stodgy and old), it was somewhat comforting to have something remind me of Northern Cal. No pics on Pusher Street for obvious reasons.
I hauled my butt back home before it started to rain a little, but not before making an imperative stop at the Lego store. Legos were invented by a Danish carpenter in the 1950s, and who hasn’t known great creativity and great pain from stepping on one of those things?
Because I like to sample the local feel of people, I walked around the area near my hotel to a pho shop, Pho Hanoi. You might criticize my choice because yeah there’s 15 Michelin starred restaurants in town, but unless you volunteer to pay my credit card statement, I had to balance it out. Also, it was raining and I was tired, so the magic euphoria spices really hit the spot. This place was hygge, packed to the gills with locals–young, old, black, white, Asian, business people, teens. I like that even though there’s such strong national pride, people really take to other cultures here. The pho wasn’t bad either.
After four hours of sleep, I started on what can only be called an arduous journey. This itinerary is not for the faint of heart. My legs almost revolted several times, they’re killing me as I write this. I started by picking up coffee and an early American style breakfast sandwich at Next Door Cafe, a kitschy spot owned by an American expat. There aren’t many places open early (apparently hygge = sleep in), and I needed to get takeaway for my train ride up North. It’s got a real Santa Cruz/keep Austin weird vibe and it’s good!
I also picked up the best raspberry Danish of my life at Lagkagehuset in the central train station. I mean, resplendent, buttery, flaky, but every bite had some sweetness from almond paste/marzipan?, not like the crappy ones you get in America where it’s just sweet in the middle and shitty on the outside part.
One of the things that was most useful was the Rejseplanen site/app. You can map out anywhere you’re going and it’ll tell you the train, times, which platform to go to, walking directions after you get there. It’s the perfect transportation app. Used the hell out of it, and since many regional trains have wifi, it was a breeze.
Took a 40 minute train ride to Helsingor, home of Kronborg Castle aka Hamlet’s Castle. Can see why Shakespeare chose it as the setting to his great drama, it’s formidable and sits right on the water staring at Sweden. Admission was included in the Copenhagen Card, and mostly describes King Frederick and Queen Sophie, the actual inhabitants of the castle back in the 1500s. The Renaissance style fortress is simple in decor, we’re not talking Versailles here, but there’s underground casements and a huge Viking king statue.
I climbed up to the tower, 155 steps to the top, I could see how Hamlet would see ghosts, as I almost died along the way. Of course, the view and the delirium gets you pondering:
To be or not to be?
Yup, that’s the question. Apparently they have Hamlet reenactments at the castle and actors such as Christopher Plummer and Jude Law have performed here.
After touring this castle, I made my way to Humlebaek, a few stops south to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, one of the world’s most famous collections. It is so large that they can’t possibly have everything on display so there’s lots of revolving exhibits.
Marina Abramovic was the focus of one exhibition (NSFW pictures) and Tal R another. The highlight was seeing a Yayoi Kusama (a permanent installation) and Giacometti works. The sculpture garden, with its Calders, Noguchi, and Miro, is a sight to behold with the strait and Sweden as its backdrop.
After this morning of sights, I was starving, so I dragged about a mile down the coast to restaurant sletten, an eatery from celebrated chefs Rune Jochumsen and Kristian Møller. I’m not super into the formality of a lot of Michelin starred restaurants (I don’t drink much anyway), so I like to seek out a sister restaurant for lunch where pressure to drink is less but the style of food is prepared with the same delicacy. Sletten is the sister restaurant to formel b, and featured fresh ingredients prepared in a simple, French style. This hygge eatery sits on the water so cute factor at 100.
It was delicious. The fish soup with lobster was rich, creamy and decadent whilst feeling light. My seared cod was perfectly flaky and the blanquette sauce (no wine taste) was a perfect accompaniment. I splurged on dessert and had a raspberry sorbet with dry yogurt and sorghum. I ordered this for the presentation aspect alone because I was satiated from the first two courses. I can see why the chefs have earned their stars, it was flavorful, comforting food with little pretense. Very hygge.
I was able to rest my laurels for about 30 minutes riding back to the city, but then I had one last museum to visit, the Glyptotek or New Carlsberg museum. A place like this makes you just wish you were filthy rich, as it features the private collection of Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of Carlsberg brewery.
There’s French impressionists, Etruscan relics, a huge amount of Rodins, Egyptian statues, ancient roman coins. So much stuff housed in an incredible building with a central greenhouse rotunda.
Because I literally could not walk any further (35k steps already by that point), I ate at trendy Papa Ramen in the meat packing district. Again, love that all cultures are being embraced and that these ethnic restaurants are putting out authentic food and not just watered down versions. Tan tan men was spicy and nuanced.
Before leaving the next morning there was still more to eat, so I grabbed a pastry from Sankt Peder’s bageri, one of CPH’s establishment bakeries (since 1652), and a Joe & the Juice hell of a nerve (elderflower, strawberry, banana). They’re very into juices here, hygge concept.
I also bought three more danishes from Lagkagehuset and I’m a little surprised/worried that American Express didn’t email me and ask me why the hell I was spending so much money at this bakery. I was gonna save them for the plane but I ate them before. Whoopsie. Guess I’ll just have to return one day, until then: Hygge life.
Suggested souvenirs: chocolates from Anton Berg or Peter Beier; Georg Jensen, anything from Hay House. Danish textiles and design elements reign supreme.
Must try food and drink: smørrebrød and Carlsberg beer, danishes (duh)
Famous Danes: Lars Ulrich, Viggo Mortensen, Brigitte Nielsen