Shelley and I decided to fly to Copenhagen during the long July 4 work holiday. I’ve had a sweet spot for Scandinavian noir for a few years, so the city has been on my list for awhile. We settled on the idea back in January and committed to flights not long after, but we really didn’t start planning until earlier this week — we’re looking forward to exploring the City of Spires from scratch.
2 P.M. The Coziest Airport
Oddly, the first thing we found ourselves fixated with in Denmark was the beautiful wooden floor of Copenhagen Airport (CPH). Silently, we raced down the dark, parquet halls (seriously, we couldn’t get enough of those floors) to immigration, blissfully unaware that our time in Scandinavia would move at a delightfully slower pace than at home in Manhattan.
3 P.M. Settling in by the Sea
After a 30 minute cab ride through the mist, Shelley and I were already enchanted with the city. Our driver pointed out cobblestone storefronts, grassy wetlands, and bikers — oh, yes, the bikers — before dropping us in front of our “cozy cottage by the sea” Airbnb.
Grethe greeted us at the door and showed us around her charming summer home before giving us bear hugs and excusing herself to her granddaughter’s seventh birthday. Exhausted from our overnight flight, Shelley and I took the next few hours off to nap and catch up on the best Danish-dubbed American television we never knew we were missing.
8 P.M. Colorful Canals
Somewhat unaware of the time, but also just starving for a real meal, we ventured out into breezy Copenhagen for the first time. Not quite sure if the sun would even set at this time of the year (it finally did, just before 10 P.M.), we walked the mile from our home for the week to Copenhagen’s #1 photo op destination: Nyhavn.
Expecting the Danish version of Times Square, we were pleasantly surprised to find the canal lively yet navigable. After a quick surveillance of the pastel veneers that line the water, Shelley and I ducked in to Cap Horn for our first local meal: lamb, venison, potatoes, and greens.
Feasting (at least relative to well-mannered European portions) away on the boardwalk in an ocean of merry Danes, we were finally off duty from our lives back home.
4 P.M. Jet Lag and Afternoon Views
A night that never quite reached astronomical twilight left us snoozing through our morning, and then afternoon, alarm clocks. But when we finally crawled out of bed, Shelley and I were determined to fit an entire afternoon’s worth of sightseeing into the remaining daylight.
Only a couple blocks to the east, we started our day at Langelinie, drifting through the park and promenade with a few hundred other tourists freshly unloaded from mega buses on the pier. First up, Copenhagen’s most iconic symbol, The Little Mermaid (Den lille Havfrue).
From the waterfront, we retreated back inland through Churchillparken, a quiet, terraformed green space commemorating Winston Churchill and the British-led liberation of Denmark during World War II, and then onto Kastellet, another terraformed star fortress.
After circling the island citadel, Shelley and I walked south towards the heart of the city. On our way, we paused to gawk at Copenhagen’s other universal icon, Frederik’s Church (Frederiks Kirke), an emerald domed Lutheran church and the focal point of the city’s skyline. Then, just a few hundred yards away, we lingered in the massive courtyard of Amalienborg, the four-palace home of the Danish royal family.
6 P.M. Street Food Dinner
Starving again, having missed out on nearly another full day of Danish cuisine, Shelley and I fervently crossed the city’s inner harbour via pedestrian bridge and darted to dinner at Copenhagen Street Food. Distracted for a few minutes by an impromptu Yoko Ono art exhibit, we finally ducked inside the market and wandered the bustling maze of food stalls. Smørrebrød from Handmade, barbecue pork sandwiches from Oink Oink, duck fat fries from Copper and Wheat, and a couple dark ales from Stormly kept us nibbling for 90 minutes.
8 P.M. Royal Palaces
Stuffed from dinner, we dodged the shadows slowly creeping across the inner city. With the grounds deserted in the after-hours of the weekend, Shelley and I floated through the government halls of Christiansborg Palace and the Royal Stables (Kongelige Stalde), some of the most beautiful cityscapes we’d see on our trip. A few dozen Instagram ops later, we strayed back to Nyhavn and closed out our night with ice creams from Vaffelbageren.
8 A.M. Monday Morning Commute
After debating whether we had the nerve to hoof it with Copenhagen’s leagues of bicycle commuters, Shelley and I opted to play it safe on the S-train for our morning commute. A short walk to Østerport Station and 20 minutes figuring out how to buy a ticket later, we were on our way to Copenhagen City Hall (Københavns Rådhus). Still half an hour early for our tour, we perched along the western wall of Tivoli Gardens, spying on the commotion of the city’s laborers crossing a world of tourists.
9 A.M. The Grand Tour
To better investigate the 99.9% of Denmark that isn’t urban Copenhagen, Shelley and I signed up for a Hamlet Tours day trip, seeking out northern Zealand’s most famous cathedrals and castles. For six or so hours, we piled into a 16-person mini-bus and cruised through the island’s rural parts, cameras in hand. Led by the fearless Maya, a university student and Roskilde native, we probed UNESCO World Heritage sites, local diners, and medieval mansions.
First up, Roskilde Cathedral and its reserve of royal burial chapels. Next, a quick hour at the nearby Viking Ship Museum diving into the research of preserved warships. Not far away in Hillerød, tuna sandwiches at Cafe Valentin and a jaw dropping waltz through the never-ending halls of Frederiksborg Castle. Finally, live Shakespeare in Kronborg (a.k.a. Elsinore in Hamlet) and one final parking lot dash through a sudden downpour before heading back to the city.
6 P.M. Dinner Downtown
Dropped off from the tour, Shelley and I again found ourselves at Nyhavn looking for food. Fortunately, having done some master Yelping the night before, this time we had reservations.
A few blocks away, we arrived at Kjøbenhavn for the Danish (but more filling) equivalent of a tasting. The cute bistro’s tiny menu packed a punch; Shelley and I opted for 3 courses of salmon, steak tips, and sorbet that left us more satisfied than any meal thus far. Already happy with our choice, we were even more pleased to see our decision further validated as night fell and the snug room filled to capacity with more reservations.
1 P.M. The National Museum
No trip abroad would be complete without at least one formal museum visit. Since we had no intention of leaving stones unturned in Denmark, Shelley and I made sure to stop by the National Museum of Denmark (Nationalmuseet) for a few hours on Tuesday afternoon.
4 P.M. More Street Food
Still not sick of castles, we next took off for the seemingly out of place Rundetårn in inner city Copenhagen. The 17th-century astronomical observatory, named for its helical, sloping staircase also placed us at the doorstep of the apparently famous døp, a gourmet hot dog pølser stand. And yeah, as promised, it was pretty great.
After a bit a people-watching and arguing about whether we were sitting in front of the original Joe & the Juice (we weren’t), we headed to Torvehallerne, another mostly-open-air market in central Copenhagen, to grab pastries from Brioche Dorée.
5 P.M. Strolling Through the Park
Finally, Shelley and I closed out our time in Denmark by strolling north through Østre Anlæg, a public park, and the University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden. As we meditated on our week for 90 minutes atop the rolling hills and ponds, we realized we still had one thing left to do in Copenhagen…
Hurriedly, we raced to the Netto down the street from our Airbnb for one final helping of rugbrød, lox, and, well, Danishes.