We visited Copenhagen in late November, mainly to see the world renowned Christmas markets. Although we ended up disappointed by the Copenhagen Christmas markets, Denmark's capital still had something to offer the easily amused city breaker. Read on and join us as we experience Copenhagen in winter.
Around Copenhagen Central StationWe arrived at the spacious Copenhagen Central Station which was lined with Danish flags. The building itself was done up in red brick with sombre accents. A large clock was displayed prominently at the entrance presumably to hurry those along that might be late for their train. Around the side of the building we found an art deco feeling sign - an 'S' with wings.
The Danes have a quirky sense of humor as evidenced by this sign outside of a local pub: we have beer as cold as your ex-girlfriend's heart. A proud pup stood at attention while his owner shopped for groceries. I like to think he was standing up to take notice of the hot dog stand across the street. Speaking of hot dogs...polser were really the only affordable food in Copenhagen.
Where to Stay in CopenhagenThe Copenhagen Star Hotel was our home for the 4 day city break we spend in the Danish capital. The hotel itself was super-convenient; about a 5 minute walk from the central train station. Admittedly, the neighborhood was a bit seedy although we never felt unsafe. The hotel included a daily breakfast and had lots of charm. It could best be described as a bit threadbare as evidenced by the well-worn banister and stairway. Art deco accents lined the hall making us feel right at home. For the price (~130 EUR per night) (and I've already been very vocal that very little comes cheap in Copenhagen), it was a good home base for our stay in the area.
A Sunset Walk in Copenhagen in Winter
StrøgetStrøget, Copenhagen's pedestrianized shopping artery originates near City Hall. We strolled down the festively decorated street. We wandered here and there jaunting down various small alleys and side streets as the whim struck us. We spotted a building with E. Nobel written on the facade. I wonder if this has anything to do with the family responsible for the world-renowned Nobel Prize. We stumbled upon the university with busts of famous academics including Niels Bohr.
Torvehaller Markethall in Norrebro QuarterWe soon left behind the more historic district typified by solid brick buildings. Torvehaller Markethall lit up the surrounding Norrebro quarter and was hard to miss. Inside we found all manner of Danish treats. Strange boules that looked like they belonged in a science experiment stood ready to tap artisanal oils and vinegars for the discerning customers. Huge displays of pine cones awaited those interested in making do-it-yourself Christmas decorations. Apparently foodies also buy them to harvest the pine nuts themselves! A candelabra hinted at the poshness of a local wine stall. Lights and lanterns added to the atmosphere of the scene. We took a break at a stall selling homemade pastries.
Copenhagen's Round TowerOur final stop of the evening was Copenhagen's Round Tower. We wound our way up a slow incline to the top. En route, we discovered a cafe and museum exhibit. One portion of the exhibit centered around the increasing importance of leisure time. Now that's something VacationCounts and I can relate to!
From the top of the tower, we braved the cold, brisk wind to look down on the lights of the city below. We even spotted red and white smoke stacks in the distance. These contrasted sharply with the historic spires of Old Town Copenhagen. We took the stairs and ramp back downstairs just in time for the closing bell. En route, we passed a diorama of the site. We were also educated about the all important Round Tower Privy.
Back on the street, we admired the scene we'd observed from above up close. The lights and fountains added a festiveness to the atmosphere. Amid the lights and neon of the old and new structures, we made our way back toward our hotel and called it a night after a busy day of travel and exploration.
Tivoli Gardens Christmas Market
We spent one of our evenings in Copenhagen exploring the Christmas Market at Tivoli Gardens. Although we felt a bit like we were being held hostage to amusement park prices, we decided to try Paafuglen for dinner. We were seated at a table in a glass enclosed patio and served up a Christmas beer. We sampled a rich lamb dish and a Christmas spiced duck with stewed fruits. The food was served with unbelievable efficiency. Given that the food was so expensive (the meal set us back almost 100 EUR), we wished they'd at least make a pretext of taking longer to cook it! The restaurant was decorated with whimsical accents for the holidays. We knew we were paying for the location, atmosphere, and convenience, but I still felt a bit indignant at the prices charged and the rushed service.
A Day Trip to Frederiksborg CastleWe awoke the next morning and hopped on the local train from Copenhagen Central Station to Hillerød for a day trip to Frederiksborg Castle in the suburbs of Copenhagen. In less than an hour, we'd arrived. We strolled through the charming town of Hillerød. We were headed, more or less, toward the castle when we chanced upon Chokolade Mageriet.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for a more traditional Christmas market to visit? Check out our favorite European Christmas Markets spanning 3 countries.
We can never resist popping into a chocolate shop. In this case, little did we suspect that this chance visit would lead to an amazing discovery. We spotted shelf after shelf of thick chocolate domes. We just had to give them a try and picked up four different flavors. This is how we discovered that amazingly sweet Danish creation and singular highlight of our trip to Copenhagen - the Flødebolle.
Frederiksborg Slot grew larger and more impressive as we got closer. I loved the castle's reflection captured in the perfectly still lake. We rounded the moat and found the entrance. We passed through the gate and into the castle grounds. A large tower guarded the entrance. We passed over the moat and into the inner sanctum. The courtyard was breathtaking and centered on a grand fountain. The fountain itself was lined with evergreen branches to celebrate the Christmas season. We passed over another drawbridge guarded by a fearsome lion. We ventured inside out of the cold winter rain to explore the interior of the castle.
One of the most striking sights was that of the crests of various dignitaries lining the stairwells and the inside of the royal chapel. We were truly inspired when we saw the crest of South African statesman Nelson Mandela. We continued deeper into the palace and admired the sumptuous furnishings and decorations. The grand ballroom was particularly spectacular when observed from afar. The little accents were even more intriguing. Panels highlighting the lives of everyday workers lined the window frames.
After getting our fill of the opulent Danish royal lifestyle, we headed back outside into the rain. Umbrellas in hand, we wandered around back to the palace gardens. The perfectly trimmed trees and hedges amazed us. Looking back, we enjoyed views of the palace beyond. We weren't the only ones braving the elements of Copenhagen in winter to explore this beautiful scene. Still, it was cold and the weather was deteriorating by the minute. We descended out of the gardens and back into town. We discovered a small cafe in an arcade in Hillerød called Engelhardt's. A couple of generously sized Smørrebrød and a cup of tea was just what we needed to warm up and get ready to continue to explore Copenhagen.
Christianshavn and ChristianiaAfter our day trip to Frederiksborg Slot, we returned to Copenhagen City Center and made our way across the harbour to Christianshavn and the surprising outpost of hippie commune living in the heart of the city - Christiania. Christianshavn itself is lined with canals. A strange, seemingly bisected spiraling church tower commands the skyline in the neighborhood. Just up the road from the church spire is the counter-culture commune of Christiania. Created by squatters in 1971 in a former military barracks, the commune features colorful and copious street art. A famous scene shows how Christiania doesn't tolerate hard drugs while offering up plenty of marijuana for sale. Many of the areas of Christiania are off-limits to photography for this reason. Residents make a living by selling all sorts of wares. We enjoyed some cinnamon roasted nuts. After our brief tour, we emerged from Christiania via a rustic looking totem pole and signpost. If you didn't know, you'd never guess that a counter-culture community was hiding just behind these walls in the heart of Copenhagen.
Christianhavn to Nyhavn by FerryWe decided to walk back to our hotel by traversing the length of Christianhavn to the ferry stop. As we did so, it got darker, colder, and rainier. We could see Nyhavn across the Harbour but couldn't immediately find the ferry stop. Fortunately, we spotted a local boarding a private boat along the canal and he pointed us to the ferry just outside the opera house. We were chilled to the bone and decided that the best remedy for this would be to eat the last of our Flødeboller. We savored the last few bites as the public ferry came into view for the 5 minute journey across the harbour to Nyhavn.
Nyhavn After DarkWe took the ferry in Copenhagen to Nyhavn and were drawn into Hyttefadets Pub. The place was packed but the host insisted on bringing in a small table from outside and squeezing us in. We appreciated the opportunity to get inside from the cold and rain and warm up while watching locals imbibe copious amounts of wine and other alcoholic beverages. Some of the larger groups even broke into a round of Christmas carols! We treated ourselves to a glass of gløgg, the Danish version of mulled wine typically souped up with a shot of strong spirits like vodka or brandy. The best part about gløgg is the raisins and almond slivers soaked in liquor. We definitely felt warmed to the core by the time we finished our drink. We didn't even mind that the gløgg cost us the equivalent of about $10 USD per glass. It felt like a bit of a bargain after seeing the Copenhagen Christmas markets selling their own versions for the equivalent of $12-$15 USD per cup.
Day Trip from Copenhagen to RoskildeWe took advantage of our hotel's location near the Copenhagen central train station to embark on yet another day trip, this time to Roskilde. After a train ride of less than an hour, we emerged in a charming small town. We spotted a gate leading down a tree-lined path. Always walk through the open door...that's our motto and that's exactly what we did. We were rewarded with views of trees sculpted into works of art. The lone chapel in the center of a small cemetery stood guard. We could see the Roskilde Cathedral spires peeking out behind well-coiffed hedges.
Roskilde Viking Ship MuseumThe other showcase attraction in Roskilde, Denmark is the Viking Ship Museum. We wandered down to the edge of the fjord from the town proper. The Viking Ship Museum stood squat and square in concrete at the water's edge. Replica Viking ships stood out front. We walked up the steps to the entrance. Inside, we found all manner of information, trivia, and fun. I was even able to construct a replica Viking ship out of paper! In one area, you could don clothing of the time and parade around on replica Viking ships. We saw fragments of real Viking ships that had been brought up from their watery grave in the channel outside. It was amazing to see these 1000 year old craft put together once more.
After our tour of the museum, we took a walk along the water. We spotted a flock of coots and goldeneye ducks going about their business. We walked past boats in dry dock as we headed back to town. We huffed and puffed back up the hill from the fjord's edge toward the Roskilde Cathedral. We turned to admire the view back to where we'd started. Our next stop was definitely lunch as our bellies were growling. There weren't a ton of options for a sit-down meal in the heart of Roskilde. However, we discovered Cafe Vivaldi and were quite satisfied with our meal which included a tuna salad sandwich and fresh omelette. As usual, the meal was expensive but in this case, the food was very tasty and the portions quite generous. We left full and satisfied for our return train journey to Copenhagen.
Copenhagen Fast FoodWe embarked on an evening stroll through Copenhagen with a primary goal of finding something to eat that wasn't too expensive. After much deliberation, we finally settled on Strøg Shawarma. We were served a sizable pita pocket filled with shaved meats. The best part was the huge bowls of spicy sauce on each table. My ears were smoking and my nose was running by the time we were done. Even so, I couldn't resist adding just a little bit more chili to my last bite. So good. As an added bonus, the upstairs seating area featured beautiful stained glass chandeliers adding to the ambiance of this fast food joint. I'd definitely recommend Strøg Shawarma for cheap eats in Copenhagen.
VesterbroOn our last day in Copenhagen, we turned left out of the Copenhagen Star Hotel and into the slightly grittier neighborhood of Vesterbro. The streets were lined with various porn shops and liquor stores. This soon gave way to some lovely historic facades. We even stumbled upon a historic park featuring colorful rides for children. Street art abounded in the neighborhood. One work seemed to have been inspired by Picasso himself. Other murals had a wilder note.
KastelletAfter walking the equivalent of a couple stops, we hopped on the metro at Enghave Station and emerged near Kastellet, a star-shaped fortress surrounded by a moat and partially converted into a park. Serene tufted ducks made their home in the calm water. We rounded a corner of the fortress path and St. Alban's church came into view. We knew we were nearing the harbour. Before we headed to the water, we took a brief stroll through the Kastellet. A walking path ringed the top of the star-shaped mounds. We passed a serpentine fountain on the way past St. Albans and toward the harbour. We admired the garden full of sculptures accompanying the church. We could see the walking path along the water below us.
The Little Mermaid
We soon arrived at the iconic Little Mermaid statue that guards the Copenagen Harbour. We jostled with our fellow tourists to take the obligatory photo. Smoke stacks rose in the distance across the harbor. The water lapped gently at the Little Mermaid's feet. We spotted a group of swans and watched them progress along the harbour. We followed them past the Little Mermaid and back toward City Centre. We were soon sidetracked by other sights including a giant zinc 'thinker'. Windows of a local warehouse were filled with dramatic marble works of art. Michelangelo's famous David doesn't only call Florence home. A bronze version lines the harbour path in Copenhagen too.