Denmark was the second country I visited during my 70-day solo backpacking trip in Europe, and although it was quite cold at that time (-10 deg Celsius), I never regretted visiting Copenhagen for a few days.
I had three main reasons for visiting: to see the Danish friends I had met while I was still working with Stairway Foundation, to give a brief seminar on children’s rights, and of course, to see the city that has always been in the “best cities to live in” lists.
My first impression of Denmark is its high cost of living. Numerically, the prices were almost the same in the Philippines, e.g., one train ride costs 14 kroner (around 10-15 pesos in my country) and a small bottle of deodorant is 32 kroner (32 pesos in Manila).
Unfortunately, to get the actual value in Philippine pesos, you’d have to multiply by 10! So a 14-kroner train ride would cost P140 in the Philippines.
But in Europe, I learned not to convert, and I was lucky enough to be hosted by my friend, excellent photographer and graphic designer Nis Jensen who took me around his city and paid for everything (Thanks, Nis!).
Here’s my list of five things you should really do when you’re in Copenhagen, Denmark:
Admire the Crown Jewels in the Rosenborg Castle
Right in the center of Copenhagen is the historic Rosenborg Castle. Built in the 1600s as a summer home for Denmark’s Christian IV, it has been used as a royal residence only a few times.
For 80 kroner (US$14), you can gain entry to the castle and its treasury. I loved the opportunity to see how kings lived! There was a room with a lot of mirrors (hmmm…) and there were numerous art work, too, mostly paintings and busts of Christian IV who reigned as king in Denmark for half a century.
The Rosenborg Castle is also a museum. When you go there, don’t miss seeing the coronation chair and the three lions standing in front of it. The treasury with all the crown jewels was also very interesting, to say the least!
All those wealth in one room can surely pay for my country’s debts. According to my friend, some of the jewels are still being used by the current royal family. They’d just be taken out of the museum every time they’re used at an official function or event.
If you’d like to see the interiors of the castle, check out this video:
Have Coffee Along Nyhavn, the Old “New Harbor” of Copenhagen
Copenhagen is a very walkable city, and one thing you shouldn’t miss walking around in is Nyhavn, or the “new harbor.” It isn’t new of course, and that’s where the charm of it lies.
You will see a lot of 17th century houses that are still lived in. Built in the time of Christian V (late 1600s), you can start walking here and reach Copenhagen’s famous landmarks in just minutes.
During the summer season, it would be nice to have coffee and sit outside one of the cafés along the harbor. You can watch people passing by, and see the tour boats come in.
When we were there, though, it was winter (see the ice on the water?), so the area was almost deserted. Still, it was worth a trip to see the colorful houses by the canals and imagine how lively the place must look when it’s warmer.
How to go to Nyhavn: By metro, get off at Kongens Nytorv, then walk towards the harbor. You can also take the Copenhagen Harbour Buses which has a stop at the Royal Playhouse.
Walk On to See the Opera House and the Amalienborg Palace
From the Nyhavn, you can walk along the pier to see the Copenhagen Opera House. It’s said to be one of the most modern (and expensive!) opera houses in the world, costing half a billion US dollars to build.
The Danish government didn’t pay for it though (except in taxes); it was donated by A.P. Møller, one of the co-founders of Mærsk.
Located on an island, it can be easily reached by buses, as there are several routes with a bus stop there.
Facing the Opera House is the Amalienborg Palace and beyond it, the Marble Church. The Palace is actually a complex of four buildings where the royal family lives. In the center of the octagonal square is a statue of King Frederik V.
Absorb the Hippie Atmosphere of Christiania
When you have enough of palaces and grand structures, go and visit Christiania to get a different perspective of Copenhagen. Also known as Freetown, it’s an autonomous community that has its own flag and its own rules.
I’ll have a longer post on this later, but the 800+ or so residents (my host is one of them!) started out as informal settlers in what used to be a military barracks in the 70s. Through the years, they have made it their own.
According to my host, a lot of people who visited Christiania expressed their wish to live there—I certainly do! In fact, who wouldn’t? Nowhere in other areas in Copenhagen can you find birds of prey landing in your yard. My host Nis once saw a hawk eating a pigeon in front of his doorstep.
Christiania is a free town, yes, but the residents also make sure to take care of it. While hash is openly sold (they have a Green Light District), hard drugs aren’t. They also have a set of rules that all residents must follow.
While it’s possible to rent a unit in Christiania (everybody pays the same amount, regardless of the size of their living space), they are full at the moment. For those who plan to take their cars going to Christiania, find a parking space outside as cars are not allowed there, only bikes.
How to go to Christiania: By metro, stop at Christianshavn station and walk for about six minutes. From the exit, continue straight ahead. At the 2nd intersection, turn left (Prinsessegade) and walk for a hundred meters or so. By bus, take bus 66 from the central station. You can get off at one of the entrances to Christiania.
Visit Hans Christian Andersen’s Tomb
To cap your visit to Copenhagen, make sure to pay your respects to one of the greatest storytellers of our time, Hans Christian Andersen. You may have gone to look at the Little Mermaid in the harbour, but don’t fail to go to his tomb in Assistens Cemetery as well.
There are many interesting things to see in this cemetery, but you won’t get lost as there are a lot of signs pointing to his grave. It’s best to come in the late afternoon to better absorb the atmosphere of the place.
While my friend Rikke and I were there, we could see several runners; the place looks like a big nature park instead of a graveyard!
How to go to Assistens Cemetery: Take the bus 5A from the Town Hall Square to Assistens Cemetery.
There are so much more to see in Copenhagen. There’s the beautiful library, for example, or the Carlsberg Brewery where this famous beer is (or was?) being made.
There’s their huge city hall and a lot of historic churches that are a wonder to photograph inside and out. One thing is for sure, if ever I get a chance to return to Europe, I will really go back to Denmark.
Have you been to Copenhagen? What would you recommend to first-time visitors?