I first met the city of Copenhagen in 5th grade while reading the novel, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Even then I was amazed at how put together Denmark seemed to be. Whether it was attributed to their push for equal rights or their active fight to protect the Jews, it was a place I knew I wanted to visit in the future.
Twenty years later, I was finally able to visit Copenhagen during my honeymoon. We planned a Scandinavian getaway, and this was the city I was most looking forward to visiting. Denmark has ranked near the top of the World’s Happiest Places list for many years, and I wanted to see what the Danish did to make them so darn happy. Perhaps there would be a way I could incorporate that into my own way of life. Of course, it’s not that easy since I don’t control the government, and this seems to be a big stakeholder in providing happiness. Imagine that. But, never fear, I did gather some insights to bring home.
Since I shared this experience with someone who is pretty important to me, I thought it would be advantageous to include his perspective. Nothing like putting the husband to work. His name is Michael, and he has some great insights to share. Stay tuned for his input.
Together, we have compiled a list of ten moments to induce liberated travel. So, let’s begin.
Stay in the old port of Nyhavn.
- This is the neighborhood we called home. The colorful harbor may seem like a tourist trap, but it was a perfect place to make our base. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Copenhagen, this is probably the place it was taken. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend eating around here, but the central location made for a great place to start each morning. Several of the items on this list were just a bike ride away from our hotel. Being a photographer, I especially appreciated being able to get out before anyone else, and imagine this historic port as it was back in the 1600’s with the sailors and ladies of the night welcoming them for a drink and a bit more.
- So, Michael, what are your thoughts? Nyhavn is a bit touristy, would you recommend staying there? I guess it depends on what you’d like to experience in the city. I can see why it has a “touristy” vibe at times, however there are things about this area that if done correctly can still be a unique and authentic Danish experience. For example, sitting by the pier and docks enjoying a beer in Nyhavn’s touristy places can seem expected from someone who is visiting the picturesque scene, however enjoying a relaxed conversation with someone accompanied by a delicious beverage and taking it easy is all part of the Scandinavian experience – it is the way that Danes (as well as adjacent Scandinavian countries) live their lives. The streets and pedestrian walkways might be a bit crowded at times with people who are not native at all to the area, but if you learn to appreciate what originally made it such a hot spot of the city in the first place and take in the environment above the other aimlessly ambling tourists, you can enjoy the place itself and not just what you might see on the surface or pushed into the storefront windows of souvenir shops. For me, riding my rented bike through this area and learning how to correctly navigate through the streets as a part of the regular traffic is what made me feel a little more connected with the area rather than just another tourist. Plus, the hotel that we stayed at was a nice local and historic spot in Nyhavn which also made us not feel as much as visitors, but more part of the culture. We had traditional Danish breakfasts there and were able to talk with the people at the front desk who knew everything about the city and made great recommendations for how get to the places that we researched ahead of time that makes Copenhagen special. I would certainly recommend staying in Nyhavn, just make sure to embrace the philosophy of experiencing the area and culture for what it is, not just what the pandering shop keeps expect you to see.
Get your beer and BBQ fix with Warpigs.
- I didn’t start drinking beer until I met my husband, and now I am cursed with going to craft breweries and drinking flights of beer. It is a pretty tough life, but I’m managing. I had kind of heard of Warpigs before we left, but it was my husband that was the expert on this matter. I figured, he is the one who taught me how to love beer, so I trusted his guidance in visiting this brewery. We were definitely not disappointed. Although it took some unique navigating to find the hidden golden brew, we prevailed.
- Michael, what makes Warpigs such a well-known brewery? Being a craft beer enthusiast, my introduction to Warpigs brewery started off by just hearing about it in the craft beer community. People would always be talking about it and whenever it would be available in the states (whether at a liquor store for purchase or at a restaurant or bar), people seemed to lose their minds to get their hands on it and would soon be sold out. Based on my observation of this high demand, I kept my eyes open for whenever I would have the opportunity for me to get my hands on some. Once I finally did, I could see what all the fuss was about. Not only is their beer great and vast in regards to their different styles, but also after learning more about the history of the brewery and it’s beginnings as the collaboration of the Danish brewery, Mikeller and Indiana’s own 3 Floyds Brewery, has a strong foot in the door of the craft beer community. Anyone who is into craft beers knows at least one, if not both of these renowned breweries and their team-up to form Warpigs is just as big. The collaboration between these two separate, yet somehow strangely similar breweries have created Warpigs which has expanded from their starting point in Copenhagen, now to new Warpigs brewpubs in the U.S.. The Warpigs Brewpub in Copenhagen is a large industrial looking establishment, with a large variety of great beers, accompanied by an absolutely amazing menu of BBQ style food served from their in-house butcher station! A great place to eat and enjoy a great beer!
Experience it all at the Glyptotek.
- I am a sucker for art museums, especially when filled with nude marble statues. It is kind of funny because I’ve been exposed to this kind of art so much, that I forget some people may think it is taboo. I was going to show some pictures to my 5th grade students, and I remembered that our culture has a little bit more censorship with nudity, even when it is art. What I appreciate so much about marble sculpture is the ability to capture emotion, movement, and just the overall realism. Something the Glyptotek has done very well to showcase the art is providing a stark contrast for the background. The walls are painted bold shades of blue to really make the marble stand out. As if this weren’t enough, the Glyptotek is home to mummies, a cafe, paintings, and gardens.
- There is more to appreciate about this museum besides its collections. Can you tell us a little more about the Glyptotek museum? How did it get started? I was not really very familiar with the Glyptotek museum before going to Copenhagen, but I was familiar with the founder of it, or at least the other part of his life that he was known for before the opening of the museum. Segwaying from the last question, I suppose it all starts with beer. The founder and proprietor of the Glyptotek museum was Carl Jacobsen, famous Danish brewer and son of the founder of the famous Carlsburg brewery in Denmark. Before going to Copenhagen, this was the extent of my knowledge on Carl Jacobsen, but after my time in Denmark I was fortunate enough to learn a lot more about him beyond the beer. While we understood that it was an art museum that we were interested in visiting during our time in Copenhagen from our research before leaving for the trip, it wasn’t until we actually stepped inside that we realized how great of a place it actually is. In fact, despite being two art enthusiasts, we had originally planned on being there for only a couple hours because we wanted to make sure that we had time for other things. However, after realizing what we had really stumbled upon at the Glyptotek museum, we actually found ourselves there for almost double the time, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way! What makes this museum so great is the environment it evokes when walking through it’s many vast exhibits – all encompassing a different theme, but maintaining their own unique intrigue. During our self-guided tour of the museum, not only did we get to see amazing pieces but we also learned about the very unique history of the museum. The best description of its origins can be found on the museum’s very informative website: “Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek was founded by the brewer, Carl Jacobsen (1842-1914), who was one of the great industrial magnates of the 19th century and the greatest art patron Denmark has seen. Carl Jacobsen was a passionate collector. From the profits generated by his brewery Ny Carlsberg, he built a rich collection of art and cultural artifacts. In 1888 Carl Jacobsen gave his art collection to the public and began the building of Glyptoteket to house it. Another exceptional donation followed in 1899, this time of the master brewer’s vast collection of antiquities, which lead to the building of an entire new wing to the new museum.
Glyptoteket has been open to the public since 1897 and holds over 10,000 works primarily divided between ancient antiquities and Danish and French sculpture and painting from the 19th century.” This museum is a must see for anyone interested in sculpture, painting, or historical relics. The beautiful ambiance of the museum will elicit feelings of creativity and cultural appreciation, while sipping on your favorite Carlsberg brew served at it’s bistro-like cafe within.
Be a peddler. That is, bike your way around town.
- Biking is the best way to get around the city. You do need to know what you are doing though because they are serious about their biking in Copenhagen. If you haven’t been on a bike in awhile, I recommend some basic practice before you come. We rented bikes for 24 hours and saw the city from a whole new perspective. Everywhere that we had been before on our honeymoon was a walking city. Our feet hurt. Although walking is probably my favorite way to get around, biking is a lot more efficient while still being scenic.
- What do you think are some of the benefits to renting a bike in Copenhagen? I would say that the best benefit of renting a bike in Copenhagen is feeling as if you are a part of the culture of Copenhagen. When people think of bikes as the primary source of transportation, we mostly think of places such as China or Amsterdam, but bikes in Copenhagen are just as vital to their culture as they are anywhere else, and for good reason too. Scandinavians are a very forward thinking and progressive people, so any reason to lessen their emissions, keep healthy, and have a practical and logical way to approach a thing like transportation is something they do inherently. Plus, with the unique design of the city which includes, many pedestrian streets, piers and docks amidst the regular roads, as well as limited space for parking many vehicles, biking is truly an essential experience in Copenhagen. Plus, with biking you get to enjoy the beautiful weather (especially in the summer), and get around easily. Riding bikes in Copenhagen is really different from here in the U.S.. Due to the fact that biking is the preferred method of transportation in Copenhagen, bikes are treated as cars there in regards to security and theft. We learned that each bike in Copenhagen essentially has a VIN number attached to it, just like cars, making them all registered with the government. As such, theft of a bike in Copenhagen is almost viewed as grand theft auto in the U.S. and taken very seriously, which also means tracking down a stolen bike is something that is a little easier in Copenhagen. We rented our bikes from a very cool bike rental shop in Nyhavn where we got lots of great advice from one of the staff members on bike etiquette in Copenhagen, and were surprised to learn that locking up our bikes for the evening was simply activating a small lever on the bike wheel to lock the back wheel in place. We were told that we did not have to lock the bike up to anything like a pole or bike rack – and the next morning were happy to see our bikes right there, but this is commonplace in Copenhagen. I would highly recommend renting a bike for Copenhagen, even if it is just for a day. The prices were fairly reasonable from the place we rented from and they charged by half-days to days.
Get some Copenhagen Street Food.
- Papiroen (paper island in English) is a warehouse filled with food trucks and vendors in shipping containers. I’m sharing this liberated travel moment with a bit of good news and bad news. Of course, let’s start with the bad news. Papiroen is no longer in business. But, don’t despair! There is hope. This is where the good news comes in. They have recently left their leased space for a new space with more opportunities. Reffen hopes to go beyond food and open its doors to creative entrepreneurs. I’m actually kind of bummed we don’t get to visit the new venue.
- Michael, what was your favorite food you had at the Copenhagen Street Food vendor? Oh gosh…where to start?! It’s really hard to pick one. We ate really good in Copenhagen. Although what we ate from the Copenhagen Street Food vendors was not particularly Danish, the awesome facility that all the food vendors were housed offered many different types of food. This was a great way to fill up on types foods you may be missing from home, but with it’s own unique twist, which still makes you feel like you are indulging in something special during your travel and not just gorging on something you would find at at a chain restaurant at home. For example, Mexican and Italian foods are some of my favorites, and as expected, Denmark is not full these types of restaurants, but at the Copenhagen Street Food vendors, I was able to get my fix with a special street food style twist in their take on these cuisines. Chorizo sausage, thin, brick oven pizza, and even buffalo-style chicken wings were some of the things I would be more than happy to indulge in again on a return trip to Copenhagen’s Street Food vendors.
Experience, the history and humor of Rosenborg Castle.
- When in Europe, I try to visit at least one castle because it is simply something we don’t have here in the states. Rosenborg castle is not the grandest palace I have visited, but it did provide for one of my favorite experiences. We participated in a self-guided tour and I’ve never seen a self-guided tour filled with such interesting information. A secret “telephone,” a prank chair, a porn room…This place had it all.
- Michael, I think you felt the same way. I know you haven’t had many opportunities to visit castles, but what did you like about the Rosenborg Castle? I have only visited two other castles before in Ireland about 10 years ago, and I have always remembered them as some of my favorite parts of that trip. So on this trip, I wanted to make sure that I was able to tour castles again, and the Rosenborg Castle did not disappoint at all! For people who haven’t been to castles before, we usually expect them to be looming structures made entirely of stone with cold hallways, an open courtyard in the middle, and towering turrets with the cliche staggered brickwork aligning the top. While some castles are built this way and have a more militaristic appearance and purpose, we also have to remember that many castles were also homes for royalty, and as such required a sense of regalness and elaborate beauty, and this describes Rosenborg Castle perfectly. We really enjoyed the self-guided tour of this castle not only for it’s extravagance, but also for the unique history of it as well. After getting our tickets, we were given a pamphlet which gave us information about each room of the castle as we easily navigated ourselves throughout every room. The pamphlet was great because it gave us a more real sense of what each room was for and how it was used. I feel like many times during these types of tours you learn about facts that although are interesting and historically significant, can sometimes be hard to relate to as a visitor of the museum. However, amidst this information that we learned about the castle and its various inhabitants along the tour, we were also exposed to more relatable and at times humorous anecdotes of this landmark. Some of these included: learning about a “trouser wetting chair” in the lounge which was a seat that would soak the person’s pants as a prank from an attached hose, or learning that the early drop-toilets installed in the castle all drained into the moat surrounding the castle. Amusing bathroom humor aside, the tour is also visually very stunning from the very regal throne room, to the collection of priceless art and artifacts carefully placed on display throughout its halls. Of course during the tour you also get to see the very grand crown jewels in the cellar among decorated weapons and barrels of aged wines. We really enjoyed this castle and it has given us a great memory during our time in Copenhagen.
Take a time machine to Tivoli.
- They know how to do an amusement park in Denmark. I’ve been to Six Flags and carnivals, but this was different than anything I had ever experienced before. It was so glamorous and classic. We went in the evening and we found it to be a very romantic place to stroll. It felt very “adult” and from a different time period.
- I think you felt this too, how is Tivoli different than amusement parks in the US? Tivoli is different than amusement parks in the U.S. because the focus is set more on the relaxing and enjoyable environment as opposed to the fast trills and extreme rides that amusement parks strive for in the states. Tivoli has a quaint, yet undeniable charm that a Six Flags or even Disney World cannot match. There are rides at Tivoli, games, vendors, and different themed sections much like the amusement parks in the U.S., but Tivoli has found a way to maintain these as a source of amusement without the hectic, overly-loud, and sometimes exhausting result that many parks in the U.S. unintentionally evoke. It’s really hard to know what makes the charm and allure of this landmark so special and different from any other amusement park, but perhaps it again falls on the shoulders of the attitude and simple, yet dignified lifestyle of the Danes. Think of Tivoli embracing the innocence and wonder of a carnival in the 1930’s and 1940’s with its attention to detail and true draw to its patrons, and then combine it with the forward-thinking and progressive, yet relaxed demeanor of Danish culture. For those who are not big ride enthusiasts, there is still much to do and see at this historical park. Although fun, many people in the U.S. would not use the word “pretty place” to describe a theme park in the United States, but I can assuredly say that this would be a great adjective for Tivoli.
Be a pedestrian and walk down the Stroget.
- This is the main pedestrian street in Copenhagen. It is filled with shops, food, and people. I want to warn you that it can be your typical shopping street, but in the end, it is just a nice place to go for walk. If you aren’t able to make it out to Billund, Denmark, the home of Legos, you can find several shops to fill that void.
- While on the Stroget, we visited a Lego shop. What do you think is so great about legos? Wow! Well, Legos could probably be described as a toy cultural phenomenon. I mean, who hasn’t heard of them or spent endless hours at one point in their lives assembling something they deemed as magnificent out of Legos? Growing up, I would say that Legos remained my staple go-to toy, and I know it’s the same for many others. Toys usually go in and out as phases through generations of kids, but look at Legos; I mean, they have remained consistently popular for years. Practically everyone was playing with Legos when I was growing up 20+ years ago, and today kids, and adults too, are happily spending their time with the famous pegged bricks. I think what’s really great about Legos is their limitless qualities. You can build, design, and create practically anything from them. Certainly, they are the most versatile toy ever, which makes them so applicable to all types of people. Plus, with their more recent collaborations with other culturally significant companies such as Marvel, DC, and Pirates of the Carribean, their reach is stretching even further. The Danes certainly hit a great chord with this contribution to the world.
Experience the bohemian way of life in Christiana.
- If you are a bit of a free spirit, this is your place. Back in the 70’s a group of hippies settled here and basically developed their own society. If you know anything about this place, you know that marijuana is “legal.” I’m saying legal with quotation marks if you can’t see. My husband and I are supportive of this, but we were not participants. We actually found that there is much more to this place than weed. They do have their limits though, and you will quickly see that hard drugs are not allowed. Since the area is not completely built up, you can enjoy the natural setting. We also found this to be a great place to see art with meaning. If nothing else, it is a unique spot to grab a beer and get away from commercialism.
- Christiana is not necessarily for everyone. Who do you think should visit? Thats hard to tell. It depends because people might visit this unique area of Copenhagen for different reasons. I would have to say that it certainly has a certain type of feel and ambiance that might not be for everyone, however if you are able to get passed the way of life that is commonly accepted in Christiana, you will find a laid back, open minded, and some would describe as a “hippie” culture. Although we found Christiana interesting and unique as we sat at the bar drinking Christiana and Danish drinks on a beautiful summer afternoon appreciating the different culture, it certainly is not for all visitors of Copenhagen. I would say that if you are thinking about visiting Christiana, go in with an open mind, and an appreciation for the accepted philosophy of approaching life simply and free of the complexities of the modern world.
Get closer to God at the Church of Our Savior. Literally.
- Who would have thought climbing 400 steps could be so fun? If you are looking for the best view of the city, we recommend ascending the spiral stairs. For some reason, there seems to be a draw to seeing a bird’s eye view of the city.
- Why do you think people like to see a view above the city? First let me start off by saying that this church and the climb to the top of its spire to see the view was incredible! The spiral staircase through the tower was as expedition, but totally worth it for the cool insights to the bells within and the great view at the top. If you are one that struggles with heights or narrow passageways, I would say that this may be something to take in stride, but the view at the top truly is remarkable. From the top, you can see the beautifully laid out city of Copenhagen from its seaside bays and piers to its vast sprawl of mixtured new and old architecture arranged in a potpourri of Danish excellence. You can even see across the narrow Øresund waterway to Sweden, reminding you of the relative physical closeness of European countries. At this vantage point you are also able to see a great display of Scandinavian efficiency in the many wind turbines that line the bay in progressive nordic valor. I think that people like to see cities from above in order to as the phrase goes, “take it all in”. It really gives you a chance to see all the special facets of a place and hear the unique hum of the city below in order to compile it all together into the cultural vibe of a city.
Foods to Eat and Drinks to Sip On
- Røde pølser- Red Sausage
- Pickled Herring
- Street Vendors
- Carlsburg Beer and other Craft Beers
- Glogg-Mulled Wine
Sights to See
- Rosenborg Castle and Gardens
- Glyptotek Museum
- Views above the city
Experiences to Have
- Ride a bike around town
- Park yourself in Nyhavn close to sunset
- Slow down and enjoy a beer
I’d love to hear about your experiences in Copenhagen. Please visit my website liberatedtraveler.com to leave a comment. I hope you join me next week. Thank you for listening.