Voted one of the world's most colorful attractions, this hip and bustling district is Copenhagen's icon.
Scandinavians are known for their simplicity, not only in furniture design popularized by Ikea, but also in their way of life. In fact, these people have a state of mind the Danes call "hygge," which is best described as snuggling on the couch under a warm, cozy blanket and watching a good movie. It's about slowing down to smell the roses, so it's no surprise these folks were voted the world's happiest people.
While Americans deem Denmark's socialist system as promoting laziness, the Danish view it as a communal responsibility to each other, whether it be paying higher taxes to support universal health care and social security, or volunteering their time to help the underprivileged. They see it as investing in the future by giving families with newborns 52 weeks of parental leave, whereas maternity leave in the U.S. is a measly 10.3 weeks. They also seek out cheap and renewable energy sources, such as utilizing wind power to produce electricity or using bikes as their main mode of transportation, particularly in the national and biking capital of the world, Copenhagen, where 50 percent of residents pedal to work everyday to save the city $34 million annually, not to mention
Home of Europe's finest Renaissance royal jewels and beautifully manicured gardens.
improve health and reduce carbon emissions.
Copenhagen has become a model for city planning because between their top-ranked public transit system and the highest gross income per capita in the world, there's much to be envied. But with good quality of life comes a price, making this capital one of the world's most expensive to live in or visit. Take it from us, who traveled for a day-trip from Iceland and spent almost $200 for 2 people just on metro tickets, a couple meals, and park admission. With free housing and dirt cheap airfare on WOW Air for only $152 from Reykjavik, we were fortunately able to minimize the bleeding. The pricetag, however, shouldn't discourage you from visiting because there are plenty of free activities to keep you occupied.
Start by purchasing a 24 or 72-hour City Pass from machines at the airport or metro stations. The 24-hour pass allows unlimited use of trains/buses/metro/harborbuses for only 80 DKK ($11.35), but only works for Zones 1-4, which is enough to get you from the airport to all major tourist attractions within the city center. Then take the M2 metro to Norreport, the main station downtown where you should disembark
The Royal Family's residence where visitors can watch the changing of the guards at the top of the hour.
and walk west to Torvehallerne, a bustling, modernized market with food vendors and groceries for sale, albeit a tad overpriced. This is a nice setting for some coffee and people-watching, or trying a gourmet hotdog called polse kompagniet with braised red onions, crispy sausage, and a baguette bun. Then head southwest to the second oldest amusement park in the world (the oldest is 10 km north of Copenhagen) and Disney's inspiration for his own theme parks, Tivoli. Established in 1843, this European institution is a favorite pass-time for young and old, Danish and not. Admission is 99 DKK ($14.05) and costs extra for rides, but once you're in, make sure to visit one of the world's most famous ice cream parlor, Vaffelbageriet; try the Amerikaner, but we felt it was a bit overrated.
Next, walk east pass City Hall Square where locals congregate to socialize and tourists pay 50 DKK ($7) to roam City Hall, the tallest building in Copenhagen. You'll now start your stroll down Stroget, Europe's first and longest pedestrian shopping avenue inaugurated in 1962 when pedestrian-only streets were a novel concept. Along the way, stop at Conditori La Glace--one of the world's top 25 bakeries--and try
The world's second oldest amusement park and Disney's inspiration for his theme parks.
their "Cake of the Year" winner Hc Hat, a caramel ganache on chocolate cake, or their popular hot chocolate; we opted for the kringle smorkage, a flaky pastry with walnuts and marzipan. Then continue east on this road pass the Stork Fountain until you arrive at Kongens Nytorv (King's Square), the heart of the city where many streets branch off, one of which turns south towards Nyhavn, the posterchild and icon of this town. It was rated one of the most colorful attractions in the world, but that's all this has to offer unless you're willing to blow your trust fund on food and drinks. The cheaper option that many locals choose is to get a hotdog (polser) from the stands and a cold Carlsberg beer, then sit by the docks to enjoy while soaking in the sun and ambiance. Snap a picture here to send home to your friends and family to make them jealous because odds are, this is the only image most Americans know of Copenhagen.
Now make your way across the canal via the 991/992 harborbuses (included in the City Pass), which runs every 30-60 minutes and stops at the Royal Library, the Opera House,
Gourmet hotdogs with braised red onions, relish, crispy sausage, and a baguette bun.
Christiania, and the Little Mermaid on the northern end. On this side of the water is one of the neatest culinary experiences from all our travels, the Street Food Market. This conglomerate of "food carts" is located in a warehouse, fully equipped with seating and even couches by a cozy fireplace for your post-binge nap. Choose from Brazilian meats, Turkish kebabs, Korean BBQ, or the famous Danish open-faced sandwiches on rye bread, smorrebrod; Kristina and I shared a Edelweiss beer and I ordered the fish fillet, chicken salad, and potato with mayo smorrebrod, while she tried the Brazilian pork with salad. Both meals were great bargains at about $15 each, considering the world's #1 restaurant, Noma, is located next door at almost $300 a person and requires reservations months in advance. The outdoor seating area overlooking the water is perfect for catching fresh air or catching up with friends, which was something we did with our new acquaintance, Nicklas.
After dinner, head to the nearby Christianshavn district where the Vor Frelsers Church is located. The 400 spiraling steps to the top was voted Copenhagen's best vista and costs 35 DKK ($5), but we decided to skip that and instead,
Established in the 1970s by squatters, this neighborhood has become a hippy commune with open use of weed.
toured the more non-traditional Freetown Christiania, a hippy commune established by squatters in the 1970s when the neighborhood was merely abandoned warehouses. Today, this area has become the city's most prized real-estate, creating tensions between the government and the 800 residents who live in funky, Bohemian houses that the community gives to them for free after they apply. Oh, did we mention marijuana is openly sold and used on the main road running through this community, Pusher Street, aptly named for obvious reasons. The policy here is "Have Fun, No Run, No Cameras," which they strictly enforce. The prohibition of running was instated because running meant there was a police raid, something Kristina and I were amused with because while it's illegal to smoke weed in Copenhagen, the city makes no effort to stop this in Christiania where a quick 5-minute stroll revealed a dozen dealers behind poorly "hidden" stands.
Once we were thoroughly "high" from simply walking through here, Kristina and I headed home before waking up the next morning to squeeze in a few more sights. We visited Rosenborg castle, which houses Europe's finest Renaissance royal jewels, then grabbed Danishes and croissants for breakfast at a nondescript
Europe's first and longest pedestrian shopping avenue.
bakery. We then proceeded to Amalienborg, the winter residence of the Royal family where we luckily stumbled upon the changing of the guards at the top of the hour. We wanted to drop by the Little Mermaid and Christiansborg--home of the Danish Parliament, Supreme Court, and the Prime Minister's Office--but time constraints prohibited us from doing so. We've learned from previous experiences not to cut it close when catching a flight, so with plenty of time to spare, we sped off to the airport for our plane back to Iceland.
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