My cousin is studying in Copenhagen this fall semester, which makes her the geographically closest family we have until mid-December when her semester ends. So as we started to make plans for Thanksgiving, we knew we had to visit her while she was still in Europe. Our trip even turned into a mini-family reunion, as her parents and siblings and my brother joined us in Copenhagen!
Copenhagen is Denmark’s capital on the eastern coast of Zealand (the largest island – I’m not including Greenland as it is an autonomous constituent country – of the Danish archipelago islands). Jutland is Denmark’s other large landmass and is a peninsula that ‘juts’ off of Northern Europe. the country has a lot of arable land and is relatively flat, which makes for good farming and very beneficial for walking around Copenhagen. [Which is good because we found that the public transportation system was very good at getting you to, from, and through the city; but not really around the city. Even once we sort of figured out the bus system it didn’t really take us many places in the old city that we wanted.]
Denmark has a very strong welfare state, which makes for very happy citizens (several studies have ranked Denmark as the happiest country in the world) with very well maintained cities and infrastructure for traveling in; but also a fairly expensive city to visit as well. And it is deceptively expensive because they aren’t on the euro an the exchange rate between the Danish krone to the US dollar is around 5.5, which does require that you brush up on your factors of 5. The other thing I noticed was that after a few days you start comparing prices to other Danish places you have visited (oh! this restaurant is 20 d.k.k. less than the one last night), but then you do the math and think: “OH! that is still $19 for chicken pad thai.”
So as I planned out potential activities, I did have an eye on the budget. My online searching found me the Copenhagen Card. It gives you free admission to 75 points of interest in both Copenhagen and much of eastern Zealand (we didn’t come across a site that didn’t accept the card that wasn’t free); plus free access to all forms of public transportation (city buses, commuter & regional trains). You can buy them for a one to five day time period. Even though our stay in Copenhagen lasted five days, we bought a card for three days, since one day would be our arrival day, and another day we knew we wanted to visit the National Museum, which is free.
After clearing customs at Copenhagen airport we met up with my brother and got a train to Copenhagen’s central station. We got out there and started walking in the general direction of the apartment we rented for the trip; when as luck would have it, we bumped into our cousins, who had been in town since Saturday, headed to the train station for a journey to the Viking Museum about a half hour away in Roskilde (the reviews of which were very positive). From there we found a coffee shop to kill time before we could check into our apartment. We stayed in the Vesterbro neighborhood, which is southwest of the old city. It is the old meat packing district, so there are some sex shops (particularly closer to the train station), but for the most part it is fairly sanitized. After picking up the keys to the apartment, my brother was pretty jet lagged (coming from the East Coast) and took a nap, while my husband and I went out to groceries for breakfast (one of the benefits – and cost savers – of staying in an apartment).
The thing that my husband look forward to the most about Copenhagen was the beer, specifically Mikkeller beer. He was thrilled when the cousins selected the Mikkeller Bar as the meat up point that evening for a drink before dinner. Over dinner we planned the next day. The ‘travellers’ were going to meet for coffee and then head to the National Museum, and then meet up with the ‘student’ for lunch. The next morning following our coffee we walk to the National Museum of Denmark.
We arrived at the museum around 11am, which only gave us 45 minutes until we had to meet for lunch; the benefit of this museum being free (besides form being free) is that we could still check out an exhibit, meet for lunch, and then see the rest of the museum in the afternoon. My overall impression of the museum was very favorable and all the exhibition broadsides are in both Danish and English. The ground floor tells a very clear narrative of Pre-history through Denmark’s Viking Era. It achieves that right museum balance between things to read, so that you know what is going on; and historical artifacts, gold & amber jewelry, burial mounds, people preserved in bogs. [When asked what he thought of the museum, my brother answered that he found it interesting all of the valuable items that people back in the day just threw into bogs. I’m sure he read the part about religious offerings, and indicating status by having extra items to give away.] The first floor contains a lot of Danish artifacts from the Medieval and Renaissance period (alter pieces, religious carvings, clocks, etc) when Denmark was a prosperous trading country. However, the plethora of artifacts drowns the historical narrative that was present on the ground floor. If you are looking for a good history of Denmark I would recommend that you continue to the second floor for the ‘Stories of Denmark,’ which picks up the history of Denmark around 1660. It was at that time, following a disastrous war with Sweden that the bourgeoisie, clergy, and nobles voted to make the Danish monarchy hereditary. Following that Denmark (like many countries in Europe) was under and absolute monarchy, until the democratic reforms of 1848 that swept Europe opened the way for democratic reforms. The end of the exhibit chronicles the development of Denmark’s welfare state following World War I & World War II.
Following dinner that night we paid a second visit to Fermentoren. [Since we went there twice, despite it not being famous, I thought it deserved a mention.] It is a very unassuming bar in the Vesterbro that encompasses a lot about the Copenhagen scene: lots of Danish craft beer on tap, good bottle selection, and ‘hygge’ or cozy.
The next morning we activated our Copenhagen Card, which may have activated a little part of brain to get as much done as possible (at one point my husband did refer to it as a ‘death march,’ but it didn’t help that it was raining). We started by taking the S train north to the Kastellet on the harbor, which while no longer an integral part of Denmark’s defense is still a working military site. We were able to walk along the ramparts and get a good view of the city, before heading over to the Little Mermaid statue. The Little Mermaid statue was a gift to the city from brewer Carl Jacobsen in 1913 after he saw a ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. [Spoiler: In the original fairy tale the Little Mermaid doesn’t marry the prince and turns into seafoam at the end.]
From there we started walking south to Rosenberg Slot (castle), which was a royal residence from 1624 until 1710 and built in the Dutch Renaissance style. It has been open to the public as some form of a museum for over a century and today houses a collection of royal artifacts as well as the crown jewels.
Our next stop was the Glyptotek (following a lunch stop for a kebab). The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is another gift to Denmark and the city of Copenhagen from Carl Jacobsen. The museum is based around his personal art collection. The bulk of his sculptures are artifacts from antiquity (Etruscan, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, etc.) with several modern sculptures by Degas and Rodin. He also collected a fair amount of modern french paintings (Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Toulouse-Latrec, etc). The museum is a very impressive building near the train station and just south of Tivoli gardens (considered too outside the city by Jacobsen at the time of it’s construction), with an airy atrium, a concert hall (there was a practice going on during our visit), and several floors of collections. The museum did a very good job balancing showing the sculptures and providing context about when they were created. The museum is free on Sundays and I consider it a must see in Copenhagen.
Following the Glyptotek we hoped back on board an S-train to go out to the Old Carlsberg Brewery. Only Jacobsen beer is still brewed on the grounds today, but the brewery has set up a museum about the family and the brewing process. Today, the Carlsberg group owns several beer & cider companies; but was started in 1847 by J.C. Jacobsen who named the beer after his son Carl (donator of the Little Mermaid and the Glyptotek). As Carl became an adult there was tension between father in son over the brewing process Carl started his own brewery; eventually the two breweries were unified in the early 20th century. The tour came with two beer vouchers (of about half pint size), but we were able to acquire an extra voucher each from a group that was heading out. The bar area was comfortable with a mix of tables, couches, and foosball tables (which my husband played by himself after he beat me 10-0). Overall, the tour of the brewery wasn’t that interesting (perhaps because you don’t get to see any of the brewing process), but still enjoyable given that it was included with the Copenhagen card, I don’t know if I would recommend it to pay separately. That night for dinner was wanted to try some of the local fair and headed to Restaurant Klubben. It is a small restaurant frequent by locals (based on their timidity to speak English – though they spoke it quite well) in the Vesterbro. As we were seated we noticed that other tables had their meals served on platters (which should have been a sign to us). We each picked our order off of the menu (myself – danish meatballs; brother – weinerschnitsel; husband – fried pork belly). When our food arrived we had trouble fitting the three platters on a four person table. See, the platters aren’t what the restaurant used when multiple people order the same thing that is a serving size and we probably could have made do with two orders. (Though, at the end of the meal there was not uniform consent at the table as to which two it would have been.) We were full that evening so we went back to the apartment – no three peat appearance at Fermentorem.
The next day was Thanksgiving and I wanted to take a canal tour before we met the cousins for lunch. However, I got the time wrong and we would up at the dock 10 minutes after departure. Fortunately, the canal tour was right next to the Christiansborg Slot, so we went there instead. While the palace is not a royal residence it is used for most official state functions (probably because it is right next to Parliament). This palace, more so than the Rosenborg Slot, gives off the grand royal feel (they also make you wear covers over your shoes). Aside from the portraits and china on display, there are also the Queen’s Tapestries, which were given to the queen of her 50th birthday in 1990, which depict the history of Denmark and the world. As they are modern tapestries they are in a very different style than other tapestries that I have seen, looking much more cartoon like.
For lunch we met up at ‘The Living Room,’ which is a great cafe near several university buildings (and free wifi, which can help when you are traveling). All the food there was fresh that day, and as it was Thanksgiving we decided to have dessert with lunch. Next we headed back to the same general direction from where we came and successfully caught the canal tour. Previous canal tours that I have been on were usually in small medieval towns, Copenhagen being a large modern city the canals were wider (though it being high tide, getting under some of the bridges was tight) and we spent a lot more time out on the harbor. It was pretty cold and splashy, so personal comfort won out and we sat inside, so it didn’t quite live up to its potential for photographic opportunities.
The canal tour wrapped up around 3:45 and we planned to see the Armory and the Danish Jewish Museum. We got to the Armory around 4, and were informed that it would be closing in a half hour. That gave us enough time to check out one exhibit each. My brother and husband headed to the War in Afghanistan exhibit (which got great reviews as was a multi-sensory exhibit that immersed the viewer) and I headed to the permanent exhibit, which was Denmark’s Wars, which did a good job filling in some of the gaps in Danish history from the National Museum. The museum closed promptly at 4, which is also when the Danish Jewish Museum closed (only open 1-4pm during Hanukkah), so we weren’t able to go; but long story short during World War II the majority of Denmark’s Jews were evacuated to Sweden (I read Number the Stars in elementary school).
We met up with the rest of the family, along with another friend and her father for Thai Thanksgiving (if you aren’t going to have turkey & stuffing you should go completely non-traditional).
Friday was our last day in Copenhagen (we had a 9:30pm flight back to the UK). About a half hour train ride north in Humlebaek is the Louisiana Museum, which houses an impressive modern art collection. It doesn’t open until 11am, but is open until 10pm during the week and 6pm on weekends. (In true Black Friday fashion we were there when the doors opened.) The main exhibit highlighted the work of Danish artist Asger Jorn and American artist Jackson Pollack. The museum has beautiful grounds right up against the North Sea. After viewing the exhibits we headed walked up the street a little bit to Gamle Humlebaek Kro, which has been in operation since 1740, where we had an absolutely fabulous meal. If you are planning a day trip from Copenhagen I would highly recommend you take the train north of Copenhagen to Helsingor and visit Kronborg Slot (the castle that inspired Hamlet) in the morning, we weren’t able to do this part of the journey since we needed to be back in Copenhagen to collect our stuff and go to the airport. Find a place for lunch, and then head back towards Copenhagen stopping in Humelbaek to see the Louisiana and then have dinner at Gamle Humlebaek Kro.
After our train ride back to Copenhagen we stopped by Tivoli Gardens on our way back to our apartment. There is an admission fee for Tivoli Gardens, and once inside there are several rides with various ticket prices. At this time of year the place was fully decked out for Christmas, with several stands selling ornaments and mulled wine. For me it was a little bit like the Carlsberg Brewery, not sure if I would have paid for admission, if it wasn’t included on the Copenhagen card. It might be more fun with kids, but I would think that the cost of the rides would start to add up. After that it was back to the apartment for our bags and then an early dinner before taking the train to the airport.
How did our Copenhagen card fare, you ask? My husband did a back of the envelope calculation for everything we did comparing the cost of the Copenhagen card to if we had paid for everything individually. For what we did over those three days we we saved the cost of a five day pass. Growing up, Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays; and being out of the country certainly changes the the feel of it. But traveling during over the holiday, and meeting up with family, mitigates some of those peculiar feelings. In the end it was a great trip to Copenhagen, and a trip that we might not have taken had we not had a family member studying there.