“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” ventured Marcellus, in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. That may well have been the case in the 16th century, but modern day Denmark is positively blooming.
The capital of Denmark since 1343, Copenhagen is located on the Danish island of Zealand and spills on to the tiny neighbouring island of Amager and a number of natural and artificial islets between the two. Its coastal position earned the original fishing village the name of Copenhagen, meaning ‘merchant harbour’.
From its small-town origins, Copenhagen developed into a regional centre and became the seat of the government and the hometown of the Danish royal family. Often referred to as the ‘City of Spires’, Copenhagen is known for its largely horizontal skyline which is only broken by the many spires of churches, castles and palaces.
As recently as the 1990s, Copenhagen still seemed reluctant to shake off its stuffy Scandinavian capital status. At the turn of the millennium the city began to invest in infrastructure and culture, and Copenhagen has subsequently transformed itself into a truly cosmopolitan city. Today, Copenhagen has spawned a wave of successful Danish architects, designers and chefs and the city is frequently compared – favourably – with other ‘cool’ cities such as Barcelona and Amsterdam. As a result, its residents ensure that Copenhagen has been repeatedly voted the world’s ‘Happiest City’.
What Copenhagen lacks in big attractions, it makes up for with a petite statue which sits on a rock in Langelinie harbour. A Copenhagen icon, the statue of the Little Mermaid was inspired by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 tale of the same name, and has become a major tourist attraction since it was unveiled in 1913. Don’t be surprised: it really is tiny.
As a city famous for its design, Copenhagen has a lot of art museums. The Danish National Gallery in central Copenhagen, or Indre By, is packed with some of Rembrandt, Picasso, and Matisse’s finest, while in northern Zealand you’ll find the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. In addition to its panoramic view across the Øresund, the museum features a considerable collection of modern art and hugely popular temporary exhibitions.
Denmark has a special status as the world’s oldest kingdom, and the modern-day Danish royal family resides in the Amalienborg Royal Palace. Its octagonal courtyard is open to the public and guarded by the ceremonial Royal Guard. Rosenborg Palace is a small but pretty Renaissance palace within in the grounds which serves as a museum of royal history and as a home for the crown jewels on display in the catacombs beneath.
As a coastal city, Copenhagen also has its fair share of beaches – the inner harbour has such great water quality that you can swim in either of its two harbour baths. The closest beaches are located at Charlottenlund Fort and Amager’s Strandpark.
Brunch is a Copenhagen institution, and due to the city’s impressive nightlife it’s easy to understand why Copenhageners are too late for breakfast but can’t wait till lunch. The city has more than 2,000 cafes and restaurants, many of which are centred around Vesterbro, Tivoli Gardens, Town Hall Square, the Central Railroad Station, or in Nyhavn.
Street food is also popular; try the sausages from a street side ‘pølsevogn’, a cultural institution. Other Danish specialities include smørrebrød, (open sandwiches), frikadeller (meatballs), and of course, an ice-cold Carlsberg.
Copenhagen’s entertainment runs around the clock, but most nightclubs don’t get going until the early hours of tomorrow. A cluster of bars and nightclubs in Nørrebro make the district particularly hip, but don’t stray too far off the Nørrebrogade. Vesterbro is also a fun nightlife area and is especially popular with tourists due to the Carlsberg brewery.
Children (and adults) of all ages will relish the opportunity to visit the original Legoland in Billund. The largest tourist attraction outside of Copenhagen, Legoland is 250km from the capital and its rollercoaster and theme park attractions welcome nearly two million visitors a year.
If you’ve got room in your passport for another stamp, then consider a quick jaunt to Sweden. It’s a simple journey from Denmark: the eight-kilometre Øresund bridge leads directly to Malmö in Sweden. This geographic link between mainland Europe and Scandinavia takes just 30 minutes by car or by rail, and offers a great opportunity to see more of Scandinavia.