I am extremely fortunate to work with another psychologist who is phenomenal at her job as a forensic psychologist and who just happens to be Danish. I was so excited to get her input about what I should and shouldn't do in Denmark while visiting for a conference presentation. Should I go to Aarhus or Bornholm for my side trip? What was the weather going to be like? Shaking her head, she said, "It's been a terrible, rainy summer." Damn. My last three trips have been to traditionally rainy places.
What did we get during our nine days in Denmark? Nine beautiful, sunny late summer days.
We stayed in the stylish and convenient Vesterbro area of Copenhagen at the ever modern and hospitable Andersen Boutique Hotel. Vesterbro is literally outside the door of the train station (great for rolling luggage and kids) and walking distance to everything you're going to want to do in the city. It's a very up and coming location, with plenty of hotels and hostels to chose from, but it can be rather lively and loud on weekend nights. The Andersen had a great breakfast spread, but I would also suggest the Matcha Bar across the street for a matcha cashew vanilla latte.
Things you should definitely do
City center is going to be your hub for all things gorgeous architecture and shopping. What a great combination! We walked along Stroget street from our hotel to city centre on the afternoon of our arrival. It was the ideal way to get acclamated to the city and to fight the urge to sleep since Copenhagen is nine hours ahead of our regular time zone. This is where you will find the Stork fountain, complete with street artists, some outdoor cafés, and the shopping mecca of Hay House, the most heavenly Danish design space. Definitely pop into the Royal Copenhagen store and pick up a dainty tea cup or the more modern colorful mugs. Stemming from city center you'll find more of the high-end shopping district and some waterfront areas.
After hearing that Tivoli Gardens was the second oldest amusement park in the world I was a little hesitant. I expected it to be rundown or a little sad looking. But as a Disneyland annual pass holder, I couldn't help but be curious since legend has it that Walt Disney was quite inspired by Tivoli Gardens. Since we had our daughter with us there was no doubt that this was going to be on our itinerary. It was gorgeous inside! We got there at dusk and the meticulous light features were just starting to come on. The food stands and carnival games brought us back to another time but it was equally matched with plenty of adult thrill rides and exciting attractions for the little ones. And boy did Disney ever rip off Tivoli! It was so funny to experience attractions that were very reminiscent of Disneyland today.
I recommend going in the late afternoon and staying until closing. The park is not very big and you can do everything in a matter of about four hours. There were virtually no lines for food or rides. There is a laser light show over the lake each evening at 10:45. They also have an app if you want to plan your trip out digitally. If you're interested, there is a hotel attached to the gardens and a number of table service restaurants located inside the park. We went with eating dinner prior to entering the park and then noshed on snacks and sweets. The gelato and churros were to die for.
Rosenborg castle is the most accessible castle from the heart of the city of Copenhagen. The grounds and gardens are beautiful and include a lovely play space for kids. There are also several water features and areas to sit quietly and read or have a picnic. The tour is quick and worth it to see some interestingly decorated rooms, including a completely tiled water closet. You also get to experience the underground space that holds the crown jewels. Grab a coffee or ice cream bar at the Cafe Det Vide Hus across the street. It's tiny and adorable and ideal for resting your feet. Try the espresso tonic!
The Round Tower is an observatory from the 17th century and is an Instagrammer's dream. Inside you wander up a cobbled stone ramp (yay, no stairs!) to the top which opens up to an observation deck that offers 360° views of the city. The way the light plays off of the curved space is breathtaking that has to be seen in person. In May they hold a unicycle race to the top.
A canal cruise is a must. You also have the option to rent your own boats, but we wanted to have someone do the work for us and fill us in on the history of the city. I booked ours with Stromma Tours from home and you can basically walk up with your digital voucher and hop on the next boat. The hour long ride took us from the famously picturesque Nyhavn canal, past the Opera House and the Little Mermaid statue, and into Christianshavn. A word about the Little Mermaid. Many writers say it is underwhelming and she is- from the boat. You have to go see her from the land. I found her to be a beautifully enjoyable sculpture, it's just tough fighting the crowds of tourist buses that drop off there. If I had it to do over again, I would go at sunrise to have some alone time with the forlorn maiden.
Places where you should eat and drink
If you are a first timer to Scandinavia and are worried about the food selection- don't be! The only worry is cost, but that's to be expected when spending in the city (on anything). There are many quaint outdoor cafes to choose from that offer ambience in the center of the city. We chose Cafe Sari on our first evening where we were served up burgers, fish plates, and chicken nachos. Yeah. Nachos is a thing here. They were on most menus, but didn't look terribly appetizing. When you get hungry while wandering around the shopping areas or city centre, stop in at The American Pie Company. The mushroom hand pie and chicken pot pie were hands down better than any I've ever had in the States and they have a nice selection of dessert pies as well. One gloomy morning, we headed for the rooftop restaurant area of the Illums building in the city center, adjacent to the Hay House building. We went with coffee and London Fogs while watching the city wake up below us. There are also several restaurants up there that would be ideal for grabbing an after dinner drink and watching the twinkly lights.
Please, please, please make time to head over to the Copenhagen Street Food area. We walked across the bridge after our canal cruise from Nyhavn for lunch. It is an old newspaper factory, transformed into a structure that houses numerous food stalls, specializing in food and beers from around the world. I am so happy that I waited to try the traditional open faced sandwiches here. I was pleased with the herring and potato (pictured above) varieties. There is space inside to eat, but why wouldn't you take advantage of sitting out on the water?
Since we had the advantage of a nanny with us this time, the hubby and made sure to get a date night scheduled. We booked a table at Relae, one of the three Top 50 Restaurants in the world located in Copenhagen. It's nestled in the Norrebro area of Copenhagen, which is a bit of a trek, so we took Uber up there. But so worth it. The neighborhood is adorable and hip, with interesting shops and families out in the street enjoying the last days of summer. Relae is simply designed with your utensils stored in a neat little pull out wooden drawer under your table. We had the "experience" dinner, which was slated to be 7 courses, but turned out to be more like 12. Everything was a delightful surprise and exceptional in presentation and taste... truly the highlight of the entire trip. After dinner we stopped a little dive bar on the way back to Vesterbro. I am a complete Twin Peaks fanatic and how was I going to pass up a drink at The Log Lady Cafe? It was cozy and dark and not saturated with Twin Peaks references. It was both "wonderful and strange."
Overall, it was a perfect visit for both business and family and we fit in as much as we could. We had some great food and stayed in a really good location, so this was an overall destination well-spent. You can read about our unique experience at the Andersen Boutique Hotel here and please look out for a post in the near future on our trip up to Denmark's "second city," Aarhus.