Exploring Copenhagen from the waterline

We were ecstatic to wake up this morning at the genteel hour of 8:00am (no 5:00am street rave parties or anything!), and even more pleased to see ugly naked guy’s curtains still drawn. Already our day was looking good, and the sunny blue skies outside just added to the sentiment. Just to make sure we had a really awesome start to the day though, we went back to our favourite Danish pastry bakery (Andersen’s by Tivoli Gardens – we can highly recommend the chocolate scrolls next time you visit Copenhagen), and topped up our caffeine and sugar levels. Having spent yesterday exploring this historical city on foot we decided to take a different approach today and tackle Copenhagen from the water. There are lots of canals in the old town and cruising around is the easiest way to get to some of the more interesting corners of Copenhagen, so we wandered back to Nyhavn where all the ferries and tour boats leave from to find ourselves a ride for the day. A $20AUD ticket each got us an all-day hop-on/hop-off ferry ticket and we were off exploring sights like this…


Exploring Copenhagen from the water gave us the perfect vantage point.


It must seem like all we’ve been doing in Scandinavia is cruising from one spectacular waterway to another… which is actually not that far from the truth. But that’s one of the things this part of the world is famous for and all the guide books say cruising is one of the best ways to explore Copenhagen. Who are we to argue with the tourist guide books?! So cruise Copenhagen’s canals we did, starting in Nyhavn and going past the very modern Copenhagen Opera House and National Art Gallery buildings.


Cruising the canals of Copenhagen in our hop-on/hop-off topless boat. Watch out for low bridges! 


Cruising out of Nyhavn, past the old townhouses.


The Copenhagen Opera House.


The National Gallery of Denmark, which locals refer to as “the Black Diamond” for its funky shape and colour.


From there we cruised further down the main Inderhavnen (translation = between islands) canal towards the modern part of Copenhagen. The buildings here were all ultra-modern glass and brick, with lots of open spaces and public waterfront areas. The boat took us all the way south to Fisketorvet, a 21st century shopping mall built on the old Copenhagen fish market site. 


Cruising through the modern part of Copenhagen.


Fisketorvet shopping mall, Copenhagen.


The ultra-modern buildings of Copenhagen.


Shopping malls the world over are pretty much the same so we gave that stop a miss and continued on our journey to the island of Christianshavn. We hopped off in Christianshavn to explore this picturesque 16th century neighbourhood, with its multitude of waterways, canal-front cafes and old houses. This part of Copenhagen is one of the oldest areas and is often referred to as “Little Amsterdam” due its canals and architecture


The beautiful houses of Christianhavn.


Sailing through Christianshavn, Copenhagen’s “Little Amsterdam”.


The cityscape of Christianhavn.


From Christianshavn the boat went across to the tiny island of Christiansholm (King Christian IV did like to name things after himself didn’t he?). Christiansholm is the heart of old Copenhagen; it’s where the main royal palace is and houses a number of museums and historical sites. We hopped off there too to admire the castle and stroll through the streets. It was interesting watching how the boat had to navigate and turn to get through the narrow canals around Christiansholm – the boat barely fit around the corners and basically had to do 3-point turns to get around. The bridges in this old part of Copenhagen were particularly low, with a few of the taller people on the boat having to duck to fit underneath, and that’s sitting down!


Squeezing under the low bridges around Christiansholm. 


Part of the Christiansborg Palace compound on Christiansholm.


Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen.


The National Museum of Denmark, Christiansholm. 


Sailing out of the tight canals around Christianholm.


By this stage it was time for a lunch-time stop so we found a cute cafe by the water that specialised in pickled herrings of all varieties (they’re a bit of an obsession around here) and smorrebrod (translation = traditional Danish open sandwhich). Not so sure about the “Pickled Herring Platter” for lunch, but a couple of good smorrebrod never go astray. The appeal of these open sandwiches is that they are loaded up with lots of salad and chicken/roast beef/fish, without too much bread. And the one slice of bread they do give you is not that silly white fluffy stuff we get in Aus (which has the same nutritional value as a paper napkin); this is solid dark rye bread full of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and linseeds. Bread with actual NUTRIENTS in it – wow, what a novel concept! Everywhere we’ve been in Scandinavia, actually, the bread has been amazing. We normally don’t touch that yeasty, fibre-free, tasteless crap at home, but here it’s been a pleasure actually enjoying the bread part of our sandwiches!   


Smorrebrod for lunch in Copenhagen.


We then proceeded on past the Amalienborg stop, Gefion Fountain stop and Little Mermaid stop as we saw all of those lovely spots yesterday. The Copenhagen Beach Club was new though. This “beach club” is a big old shipping yard and warehouse on the more industrial side of Copenhagen’s Inderhavnen that has been converted into a restaurant and bar. There were deck chairs and sun lounges spread out all over the concrete former shipping yard, with lots of locals sunbathing and sipping cocktails under beach umbrellas. Not an ounce of beach sand anywhere mind you, but that’s about as close as you get to a “beach club” in central Copenhagen it seems! 


Copenhagen Beach Club. Love it!


The final stop on our boat cruise around Copenhagen was the Trekronor Fortress. This 17th century fort was built on a slither of land, right at the entrance of the Inderhavnen, facing out to sea. Designed as a look-out and first defensive point, the fortress is today a tourist attraction and popular picnic spot for the locals. Being good little tourists we took our photos and were suitably impressed.


Approaching Trekronor Fortress


Trekronor Fortress. Not a bad spot to pull up in your boat for a picnic hey?


Finally we jumped back on to a boat and headed back to Nyhavn from where we strolled back home for our final evening in Copenhagen. We’ve literally only been here the weekend and already we’re packing, preparing to fly out to Iceland tomorrow. It would be great to have a few more days in Copenhagen, and to have at least a week or 2  to explore a bit more of Denmark, but Iceland calls and we must go! So far Scandinavia in general has been quite intense – we’ve been here just over a month and have seen 4 countries in that time. Condensing everything into such a short time was partially about timing (i.e. Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark had to fit between stuff we had booked in Russia and Iceland), but also about funds: this part of the world is beautiful, but REALLY expensive. We would have loved to have spent twice as long in every country as we did, but Shane is rather attached to BOTH his kidneys and didn’t feel that selling one was worth it, just so we could spend a few more weeks in this Northern-most part of Europe. Still, we are extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to see what we have, to experience what we did, and to have crossed paths with the people we met. The scenery in mainland Scandinavia is superb, people are lovely, and things are just generally functional, modern, clean, safe and easy. To anyone contemplating a trip to this corner of the globe I say DO IT!



Just a typical Copenhagen Saturday: some naked guy, a 5:00am rave party & Danish pastries for breakfast

Evening blogaholics. How was your Saturday? Ours went something like this:


Just hanging around Nyhavn, Copenhagen.


Staying next door to Copenhagen’s Red Light District caused us no issues last night – we heard not a peep from any of “ladies of the night” or clubs and bars…until they shut at 5:00am this morning. At which point a group of excited youngsters, ejected from their favourite nightspot, decided to take the party to the streets. So we were woken up by the not-so-gentle sounds of thumping rave music and the cat calls of ridiculously drunk people at about 5:10am this morning. It’s a scary way to awaken, let me tell you. We tried in vain to get back to sleep, but *DUSH* *DUSH *DUSH* at about 1,000,000 decibels is not conducive to slumber. We finally gave up trying to sleep and got up properly at about 6:30am, at which point the little shits decided it was time to go to bed and left. *SIGH* 


To further brighten our morning, we then got severely mooned by some ugly naked guy in the building across the road. Obviously our friendly neighbourhood ravers had woken him up to, but rather than put some clothes on and go to his window, he thought it would be far better for everyone involved if he stood there naked instead. Very not good first thing in the morning; put us off the idea of breakfast that did. But by this stage we were dressed and ready to go, so we headed out anyway, with the bile still fresh in the back of our throats from ugly naked guy’s antics.


The only thing that was going to help restore us back to any semblance of humanity, we decided, was a good coffee and some Danish pastries. This is where Danish pastries were invented, so we figured we HAD TO do the right thing and give them a go. Luckily for us one of Copenhagen’s best bakeries, Andersen’s  (named in honour of that much-loved Danish children’s author: Hans Christian Andersen), is just around the corner. Four pastries and two of the best coffees we’ve ever had later, the trauma of our morning had faded and we were ready to truly face the day…


To Danish pastries in Copenhagen, we say YES!


Best cappuccinos we’ve had in 9 weeks man!


Well caffeinated we decided to walk all the way along Copenhagen’s main waterfront promenade, all the way from our ‘hood to the Little Mermaid statue and back. A good 8km walk to help us get more of a feel for what Copenhagen is really about. Our first destination was Nyhavn (translation = new harbour). This historical district was developed in the late 17th century to accommodate the growing number of trade ships visiting Copenhagen at the time. Most of the buildings lining the main harbour and canal in Nyhavn are original 17th century structures, making it a very popular spot for tourists (like us) to take photos. Most of the buildings are now restaurants and cafes and there’s a a very merry vibe about the place – especially when most of the cafes started serving “breakfast beers” at 10:00am!   


The iconic, multi-coloured 17th century townhouses of Nyhavn.


The main canal in Nyhavn was lined with moored sailing ships, adding to its historical maritime feel.


Copenhagen is located on the Eastern shore of the island of Zealand, partly on the main island and partly on the island of Amager. The city is criss-crossed by canals and and characterised by lots of waterfront promenades, which made for wonderful walking. We walked all the way up the main waterfront promenade, up through Vesterbro (our neighbourhood), to Nyhavn and then to Indra By (translation = Inner City). Indra By is the historic, geographic and political heart of present-day Copenhagen (it used to be the entire city of Copenhagen, up until the 1700s). Here we stopped to admire Amalienborg, the winter home of the Danish royal family, which consists of four identical palaces around an octagonal courtyard. Amalienborg was originally built by 4 separate noble families; however, when Christiansborg Palace burnt down in 1794, the royal family bought the palaces and moved in. Over the years various kings and their families have resided in the four different palaces, with Crown Prince Fredrik, his Aussie wife and little ‘uns using one of the palaces as their winter home, and Queen Margarethe and Prince Henrik using one of the others for their winter abode. We could only admire them from the outside.


Amalienborg, where the Danish Royals live in winter.


One of the 4 palaces built around the octagonal courtyard of Amalienborg.


Originally a Viking fishing village founded in the 10th century, Copenhagen became the capital of Denmark in the 15th century. During the 17th century, under the reign of King Christian IV, it became a significant regional centre and expanded significantly. Due to its location between England, Germany/mainland Europe and Scandinavia, Denmark’s history is peppered with war and territorial disputes, with Copenhagen often the focal point for these battles. Denmark colonised parts of Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, Iceland, Greenland and The Faroe Islands and has been described as “a small country that often punched well above its weight”. As a consequence of its naval prowess and territorial conquests, Denmark has been quite a wealthy nation for many centuries, the legacy of which includes lots of palaces, museums, fountains, statues and lovely old buildings. Including these…


St Alban’s, Copenhagen’s oldest Anglican church.


The Gefion Fountain features a large group of animal figures being driven by the legendary Norse goddess, Gefjun (who was associated with faring, ploughing, etc). The fountain was donated to the city of Copenhagen by the Carlsberg Foundation in 1908 on the occasion of the brewery’s 50-year anniversary.


The Alexander Nevsky Church is the only Russian Orthodox church in Copenhagen. It was built by the Russian Government in 1881 in honour of Princess Dagmar of Denmark’s marriage to Russian Prince Alexander.


The famous “Little Mermaid” statue. This unassuming yet iconic statue shows the mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s story sitting of a rock, looking wistfully out to the ocean home she left for her love. The statue has been Copenhagen’s most visited tourist attraction for for 100 years.


The Rundetårn (translation = Round Tower) is a 17th-century tower, built as an astronomical observatory.


Frederiks Kirke (translation = Frederik’s Cathedral), was built in the 18th century and is Copenhagen’s central Lutheran church.


The interior of Frederiks Kirke.


We stopped for lunch just around the corner from Frederiks Kirke and Shane even got to enjoy a Carlsberg (of course – what else would you drink in Denmark?!) with his lunch, now that we’re back in a reasonably priced country! We then spent a couple of hours exploring Rosenborg Palace and its grounds. Built in 1606, this was designed as the Danish royal family’s summer home. In 1838, however, it was opened to the public as a museum and houses many of the royal family’s works of art, historical heirlooms and Denmark’s Crown Jewels. We couldn’t take photos inside the palace, but you can rest assured there was lots of “ooohing” and “ahhhhing” as we saw all the intricately carved ivory pieces, the porcelain collection, the crowns, the fancy swords, the amazing old clocks, the antique jewellery, and the Danish throne (which is made from narwhal tusks, of all things!).


Rosenborg Palace & gardens. It was cool. Trust us.


Shane ponders the wonders seen in Rosenborg Palace…


From there we sought out Kastellet, one of the best preserved star-shaped fortresses in Northern Europe. Constructed in 1663, the fort is built in the form of a pentagram and still functions as a military base today. They open the grounds to the public though and as long as you don’t step off the path (they seem very strict about that), you can enjoy what’s left of the fortress. We walked around the perimeter and were suitably impressed by their old canons and fortifications. There was even an old windmill on the grounds, a remnant from when it was designed to be a self-sufficient fortress. 


Kastellet Fortress is shaped like a pentagramic star.


Enjoying the view from what remains of the ramparts of Kastellet Fortress. 


Kastellet Fortress, Copenhagen. Gotta love a good windmill and canons.


Finally, having been well and truly baked by the sun, we headed home via the Strogt, a pedestrian-only, open-air mall that runs almost the entire length of Indra By. It was packed with tourists, locals, touters, street performers and the odd dodgy-looking character (there are signs everywhere warning about pick pockets), which made for great people watching and an interesting stroll back to hotel room. All in all, a very pleasant day of touristing, despite our rather traumatising start to the day (bad ugly naked guy, bad!). Tomorrow we continue our exploration of Copenhagen with a trip to Christisanhavn, so farvel until then!


Our pick of the Copenhagen cityscape. 


Velkommen til København!

We’re in Copenhagen! It’s been a long day, but it’s great to be here. This city is very cool – we’re enjoying it already and we’ve only been here a few hours. Man was it an expedition to get here though! The plan originally was to to catch the train from Oslo to Copenhagen; 6 hours on a train and you’re there. Easy. Except they’re doing track work to the line in Norway and there was no direct rain to Copenhagen. *SIGH* So instead we had to get up way too early so we could get on the 6:30am bus from Oslo to Halden (a little town in Norway near the Swedish border); then catch the train from Haldun to Gothenburg (Sweden); then change trains in Gothenburg for Copenhagen. Not too bad really, just long (we got here at 4:00pm). Still, the views were lovely. 


An example of what we saw today as we travelled from Oslo to Copenhagen. 


One of the cute little towns we passed through on the bus early this morning. Note how IT’S SO EARLY THAT EVERYONE IS STILL ASLEEP.


Today’s train journey took us from Norway, through Sweden, to Denmark.

Halden was quite cute and we got a great view of Fredriksten Fortress, the 16th century fort which crowns the hill behind the town, as we pulled out of town on the train. From Halden to Gothenburg the scenery changed to flat farmlands – this is the flattest land we’ve seen since we crossed into Norway (very different to the massive fjords and epic mountains we saw along the West coast especially). For hours there were golden wheat fields as far as we could see, some being harvested as we sped past. 


The gently rolling farmlands of Southern Sweden.


Just another beautiful Scandinavian lake…


This part of Scandinavia is so flat compared to the rest of what we’ve seen. You can see how this would have been the “bread basket” area of Norway and sweden for centuries.


From Gothenburg we continued on through Sweden until we reached Malmo which is connected to Denmark via the Øresund Bridge*. As we crossed the bridge we could see sweden behind us and Denmark in front; from the train we could even see the North Sea wind farms that supply Denmark and Sweden with over 220 megawatts of electricity (enough to power 120,000 homes). There were heaps of giant wind turbines all the way along the Swedish and Danish coastline actually; turns out Denmark and Sweden lead the world in alternative energy, with wind being their number 1 non-petroleum source.

*The Øresund Bridge is a double-track railway and dual carriage-way bridge that links Malmo to Copenhagen. Built in 1999 it’s the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe (8kms long). The views across the Øresund Strait were fantastic, especially given how sunny it was today.


One of the many wind turbines we saw as we travelled along the Swedish coast today.


The Øresund Strait wind farm, with a sailing ship in the foreground for perspective.


Nine and a half hours of butt-numbing transit time later, we finally arrived In Copenhagen! First goal: find our hotel and check in. Interestingly, it turns out our “hotel” here isn’t really a normal hotel – there’s no reception, no concierge, no staff anywhere! You get a room number and a pin code emailed to you and the building has a touch pad where you enter your pin code to get in. The same code gets you into your room… and that’s it. It’s kind of a funky concept, a “staff-less” hotel; it obviously keeps costs down as our stay here is quite cheap (by Scandinavian standards that is), and we’re happy to do our own thing anyway so it suits us fine. We have a great room on the 4th floor with views of the neighbourhood, though I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not… Because, you see, our hotel happens to be on the fringes of Copenhagen’s “Red Light District”. As nice as the buildings around us are, some of the shopfronts are rather interesting shall we say. From our window we can see most of the street and it’s quite an odd combination: there’s 4 hotels (including ours), a tattooist, 2 strip clubs, a souvenir shop, a Sizzler-style family restaurant, and a 7-Eleven convenience store. Weird. Still, it seems safe enough and the room itself is great – spacious, clean and very comfortable. See…


Our room for the next few nights has a comfy bed and great views…


…as well as a mini lounge room and kitchenette. (Don’t mind Shane, he’s just getting dressed.


So this is our home for the next few days in Copenhagen. Ahhh Copenhagen… Capital of Denmark, city of waterfront promenades and canals, and home to Shane’s ancestors. So far, our first impressions of the city are that it is very hip; it may not have Helsinki’s relaxed atmosphere, or Oslo’s epic fjord location, or even Stockholm’s grandeur, but Copenhagen definitely has a funky edge to it. We get into town pretty late this afternoon after a loooong travel day and just had time to explore Vesterbro, the Western part of Copenhagen city.


Vesterbro used to sit just outside the old town of Copenhagen but is now an inner city suburb, characterised as being very multicultural and a tourist hub. This is also where Copenhagen’s “Red Light District” can be found (and where we’re staying, though those things are not in any way connected, I swear!). Not being all that interested in strip clubs and tattoo parlours, we headed straight to Copenhagen’s City Hall and the Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is arguably Copenhagen’s most iconic landmark; it’s basically a small amusement park, opened in 1843 and still going today (though with updated rides). The Tivoli attracts over 4 million visitors a year, which makes it one of the busiest amusement parks in the world. On the same site as the park there is also the famous Tivoli Theatre, and just across the road sits City Hall. Walking around City Hall Square we got to see the Dragespringvandet, a large fountain depicting a dragon fighting a bull, and a statue of Hans Cristian Andersen. Famous for his children’s stories (e.g. “The Little Mermaid” and “Thumbelina”), H.C. Andersen is one of Copenhagen’s most famous citizens and there are statues of him everywhere. 


The streets were packed with people, tourists and locals alike, and there was a real buzz in the air – this weekend is apparently the last weekend of most people’s summer holidays here so I’m sure everyone was just out making the most of the gorgeous weather, topping up their summer tan. It made for some interesting people watching and a great first afternoon in Copenhagen. 


Entry into the Tivoli Gardens. We didn’t go in as it was PACKED and we didn’t fancy waiting in line for an hour for each ride.


The Tivoli Theatre, Danish flags flying high.


Copenhagen’s City Hall was built in 1905.


The Dragespringvandet Fountain (with City Hall behind it).


And us, hanging out with Mr Andersen. In case you’re wondering, he’s reading a book and looking over at the Tivoli Gardens.


And so we have left Norway, our 6th country, behind. We bid you fond(ish) farewell Norway – we will always remember the week we spent with you. We will especially always remember things like:

  • The natural wonders. By far the most memorable part of our week in Norway is without a doubt the epic, majestic scenery. The fjords, mountains, lakes, rivers… It’s just so AWESOME! 
  • The cost of EVERYTHING. Who can believe you would get used to $30AUD burgers, $14AUD beers (300mL) and $3AUD/L petrol (although it is one of the top oil exporters in the world, Norway has one of the highest petrol prices in the world).
  • The trolls. Big ones, little ones, funny ones, scary ones. Everywhere trolls. 


Here’s a few weird and wonderful factoids about Norway we picked up along the way too that tickled our fancy:

  • Norway is a real Kingdom, with the King and the Queen. In Norway, the monarchy reigns, but Parliament has political power
  • In Norway, at weddings, there is a custom to give beer to cows. According to the tradition, everyone should be drunk at the wedding, including the farm animals.
  • Ski is a Norwegian word, which literally means “piece of wood.” 
  • Norway keeps an underground seed bank on the archipelago of Svalbard. It was constructed to store and protect seeds from all possible threats such as war and disasters, hence the nickname “Doomsday” seed vault. The stored seeds are samples from all over the world. 
And finally we would like to put it out there that, in our humble opinion, having now heard a little of all the Scandinavian accents, we believe Jim Henson got it wrong. the Swedish Chef in The Muppets is NOT Swedish; he is in fact Norwegian.