We arrived in Copenhagen from Athens on the morning of June 26th. Our original plan did not include Denmark, but when we were booking our flight tickets to come back to the states the cheapest option we found was from Copenhagen to New York, with anything straight from Athens being significantly more expensive. Therefore, we decided to fly to New York by way of Copenhagen with a one day layover there so we could see some of the sights. Consequently, we started our trip in a Scandinavian country (Iceland), and also ended in one (Denmark). Copenhagen is a beautiful city although it is very expensive even compared to London, New York, and San Francisco. That probably wiped out some of our savings on the plane tickets, but it was worth the price to be able to see it and I don’t think we could afford more than one night there anyway.
We arrived in the late morning and on our way to our hostel and were greeted with a massive thunderstorm. We ducked into a coffee shop to ride out the worst of it, where we watched it turn from rain to hail and then back to rain again accompanied by thunder and lightning the whole time. Once it seemed to let up a little we decided to make a break for the hostel as it wasn’t too far. As we were crossing the street outside the coffee shop there was a bright flash and loud bang right above our heads. We must have been right below the thunder as it sounded like a bomb going off right above us. It was the closest I think I’ve ever been to a lightning strike and the closest I would want to be. It was like we were being welcomed to Denmark by Thor himself, definitely startling. Once we got checked in to our hostel, the storm had passed and we headed out to explore the city.
Our first stop was the iconic street of Hyhavn, which has a canal running down the middle with sailboats docked along the sides and is lined with multicolored buildings. Next we headed to the Amalienborg palace, which is the winter home of the Danish royal family. Near there is Frederik’s Church, which was started in 1749, but due to various calamaties, it wasn’t actually completed until 1894. It is a beautiful building and we were lucky enough to get there just in time for one of the two daily times where they open up the dome for visitors to climb up. It was fun to climb up the various spiral staircases and catwalks to the top of the dome and of course it provided great views of the city. The church employee who opened it up for us and took us to the top was also very friendly and gave us good information on the history of the church and what to see in Copenhagen while we were there. Next, we went to the center of the old town which has many nice pedestrianized streets and lots of interesting shops and stores showing off the famous Scandinavian design, think Ikea but more refined and a lot more expensive. Much like Portland, Copenhagen has a very developed bike culture with nice bike lines and other bike related infrastructure everywhere. There were a lot of people on bikes from students to men in very stylish suits. We finished up the day with dinner at a restaurant on Grabrodre square. Copenhagen is also famous for it’s cuisine, with multiple Michelin starred restaurants and it is also home to what many say is the best restaurant in the world called Noma. We decided to skip Noma since the prices start at about $200 per person, but the mid-range place we ate at was still very good, a little less expensive (although it was still over $100 for the two of us) and the atmosphere outside on the square was nice with street musicians playing and ample people watching opportunities.
We had most of the next day in Copenhagen as well since our flight didn’t leave for New York until around 7:00 PM. We ate breakfast and then headed to the neighborhood of Christianshavn and what is known and Freetown Christiana. Christiana has a long and complicated history, but it is basically an “autonomous neighborhood” created when squatters and artists took over an abandoned military base in the early 1970s and set up what has become the world’s longest lived commune. The authorities generally leave it alone and the people there operate on their own terms and rules. Hashish is openly sold and consumed in the “green light zone”, but hard drugs are not allowed and of course there is a lot more to it than just the hashish although that is the main draw for many. There are interesting murals everywhere, cafes and bars, a concert hall, and a huge building supply store. In true Danish fashion there are hand made houses, many of them meticulous in design such as the one made of all glass on the side of the lake in the middle of town. I think the fact that this place has managed to stay alive for so long when it would have squashed long ago in the United States speaks volumes about Danish tolerance and respect for community and individual freedom.
After the visit to Christiana, we had lunch at one of Copenhagen’s famous hot dog stands and then spent a couple of hours in the National Museum. The national museum was great. It was free of charge and included a wealth of information and objects about the entire history of Denmark from prehistory to the Vikings to modern times.
I really enjoyed Copenhagen despite the high cost and would reccommend it to anyone. In our society I think the Scandinavian countries are at least overlooked and at worst disparaged as being too “socialist”. Seeing it though you can’t help but think that they are doing something right. It is obviously an affluent country with a high standard of living that has managed to protect it’s most vulnerable while not stifling commerce. Copenhagen has also managed to take extraordinary steps to protect the environment and be one of the greenest cities in the world as evidenced by the windmills off the coast, the multitudes of bicycles, and the meticulously clean streets.
This was our last overseas stop and we are now back in the U.S. in New York for a few days before heading back to Portland. See you all soon!