Okay, so by now you’ve probably read about our first few days in Denmark, my temporary nervous breakdown, and how we prevailed in the end. Excellent. You now know we’re not perfect parents, we let our one year old’s sleeping schedule or lack thereof dictate the pace of our trip (for the most part), and you’re probably looking over at your sleeping infant thinking, “there is no way in hell I ‘m taking you to Europe after reading that crap“. The awkward part is over. Now it’s time to get to the good stuff: What did we actually get to see and do on this trip? We may as well start at the beginning. Copenhagen.
In my humble opinion, if you’re able, the best way to explore the “City of Spires” is on two wheels. We had limited time in Copenhagen, and come hell or high water, we were going to cram in as much as possible. So in spite of crippling jet-lag, and a half-comatose infant, we dragged ourselves out of bed, found our way to Østerport Trainstation to pick up our pre-rented bikes and trailer, and set out on a self-guided bike tour of Copenhagen.
Before I get to some of the sights, I just have to say this: Copenhagen is the most bike-friendly city I have ever visited (and I’ve been to a few). More so than Amsterdam, Portland, Strasbourg, Stockholm, you name it. And there are a number of contributing factors to this. The city is quite flat, the distances are relatively short from one point to another, the generous “cycle tracks” are designed in a way that cars are a safe distance from them, and for the most part, everyone follows the traffic rules. Every morning was a parade of stilettos, tousled hair, slim-cut suits and colourful silk scarves as 40% of the city made their way to work on two wheels. So if you want to feel like a local in Copenhagen, you get yourself a set of wheels!
If you are after a structured, well laid out guide of where to go and what to see on your bike tour of Copenhagen, this may not be all that helpful. Remember, we white-knuckled our way through most of this holiday. That aside, we did get to knock a few things off the list like St. Alban’s Church, dating back to 1885, built in the Gothic Revival style, nested rather peacefully at the end of Amaliegade st. in Northern Copenhagen.
Hans Christian Anderson was a permanent fixture during my childhood. And if you’re not sure who I’m talking about, if I mention The Emperor’s New Clothes, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling and of course, the Little Mermaid, the name would most likely ring a bell. Located just off of Langelinje Pier sits a permanent ode to the Danish Author’s most famous (thanks to Disney) fairy tale. At 105 years old, I was a little disturbed to hear the bronze and granite statue has endured a rather disturbing barrage of vandal attacks (who would want to hurt the little mermaid?!) And while the sculpture a little underwhelming (probably because of the mob of tourists clamoring all over her to get selfies, or because I couldn’t get a decent shot of her because the light was in the wrong place), she’s an endearing and iconic part of Copenhagen’s rich and colourful marine myths.
I didn’t expect to fall in love as hard as I did with Copenhagen. But it’s too late. We’re involved. I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that I love so much about it, and I think there are a few contributing factors. First, the architecture. I have a thing for Gothic Revival. I also love cities where I don’t have to bend my spine in half looking up at them. Copenhagen is devoid of sky scrapers, it’s buildings are elegant (like City Hall pictured here), and ornate enough to be a photographers dream.
The second reason I loved Copenhagen (well, Scandinavia in general) was the bursts of colour everywhere you looked. Blues, pinks, oranges and this beautiful “Nyboder Yellow” found on none other than Nyboder Street (I know, looks orange to me too). You’ve probably seen these historic row houses on any number of Instagram accounts. Like every other neighbourhood in Copenhagen, this one has a fascinating story. With roots back to 1631, this community was commissioned by the King to house members of the esteemed Royal Danish Navy and their families. Naval children attended the on site private school and trouble-makers were deposited at the Nyboder Jail.
Remember how I mentioned how Copenhagen is the most bike-friendly city in the world? Well I forgot to mention the best reason; It’s flat! You can imagine how elated this set of sleep-deprived parents, pulling a semi-comatose tiny human were to find out such a fact! So if you’re someone with limited fitness abilities (or enjoying watching the Tour de France, not participating in it), a self-guided (or guided) bike tour of Copenhagen won’t be it too taxing for you at all. And because Copenhagen isn’t a sprawling city, it’s easy to squeeze in iconic sights into your itinerary like a visit to the Børsbygningen, Copenhagen’s original 17th century Stock Exchange. Don’t just ride by though – Take a few moments to appreciate its architectural intricacies, this building is exquisite.
Alright, so you’ve cycled for a few hours, you deserve a break! There are few things more Danish than rolling up to a patio, hopping off your bike and ordering a Smørrebrød and a pilsner. Smørrebrød is an open-faced sandwich, generally consisting of two slices of sourdough-rye bread, buttered, with any number of toppings. We opted for two rather conventional options for our Smørrebrød; A meat roll and Danish meatballs.
If there is one thing that seems to be embedded in Scandinavian culture it’s the ability to think outside the box, literally and figuratively, especially when it comes to architecture and design. Superkilen is an urban park, an intentional upgrade to an industrial part of the city with the a single purpose; Celebrate diversity in an urban landscape.
With a bike path snaking through the centre of it, Superkilen feels like an outdoor art exhibition, with representation of more than 60 nationalities around the world. From Japanese sculptures, murals of South American leaders to Moroccan water installations, British trash bins and a rather interesting optical illusion.
Have you ever been scrolling through Instagram and you come across the photo of some amazing place and you say to yourself, “pfffttt, probably photoshopped and/or totally overrated.” Yeah, Nyhavn wasn’t one of those places for me. Arguably one of Europe’s most famous waterfronts, Nyhavn was bustling with tourists and locals alike. Dotted with beautiful, antique wooden ships, lively cafes, traditional (and international) restaurants, and of course, the iconic brightly coloured townhouses, as Hans Christian Anderson’s haunt for two decades, this was a scene I couldn’t get enough of (I’ll post more photos when I write about our canal cruise).
There are a few crucial sights missing from this self-guided bike tour of Copenhagen: The King’s Garden, Amalienborg Palace, Tivoli Gardens etc. Some of those we visited on foot and some (Tivoli Gardens) we never made there at all. When you’re travelling with an infant, sometimes succumbing to their schedule means you miss out on things you want to see/do. But rather than mope about what we didn’t get to see, we took advantage of Copenhagen’s myriad parks and green spaces, appreciated the splendour of a sunny day, and packed in as much as we could on our bleary eyed self-guided tour of Copenhagen, the City of Spires.