Copenhagen – Friday 14th April to Friday 21st April
PHIL: “I wouldn’t recommend anything in Copenhagen to anybody.”
Although this isn’t necessarily 100% true, this is kind of how we were left feeling after a week in Copenhagen. For a City that has been voted the happiest place to live, we found it a different experience entirely. Phil has recounted his thoughts below, and while we appreciate we may have had a different experience to many, this is what we found.
First things first, Copenhagen is a very expensive city. Bear in mind Phil lived in London for the past three years, and has spent time in some other traditionally expensive cities: Tokyo, New York, Moscow, Stockholm. In our experience, Copenhagen has been far and away the most financially painful. Secondly, getting around isn’t as easy as you’d think, unless you have unfettered access to a bike. And finally, the attractions here, for the cost, really aren’t that great.
We arrived on Friday to cold and rain. This never makes for a welcoming introduction to a city. It being the easter weekend, many of the shops were closed; even, to our surprise, the supermarkets. We had to rely on local stores and picked up some pizzas to have in the flat. With no desire to venture out in the poor weather, and lots of restaurants and bars obviously shut up for the weekend we had little other choice than a night in.
Saturday morning the rain was driving hard against the window. Thankfully we’d set aside the day for work anyway, so no great loss. The weather forecasts for the rest of the week did not bode well either. However, that evening the skies cleared so I went for a stroll to explore the area. We were staying at an Airbnb in Nørrebro, the multi-cultural part of the city (£39 a night). I discovered that the part we were staying in, though, was somewhat mono-cultural; every other shop front is a kebab house. I walked down Nørrebrogade for what seemed like an age, finding little variety. We’d made a mistake: we were too far out of town.
‘That was that!’ Easily the best memorial at the Assistens Cemetery:
On Sunday we began the tourism. We strolled to the Assistens Cemetary, where Hans Christian Anderson (of Disney fame) and Niels Bohr (of atomic fame) are buried. We had been granted clear skies, mercifully and it was a beautiful place. The weather was sunny, but freezing cold! Keeping the outdoor theme we headed to the Botanical Gardens, and in the afternoon found a free walking tour to join. This one took us, eventually, to Freetown Christiania.
Hannah in the Hot House:
Our guide, Biren, filled us in on Christiania, which started as a kind of self-titled social experiment, after some hippie-types squatted an abandoned military base. After some time, the government accepted and tolerated the open marijuana use and selling, which now, seemingly, is the current draw for many (excuse the pun).
However, after some botched police attempts to clear the Class A sellers from the place, the drug trade here has become controlled by eastern European gangs, and there is a sense of underlying threat along ‘Pusher Street’, where traders sell openly from atop painted oil drums. We walked through, and looked in at the local bar, but decided to move on. Whatever this place had once been, it now just has the feel of a hash theme park. A tourist attraction that has kind of lost its soul.
We stopped in for a beer on the walk home (after a long search), and winced at the £13.50 price tag for a cider and an ale.
Coffee in Copenhagen (to escape the cold):
On Monday Phil left Hannah working in the flat and took the train out of town to Luisiana Museum of Modern Art. The half hour train ride cost £10.75 each way, then entry to the museum a further £14.25. If we’d both gone it would have cost us over £70 just to get there and get in! Worth it if you have the time and the money and are into contemporary art, but otherwise not a destination I’d recommend. The collection is solid, with a nice bias toward Danish artists, but it’s certainly no Naoshima or DIA:Beacon.
This felt at this point like a running theme. Yes, Copenhagen has sights, and gardens, and art; though when compared to those of other cities around the world they underwhelm. And, despite this, the tourist must pay a high price to visit. Perhaps for a Dane this isn’t really an issue. Wages here are typically higher than in the UK and across much of the world, so the average person is able to pay a bit more. For us, however, especially on a sinking pound… Well, we definitely felt the sting.
Tuesday brought another free tour with the same guide, Biren. These are a great way to learn about a City, with payment made in tips (we always tip!) and Biren was a welcome friendly face. This fun walking tour took 90 minutes, in which we learned about Christian IV’s 30-odd children, and how the British Navy stole the entire Danish fleet. Twice. The tour finished at the much lauded Torvehallern. Despite being one of the top Copenhagen tourist attractions, we were unimpressed. It’s just a fancy deli on a big scale.
In the afternoon we met up with a Danish artist, Kit Kjølhede, who we interviewed for the documentary. She showed us her fantastic ‘You Look Great’ compliment work, commissioned by the city transport company (picture at the top of the page). Kit has been working for some years using compliments as her medium, and it was really interesting hearing her take on happiness, and how it can be spread simply by saying nice things to people, and doing good by them. This she even put into practice by inviting us to dinner at her place the following evening.
Hannah with Kit Kjølhede:
With dinner plans set, after a late-ish start on Wednesday we headed over to Copenhagen Street Food on Papirøen Island for lunch (which we really liked), then cycled to the Cisternerne to see the Sambuichi installation (£6.50 each). This is the one very unique thing that I really would recommend in Copenhagen. The Cisternerne was formerly an underground reservoir (able to hold 16 million litres of clean water!), and is now used for unique art installations such as this one – I’ve never been in any art space quite like it, and am surprised it doesn’t get more press.
Then on to dinner at Kit’s place where we met her partner, Claus, and friends Jack and Andreas. Claus had prepared a veritable feast: definitely the best food we had in Copenhagen. It was great to spend an evening with such friendly, open and happy people. Conversation flowed and it was fun to talk to new people about our trip, as well as hear some of their own thoughts on happiness and their travel adventures.
Despite it being a school night for some, it was a late night – Claus was keen to show Phil his excellent wine and cognac selection, which left Phil a little worse for wear the next morning! A wonderful positive experience which really cheered us up!
A Kit Kjølhede piece we happened across just after we left her post interview:
Thursday was Tivoli day. Tivoli Gardens theme park is the darling of the Copenhagen attractions. We were aghast at the £70+ it would take for us to both visit, but figured we probably wouldn’t have the chance again. However, this was one occasion where the cold, wind and threatening skies worked to our advantage… there was nobody there! We went on ride after ride and didn’t have to queue at all for any of them. Alton Towers this is not, as it favours more traditional rides, but this definitely doesn’t make it a walkover. Phil was genuinely scared on the Star Flyer; and Vertigo at the end of the day proved too much for either of us. Going round in a circle at 100km/h, pulling 5G, and spinning 360 degrees isn’t fun, it’s scary!
The Oriental-themed Dragon ride at Tivoli Gardens:
A bit of a dampener for us was, on top of the entry, they were charging captive audience prices for their food. For lunch we each had hotdogs, a side and a beer, which cost us around £40! Copenhagen is definitely not a place to come on a budget.
The offending article:
After Tivoli we had a little time to kill before the evening so went to find Copenhagen’s best cheesecakes, allegedly, at Bertels Salon (no apostrophe, apparently). We were rewarded with a lovely cherry vanilla cheesecake, which was very tasty indeed.
Cheesecake from Bertels Salon:
Then things fell apart a little. We had planned to meet a friend of a friend at Warpigs for dinner. However, when we arrived she was running really late. After trying and failing to find anything that appealed, or wouldn’t bankrupt us, in the Meatpacking District (Copenhagen’s latest hip area), we settled on going back to Papirøen, but couldn’t find anywhere to park our City Bikes that was any closer than a half hour walk! Thankfully, Grillen Nørrebro rescued us from our evening fugue; great burgers and good beers, which cost us less than our hotdog lunch at Tivoli!
In conclusion, Copenhagen was a city of extremes. After it being voted the ‘Happiest City in the World’ it failed to reach our expectations. The weather didn’t help, as any tourist will tell you, extreme cold is just as rubbish as rain and our location made any journey a minimum 30 minute bicycle ride. As a tourist on a budget, everything was SOOO expensive; even a supermarket trip was eye opening!
It is a beautiful city, and everyday we were pleasantly surprised to see commuters fill the streets at 5pm. This is because in Denmark the hours are shorter and pay is better, leaving people with more free time to spend how they like.
It’s hard for us to explain in a short blog post our feelings of Copenhagen as a whole. Perhaps it is because simple things like food and drink felt so overpriced. Regardless of this we met friendly people, had interesting conversations and as a city filled with bicycle lanes, cafes, parks & lakes you can really see the appeal.
Finally, Friday was our day of departure. After more hot dogs, we got on the Bornholm bus to take us to the ferry at Ystad in Sweden. The combined bus and ferry ticket from Copenhagen to Rønne on Bornholm cost us £27 each. The catamaran ferry (our sixth of the trip) rolled heavily from side to side all the way across in the strong winds. Finally, after a further wait due to a missed bus following the delayed ferry arrival, we paid £4.30 each for the short ride to our farm, and our WWOOF-ing home for the next week.
Hannah and Phil x