Weekend in Copenhagen

To end the series on Copenhagen, I’m sharing the itinerary we followed when we spent a weekend back in July.

We followed the usual formula of our weekend trips:  Fly in Friday evening, spend all of Saturday and Sunday touring, and fly back to Amsterdam Sunday night.  A weekend would not be enough time for cities such as Paris and London, but for the size of Copenhagen, we found that it was just right.

FRIDAY: FLY IN TO COPENHAGEN

We arrived in København Kasturp Airport at around 10pm, bought our tickets from the machine, and took the train straight to Copenhagen from platform 2.  I remember making a mental note to be very sure that we’re on the right platform because the choices are only between Copenhagen or the other direction going to Malmo in Sweden.  Folks who take the wrong train will be in for quite a surprise.

The train ride from Kasturp to Copenhagen Central Station takes 10 short minutes.  Arriving past 11, we decided to grab dinner to-go, walked to our hotel and rested & recharged for an action-packed weekend ahead.

SATURDAY MORNING: CASTLES OF NORTH ZEALAND

With such a well-loved royal family, I knew we had to include Copenhagen’s castles in our itinerary.  And since the three most famous castles are located outside the city in North Zealand and a fair drive away, we opted to take a coach tour through Viator.  We were out of the hotel before 9am on Saturday morning and walked to the rendezvous point across Tivoli garden.  If you are to stay at Andersen Hotel (which I recommend), this distance will be a very short leisurely 5-minute walk.  Along the way, you will pass by the Visitor Centre where you can grab a couple of maps (which you will use later) and a couple of Danishes from the cafe—the pastry kind.  🙂

Viator’s tour is well-organized and very convenient.  The drive to North Zealand is very scenic as its along the coast.  Here and there you will spot thatched-roof houses in distinct Danish style, picturesque gardens and tree-line streets.

The first stop is Frederiksborg Castle (Frederiksborg Slot) in Hillerød.  Very simple compared to other castles in Europe like the Château de Versailles in France, but it is the most impressive of the three that we saw in the tour. With Renaissance architecture through and through, it gives you a glimpse of the grandeur of the Danes’ royal history.  It was built as the royal residence for King Christian IV in the 1500s and is now a national museum.

Frederiksborg Castle from the outside

Frederiksborg Castle from the outside

Frederiksborg Castle has majestic rooms

Frederiksborg Castle has majestic rooms

Frederiksborg Castle ceiling murals

Frederiksborg Castle’s ceiling murals rival those of Versailles

Frederiksborg Castle church and ballroom

Frederiksborg Castle’s most impressive church (left) and ballroom (right)

After a quick lunch outside Frederiksborg Castle, we headed off to Fredensborg Palace.  Since it’s the current residence of the royal family, we were not able to view the castle in the inside.  When we were walking up to see the castle up close, I got to chatting with an Aussie lady from our tour group who’s about my age.  Whilst we took photos, she told me that she went to school with Princess Mary back in Tasmania though she (Aussie lady) was a few years younger than Princess Mary.  She then proceeded to tell us the story of how Mary and Prince Frederik met in a pub and fell in love like two normal people, and how “Fred” did not reveal his true identity as the next King of Denmark until much later.  She added that Mary was an ordinary girl in school growing up—not the head cheerleader, not the supermodel-esque type.  “She’s a typical girl like you and I,” she said.  Then with the look of perhaps pride that she knew Princess Mary, combined with wishful longing for the same love story, she added, “And she’s in there somewhere right now.”  Oh, fairytales!   They still exist in this day and age.  After hearing the story and feeling all gooey inside, I knew I had to have a photo taken with my own prince in front of the palace.

Fredensborg Palace

Fredensborg Palace

Our third and final stop is Kronborg Castle, also very popular as that castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  It did not have the grandiose interiors as Frederiksborg Slot or the love story of Fredensborg Palace, but it has pretty darn cool dungeon.  And right outside the dungeon sits Ogier the Dane who, according to legends, will wake from his sleep to save Denmark from trouble should the need arise.  There will be a 10-foot tall hammer-throwing warrior king leading the Danish troops when the time comes.

Kronborg Castle

Kronborg Castle’s dungeon entrance (left) and the Ogier the Dane in slumber (right)

SATURDAY EVENING: CITY WALKING TOUR

We got back to Copenhagen at around 4pm in front of the Tivoli Garden where we kicked off the next part of our Saturday itinerary: A self-guided city walking tour.  The map for the walking tour is available in the Visitor Centre as I mentioned above but here’s a scanned version.  There are a total of 19 interest points which should approximately take 3 hours of walking.  We started the tour at Tivoli at 5pm after a quick bite to eat, and taking into account stopping to take photos, buy ice cream, ask for directions and resting our feet, we ended our walking tour at 10pm.  Since it was July, the sky was still quite bright when we checked off stop No. 19 from the list.  As expected, my absolute favourite from the walking tour is oh-so-beautiful Nyhavn but Copenhagen has a lot of pretty areas that can easily rival its charm:

Copenhagen's impressive architecture

Copenhagen’s impressive architecture (clockwise from left): The Royal Danish Theatre, Copenhagen City Hall and Amalienborg Palace

Nyhavn basking in sunshine
SUNDAY: CANAL TOUR & CATCHING UP

We kicked off our Sunday with a canal boat ride around Copenhagen.  There are canal tours that leave from Nyhavn and some from Gammel Strand right by Højbro Plads (Hojbro Square) off Strøget.  What we loved about the canal tour is that it gave us a different perspective of Copenhagen.  We saw it afoot, but seeing the city from the water is pleasantly different.  From the tour we saw the Opera House, the Amelienborg Palace and even Noma.  I think the best part is that it gives you a glimpse of beautiful Christiania.  I was debating on whether to spend a good chunk of Sunday in this “freetown” given the progressive buzz its had in the past years.  However, one of the locals we spoke with advised us not to bring a camera as certain drug dealers manning their stalls may not feel comfortable.  “Manning their stalls?”  I started playing out scenes in my head of what could happen and slowly scratched it off the itinerary.  Nevertheless, Christiania seemed quite pretty from the canal.

Funky canal houses

Funky canal houses

Opera House

Opera House

Beautiful Christiania

Beautiful Christiania

Colourful canal houses in Christiania

Colourful canal houses in Christiania

When we got back from the tour, we went straight to Amalienborg Palace to not miss the changing of the royal guards.  It’s a very touristy thing to do, I am aware, but I was very keen to confirm that the Danish Royal Guards are nowhere close to their stiff and stuffy comrades in Buckingham Palace.  True enough, the royal guards marched among the crowd of tourists—no iron gates or blowing whistles, and would even let you take photos with them.  If you ask permission politely, they will acknowledge you with a nod and let you stand next to them for a quick photo.  I highly advice asking for permission first.  Imagine yourself at your desk at work and random strangers start taking photos of you as you type away.  Do you reckon it could get annoying?  Thus, please ask permission first.

Danish royal guards

Danish royal guards

Photo op with a Danish royal guard

If you ask nicely & politely, they will let you do this

At around 1pm we headed off to Nyhavn to meet with a friend and former colleague who moved to Denmark from the Philippines.  With the countless options of restaurants and cafes that line Nyhavn, I’m glad that she picked the spot for us.  Lunch was at NyhavnsKroen and featured local Danish favourites.  I had the Stjerneskud which is a deep fried and poached fillet of plaice with prawns, asparagus, lemon and red dressing.  But the absolute highlight of the meal is the rémoulade.  Although invented in France, this dip is a mainstay in Danish menus.  It took plain old fries to an absolutely different level of yum!

Countless cafes in Nyhavn

Countless cafes in Nyhavn

Nyhavnskroen

Nyhavnskroen

Stjerneskud: Deep fried and poached fillet of plaice with prawns, asparagus, lemon and red dressing

Stjerneskud: Deep fried and poached fillet of plaice with prawns, asparagus, lemon and red dressing

Mmmm remoulade

Mmmm remoulade

We spent the rest of the afternoon catching up and winding down with a few bottles of Somersby Ciderbefore we caught our flight back to Amsterdam.  To fellow travelers, this time could be spent in the Tivoli Gardens or perhaps by visiting the crown jewels at Rosenborg Castle.  But we opted for some quiet time with an old friend.

Speaking of quiet time, there is one recommendation that I’m leaving for last pertaining to Copenhagen’s most iconic landmark: The Little Mermaid.

Little Mermaid

Try to view the Little Mermaid sans the crowds to truly appreciate her

When we saw the sculpture, we had been walking for 4 hours and we were quite tired.  With all the hype given to it, I initially felt that it was bit of a let down when we finally saw the sculpture.  It was no Winged Victory or Pietà.  So we were a bit disappointed.  Since it was a little past 9pm when we got to the Little Mermaid, the daytime crowds were gone.  It was just myself and my fiancé, and a couple of students capturing a time lapse shot of the water.  We sat down to rest and after about 10 minutes of calm, I started to actually see the Little Mermaid.  I then realized that the sculpture cannot be appreciated with a pack of tourists about you and everyone waiting for their turn to pose with it, complete with peace sign.  We were lucky as it was not intentional, but we saw the sculpture at sundown, with no crowds, and accompanied by  just the sound of water lapping against the rocks in the background.  What I saw was a heartbreaking sculpture of Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic story of a heroine giving up everything for love.  And she sits there, all alone, waiting and wanting what she could not have, as the sun set in the horizon.  I honestly think that it is only under such quiet conditions will one be able to appreciate the Little Mermaid.  Otherwise, it will most likely pale in comparison to all other more impressive things that Copenhagen has to offer.  And oh my, based on what I’ve written, impressive things are definitely not lacking in the beautiful city of Copenhagen.

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