In the summer of 2012 following my first year in college, I went on a trip with my family to northern Europe for the first time. We spent eight to ten days primarily in the Scandinavian countries, with brief jaunts in Berlin and St. Petersburg. It was something new and unexpected, as I had little idea of what to expect (aside from cold weather and Vikings). We would begin in Copenhagen, the Danish capital which would serve as our introduction to the Nordic countries.
My family and I had two nights in town, which we spent wandering the various parts of the city and eating plenty of Danish pastries to our heart’s desire. We arrived in the early evening after a hectic, four-hour layover in London Heathrow and, much to our surprise, found that it was still light out after 20:00! Considering that we were visiting around late July, we weren’t accustom to late sunsets in Europe. While we could’ve gone out that first evening to explore, we were much too tired from our flights and subsequently went to bed after checking into our hotel.
The next morning, we were out of our hotel by 8:00, well-rested and ready to sight-see for the day. Our hotel didn’t offer breakfast, from what I remember, so we opted to get Danish pastries to start off. Plus, it was an excuse to eat sweets for breakfast! We’d found a reputable pastry shop across town, and we took the bus over. However, we missed the stop to get off, and we ended up going a few blocks past; we had to alight and retrace the route to the shop. You could say it was our exercise before consuming pastries!
The shop was quite busy when we entered, but there were stools by the window for the four of us to sit and eat. We ordered perhaps half a dozen pastries to try out, and I had a chocolate-swirl pastry with nut paste filling and a chocolate croissant. The latter was nothing to write home about, but the former was the stuff of a pastry-lover’s dream: it was exquisitely rich and sweet, not to forget heavy from the nut filling. I also had a bite of my sister’s chocolate mousse, and I could definitely feel the intense sugar rush that followed. What a way to start off the day!
Stomachs full, we headed to see the Little Mermaid statue by the waterfront. Crowds of people were already there upon arriving and, much to our disappointment, we found the statue small and unassuming. Yet, considering that it’s a famous landmark inspired by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, we fought our way through for a quick snap before we continued on our way.
Although the Little Mermaid statue was a let-down, we found Nyhavn, our next stop, to be redeeming. Once notorious for its drunken sailors and prostitutes, it’s since become the tourist hub with colorful houses and plenty of expensive, tourist-trap restaurants along the picturesque harbor. I saw a few restaurants selling smørrebrød, a Danish open-faced sandwich that I’d been interested in trying, but alas, we didn’t have the time to pop in. I didn’t end up having it during our stay in Denmark, but I hope to have it some day.
We hopped on a one-hour boat ride at the harbor, cruising past several of the city’s notable attractions, including the Opera House, Christianborg Palace, and Noma, then the #1 Michelin restaurant in the world (it’s fallen to #2, as of 2019). I’d heard of Noma, as it’s known to be a highly-experimental concept kind of restaurant that plays with traditional Nordic cuisine. I’ve also heard that it’s impossible to get a reservation, as it’s booked out three months in advance; unless you’re a celebrity or have connections, it’s a gamble to get a seat there– that’d be the dream!
Before Nyhavn, my family and I had passed through Amalienborg Palace, particularly its courtyard where the four, massive palace façades connected with each other. Built over a span of ten years in the mid-18th century, it was to house four royal families, and it became their permanent residence after the original Christianborg Palace burned in 1794. Today, it serves as a museum dedicated to the royal family. We chose not to enter the palace, as we weren’t too keen on museums, but we did see the Royal Life Guards on-duty in the courtyard. Their uniform resembled that of the British Army, and their stoicism was something to admire in protection of their small, but beloved country.
Our boat ride ended an hour later, and we hopped off to make our way back to our hotel. Even though it wasn’t quite 16:00 yet, we were starting to feel the effects of the jet-lag kick in, so we opted to head back for a brief rest before dinner that evening. Along the way, we strolled along Strøget, a busy shopping street and considered to be one of the longest streets in Europe at 1.1 kilometers (0.7 miles). I crashed immediately upon returning to our hotel, only to wake up in the early evening to head out once again for dinner.
Aside from the Danish pastries we’d consumed that morning, my family and I didn’t know much about Danish cuisine. We’d found a restaurant not too far from our hotel that served Danish food, albeit somewhat of a fusion one. In any case, it was considered “affordable” for an expensive city, and we entered the tiny, tavern-like restaurant for a three-course meal. While I wouldn’t consider the food I ordered to be “traditionally Danish,” I thought the cod salad, lamb with cabbage, and buttermilk pudding to be fresh and well-made. Even so, I was definitely full afterwards!
Our time in Copenhagen came to an end following dinner, as we headed back to our hotel for some shut-eye until we had to leave the next day to head to our next destination in the Nordic countries. It was a short stay in the Danish capital, and I would’ve loved to have had another night in to see more (especially the Tivoli Gardens and Freetown Christiania). Copenhagen was a solid start to our trip in northern Europe, and perhaps I’ll return some day to discover more.
More to come soon– stay tuned!