Mike and I spent the beginning of June on a whirlwind Baltic cruise through six countries in nine days. We saw medieval city walls in Tallinn and a remnant of a much more modern wall in Berlin, ate reindeer in Helsinki and meatballs in Stockholm, and walked along miles and miles of cobblestones in Copenhagen and through palaces in St. Petersburg. We sailed on a cruise ship that was a marvel of 21st century engineering and saw churches that were marvels of 14th century engineering. There were moments of joy and awe, occasional frustrations, and lots of good food.
Our cruise departed from Copenhagen, and we arrived a few days early to experience the city. Copenhagen's old town is wonderfully walkable, with a pedestrian street (the Strøget) leading from one historic square to another. We stayed at the City Hotel Nebo (Istedgade 6) which is centrally located by the main train station, offers a non-refundable discounted rate if you prepay for your room, and has free Internet access (via a computer terminal in the lobby) and luggage storage.
- The best way to start your day in Copenhagen is with a pastry or two from Lagkagehuset, a Danish chain of bakeries. They have several locations in Copenhagen, including one in the main train station and one right across the street on Vesterbrogade, next to the tourist information office (the prices are slightly cheaper at the Vesterbrogade location). And if you're just passing through Copenhagen, they're in the airport as well. There are over a dozen types of pastries to choose from, all delightfully light and flaky. In addition, the store's counter set up is conducive to the point method of ordering for the non-Danish speaker.
- If you're not the type of person to go into rhapsodies over the quality of your pastry (i.e. Mike), the croissants at the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores are cheap (they were running a three-for-one promotion during our visit) and a couple notches above typical American convenience store offerings.
- There are a plethora of ice cream shops along the Strøget to keep you nourished as you sightsee, and my favorite was Rajissimo (Nygade 6) for their generous portions and quality ice cream. The brownie bomb ice cream was supremely chocolatey without being overly sweet, and excellent when topped with whipped cream.
- It may seem odd to eat Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food in Scandinavia, but the all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet at Riz Raz is a tasty bargain. There are fresh vegetables, various dips, pasta and vegetable salads (including a wonderful fresh herb potato salad), rice, roasted vegetables, lasagna, pitas, and truly fabulous falafel. There are two locations, Kompagnistræde 20 (the one we tried) and Kannikestræde 19.
- For a more traditional Danish dinner, we had smørrebrød, Danish open-face sandwiches that are eaten with a fork and knife. Mike tried potato with bacon, and I had egg with shrimp. Both were spread with a delicious yellow mayonnaise and were topped with lettuce, tomato, and onions (and yes, there is a slice of rye bread somewhere beneath all the toppings).
Other Copenhagen Tips:
- Throughout our cruise, we relied heavily on Rick Steves' Northern European Cruise Ports guidebook. His self-guided walking tour of Copenhagen is a great way to see the old city center and is filled with interesting information about Copenhagen's history. Even better, the walking tour led us to things we never would have found on our own (for example, the colorful frescoes in Copenhagen University's administrative building and the beautiful Grey Friars' Square, both pictured above).
- The National Museum of Denmark is very accessible to the English-speaking tourist (all of the exhibit text is in both Danish and English) and a fascinating way to learn about Danish history. I particularly enjoyed the "Stories of Denmark" exhibit, which focuses on Danes' daily lives from 1660 to 2000. Admission is free, so it's worth stopping in even if you only have an hour or so.
- The gardens at Rosenborg Castle are a great spot for a picnic--we picked up some lunch at a nearby deli.
- Tivoli Gardens is an amusement park that promises a magical experience (sound familiar? It was one of Walt Disney's inspirations when creating Disneyland). Since the rides are priced separately from admission, we planned to spend our evening wandering through the lush landscaping, people watching, and taking in the free entertainment, which on the night we visited included a pantomime and a jazz band. However, Mike talked me into riding the Star Flyer, a 260 foot high swing ride that offers the best view in Copenhagen--definitely worth the brief moments of terror and extra money.