Scandinavian cruise journal: home port — what to see in Copenhagen

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This post is the second installment in a journal of my cruise through Scandinavia and the Baltic states in 2012 on the Norwegian Sun. Throughout the cruise, I’ll highlight each port, with photos and some tips on what to see and how. Today, the port from which my Baltic cruise embarked: Copenhagen, Denmark. 

My Baltic cruise, like many others, began and ended in Copenhagen, one of Europe’s most beautiful places. That gave me the opportunity to see the city much better than any of the others Copenhagen map cropon the itinerary, so I arrived a couple of days early, and left a couple of days late. I suggest you do the same — you won’t regret it.

Copenhagen is the city of Hans Christian Andersen, whose image appears all over town, from this statue near Town Hall to the downtown manhole covers, numerous little parks, Tivoli Gardens and of course the famous Little Mermaid statue on the city’s beautiful waterfront. Add the fanciful statues and graphics of mythical figures scattered here and there, some palaces and a Disney-esque castle or two and you have a true fairy tale city.

What to see:

Most of Copenhagen’s best attractions are right downtown, and you can do them all in a day or two by foot. However, if you want to spend time touring the great buildings and museums, you could spend weeks. Here are the top sights in the downtown area:

The Stroget: Right in the middle of town is the Stroget, the longest pedestrian shopping mall in Europe. It runs for 1.1 kilometres from the Town Hall to a large square called Kongens Nytorv. It’sThe Stroget pedestrian mall, Copenhagen, Denmark filled with shops, restaurants, bars, outdoor patios, street performers, and most other things you can think of. It’s not classy, but it’s fun, and a good place to base your tour of the downtown.

Tivoli Gardens: Right across the street from Town Hall is the entrance to Tivoli Gardens, the original “happiest place on earth”. It’s got a little of everything, from beautiful gardens to fanciful buildings, an aquarium, fun rides for all ages, concerts and good restaurants. You can spend a whole day here and not get bored.

Christiansborg Palace: Not far from Tivoli is this grand palace, where Denmark’s Parliament  sits and state affairs are held. You can take a tour of the building or just look around, but it’s well worth buying a ticket to see what’s in the basement: the ruins of the original castle built in 1167 by Bishop Absalon, who founded the city. There’s also the ruins of the later Copenhagen Castle mixed in, so you get two for one.

National Museum: In the same part of town is Denmark’s brilliant national museum, which has a great collection of artifacts dating from paleolithic period through the Viking era to the present. Most amazing sight: a couple of the bog people, found perfectly preserved after lying for thousands of years in peat bogs.

Nyhavn:  At the other end of the Stroget is one of the most picturesque parts of Copenhagen, the little harbour called Nyhavn. Both sides are lined with quaint, colourful buildings (including a house where H.C. Andersen lived), and you can pass the time in a patio restaurant, watch the people and boats passing by, or take photos like the one at top.

A canal boat tour in Copenhagen, Denmark

Boat tours: Nyhavn is one of the places around town you can catch a city boat tour like the one in the picture above, and it’s well worth the money. The tours cover the harbour and the canals that run through the downtown, past many of the landmark buildings, such as the new opera house, the national library and the old stock exchange. You may see your cruise ship waiting  in the cruise docks.

Rosenborg Castle:  From Nyhavn it’s also a short walk to one of Copenhagen’s treasures, Rosenborg Castle. A tour of the castle’s lavishly furnished rooms and great halls is a walk through Danish history. But downstairs, in the treasury, is the real prize: Denmark’s crown jewels, a display as glittering as you’re likely to see anywhere.

Amalienborg Palace: About a 10-minute walk from Rosenborg Castle is this unique four-sided palace, which is home to the Danish Royal family when they’re in town. The museum inside displays the rooms of  former kings, but the best spectacle is the changing of the guard, which happens  at noon every day. If you’re at Rosenborg around that time, you can follow the soldiers as they march across town.

Changing of the guard at Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen

The Little Mermaid: Follow the waterfront from the gardens below Amalienborg Palace and you’ll come to Copenhagen’s most famous attraction. This little statue is visited by hordes of tourists every day, so good luck getting a clear photo of it. But while you’re there, have a look at the Kastelets citadel, and gaze along the waterfront at the nearby dock where your cruise will begin.

The Round Tower (Rundetaarn): This intriguing tower, Europe’s oldest functioning observatory, is right downtown. You can climb to the top on a unique spiral indoor walkway that winds around the building seven times; then admire a great view over the city’s old Latin Quarter.

Where to stay: Copenhagen is not a cheap city, but it is possible to spend a few days there without breaking your budget. To save a few dollars, I used Airbnb for half of my stay; for the other half I found a single room in the Best Western Hotel City in Nyhavn for about $100 a night. Staying downtown is most convenient, but with Copenhagen’s transit system, no problem saving a few dollars by booking outside the city centre.

What to eat: Copenhagen has every kind of food, but the specialties here are fish, such as herring, and smorrebrod, the famous open-faced sandwiches topped with everything from fish toDining on an outdoor patio at Nyhavn, Copenhagen eggs to potatoes. There are many open-air restaurants in the downtown squares, but be warned: they’re expensive. Scout the back streets for better deals.

Getting around: Copenhagen’s brilliant system of buses and trains makes it easy to get almost anywhere downtown within a few minutes, or you can use it to reach attractions a bit farther out, such as the Carlsberg brewery or the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, a little north of the city.

Copenhagen has a series of side-by-side cruise docks, but the good news is that you can get to and from your ship easily on Bus 26, which runs right to the port from downtown. If you’re just spending the day, there’s also a Hop-On-Hop-Off (HOHO) bus that leaves from the cruise docks.

The sailing date arrives, and we sail out of Copenhagen harbour, watching the line of wind turbines off the coast as we cruise into the Baltic Sea. First port: Warnemunde, and my first visit to Germany.

Wind turbines in the sea off Copenhagen Denmark

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Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

2 Comments

    • Thanks for the comment, Mags. My airbnb reservation worked out pretty well — it was about a 20-minute bus ride from downtown, but the buses ran frequently and it was interesting to see how people lived in Denmark. I paid about $60 a night and was able to make my own meals if I wanted. Of course, my hotel downtown was much handier, and in what I think is the nicest part of town. I wouldn’t even think of renting a car there — you can get everywhere by bus or train. You can even take a train through a tunnel to Sweden!

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