Discovering Copenhagen: tips from a local guide

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Today we are joined by Una, a local Copenhagen guide, who has a lot to tell us about her hometown – and why it merits more than a one-day stop. If you’re headed to this Scandinavian city as part of a cruise, you’ll want to read Una’s suggestions for how to make the most of your short time here!

If you have ever heard the phrase ”Big things come in small packages”, then you have an idea of what awaits your visit to Copenhagen. Tourism is exploding here due to the Baltic Sea cruise ship routes. Even so, many tourists have only planned a day or over night in Copenhagen and leave wishing they had had more time to explore.

First, what attracts tourists is that Copenhagen is quite small for a capital city. One can walk from one end of the old city to the other within an hour. The buildings are limited to five floors so that the old copper spires of churches and castles from earlier times can always be seen. This gives the city a more human size. Second, this is the place modern pedestrian shopping streets started (in 1964). The lack of cars in the inner city invites wandering. If you feel lost you can always find someone who speaks English – it is taught here in school from the 3rd grade. We do have traffic – over 2 million bicycles during the day! Most streets have bicycle lanes but watch out when you cross!! Yes, you can rent one of your own for exploring. We have several city bike stands where you can check a bike out as you do a shopping cart. Return, lock the bike and your money is returned.

There are three castles within walking distance of each other in Copenhagen. The first, Rosenborg, displays the crown jewels. Dating from 1606, it was built as a summer home for our Danish King Christian 4. Its miniature size makes it a favourite tourist site. Then there is the World Heritage site of Amalianborg Castles – 4 identical roccoco mansions where our Queen and her family live in the Winter. The Royal Guards stand watch in colourful soldier uniforms. Finally, Christiansborg, which houses government and our Queen's Reception Rooms. Even though it is from the 1900s, it is built over ruins from the 1100s which can still be seen. So one can experience 1000 years of Royal living and architectural changes within a small distance.

Most people when they travel see a lot of monumental things but carry home adventures of a more personal sort. Copenhagen is the place to try Danish pastry. Just remember pastry is a traditional morning treat so often gone if you try to buy in the afternoon! We still have old cafes from late the 1700s which serve the traditional open sandwich lunches with beer. One can take a short public bus ride up to the old Carlsberg Brewery where a tour ends with a raised beer glass. Skål! Carlsberg commissioned the Little Mermaid statue which stands in the harbor. Here at the brewery is a smaller but still original cast of her.

Don’t forget the historical amusement park: Tivoli! 80% of the people visiting Tivoli are Danes. Friday evenings there are Rock concerts and Tivoli is jam-packed with the young. Daytime one finds many retired Danes, who have a season card, using the park for a daily stroll. Nightime Tivoli is lit by over a million lights and is a sight not to be forgotten.

Copenhagen City Hall, which is just across from Tivoli, is admired by tourists who walk by on their way to our famous walking street Strøget. The clock tower is the tallest in Copenhagen symbolizing that the people rule. A shame really, that so few tourists take the opportunity to go inside. Danish modern furniture is known worldwide. It owes much of its fame to the craft renewal that spread from masons to carpenters to architects and finally interior designers. Inside you can see that handicraft. During the fall new architecture students with sketch pads copying motives fill the halls. If you wander to the back garden you can see a dovecote. This is a tower home for around 200 pigeons; in olden times a dovecote served as an early warning system for fire. One of the perks of being the mayor is one can have pigeon to eat! Most city employees prefer the city hall pancakes which are served up on formal visit occasions.

Another place to stroll is up the Round Tower. King Christian 4 built the tower in 1642 and attached it to the Trinity Church. One does not climb the Round Tower; one walks up a spiral walkway which winds 7 1/2 times around the central core. The attic area was even used by the pharmacists of the 1600s to hang herbs to dry. At the top one has a wonderful view of the city.

I could go on an on about hidden corners and stories in Copenhagen. Such a small city with so much to experience. Promise yourself to make more time when planning a Scandinavian tour to see Denmark.

If you are planning a trip to Copenhagen in 2012, consider chatting with Una about how to make the most of your time here. She clearly has a great love and appreciation for her city!
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