Starter Kit for Copenhagen, Denmark
Oh Copenhagen! I spent four months studying there. I am originally from Akron Ohio but may be spending even more time in Copenhagen in the near future. I may not be exactly local but I hope to offer some insight into an area that's still often overlooked with European tourism.
With all the modern architecture and everyone speaking fluent English, your first impression will probably be...so what's so different? It's only after awhile you start to notice that everything is different.
Even such a small country is hard to cover in one starter kit so this focuses on Denmark. Venturing further into the country can be done by rail (though fairly expensive). However, if you want to see all the Viking sites and small quaint towns, you'll have to rent a car.
One important difference to note in planning is that Danes like organization and scheduling. This will go against your backpacker tendencies. And this country isn't cheap either. So plan plan PLAN. Book tickets and accommodation in advance!
Best Times to Visit
Never ever depend on the weather in Denmark that is notorious for being overcast and slightly drizzly. Summer brings mild temperatures and extremely long days. You can party until late in the night and still go home with the sun shining. Choosing the winter means short days of 3-4 hours of daylight. The best time to visit in winter is around Christmastime. Expect bargain airfares, Christmas markets, Carlsberg Christmas beer, and gloog, a sickeningly sweet yet potent holiday beverage.
Copenhagen is on an island so unless you are taking a train over the Oresund from Sweden, you will most likely fly in. Copenhagen’s airport is the largest in Scandinavia. It also has the largest Duty Free Store in Europe. Due to Scandinavia’s high taxes, duty free is a pastime for Danes. Don’t forget to look out the window as you land as you may see the Oresund bridge to Sweden.
Getting to the city couldn’t be easier. The new driverless metro system will take you to the city center in about 25 minutes. There’s also plenty of room for luggage on these trains.
The Danish Kroner. Make sure to familiarize yourself with all the coins. The current exchange rate is 5 kroners to the US dollar. However, Danish standard of living is high and expect to pay a 15-20% tax on everything. Oh, and they are really far North so you are also paying for all the importing. To give you a grasp on the currenct, a bottle of Coke at a 7-eleven is 18-20 kroner. A value meal (way smaller in size that you are used to) is around 55-65 kroner. Oh, and they tax unhealthy foods. Oh, AND they've completely outlawed red bull. Sorry caffeine junkies. Denmark is not a budget vacation!
Danish hotels are spotless and clean. You can rest assured of almost impeccable standards but you will also pay the price. Hotels start at $150 a night with most being in the $200-300 range.
DanHostel owns most hostels in Denmark. The highrise Copenhagen City hostel is right in the middle of the action. A bed in a large dormitory will cost between $20-30. Sheets are often extra. Actually, everything is extra. Danish hostels also usually like rules, though they won’t hold you to a curfew. Expect to buy their beer if you want to drink there.
For those without the budget for a nice hotel but not quite up for a hostel experience, try bedandbreakfast.dk http://www.bedandbreakfast.dk/?country=358&language=2 My parents had a wonderful experience and loved learning about the Danish woman they stayed with. Note that bed and breakfast in Denmark means a bed and no breakfast. Most of these places are close to the city center and will cost around $100 for a double. Bathrooms may be shared with the owner.
What to see
Canal tours – A great way to start off. A quick overview of sites as well as fanastic for viewing some of the fantastic modern architecture from the water
Little Mermaid statue – It’s out of the way. It’s not that cool. It’s like the Leaning Tower of Copenhagen. Go, take a picture, then go have some real fun.
Tivoli – One of the oldest amusement parks in the world. Bakken is the oldest and located shortly outside of Copenhagen. Tivoli boasts the world’s oldest running rollercoaster which is hand-braked by an employee on board the train. Entrance and ride fees aren’t cheap. However, it’s a great day out and is also open for Christmas and Halloween. Ride the Hans Christian Anderson ride. It’s cheesy but the Danes love him. Tivoli is their Disney and this ride is their “It’s a small world.”
Round Tower – It’s a tower. It’s round. And it offers the best view of Copenhagen. The flat land means you can see for miles on a clear day.
Christiania – A community of hippies and anarchists who declared themselves free of the country of Denmark and live as a free commune. Anyone is free to visit but it is not like it once was. You will no longer see “Pusher Street” which featured stalls selling every variety of cannabis. As the 2nd most popular tourist attraction in Denmark, drug dealers may approach people who look as such. Do not buy from them. It’s illegal and the stuff they have is probably fake or very poor quality. Also, do not take pictures within the commune!
Carlsberg Brewery – Tour the brewery and end it with a free pint of Carlsberg. If you are lucky enough to visit Denmark around Christmas, try the Christmas beer. Be aware that festive beer also means higher alcohol content as well as festive flavor.
Kastellet – The origin of Copenhagen and a well preserved ancient citadel. Hike around the ramparts or have a picnic. It’s free and also the site of the Danish Defense Intelligence Service so don’t try anything funny.
Amalienborg – The palace of the Danish royal family
Rosenborg Slot – A Danish royal castle now open to the public and includes the crown jewels.
What to Eat
Scandinavia has never been known as a culinary hot spot and eating out can be very expensive! For street food, hot dog stands provide a great snack with the hot dog shoved into a tubelike bun with the ketchup squirting up. Shawarma stands abound and a hut in Christiania serves up the cheapest and most delicious falafel you’ll find anywhere.
For Danish food, try Smorrebrod, an open face sandwich with various toppings. Stop into a bakery (anywhere with an upside down pretzel) and try a real “Danish.” Ask for a wienerbrod (a Viennese bread) or just point. Smoked herring and a special type of affordable caviar is unique as well. And I almost forgot the meatballs. I've only had them homemade with a Danish family but "frikadeller" more than live up to their awesome name.
For refreshments, sip on a Carlsberg beer. Try Glogg if it’s around Christmas. And finish off your night with a shot of Fisherman’s. It’s vodka but it will leave your mouth minty fresh. Schnapps and aquavit are also local shots that some (ok me) find pretty hard to knock back.
Also, it's just good to know:
-Doors open opposite of how you think they should. So no, it’s not locked. And no one will say anything. It's really very entertaining.
-If it says 24 hours, it is NOT open 24 hours. It may be open longer than other similar places but hours are very restricted compared to American standards.
-Denmark has the highest birth rate in Europe meaning tons of babies and tons of massive baby carriages being hauled on all types of public transportation. Move out of the way!
-Denmark is weirdly safe by our standards. Many people will leave their baby in its stroller outside of a shop while they go inside. Alone…in the street. There’s no need to call child protection services!
-The word “please” does not exist in the Danish language. Therefore, many Danes may come off as rude because they will not remember to use the word in English. “Tak” is the word for “thank you” and for apparently everything else.
-In that same vein, money, politics, etc is not taboo. In fact, most Danes are very well informed. When meeting an American, they often want to discuss politics including who you voted for and why. And if you say Bush, just be ready to support yourself.
-Plastic bags at a grocery store cost money. Bring your own or ask to purchase one or two. They are heavy duty.
-Any can or bottle is recyclable at the local grocery store for anywhere from 25 cents to a whole dollar. If out drinking, leave bottles and cans next to public garbage cans rather than in them as homeless people often collect them on weekend nights to turn in for cash.
-And don’t go out to the clubs until at least one. It’ll just be getting started. Stick to beer. Hard alcohols are served in ridiculously small amounts for ridiculously high prices.
-Confused about the line? Take a number. No place is too small to work on a queue system.
-If you hear a bell, GET OUT OF THE WAY. You are in a bike lane. They will hit you and the bell is your warning.
If you have any questions about Denmark, just ask in the forums. I should be lurking about.