One of the perks of living across the pond is that we get Good Friday and Easter Monday so most of us in Europe get a nice long four-day weekend for Holy Week. This year in the UK, we also get an extra bank holiday to celebrate the marriage of Prince William to Catherine Middleton. If you haven't heard, there is a Royal Wedding taking place in London on Friday 29 April and we get the day off! Lucky us -- two back to back four day weekends and of course, travel!
Easter weekend takes us to the Scandinavian city of Copenhagen. Beyond the clichéd tourist sites like the Little Mermaid (underwhelming) and Tivoli park (old-school amusement park), Copenhagen has a lot to offer from the cool bars and cafes in up-and-coming neighbourhoods of Vesterbro and Kødbyen (Meatpacking District) to alfresco canal-side restaurants along Nyhaven to urban parks and botanical gardens. As the host of the 2009 Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen is by far one of the eco-minded cities in Europe with 9 of 10 adults owning bikes and an impressive driverless metro system, which we didn't need to take as the city is very walkable.
Copenhagen is also making headlines in the culinary world with Noma earning accolades as the world best restaurant on the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants. We weren't lucky enough to snag reservations at Noma, nor could our wallets stretch for an extravagant meal in one of the world's most expensive city, although Copenhagen is relatively "cheaper" than its Nordic neighbours. Dining out over Easter weekend in Europe is generally difficult, as most retailers and restaurants are closed for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Since the warm summer-like weather was so amazingly beautiful, we opted to spend most of our time in Copenhagen under the sun with picnics along the canals and urban parks.
All in all, Copenhagen was a nice little excursion from London. Of all the Scandinavian cities I've visited, Stockholm is still my favourite. Don't get me wrong -- Copenhagen is nice, but it lacks the regal and the cool sophistication of Stockholm. If there is one word to describe the Danish culture, according to our waitress, is hygge - a distinctly Danish term to describe "cosy" or a feeling that evokes something warm, comforting, and calm. Feeling hygge can be anything from enjoying a warm fire over a cup of tea or hot chocolate, having a leisurely meal and conversation with friends and family, or sipping iced-cold Carlsberg on a sunny day. It is a state of mind as it is a physical state, and very Danish. So to share my hygge with you, here are my suggestions of things to do in Copenhagen:
1) Bicycle - While in Copenhagen, do as the Danes do -- bike. It's good for the environment and for your waistline. The city is flat as a pancake and have miles of dedicated bike lanes. The free bike scheme in Copenhagen must be really popular, as we couldn't find one single bike available at any of the city centre bike stands.
2) Eat smørrebrød - the quintessential Danish smørrebrød of open-face sandwich on thin rye bread, usually consisting of marinated herring, crab, shrimp, roast beef, ham, liver pate and garnished with cucumbers, tomatoes, sliced radishes, and sprouts. Eat a smørrebrød washed down with cold Carlsberg or Tudor beer and don't forget to save room for a "Danish pastry." Recommended places for traditional smorrebroad, which were unfortunately closed for Easter: Ida Davidsen and Aamann's. Other restaurant recommendations around town: Madklubben (Danish), Kodbyen Fiskebar (Seafood), Kofoed (Modern Scandinavian), Halifax (Burger), Fiat (Italian), and Mothers Pizza.
3) Touristy Copenhagen: Tivoli and Little Mermaid - As a tribute to Hans Christian Anderson, the well known children's book author, visit the Little Mermaid statue on the harbour. It's a bit underwhelming, but a must while in Copenhagen. She was a guest at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, and now sitting pretty back at the cold harbour. Tivoli, an old school amusement park, has been open since 1843 and is one of Copenhagen's most popular tourist attraction. It also host concerts and plays during the summer months and conveniently located next to the Central Station. Grab some cotton candy and a ride around the merry-go-round.
4) Day tripping - There are several possible day trips around Zealand. The two obvious excursions are Frederiksborg Slot, a Dutch renaissance castle built in the early 1600s, and Kronborg Slot in Helsingør, otherwise known as Hamlet's Castle. Both are approximately 40-55 minutes by train from Copenhagen. Keenan, as a lover of Shakespearean literature, wanted to visit Helsingør, so off we went on a beautiful Saturday morning to Hamlet's castle. We got tickets to see Sam Mendes' Ricard III starring Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic in August -- can't wait to see it.
Helsingør is a quaint little port city and across the Oresund Strait, you can see its twin sister city, Helsingborg in Sweden. Here, numerous ferries shuttling back and forth between the two cities. Because alcohol is prohibitively expensive in Sweden and must be purchased at the Systembolaget, thirsty Swedes come here to stock up on "cheap" booze. No joke -- we saw a family stock up a mini-van full of liquor!
Helsingor - Hamlet's Castle:
5) The Slot (Castles) and Palaces - On your walking tour, don't miss the 17th century Rosenborg Slot near Kongens Have, home to the Danish crown jewels. There is also the Amalienborg Palace (top photo) on the waterfront, home of the Danish royal family and Christiansborg Palace, seat of Denmark's parliament (bottom photo).
6) Hanging out at Nyhavn on a sunny day - The canal is quite lively on a sunny day. Grab a seat at any of the alfresco restaurants or pick up some beers at the local grocery store and chill out on the canal.
7) Retail therapy on Strogot - Main shopping artery in Copenhagen. Enough said.
8) Urban Green Spaces - If you're in the Norreport neighbourhood, drop by the Botanical Gardens (it's free) and take a leisurely walk around the garden. And, if you are into botany, there is a glasshouse growing various tropical plants. For a moment there, I thought I was back in Brazil -- wishful thinking I suppose. There is also Kastellet near the Mermaid statue, which is also quite lovely.
I think that pretty much sums up our time in Copenhagen. Next weekend, we're off to Ljubljana to visit a friend Keenan met some 12 years ago in Tokyo. I think I could get used to four day weekends...lucky for us, we get another four day weekend (extra bank holiday) in 2012 to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.