A Short Break in Copenhagen – A Charming and Chilled Out City

My first glimpse of Denmark from the aeroplane window was of dense forest, with perfectly triangular, dark green trees (exactly like the ones in the ‘Enchanted Forest’ board game in fact), and a very long bridge across the sea, which I think must have been one of the bridges connecting Denmark to Sweden. One of the things I love the most about arriving somewhere new is the different smells that, depending on where you are, can end up being very distinctive to a place. I stepped off the plane and within a few minutes got that all too familiar, comforting smell of fried bacon. I actually laughed out loud – you couldn’t get much more cliched. But I swear it was true. I could tell instantly that a short break in Copenhagen was going to be just to my taste 😉

A Short Break in Copenhagen

Fairy Tales and Lego

Before I went to Copenhagen, I knew a relatively small amount about it other than from what I’d seen on the Killing, Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales and the fact that it’s the home of Lego. However, I had only ever heard positive things about it from the chilled out nature of the city to the fact that bikes rule the road (even more so than in Amsterdam). I was lucky that I finally had a very good excuse to go – I was going to visit my friend Vivien, whom I met whilst travelling in South America – she is German but is currently living in the city. So I got the best of both worlds – doing all the touristy things but also the insights of the people that actually live there and learning more about what makes it the city it is.

A Short Break in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a really charming and very chilled out city – perhaps it felt more chilled as I was there in July which is when the Danes all take their (3-week) holidays. However, that aside, I imagine it has that sort of chilled air most of the time, with the simple but charming architecture of it’s buildings, the low key fashions conducive to hopping on and off bikes and the snug, inviting cafes with their divine salad and open sandwich combinations, delectable pastries (I had the best cinnamon roll I’d ever tasted) and healthy juices. I was beginning to see the concept of Hygge for what it really was and not the anglicised version that has been exaggerated (and at worst, entirely re-invented) for the British market.

A Short Break in Copenhagen

The Vibrancy of Nyhavn

The city had it’s golden era in the first half of the 19th century, after a dark period of fires, bankruptcy and general attack during the 1700s. This was known as the age of enlightenment and creative output really flourished during this time, having a profound effect on the city for the years to come. Copenhagen has seen a continuous run of urban and cultural development right up to the present day with it’s flurry of very successful TV drama series in the last few years.

A Short Break in Copenhagen

To me, the city definitely looks and feels more ‘European’ than Scandinavian, which I guess makes sense with it’s location. It’s easy to get around the city and most of the major sights are within walking distance of each other. Located on the tiny island of Slotsholmen, Christiansborg Palace (which was rebuilt twice due to fires ravaging the previous 2 buildings) is the only building in the world that houses all three branches of a country’s government (Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court) and has a great lookout point over the city.

The vibrant Nyhavn, which is the most famous, brightly coloured street set beside the harbour is just as you’d expect – thronging with tourists, full of restaurants and gift shops but nevertheless an absolutely stunning sight of picture-postcard perfection with photo opportunities aplenty (if you can actually get a space between the instagrammers without falling into the harbour). I was going to walk to the statue of the Little Mermaid from there but I decided against it once I found out it’s well known as being one of the most disappointing tourist attractions due to it’s smaller than expected size (and the fact that there are so many tourists around it, you’re hard-pressed to see it anyway).

A Short Break in Copenhagen

Getting Spooked in Christiania

It’s a short walk from Nyhavn to Christiania, a hippy settlement that can lay claim to being one of the first social experiments of its kind. After years of clashes between the residents and the Danish state, in 2011 it was officially classified as a freetown, owned by the residents, who live by their own rules. It’s not to everyone’s tastes, but attracts up to a million visitors each year who are fascinated to see how this self-governed settlement really works. I loved it’s car-free, eco-friendly, inclusive ethos, and the fact that each dwelling is unique, all having been built by the residents. There are art galleries, music venues, workshops, street bands and loads of outdoor eateries, most of which sell organic (and good value) food. I felt as if I’d been transported straight back to the Green Fields in Glastonbury.

A Short Break in Copenhagen

I was feeling quite peaceful there until the church bells started chiming and I realised they weren’t like any church bells I had heard before – rather than nice ‘pleasing’ intervals between the bells, these seemed to be a semitone apart, creating an extremely spooky, dark-fairytale sort of connotation…..I suddenly had images of evil trolls and all sorts of weird characters in my head and felt it was time to leave (And I hadn’t even had any cannabis, I swear)…

A Short Break in Copenhagen

The Second Oldest Theme Park in the World

The most visited tourist attraction of all is Tivoli amusement park and gardens, the second oldest theme park in the world, dating back to 1843. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but it was a joyful mix of rides, quality places to eat, unusual architecture and beautifully landscaped gardens. Luckily the sun was shining too which made it an ideal place to spend a couple of hours. It’s a very popular place for everyone to go, tourists and locals, couples and groups of friends.

A Short Break in Copenhagen

I noticed a lot of families especially having fun together, outside on a nice day. Which made it all the more poignant when I stepped into the ‘Tivoli Jackpot’, a building within the theme park filled with rows of fruit machines with no natural light and around 10-15 people, all by themselves and over the age 0f 70 as far as I could tell, seated at the machines. This wouldn’t necessarily be something you would notice but after learning that one of the biggest issues in Denmark is the isolation of the elderly (and Denmark certainly isn’t unique in this, it is also a big issue here in the UK and many other countries I’m sure), this stark distinction between the frivolity and joy going on outside and the seemingly isolated sadness of this older group inside really struck me.

A Short Break in Copenhagen

The Happiness Index

Scandinavian socialism has always intrigued me – with the Scandinavian countries regularly topping the happiness lists (and particularly Denmark), there must be a lot that the government is getting right and I have always wondered what sets them apart from the rest of Europe. With an extensive welfare state and the ideal that everyone should be equal, there are certainly the baselines for a happy, peaceful society. However, I got the impression that not all is as it seems – ‘love thy neighbour’ regularly gets forgotten, no one says excuse me (and just pushes past you instead as I found out on the escalator down to the station) and service is not a priority. As my friend put it, when you know the state is going to take care of you, why would you bother to make an effort with your neighbours?

A Short Break in Copenhagen

Having said that, this doesn’t seem to affect the city itself, which, although chilled out, is also full of life in an understated way – and everyone I met certainly seemed to enjoy living here. I felt very at home here, thanks to the hospitality of Vivien and Josh and their friends but also because the city just has that welcoming feel – I should have realised that the comforting smell of bacon when I stepped off the plane was a foresight into how I would feel during the rest of my stay 😉

A Short Break in Copenhagen

Have you been to Copenhagen? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

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28 Replies to “A Short Break in Copenhagen – A Charming and Chilled Out City”

  1. hi Louise! thanks for the post on Copenhagen. i still haven’t been there but have a few friends who lived there, so this served as a timely reminder to go check it out.

    from what you’ve said and the pictures you’re shown, it seems like quite a unique place. interesting that you note that it doesn’t have as quite a Scandinavian feel as you maybe would have expected.

    planning on making the trip out there soon, so can share my thoughts once i do! 🙂

    all the best,


  2. Hi, Louise Back in the summer of 1984 along with about 250+ other people on a chartered jet, I went on a vacation trip by bus to Scandinavia – Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Of course traveling from country to country along the route, it required some 5 to 6d buses, all packed to transport everyone on the trip.

    I did not like the trip all that much simply for the fact that with so many people on this tour, we were treated like cattle. Eating meals together on a tight schedule, the constant packing and unpacking of luggage plus time being wasted to get our belongings on the buses cut in too much to our being able to actually see and explore the sights. All due to the fact of too many people on this tour at once. Lesson learned as I never got involved in a vacation tour with so many people ever again in my life.

    I can faintly remember the city of Copenhagen, but other than the canal visible in your first image all the rest of the pictures in the article unfortunately of the sites around the city I just can’t recall. As the Summer Olympics was on that year, I kind of remember watching some of the track & field events one day in a hotel lounge on television in Copenhagen, along with about 35 other people.

    In your excellent review of the city you point out so many cultural attractions that I simply don’t remember. The next time that I visit that part of the world, I’ll make sure that the number of people on the tour is much smaller. This was the case when a decade later I twice took trips to Europe,1994 to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and also skirting parts of France and Germany. The next year, along with my mother we went to England, Scotland and Wales. Both were two-week bus excursions with no more than 35 – 40 people on the tours.

    It still was an excellent review that you created showing all of the beauty of Copenhagen. I can only assume that a person would choose to visit in the summer instead of winter. I do faintly recall one of the tour guides mentioning the very short daylight hours in the winter, due to the fact of Denmark being located so far up in the Northern Hemisphere.

    I also remember the final insult regarding this trip. On the long return flight west back to the U.S. and New York City as I developed a head cold late on the vacation, I do remember for the only time in my life experiencing the absolute misery of my sinuses and ears plugging up as we landed due to the change in cabin altitude. I could not hear too well for about 10 minutes after we had landed.


    1. Hi Jeff,

      I’m very glad I could cause you to reminisce, good and bad! Yes, I am definitely not a fan of tour buses/groups, I tend to organise everything separately or if I do join a tour group, it will be a small one. I hope you can get back to visit again one day! And not have the sinus problem you had, that must have been so painful!


  3. Hi Louise,

    What a lovely city in Denmark, wow, I am pretty sure that you really enjoyed your trip to Copenhagen. I love all the charming and and the picture galleries you have shown in this post.

    Of course I have never been to Copenhagen, but this post has fuel in me the desire to go there for a tour. And surely I am planing towards that. I long to see the day I will arrive there, then I can also share with you my wonderful experience.

    Thanks a lot for sharing with us these scenes, they are much appreciated.

  4. I like your site Louise. With all these magnificent pictures and all, you make it look even more captivating. the trips you offer are delightful and encouraging for anybody who loves travelling. It feels like Copenhagen calling and you made it so simple to go and see for self. I highly recommend your site to travelers and even me.

  5. Ah it looks so beautiful! Thanks for sharing this post.
    I haven’t had the chance to visit Copenhagen yet – sadly every time that I wanted to go, something else came up!
    Christiania definitely looks like my sort of place – I have so much time for quirky neighborhoods so hanging out in cute coffee shops and art galleries sounds like the perfect way to spend a day!

  6. Copenhagen is one of these places I want to go back too. I was there when I was a kid, but have too little memory of that! I’m intrigued by the Scandinavian Happiness Index scores too. In my mind, we’ll end up there to stay one day. I can really imagine myself living up north! Great post and love your pictures!

  7. We went to Copenhagen a few years back when I took my husband on a surprise trip to the Danish capital. He had no idea where we are going so it was pretty great. We ended up loving every bit of it. We especially loved the food and the people. Such cool and vibrant city. We also loved Christiania…quieky and unconventional. We can’t wait to go back!

  8. Like you before your visit, I don’t know very much about Copenhagen besides it being pretty! I actually learned a lot about the city from your post. I’m hoping to get there soon!

  9. I’ve heard amazing things about Copenhagen and its incredible restaurants – I’d love to stuff my face with cinnamon rolls! Many others have said the same about the Little Mermaid statue, I think I’d still check it out if I had time though!

  10. Looks like you saw so much of the city! I live here too and appreciate your sentiment about the lack of empathy. Danes have a certain way of doing things, they are very direct and they don’t like small talk. They are terrible at queuing for the bus and there is no word for please. That being said – there have a MILLION ways to say thank you and once you get to know them, they are some of the most loyal friends you will ever make! Glad you had a fabulous time in my adopted city! Cheers from Copenhagen! Erin

    1. Hi Erin! I can really imagine that actually, I guess it’s a case of once you break through their barriers, you’re in! I really loved it, glad you enjoy living there!

  11. Copenhagen is definitely on my list! I love that you encountered the smell of bacon almost first thing, I know I would feel as you did. I wonder how much like Canada it is there with the welfare state, etc. I’ve heard the same thing about the little mermaid statue.

  12. Sounds like a lovely trip to Copenhagen. I wanted to go for ages but have only been to a smaller town in Denmark. Christiania has always fascinated me!

  13. Oh I adored Copenhagen too. I read the little book of Hygge before I went and it was interesting to see the way people were actually living rather than the repackaged version as you wisely put it. I thought tivoli gardens was so charmingly old fashioned but painfully pricy. We also skipped the little mermaid, I wonder if we are all doing that now?

  14. I LOVE how much you were able to experience in such a short time. I agree that the smell is one of the first things I notice about a new place and can tell you a lot. I always try to meet locals when I travel so I can get the touristy yet full experience of the city as you recommended. I’ve known a few people to go to Copenhagen but your itinerary is definitely unique and I will put these destinations on my list for when I go! Thanks for sharing!

  15. This city sounds so wonderful. I think it would definitely be my style. I love the beautiful buildings, waterways, and gardens that you photographed. You have definitely convinced me to try to visit as soon as I can!

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