A Travellerspoint blog

Probably the best capital in Scandinavia

Possibly the best cat cafe in Europe

semi-overcast 8 °C

Copenhagen is a straightforward journey from Stockholm, just five hours on a comfortable train with free wifi. It's an overcast day and the countryside we pass through doesn't engage my attention, to the point where I have to battle to not fall asleep. Things liven up slightly when we trundle onto the Øresund Bridge that crosses the strait separating Malmö and Copenhagen, but even there the pervasive cloud and a calm sea lack much in the way of excitement.

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The weather is crisp so I decide to walk from the railway station to my hotel. This stroll reveals that Copenhagen is even more full of rabid cyclists than Stockholm was, and here amongst the biking hordes can also be seen baby carriers and goods compartments. Apparently more than a third of the residents of the capital cycle to their place of work or study, a figure I don't find hard to believe. Once again, as a pedestrian I feel in a distinct endangered minority.

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My hotel is rather grander than I was expecting, despite being the same price as my Stockholm residence, but the money seems to be going on the impressive lobby and besuited reception staff rather than the tired decor of the room. It's in a good location though, and not just because there's a Tesla showroom nearby. Copenhagen turns out to be as walkable as Stockholm but it's still handy to be close to a subway station.

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I'm glad that I can mainly use just my own two feet, because the public transport system looks excessively complicated - you have to count zones and county boundaries in order to determine what kind of ticket you need. I save myself some mental straining by only using public transport on days when I know I'll be doing enough travelling to justify a twenty-four hour ticket covering all zones. The trains have plenty of dedicated bike racks and no-one treats bikes as a pain in the neck - contrast that with the looks you'll get if you try to get on a commuter train with a bike in the UK. The system seems to run on an honour basis but, on the one journey I take where there is a ticket check, no-one is found wanting. (Which reminds me that the metro in Stockholm is not run on an honour system - at one station I'd seen a guy vault the barrier to get in for free, and the chap in the ticket booth just looked at him open-mouthed.) If you so wish, you can sit at the front of the metro trains here and watch the tunnel go by. I also find a company offering Segway sightseeing tours of Copenhagen but such things seem to be a sight in themselves, which goes against my general travel policy of trying to keep a low profile.

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Copenhagen boasts one of the few cat cafes in Europe, Cafe Miao, and having visited a similar establishment in Vienna last year I am eager to see what a Danish version looks like. The set-up is not much different, with the main cafe consisting of a large area where customers can order food and drink and have the opportunity to interact with the cats. There's assorted feline memorabilia and some climbing apparatus, as well as a cats-only area where the animals can get away from the humans. However several of the cats here are inquisitive and will happily initiate contact with their two-legged visitors, which was not the case in Vienna at all. In fact the tabby, Tiger, is so intrigued by my stir-fried vegetables that he constantly tries to get onto my table, from which I have to regularly evict him. The white cat, Snehvide (Snow White), is a new arrival to the cafe and, though friendly to me, isn't yet on amicable terms with the other cats. My favourite is Guffe, a sleepy ginger who seems to get most of the attention from other customers. I return to the cafe several times, noting that its clientele is predominantly twentysomething Danish women.

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I find Copenhagen to have rather more of interest to me than Stockholm, even though one of its most famous tourist sights, the Tivoli Gardens, is closed, and another, the Little Mermaid statue, seems like a triumph of hype over substance. The statue is small, barely four feet tall, and rather plainly sculpted yet it attracts busloads of visitors. I see it for the first time by night, a surreal experience because a canoe safari is there at the same time and their bobbing head-torches provide the illumination. Frankly, the Gefionspringvandet fountain nearby is considerably more interesting.

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I spend most of my time plodding the capital's streets, even though there's a similar shortage of sunlight as there was in Stockholm. My hotel is in the Indre By, or Inner City, neighbourhood. The City Hall features some statues of what I can only assume are mythological creatures, but I don't know what the story behind them is.

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The Stock Exchange building has an excellent spire consisting of four intertwined dragons' tails.

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I read that the Order of the Elephant is Denmark's highest chivalric order, and around the capital can be found elephant emblems.

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I admire Rosenborg Castle, built in the Renaissance style, from the outside, and have a pleasant amble through the pretty, neighbouring Kongs Have (King's Garden), containing a statue of one of Denmark's most famous sons, Hans Christian Andersen.

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The district of Christianshavn contains Vor Frelsers Kirke, a church with an astounding spiral staircase that runs outside the steeple. It's a highly distinctive look but, with my dodgy head for heights, I'm not tempted to climb up.

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Nearby is Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood that is famous for its cannabis trade. There's a counter-culture feel that reminds me very much of Nimbin.

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Nyhavn is another of Copenhagen's most famous sights, colourful buildings on either side of an inlet in which a number of sailing ships are moored. It's very scenic and also a particularly touristy area in the evening. At 10AM one Saturday morning, I hear music still pumping out of the Hong Kong club, one of the tracks somewhat incongruously being a-Ha's Cry Wolf. A few patrons stagger out into the morning air. There's a depiction of Nyhavn in a window of the Lego store, Lego being one of Denmark's most successful exports.

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There are several enticing day trips available outside of Copenhagen and I take one to Hillerød, a small town to the north which is the home of Frederiksborg Castle, a stunning Renaissance building situated on a lake. I take the audio tour for the interior, which is the first audio tour I've ever done using an iPod Nano. The room numbering is somewhat bizarre, in that the number above a door indicates the room that you're currently in rather than the room you're about to go in to, but there is so much to see that you would need a couple of hours or more to really do the interior justice. The chapel in particular is a riot, with shields and cloths and paintings and stained glass and carvings all over the place. It certainly helps that I've picked the sunniest day yet of my trip, and the natural light inside is most welcome. Much of the interior is not original, having been recreated after a fire in 1859, but that does not detract from the splendour of the luxurious fittings. I notice that paintings of the Danish royal family from a couple of hundred years ago all seem to portray them with very large eyes - I don't know if this is a stylistic quirk or an anatomically correct representation.

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I've had so little sun on this holiday so far that I don't dare linger inside the castle as much as I might have liked. There are some extensive gardens and a deer park adjoining the castle, and I hasten out to see them while the going is still good. The water features aren't working in the gardens but I can still appreciate the details, such as the bushes grown to outline the shape of a crown. Unfortunately the sun decides that it's had enough, and I begin to regret not seeing the grounds first instead of the interior. However the deer park is still highly enjoyable, not because of the deer (of which I see none) but because of the colourful autumn foliage.

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Returning to Copenhagen, I stop off in the district of Bispebjerg to see the eye-catching concrete Gothic church Grundtvigs Kirke. Its plain interior only serves to emphasise the soaring vaults. Outside, birds wheel about its towers and in the setting sun its silhouette reminds me of an Indian temple.

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Following my usual MO, I also visit Assistens Cemetery in the Nørrebro district. There's little fuss and adornment about most of the gravestones but the cemetery doesn't feel like merely a place in which to bury the dead. People sit around chatting on benches and joggers crunch along the tree-lined paths - apparently it's a popular sunbathing venue in summer. There are a number of luminaries buried here, including Hans Christian Andersen and Niels Bohr, though there are umpteen signs for the former and not a sausage for the latter (though the owl on Bohr's funeral monument is distinctive). I see FRED written on quite a few graves but it's not a name, just the Danish word for "peace".

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Another pleasant place to potter around is Frederiksberg Park, a mixture of trees, open spaces, and the ubiquitous joggers. I also see a group of hardcore athletes doing hill sprints near the park's palace, their exertions in stark contrast to the families wandering along with young children in strollers.

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If it's possible, it seems as though the English language is even more a part of life in Copenhagen than it was in Stockholm. I see and hear English everywhere, with its usage in signs and shop names widespread - I encounter a burger joint called "Hot Buns", and find a bar with the slogan "You shake ass, we shake cocktails". It must be a bit of a nightmare for immigrants to either Sweden or Denmark, to have to learn not one but two languages, and it's not as if either Swedish or Danish is particularly close to English. A small illustration of this Sweden/Denmark/England connection comes in the form of Kenneth Branagh, who I see on Copenhagen's main shopping street, filming an episode of the (originally Swedish) TV series Wallander.

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I'm no more tempted by bar hopping in Copenhagen than I was in Stockholm, but I do attempt to briefly take the temperature of the city on its main nights out. Friday night is ludicrously busy everywhere, and even at 9PM there are plenty of "refreshed" punters out and about. Saturday night is conspicuously less hectic, and in fact even during the daytime there aren't as many people around.

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Foodwise, Danes are also keen on meatballs, here called frikadeller. I pop down the road from my hotel to Cafe St Petersborg to sample them, and note a few differences in the presentation - here they come with boiled potatoes, which beats pureed mash when it comes to mopping up stray gravy, and red cabbage is served instead of lingonberries. The serving size is also rather larger than in Stockholm. Though Denmark seems generally even more expensive than Sweden, this is perhaps the best value for money meal I have in either country.

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My time in Copenhagen draws to a close all too quickly, and I'm left with the feeling that perhaps I should have taken a day or two from my Stockholm itinerary and reallocated them to here. However that would have flown against the general Internet consensus of the relative levels of interestingness of the two cities, so I don't think I could have known in advance that I would feel this way. I've liked Copenhagen a lot, despite its expense and crazy cyclists. But it's now time to head for Germany.

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[I have some logistical information about visiting Copenhagen that is too dull to put in here - I'll add a link to my other blog when I have detailed it there.]

[I also took a lot more photos than just those shown here - you can see them at my Flickr account here.]

Posted by mohn 04:08 Archived in Denmark Tagged europe denmark copenhagen scandinavia

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