The first time I visited Copenhagen was in May of 2018 as my port of entry/exit on my first cruise. Before taking this trip, I knew little to nothing about Copenhagen—or even Denmark for that matter. The only things I knew about Denmark were that Hans Christian Andersen lived and wrote his fairytales here, the Danes invented the “Danish” breakfast treat, and that their flag looked a lot like five other countries’ flags in that same neck of the woods. Copenhagen turned out to be so much more than the place I thought I was just using to get on and get off this cruise, and I can’t wait to go back.
This trip starts just like many of my other trips with me flying into a foreign (to me) airport and having to decipher their unique way of thinking how an airport should be run. But this time, it was a easier-than-normal process with the impressively simple layout of the Copenhagen airport. Everything from baggage claim to the metro ticket purchase was streamlined and efficient. Plus, almost every Dane speaks perfect English, so a little guidance was readily available. This gave me a very good first impression and a sense that Copenhagen was teeing up to be a very pleasant experience.I purchased my ticket (price varies depending on what zone you’re traveling to) and took one train from the airport straight to the Forum station, which was one block from my hotel. The place I was staying was called Cab Inn. It’s a new chain of hotels popping up around Denmark that are supposed to be inspired by the simple layout of a cruise ship’s cabin, hence the name. These hotels are clean and affordable, but they lack space (particularly for big luggage) and air conditioning. This wasn’t a problem for me because the weather in May seemed perfect, and I slept rather comfortably with just the window open. No need to worry about outside noise waking you up. Copenhagen is the quietest major metropolitan city that I have ever been to day or night.My flight arrived at eight in the morning, so even after I checked-in to my hotel, I still had plenty of daylight to kill and sights to see. The first sight that I was off to see was the Copenhagen city hall because it’s located directly across the street from Tivoli and is near many other significant Copenhagen landmarks. The Copenhagen city hall is a beautiful building that was inspired by the famous city hall of Sienna, Italy.After I explored the glamour of the city hall and the town square in front of it, I set my compass next on the Church of Our Saviour. The Church of Our Saviour is a baroque-style church that has been located in the middle of Christianshavn since 1752. It’s hard to miss with its black tower with a gold guided external spiraling staircase. Admission to get into the church was free, but a small fee and great patience for waiting in line is required to ascend to the top of the tower for some breath-taking views of Copenhagen. The line was too long for me, so I headed over to my next stop of Nyhavn.The line was too long for me, so I headed over to my next stop of Nyhavn.Nyhavn is a port in the old inner city that was commissioned by King Christian V from 1670–1673. The port was dug by Swedish prisoners from the Dano-Swedish war (1658–1660). Nyhavn was the gateway to the seas for the Danes and notorious for beer, sailors, and prostitution. In fact, Hans Christian Andersen lived at Nyhavn for 18 years. Now, the port of Nyhavn hosts a plethora of restaurants, gastropubs, and tourists shops of all kinds. I took my picture with the famous multi-colored houses and then proceeded the the next stop on my list, The Little Mermaid Statue.The Little Mermaid Statue is located a mile and a half from Nyhavn at the end of a very long waterfront district. As I walked to the statue I kept wondering how big it was, whether or not it was reachable by foot, or if I will have to pay to see it. Well, as I turned the corner I saw that the statue is human-like in size, you can easily walk on stones to get a picture with it, and it is a free public statue for everyone to enjoy. I remember my wife’s first words when I sent her the picture: “I didn’t know you could get that close to it!” No trip to Copenhagen would be complete without a picture with this statue. It was a this moment that I had realized that I shad just seen a bulk of the main things I wanted see and had nearly half-way around the whole city and was growing hungry and tired. Throughout my march around Copenhagen I kept seeing these white bike-rental stands, but didn’t use them because I figured they were too expensive (because Copenhagen is not a cheap city) and the instructions were probably in Danish. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The bikes came with simple instructions in English (and Danish) that helped me set up an account, and within a few minutes, I was on the road. The bikes range around $5 USD an hour and come with a touch-screen navigation, plus they are electronically assisted. This meant for every one revolution I peddled, the bike would provide 1.5–2 revolutions to help assist with the journey. The bikes come with three gears to shift through to make reaching top speed a breeze, even though Copenhagen has a pretty flat topography. This made for a very affordable, convenient, and beautiful way to see the city. The bicycles are pro-rated incase you don’t use the whole hour and any one of them can be conveniently returned by hitting the “return bicycle” feature that will redirect you to the closest bike rental stand to end your rental. My only recommendation is to double check the pressure on the tires before you remove the bike from its stand. Don’t worry about locking the bike up because the bikes come with onboard electronic locks that are synced to your account.Up until this time, I had thought that Amsterdam was the bicycle capital of the world, but I was completely wrong. The city is set up for bike transportation way beyond any other city I’ve traveled to. Nearly two thirds of everyone in Copenhagen use bicycles to get to work or school. The streets not only have dedicated lanes for bikes but also dedicated bicycle streetlights as well. Copenhageners pride themselves as being a culture of people who live by the rules. You never see anyone jaywalking or going against the flow of traffic, and this makes for a safer and more predictable urban environment. Growing up, the cliche in America was that being a bad boy is cool, and bad boys break the rules. Now that I see a culture that does not embrace those kinds of notions, it makes me think how many other asinine ways of behavior Americans have come to embrace. Another interesting observation that I had (to piggyback on of my point earlier) was how quiet the Danes are. There were no loud, blaring music coming from cars, no loud conversations, or any of your typical white noise. Just people being left alone with their thoughts and enjoying the serene environment that they have created for themselves by exercising this lifestyle. After I claimed my rental bike, I used the onboard bike GPS to navigate to a part of Copenhagen called Christiania that I was told to look into.Christiania is a self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district located on the 84-acre borough of Chrisitianshavn in the middle of Copenhagen. Christiania was an army base that was abandoned in 1970 and then reoccupied by hippies and squatters in 1971. In that same year, the Danish government declared it a “freetown.”In the ’70s a lot of people died of heroin and other hard drugs, so the council of Christiania laid down firm rules in order to preserve their way of life:
No Hard Drugs (only marijuana, hash, and alcohol is allowed in Christiania)
No Violence or Weapons
No Gang Tattoos or Clothing
No Police or Government Officials
A person can build a house in Christiania (with counsel approval), but if they leave, the house cannot be sold and will be absorbed by Christiania.The police tried cracking down on the dealers on “Pusher Street” in 2016, but the Christiania people fought back against the local authorities. The city eventually caved in and decided to wipe their hands clean of the situation and let the Green Light district be. Christiania is unlike anything that I have ever experienced. Sure, I’ve experienced the freedom of coffee houses from San Diego to Amsterdam, but Christiania gave you a sense of relief from all social norms and government structured laws unlike anywhere else in the world. The best way that I can describe Christiania is post-apocalyptic.The town looks like mankind had hit the reset button and everybody just governed themselves off of Jungle Law (an eye for an eye). If you don’t hit me, I won’t hit you. If you don’t steal from me, I won’t steal from you. A society that says we can talk through our problems now and need not incarcerate a person until it is their time in the queue to be punished. The buildings still had electricity running to them, just like a normal town, but that’s where the similarities ended. The home structures in Christiania range from abandoned government buildings, to teepees, to nice make-shift houses, to even houseboats. Remember, there are no housing permits required from the city to build a house, just approval from the counsel.There are many entrances into Christiania, but the main entrance is called Pusher Street. Pusher Street has about twenty low-grade lemonade stands on each side of the street, but instead of lemonade, they are selling jars filled with high-grade weed and hash bars the size of a bar of soap. There are no pictures allowed on Pusher Street, but the key is if you want to take a picture, just ask politely. The dealers don’t want their picture being taken because weed is still technically illegal in Denmark, but they appreciate when you ask before snapping photos and go out of their way to make sure you get a cool picture.As I biked around Christiania, I saw military buildings that used to serve a military purpose to what seems like a lifetime ago, but now has been transformed into house for second-generation Christianians. Nearly all the walls of Christiania are decorated with artistic graffiti (no gang tags), the bay that pierces Christiania is always filled with swans, and the government building converted to indoor/outdoor skatepark is always open. There are no commercial advertisements anywhere in Christiania, only advertisements for local venues. There are open-air cafes, concert halls, family-oriented playgrounds, and nature trails for the whole family to enjoy.Christiania is too much of an experience for me to try to encapsulate into words, and I don’t feel I would give it justice. All I can say is that I have been to a place (or rather a social experiment) that shows that mankind is capable of self-governing itself, even in these chaotic times.I spent the remainder of my day purposely getting lost in Copenhagen on my bicycle because whenever I was hungry, wanted to see something new, or head back to my hotel, all I had to do was set the GPS on my bike. After eating some much-desired shawarma, I retired for the night so I could catch my cruise for Scandinavia the following day.
Fast-forward eleven days, and I’m back in Copenhagen. After checking into the same hotel that I stayed before, I grabbed my trusty white bike from around the block and headed off to the Carlsberg Brewery. The Carlsberg Brewery was founded in 1847 and houses the largest bottled beer collection in the world! They have a total collection of 22,558 beers with only 16,818 on display. I wonder where they keep the other 5,740 bottles of the good stuff. The Carlsberg brewery runs about $15 for admission and comes with a free pint at the ended of the tour. It’s a fascinating place if you enjoy the history of beer, and they had some truly great beers I can’t get back in the states. The Carlsberg Group brews more than 500 beers under its name.Located close to the Carlsberg Museum/Laboratory in the Sondermarken Park is the entrance to the Cisterns. The Cisterns is a former water reservoir for the Frederiksberg palace located nearby. The entrance and exit are two glass pyramids coming out of the ground. The pictures I saw online looked amazing, but I regret to inform that I found out the Cisterns are closed on Mondays the hard way and would be leaving the following day. I left Sondermarken Park and then headed over to one of the attractions I knew very little about but was most curious of, Tivoli Gardens.I had never heard of Tivoli prior than a week before coming on this trip, and the only thing that stuck out to me was that this amusement park is what inspired Walt Disney to build Disneyland.Think about that for a minute—the most powerful amusement park/company in the entire world (my opinion) was inspired by Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli was built in 1843 and is the second-oldest still operating amusement park in the world. The oldest still operating amusement park in the world is called Bakken, which opened in 1583 and is located about an hour north of Copenhagen. It’s no wonder than Danes are some of the happiest people on earth. The experience at Tivoli is so surreal. I’ve been do a lot of theme parks and have seen more than my fare share of cheap fairytale spin-offs, but this was no spin-off. This was the place that Disneyland spun-off from.You can see the attention to detail and the similarities that Walt used. It looks like the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT (The world showcase part) fused together to create this utopia in the center of Copenhagen, which was celebrating its 175th anniversary!Tivoli boasts its share of rides as well. They have a roller coaster called Daemonen that allows you to ride the roller coaster regularly or with a virtual reality headset. I don’t want to give away too much detail, but you have to try it! They had many other inverted amusement rides, all the way down to slower rides such as bumper boats.My favorite ride was the Himmelskibet or Star Flyer. The Himmelskibet stands 80 meters (260 ft) tall and it is one of the world’s tallest swing rides, giving way to sweeping views of Copenhagen. This was the best seat in the house to see the city. There are not many tall buildings in Copenhagen, preserving its fairytale charm and allowing you to see as far as possible. The tallest structures are the ones that are all brick and still have the patina-covered rooftops that give this city much of the charm that they have for hundreds of years. A 360-degree view of the city from this ride in late afternoon is truly a sight to see.A couple of other highlights of Tivoli Gardens is their Bjergrutschebanen (the mountain roller coaster) that inspired Disneyland’s Matterhorn, The Hans Christian Andersen fairytale ride that shows a striking resemblance to the It’s A Small World ride, and the world showcase that has Germany, Japan, Ireland, India, and France pavilions, just to name a few. Tivoli gardens is a beautiful place to visit. Admission to the park is about $20 (USD), an unlimited ride access wristband will run about $65 (USD), and daily lockers that accept credit card run about $6 a day. I stayed just long enough for to see the Tivoli Gardens lights come on, but I couldn’t stay until it got really dark to appreciate them because it wouldn’t be real dark out until 10:30 p.m., and I had to be up at 2 a.m. to catch a flight back home.All in all, Copenhagen was one of my favorite places that I have traveled to. The air/water is clean, everything runs properly, and the people are ridiculously nice. Combine that with the birthplace of so many of our childhood fairytales and scenery to match, plus an amusement park that inspired the most famous amusement park of all time, and you have Copenhagen: The Fairytale City.