"We're the Texans of Scandinavia," said a burly Dane to me years ago, explaining how he and his countrymen differ from what he called the "formal Swedes, the gloomy Norwegians and the sly Finns." The melancholy Dane of Shakespeare's time (as in Hamlet) is now ranking high on many of the so-called happiness indices, and a recent study by the Swedish think tank Kairos Future (www.kairosfuture.com), says Danes are officially "the world's happiest people." It shows.
I thought of Big Henrik during my most recent stay in Copenhagen, where hordes of happy tourists had taken over the streets from the convivial Danes, it being August and the universities shut down. If you want to be really with it, by the way, know that the meatpacking district of Flaesketorvet is considered to be the latest hot spot for new galleries, cafes and clubs. And there's always Tivoli Gardens (www.tivoli.dk), from April through December, if you like that kind of place .
Moreover, Copenhagen itself was been named the "World's Most Livable City" by the British Monocle magazine (www.monocle.com) in 2008 (it dropped behind Zurich to #2 this year), the Number One choice for living abroad in Europe in a recent survey by the management consultant group ECA International. The Danes have a sense of humor, too. A new luxury loft complex on the waterfront will offer its tenants the use of a communal kayak, I learned.
I fell in love with the waterfront here. Not just with the Little Mermaid, clambered on by eager tourists wanting their photos taken, but with the architecture, new and old, that continues to astonish even beyond first sighting. The country's new first purpose-built opera house is located here on Holman, just across the water from the royal palace of Amalienborg. Donated by a Danish shipping magnate, Maersk McKinney Moller, it costs $500 million. (Giving art to the city is not new: the Little Mermaid herself was a gift from the Carlsberg Brewery back in 1913. If you're around on August 23, 2010, you can watch young girls jump in the harbor next to the Little Mermaid and make the number 97 in formation swimming, in honor of the statue's "birthday.")
In February of 2008, The Royal Danish Playhouse opened near the harbor front, after four years of construction. There's the Copenhagen Island Hotel, too, from 2006, on its own artificial island. The Custom House opened the same year directly on the waterfront, in a former hydrofoil terminal, with three restaurants, two bars, a deli and a bakery. The building dates from 1937 so is hardly ultra-modern, but charming nonetheless.
The sexiest looking building on the waterfront is the Royal Library extension (1999), nicknamed the Black Diamond. Inside, in addition to books, are a concert hall, book shop, café and the Soren K (as in Kierkegaard, no doubt) restaurant.
You, too, can whoop it up with the Texan-Danes. You can try to tour by Segway, for instance. I saw several around town while there, on brightly lit and warm summer days. A one-hour guided tour costs Dkk 199 (about $40). They operate only from April through September, though, so save it for next year. Check it out at Segway Tours Copenhagen (tel. 011/45 2235 6286; www.segwaytourscph.dk).
Through December 16, you can take a City & Harbor Tour (tel. 888/217-2212; www.copenhagentours.net), lasting a little over 2 hours and costing Dkk 175 and visiting Amalienborg Palace, the Little Mermaid and other sites by motorboat and bus. I thoroughly enjoyed the boat part of the trip, especially. Cost is Dkk 85.
The cheapest way to get around is to use the CityCirkel Pass (www.citycirkel.dk), using buses that run around the city center every seven minutes during the day. You can halt the buses with a wave wherever you find green dots on the curb. If you buy the CPH card, you travel free on all buses, trains and the Metro. Get the CPH Card (www.visitcopenhagen.dk) for 24 hours at Dkk 225 or 72 hours Dkk 450. Children pay about half (aged 10-15). It gives you free admission to more than 60 museums and sights, and entrée to the Metro, train and bus routes. One adult can take along 2 children under the age of ten for free. You can also buy a flex card, 10-trip cards, and more of regular transport cards.
By my calculations, using a taxi here can be costly, about three times what it would be in New York City. For example, to get from the airport to the city center costs Dkk 255 -- about $51 -- while from JFK to midtown Manhattan, a distance 3 times farther, the cost is $55.
Dining Out & Drinks
Denmark's national beverage is beer, of course, and since they're hosting the UN's Climate Summit in December (7-18), it's fitting that the Borrebro Bryghus has created the first CO-2 neutral beer, the Globe Ale. They did that by purchasing and destroying carbon dioxide quotas, they say. Just like a carbon footprint buyout.
You could of course eat at the city's most famous and innovative restaurant, Noma, for prices beginning at DK 745, their cheapest menu. But there are plenty of places where you can get a simple meal from about Dkk 100.
If you like sushi (not so far from Danish raw herring), try Sticks N Sushi (www.sushi.dk), which has nine locations in the city. I got great service there ("My mother is English," said the young waiter) and the food was almost like being in Japan, the price moderate (Dkk147, including a small beer. Example: 8 pieces of salmon roll for Dkk 48). The branch I visited was at Nansensgade 59, at the edge of the center city.
Where to Stay
I spent three nights at the Kong Arthur (Norre Sogade 11; tel. 011/45 3311 1212; www.kongarthur.dk), a 4-star hotel at the edge of the city center, pieced together from several old buildings. The service was friendly, the location fair, and the breakfast buffet slightly better than adequate. But what worried me the most was the absence of safety precautions in the multi-level (uneven levels between buildings) establishment. There were few railings where needed, including at the front door and between levels, and no grab bars in bathtubs and showers. I wondered about icy days at the front door.
More expensive, but with exquisite service, is the Hilton Copenhagen Airport (tel. 011/45 3250 1501, www.hilton.dk). This place is especially important if you are planning a visit to nearby Sweden (20 minutes from the adjacent train station) or elsewhere in Denmark or Europe, but not, of course, for Copenhagen's city center itself, though the latter is said to be only 12 minutes away. There's direct access to the airport terminal (you can pick up airport luggage carts in the lobby or leave them there), with an excellent restaurant and bar (food there, too), and marvelous guest rooms. Its 382 rooms start at DK 1,425.
Info on the Climate Change Summit can be found at www.cop15.dk.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers in our Scandinavia Forum today.