Canals & Cobblestones: Exploring Copenhagen on Foot

In early October I spent a few days in Denmark visiting one of my closest friends who currently lives there. In typical timing, she was offered a job that started just before my arrival date (yay for her!), and so I would be entertaining myself for two of the four days. This was a great opportunity for me to have some solo travel time I’d been craving, and I spent it walking around Copenhagen.

After touching down in Copenhagen in the mid-morning, its airport quickly stood out as the best of the many I’d been through in the weeks prior. The washrooms were clean, there was lots of signage that actually led you to the correct place, plenty of bins, and there were free maps! I love a free map. The back of it even had a photo of a bikini-clad lady wrapped around a pole, advertising a gentleman’s club in the city centre. How did they know that’s what I was looking for?!

Buying a one-way ticket for 36Kr, I hopped on the metro to Christianshavn, wondering how quickly I’d regret only bringing one sweater with me. I’d been in Greece the week before, where the temperature had been a good 15 degrees warmer with zero chances of rain. At a nearby Fakta supermarket, I got off to a strong start by giving the wrong change (why must the smallest amounts be the bigger coins?!) to the cashier who, upon realizing I wasn’t Danish, looked at me like a I was a traitor to the Viking race. It was bound to happen at some point, so I mayaswell have got it over with early on.

Overgarden Oven Vandet ran along a quiet canal lined with trees and overlooked by tall colourful buildings. I quickly got accustomed to the sound of my suitcase rumbling along the cobblestones. Locals and tourists passed by on their bikes, all helmet-less. The city is very bike-friendly, as you would hope all would be to help reduce global carbon emissions. I crossed the Inderhavnsbroen (pedestrian bridge) and caught a glimpse of colour in the distance. Following its direction, I soon realized I was approaching Copenhagen’s most photographed spot: Nyhavn (New Harbour). A swarm of buzzing photographers were gathered on the bridge with their cameras to capture the colourful buildings and the old boats that sat before them. Grey skies weren’t clouding their excitement. I annoyed a sufficient number of the hive by squeezing past with my suitcase in tow to take a quick peak, before escaping to a quieter viewing spot down the side of the canal.

I then continued down Havnegade, pausing on a bench to eat one of my cheap supermarket snacks. Passers-by would occasionally look my way, sometimes with a confused expression and sometimes indifferent, and I remembered how strangely nice it is to be alone surrounded by strangers. It’s the best way to realize that you don’t actually care how you look to other people.

By the early afternoon I was starting to lose feeling in my fingers from dragging my suitcase, so I went to find the Royal Danish Library on Castle Island, where I’d agreed to meet my friend later on. Behind it is the Danish Jewish Museum, and behind that is the Bibliotekshave (library garden), a lovely little oasis with a pond, statues, and benches for sitting with a book. In today’s case it was too cold for that, so I went into the library and found a spot to read on the second floor, fondly reminded of my days as a university student when I basically called the library my home.

Higher education is free in Denmark, which probably explains why so many of the people studying looked older than me. All of the females also looked very cool, and not because they were trying to wear the latest trends; they just looked genuinely and effortlessly cool in their fashion sense. With their stony faces, you’d think they were walking the runway rather than trying to find the Philosophy section.

That brings me to my next observation. The Danish (or at least, those in Copenhagen) don’t exactly strike you as the friendliest bunch of people. You can’t help but feel that if you were to collapse to the ground from a heart attack, they’d cycle past you with a look of disdain that suggested you were inconveniencing them. When I met up with my friend (who, incidentally, I hadn’t seen in 3 years!!), I brought up my observation and she confirmed that it’s an accepted cultural trait, recalling how someone had once told her he could tell she wasn’t Danish because she smiled too much…

The next morning, after an evening of learning about hygge, I got the train from Lyngby to Nørreport. Seating consisted of fabric-covered benches rather than individual seats, however this communal arrangement failed to encourage any conversation between the passengers. Opening the inter-carriage doors required you to wave at them in front of your face, which often resulted in one looking daft if it wasn’t done properly.

Today I was suitcase-less, meaning I’d be able to move quicker, not have to deal with the incessant sound of wheels struggling over cobbles, and avoid losing one hand to numbness from the cold. I also now had a woolly hat lent to me by my friend. It was going to be a good day. 

Approaching the station, my bladder suddenly decided to put in a request. Thankfully there was a free public washroom located outside Nørreport station, one of those circular ones like the one outside Russell Square in London (if it still exists). These had always seemed a little sketchy to me, but upon opening I was pleasantly surprised. It was clean, there were multiple cubicles with doors that worked, and the sink actually had soap, water and hand towels. This might just be an underestimated contributing factor to why Denmark is often considered one of the happiest nations in the world..!

After browsing a Netto supermarket for the cheapest carbs that would keep me going through the day, I headed to the Royal Garden, located off Gothersgade. With its open space and pretty horticultural arrangements, this seems like a great place to walk a dog and pen the next popular Scandinavian crime series.

Further up the road was the Botanical Garden, another aesthetically pleasing place where I could admire the autumn colours starting to show on the trees. From here I walked down the street path past Peblinge Sø (lake), which was popular with runners. Continuing my tour of Copenhagen’s parks led me to Ørstedsparken, where I witnessed an Eastern European couple taking pictures of every single monument around. A fluffy labradoodle-cross caught my attention, galloping around gleefully with a stick in his mouth. He ran up to me and I petted him for a few seconds, only to look up and see his owner several yards away watching with a mightily pissed off expression. At least the dogs are friendly here.

As I ambled down Vester Voldgade, which surrounds the more commercial district, I suddenly realized how clean the streets were, and that there was a distinct lack of homelessness around. Denmark is known for having one of the highest tax rates in the world, but if that money is going towards ensuring people don’t have to sleep on the streets, you have to applaud it.

I decided to walk around Castle Island again. Today, royal horses were being trained in the arena of Christiansborg Palace.

After retreating into the Royal Danish Library again for 30 minutes of warmth and washroom access, I returned across Knippelsbro to Christianshavn, so that I could admire the neighbourhood’s cobbled streets again without a suitcase. To go up the Church of our Saviour only cost 35Kr. The chance to see 360 degree views of the city aaand get rid of loose change? Excellent!

It takes around five minutes to reach the top of the Church, depending on one’s level of fitness and how many times you have to wait for people to descend the stairs or, in my case, finish taking a million photos of the same bell. Thankfully the sun had just started to peep out from behind the clouds as a gesture of goodwill, and there were some lovely views looking over the harbour and the sea of orange-roofed buildings surrounding it, with Church and tower steeples poking up here and there. I appreciated the lack of skyscrapers.

One thing I really liked about being in Copenhagen was simply hearing bits and pieces of different languages. I was starting to notice however that the majority of conversations I was hearing were in German. At the top of the Church I saw members of a family taking it in turns to take (or as the Germans would say: “make”) photos of each other. Feeling generous, I asked them in German if they’d like a photo together, but the father waved me off with his hand and a curt “Nein”, before thanking me as an afterthought. Hey buddy, I didn’t vote for Brexit okay.

I next headed towards Christiania, the Freetown of Copenhagen. As soon as I entered the area, I got weird vibes. The people seemed sketchy and on edge and, frankly, some of them looked like they had just murdered someone. Weed is sold here, and I couldn’t help but find it amusing to see blaring hand-painted signs of “No photos”, along with a man whose specific job seemed to be shouting at people for getting their cameras out. Living in Canada, where recreational use of marijuana became legal in 2018, it’s easy to forget the secrecy that surrounds its selling in other countries.  I didn’t stay there long. Taking photos of bronzed leaves against a backdrop of red and yellow houses seemed much more appealing.

Now that the sun was out, I decided to briefly stop by Nyhavn again, and happened to arrive just as the bridge was up. From here I walked down Larsens Plads before taking a left to see Amalienborg Palace, where Denmark’s Queen resides. If you listen carefully, you might hear her still laughing about Donald Trump daring to propose buying Greenland off her.

Further down Frederiksgade is the Marble Church with its distinctive dome. Yet more Eastern Europeans busied themselves taking 5000 pictures of every statue in the courtyard. The ones that displayed male genitalia always seemed to attract the most interest. It was here that an American man asked me to take a picture of him, and then promptly ran off after. “What an interesting place,” I thought.

When continuing down Larsen Plads, you eventually come to Kastellet, which is a preserved fortress. Upon my arrival it started to rain, but I continued to walk through the entrance. Surrounded by an inner and outer moat, the fortress is used by the military but is also a public park popular with runners, especially those wanting a change from flat terrain.

As I walked on down one of the gravel paths surrounding the Kastellet, a lady stopped me to ask for directions. Blatantly assuming I was Danish, she said she was looking for the Little Mermaid statue (no, I don’t think she was Eastern European). Since I had an idea of where it was I was able to point her in the right direction, and the illusion was maintained. Maybe I look more effortlessly cool than I thought..?

I made my way to Østerport train station to meet my friend, and that concluded my two days of solo time exploring Copenhagen. If you are just looking to walk around and get a comprehensive idea of the city, two days is really all you need. Those planning a longer trip will be able to enjoy many different museums and restaurants.

While Copenhagen was a little too cold (in more ways than one) to win my heart, it is a very walkable and photogenic city with some gorgeous architecture, and overall it’s a great choice for anyone craving some time away for solo exploration.

 

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If you enjoyed reading this post and would like to use it as a reference during your own trip to Copenhagen, you can download it to your iOS device from the GPSmyCity site by clicking here. Happy travels!

 

 

7 thoughts on “Canals & Cobblestones: Exploring Copenhagen on Foot

  1. I’ve not managed to visit Copenhage yet, despite it being so close to the UK. At a glance, it looks so similar to parts of the Netherlands espeically with the tall skinny Dutch houses. It trully looks like an amazingly colourful place to wander about in.

  2. I like how you described not just the places you went to, but also all your observations about Danish people – their appearance, behavior and culture. This is the best part of traveling on foot – you get to notice so much detail. 🙂

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