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Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Copenhagen, Denmark

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Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statueHome to Scandinavia’s largest city and Europe’s oldest monarchy, the Danish city of Copenhagen radiates both casual elegance and formal pageantry, offset by a liberal sense of humor.

In fact, the U.S. National Science Foundation recently found that the people of Denmark ranked number one in a global “happiness” survey … so by association, hanging out with the locals should make you a happy traveler!

Vikings, museums, architecture, the Little Mermaid, and royalty are a few of the more traditional images of Copenhagen that sit in the forefront of most travelers’ minds.

However, beyond the more common (yet worthwhile) sights are dozens of alternatives you won’t want to miss exploring.

Royal landmarks are plentiful in Denmark. The country’s royal family, while less prone to making headlines than its British counterparts, makes its presence known throughout the country. Royal parks, palaces and even royal teacups are an intrinsic part of the Copenhagen experience.

Copenhagen City Center with canalWhile it’s entirely “on the brochure,” no trip to Copenhagen would be complete without a visit to Amalienborg Palace. The royal family’s opulent winter home is actually made up of four palaces which represent some of the most stunning examples of Rococo architecture in the entire country. If you stop by at noon, you’ll be able to catch the daily changing of the guard.

The Amalienborg Museum, housed within one of the four royal palaces, is a treasure trove of artifacts and photographs which trace the history of the Glücksborg Dynasty from ancient times to the present. Enjoy the outdoor treasures—both the King (Kongens Have) and Queen (Amaliehaven) have gardens, fountains and sculptures dedicated to them. Located across the harbor from the Opera House, this is truly the best spot in town to snap a photograph.

And if you seek more royal relics, there are ruins, monuments and the Prince’s Palace (Prinsens Palæ), home to Denmark’s National Museum. Check out the Caritas Fountain in Gammel Torv Square (near Strøget), which is decorated with “golden apples” on royal birthdays.

If you’re traveling with kids or simply want to spend a fun day among the locals, head to the Tivoli Gardens, a popular amusement park smack in the center of town near City Hall Square. It features one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the world, plus flower gardens, live performances, and fireworks every Saturday night. www.tivoligardens.com

A little more off the beaten path is the Danish Design Centre, located across the street from Tivoli Gardens on H.C. Andersens Boulevard. Designed by renowned Danish architect Henning Larsen, the center spans five floors and features constantly-changing exhibits that offer insight into designs of both Danish and international artists—from the highbrow and conceptual to traditional Royal Copenhagen porcelain. Admission is free on Wednesdays. www.ddc.dk

Copenhagen canalEvery European city has its high-end fashion and shopping district, and Copenhagen is no exception. The names are top-of-the-line and the prices are steep, so if you’re on a budget you can window-shop your way through Strøget and find the real deals on the side streets and seasonal flea markets. The Queen’s home is furnished with items from Illums Bolighus, and whether or not you’re a design buff, you’ll have fun browsing here and in other shops such as Georg Jensen, Rosendahl, Bodum and the Bang & Olufsen Center.

A great free attraction which offers a glimpse into the ritzy lifestyle is the Royal Copenhagen Museum, which highlights the wares of the famous porcelain-maker. Here you can see a variety of dishware and other product lines that were heavily influenced by the 18th century, the Golden Age and the Art Nouveau eras. Rest your weary feet and watch a short film on the history of Royal Copenhagen. See what has happened to all the cracked porcelain and find some of the finest, most high-end pieces at this flagship store. The best part is the demonstration of skilled artisans who manage to work while fielding questions from chatty onlookers. If you’re enticed to take anything home, head to the basement for the real bargains. www.royalcopenhagen.com

While Statens Museum for Kunst (the State Museum of Art) is certainly worth the trip, a more offbeat alternative is Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a private art collection founded by brewer Carl Jacobsen, possibly one of the largest private art collectors of his time. Named after his brewery, Ny Carlsberg, glyptotek means “collection of sculpture,” and the museum contains more than 10,000 works of art, sculpture and painting, both ancient and modern. The museum itself is quite fascinating, with a peaceful interior winter garden that serves as an entrance to the collections. The museum is free on Sundays. Take a moment to enjoy the view from the roof terrace. www.glyptoteket.dk

Opera House CopenhagenWalking in Copenhagen will afford you glimpses of all the city’s major attractions. Some of the most pleasant walks are along the harbor, Amaliehaven (Queen’s garden), Strøget and others. Nyhavn is a canal which runs from the Copenhagen Harbour to Kongens Nytorv (Central Square), with plenty of sidewalk cafes. If you’re yearning for more green space, head to the Botanical Garden and Museum in the center of town. Now in its fourth incarnation (the first was created in the 1600s), the garden features 23,462 plants, with 10 greenhouses and quiet walking paths.

Take what locals fondly call a “two-nation vacation” and visit both Denmark and Sweden—no passport necessary. A side trip to Malmo, Sweden is worth the bus ride over the Öresund Bridge, even if just to eat lunch and walk (or people-watch) along the canal steps. The bridge is magnificent and it takes only 35 minutes to get from Malmö city center to the center of Copenhagen by train, and 22 minutes to get to Copenhagen Airport.

PARTY LIKE A VIKING

Mmmm, beerCopenhagen has its share of cocktail bars, beer bars, and eateries, and its cuisine goes beyond the Nordic to include Indian, Mediterranean, Turkish, French, and Italian.

If you’re hungry, start with Ad Libitum, in City Hall Square, which offers a buffet with a selection of Nordic and Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Save room for the free ice cream bar! Prices are fixed, but if your lunch is more than two hours (or dinner is more than three), you’ll have to pay by the hour. www.adlibitum-kbh.dk

Another great deal: Poonchai, located behind Central Station, is a fresh-and-tasty Thai restaurant that offers a five percent discount if you get you food to go. www.poonchai.dk

Bang & Jensen is an affordable café with a lively atmosphere. A breakfast buffet, sandwiches, pasta, nachos and more make up the menu mix. Cocktail hour begins at 7.30 p.m. when the kitchen closes to make room for the cocktail bar, with live music on Saturdays. Bang & Jensen is a great local hangout in the Vesterbo district. www.bangogjensen.dk

An ever-evolving classic is Café Dan Turéll, which is more than a quarter of a century old. A popular local joint, it’s another nifty place that functions as a restaurant by day, but after dinner takes on a different persona as hot nightspot. www.danturell.dk

HELPFUL HINTS

  • The CPH discount card offers free and or cut-rate admission to many attractions as well as free ground transportation around the city and is available in 24 or 72 hour increments. Costs about $37 for 24 hours, or $74 for 72 hours. Find out if Tourist Discount Cards a Good Deal.
  • Check out central Copenhagen with a free city bike (May 1 and December 15) at a City Bike Stand for a refundable $25. Web site.
  • If you’re a planner and/or have your laptop, you can plot out your itinerary each day using Denmark’s Journey Planner (Rejseplanen), which includes efficient options and alternatives for bus, trains, etc.

By Neha Shah for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit Neha’s Web site at https://travelwordsmith.com.

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