The line for train tickets at Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport is long and I longingly eye the self-help ticketing machines, cursing the fact that American credit cards are so slow in adopting chip-and-PIN tech. My backpack pulls heavily upon my shoulders until I relinquish it to the ground, doing that awkward shifty walk people do in airport security lines.
The train is still the best way to get into downtown Copenhagen, save for being picked up by a Danish supermodel. The three-zone ticket required to reach the city center from Kastrup costs 36 DKK (about $5.50). The trip can be made in under 15 minutes and trains leave every 10.
The sun is shining and the crisp weather acts in place of much-needed caffeine after the long journey from San Francisco. I don’t even know what day it is.
In less time than it took to buy a ticket, I reach København H (Copenhagen Central Station), the largest railway station in Denmark, built in 1911. Only a few moments are spent here in admiration of the train station, particularly the way sunlight streams through the large windows, casting an elongated glow on the patterned floor.
I use the afternoon to take in as much of Copenhagen’s historic center as possible, an easy walk with much to see. Crowds form in front of Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park opened in 1843 (the second oldest amusement park in the world), and apparently a source of inspiration for Walt Disney’s concept of Disneyland. Inside, guests find rides from roller coasters to kiddie fare, lush gardens and theatrical shows.
A friend of mine has on her wall a quote from a poem by Margaret Atwood: “Like jokes or war, it’s all in the timing.” I inadvertently arrive during Copenhagen’s Gay Pride, a celebration of equality filling the plaza in front of Copenhagen City Hall, a centerpiece of the city completed in 1905. I purchase a refreshing pilsner from a vendor who promises it to be “very good.” The beer isn’t as magnificent as the fact that I’m drinking something of Copenhagen at a local festival. There is a Thai food stand and I feel like the world is, at least in terms of street fairs, more alike than different.
It’s the historic center that makes the most lasting impression on me. Mentally ignoring all signs for McDonald’s, Burger King, H&M and the like, walking through Copenhagen’s central streets is a trip into its history. Old churches, government buildings and classic fountains parallel with modern counterparts: street performers, contemporary art displays and the aforementioned shopping.
Eventually the sun goes down and breaks upon the crowds; the golden hour.
Back west in Copenhagen’s former meat market area, Vesterbro, lights flicker as the city’s youths come out to eat at one of the many trendy restaurants. We get the fish and chips and a burger from Kødbyens Deli. The food is all really good, albeit expensive. Copenhagen becomes the first city I’ll visit that I love but feel as if I can’t afford to do anything because of prices. This is, of course, incorrect.
I find out after returning that a restaurant I kept peering into, BioMio, is a favorite of travel writer friend Anisha Shah. I regret that I was not able to try it, but you should if you find yourself in this cool quarter.
The next day we embark on an adventure through Copenhagen’s main tourist attractions, a requisite trip for any newbie to the city. And as touristy as the Little Mermaid Statue might be, it’s still a must when visiting Hans Christian’s homeland.
Notables, by order of photos below, include the Royal Library Garden (1920) and the sculpture of philosopher and brainy guy Søren Kierkegaard (1918); Børsen, the building housing the Danish stock exchange (1619); the impressive Amalienborg Palace (1760) with its royal guards and equestrian statue of King Frederick V (1771); Edvard Eriksen’s statue of the Little Mermaid (1913); St. Alban’s Church, also known as the English Church, the only Anglican church in Copenhagen (1887); and finally Rosenborg Castle (1624), a renaissance castle housing the Danish Crown Regalia and the Crown Jewels.
On my last morning in Copenhagen, I find myself in the magnificent Thorvaldsens Museum, Denmark’s first museum, constructed in honor of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. The museum, located on the small island of Slotsholmen, is an easy walk from City Hall, leading you past local cafes, artsy shops, a canal that sometimes features swimmers, and a day market if you’re so lucky. Speaking of luck, admission to the Thorvaldsen Museum is free every Wednesday, and today happens to be Wednesday.
Thorvaldsen spent much of his time crafting his neoclassical masterpieces in Rome, so it is a thing of national pride that the majority of his work found its way home back to his native country. His homecoming from Italy in 1838 is depicted by a frieze on the building’s exterior.
Aside from sculptures, the museum also features paintings and beautifully adorned hallways. Extravagant displays in the grotesque style are counterpointed by the museum’s tranquility. It’s the perfect escape from the madness of tourism while still remaining in it.