I’m excited to finally be sitting down to write about Copenhagen, even if it is five months later. When people ask me my favorite place I went, I always say, besides Budapest (which of course I am biased about because I spent the longest time there), it was Copenhagen.
It was one of the only cities I could picture myself actually living in, if it wasn’t for the lack of daylight in the winter and the outrageous prices. But I’m from the Midwest, so I’m used to dark winters, and if I made a salary in Danish krone, then I think I could make it work.
Our outstandingly comfortable Ryan Air flight (hint – sarcasm) landed around 5pm, so our first day in the city was short. We took public transit from the airport to our hostel; the trains in Copenhagen are very clean and they have nifty headphone ports built in for you to listen to the radio, albeit with a lot of static.
If you’re traveling to Copenhagen though, I don’t recommend relying on public transit. You have to specify when buying your ticket which station you are getting off at and tickets are very infrequently checked by patrolling workers, which leaves you with the moral dilemma of paying for a $5 ticket or risking it in the hope that yours won’t get checked. It’s also just inconvenient – there aren’t enough stops to make it easy to get around the whole city. But while I was there, they were building new stations, so I think the city knows it has room to improve in that department. We found it quickest and easiest to bike, although it’s a little difficult when you have to stop and pull out your phone for directions frequently. So most of the time we walked. A lot.
We stayed at the Urban House hostel, which is the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in. It’s right by the central train station, a five-minute walk to Tivoli Gardens, and there is a bar, a restaurant, an amazing communal kitchen, game rooms, lounge rooms, a theater room, and even a tattoo parlor. Yeah, you read that right. The hostel rooms themselves were nice and clean, plus there were extra bathrooms on a few floors! If you’ve ever stayed in a 10-person hostel room, you know this is a lifesaver.
As I mentioned before, the Danish krone doesn’t exchange very well for us Americans, so we mostly lived off the amazing street food in Copenhagen, starting with some delicious hot dogs right outside the central train station immediately upon arriving to the city. Everything I ate in Copenhagen was freakin’ amazing, which, knowing me, probably explains why I especially loved this city.
Speaking of food, we decided to just wander around near our hostel the first night because it was already evening, and we happened to stumble upon a street food stand worthy of gods. It sold fresh churros with chocolate (of course) and vanilla-strawberry swirled ice cream so creamy I died. Okay, I didn’t die, but I was extremely happy and there is photographic evidence of that jubilance.
This trip was with one the larger groups I travelled with – eight people, not including me. And all cheap college students, so we naturally went to the cheapest bar we could find, Billy Booze. Go during happy hour to get your money’s worth and maybe you’ll even meet Billy; he’s a nice guy.
As a large group, we often split up to feed ourselves in the morning and then regrouped to go on that day’s adventure. Hannah, Christie, and I are all believers in a proper breakfast, so we went to Bang & Jensen, which was recommended by a Danish girl I met in Budapest. It was after that meal I thought, Copenhagen really gets me. It was actually a buffet-style breakfast, but the variety and quality were amazing. What really got me though, was the kind waitress. She asked if we wanted anything else because the buffet was closing, and we politely declined, saying that we were too full. But then she offered us to-go boxes – for a buffet! What buffet has ever given you to-go boxes!? That’s literally like saying, “here, take a bunch of free food.”
We regrouped with everyone else and found a local shop to rent bikes. We forced our friend RJ to bike even though he hadn’t biked since he was eight, and eventually made it to Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood with three rules: no pictures, no running, and have fun.
The area is basically a commune that was built on a squatted military area in 1971. Common nicknames for it are ‘The Freetown’ and the ‘Green Light District’. Weed is illegal in Denmark, but authorities turn a blind-eye to Christiania, which arguably limits drug use to one area of the city and prevents its dispersion into society. The area has become somewhat of an alternative tourist attraction, which explains why we were there – I promise, I wasn’t up to any shady shit. It’s like the Red Light District in Amsterdam – you don’t have to participate, but there’s no harm in walking around. I felt surprisingly safe despite the guys in masks selling hash at stands covered with military netting. They take the “no pictures” rule very seriously though; without thinking about it, I pulled out my phone to look at the time and got yelled at. They say running causes panic, which explains the “no running” rule. Christiania is not an area I’d frequent, but it was an interesting visit.
We mounted our bikes again and rode to Papirøen (“Paper Island”), which is a large warehouse-like building on the harbor full of the most amazing street-food stands. Deciding what to eat takes at least twenty minutes if you want to explore all your options. I settled on beet juice (if you know me, you know I have a weird beet obsession) and Colombian food. Copenhagen, unlike some European cities, has a variety of international food so you don’t get bored eating only the local cuisine. I could probably write a whole blog post just about what I ate in Copenhagen.
We rushed back to return our bikes before our rental period was up, then recouped at the hostel. Speaking of bikes, they are EVERYWHERE. And the best part is that the Danes are such trusting people, that they only lock the wheel of the bike and set it by a wall. So theoretically, someone could just pick up your bike and walk away with it, but nobody does. The little things like that made me love this city.
That night, we ended up back at Billy Booze after failing to find any other good, cheap bars. Everything else was either too fancy or like walking into a hot-boxed car of cigarette smoke. After Billy Booze, some of us ventured to a very large Australian-themed bar complete with fake crocodiles, and ended the night at McDonalds (go ahead, judge me), which is not that cheap in Copenhagen.
Our third day was actually Halloween, and I’m very glad we picked Copenhagen to spend it in, because most other European cities barely celebrate it. Copenhagen had some Halloween stores and decorations that made us feel a bit at home, even though not many people dress up and kids don’t go trick-or-treating.
We went on a free walking tour of the main areas that day, including Nyhavn, the picture-perfect harbor you always see in photos, and the Royal Palace. Our tour guide gave us some fun facts that sold me even more on Danish culture. For instance, Danish people don’t spend much money on material things, but rather experiences, which I am a strong proponent of. Although, they tend to have very high debt because they don’t worry much about money and push it away as a future concern. Unfortunately, I identify highly with that… but it’s something I’m working on.
Apparently it’s common to see the Royal Family biking their kids to school as well, which is due to a culture where most people want to be seen on the same level. There isn’t that ever-present social hierarchy that is found in America, because the Danes treat each other as equals.
Lastly, is hygge, my favorite thing about Denmark. Pronounced like ‘hue-gah’, the word doesn’t have a direct translation into English. The best translation is a coziness of the soul, or a feeling of comfort and ease. It’s a feeling or mood that you get when you take pleasure in doing ordinary things, like sipping a cup of tea before bed; it’s acknowledging and enjoying the present moment. You can experience hygge alone, or with friends and family as well. Denmark is often cited as the home of the happiest people in the world, which I think is strongly due to hygge. How else would you get through winters with 17 hours of darkness?
Hygge can be found anywhere too. The Danish often bring hygge into spaces by lighting candles. Even Billy Booze, the discount bar we went to, had candles on the tables! Hygge is also about being kind to yourself and others. Not depriving yourself; indulging in the little things. And I love that.
That night, we all went to Tivoli Gardens, the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world, where I think we all experienced a little hygge. We felt the familiarity of home due to the outstanding Halloween decorations, which were tasteful, not gory like an amusement park in the US would be around Halloween. We ran around like giddy little kids eager to try all the rides. Tivoli has an old charm to it, which probably explains in part why it inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland.
Plus, there is legit food there – no Panda Express or Dippin’ Dots. A bunch of us got crazy good fish and chips, and I bought gourmet licorice from some dancing skeletons to bring home to my family for Christmas. We stayed until the park closed at midnight and went to bed, tired from a day of walking and rides.
On our last day, we walked all the way to the King’s Garden and botanical gardens. It was a long walk, but we stumbled upon a small vegan food festival along the way, which excited Christie, Hannah, and I. The rest, not so much. Once at the gardens, we relaxed and took pictures of the beautiful fall leaves.
From there, we ventured through Langelinie, where locals run along the large green hills and walk with their families. Langelinie is home to the Little Mermaid statue; the famous tale was written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. We took some pictures with her and then found a train station, because we had already walked over ten miles that day.
Some of the group decided to go directly to the airport because they already had their backpacks with them, while Christie, Hannah, and I decided to spend our few extra hours at our hostel. I ate one of the best cinnamon rolls of my life that I had bought from a bakery that morning, and finally tried smørrebrød, a traditional Danish food, which is a piece of dark, heavy rye bread usually topped with fish or cold cuts. It was decent, but I bought it from the grocery store, so I think I should try some of the good stuff next time I’m in Copenhagen.
After some wine at the hostel, we took the train to the airport, met up with the rest of the group, and flew back to Budapest. And that was Copenhagen.
I have nothing but good things to say about that city and the Danish people. I met several Danes while traveling in other cities and they were always really wonderful people. I joke that I’m determined to marry a Danish man, but seriously, come find me.
If you’re looking for a new place to add to your bucket list, I strongly urge you to add Copenhagen. If I had to put this long post into a nutshell, I would say: eat the food, ride a bike, and experience hyyge. Now, someone find me a job in Denmark so I have an excuse to move there.