36 Hours in Copenhagen

 

Visiting Iceland in December and falling in love with the Scandinavian culture left me wanting to explore more of the region. There is something so alluring about their minimalistic design and fashion, their healthy lifestyle and their sheer cleanliness. When I was browsing flights to find my next destination for summer, I happened to stumble across flights to Copenhagen for £11 and it was impossible to turn that offer down. This resulted in us booking a holiday to spend 36 hours in Copenhagen and flying from there to Lake Como for the rest of our trip.

So in mid-June earlier this year we landed in Copenhagen airport. With not that much time to explore the entire city, we made sure that we packed in as much as possible so that we could make the most of our visit. The weather was on our side when we arrived – blue skies and warm summer air, completely different to what expected. The short time that we had in Copenhagen was brilliant and I absolutely adored our stay. Here’s why:

WHERE TO STAY

Scandinavian countries are famous for many things, one of those things being their extortionate prices. Because of this we tried to keep costs low as much as possible. One of the ways we were able to do this was by staying in an AirBnb – if you know me you will know that I am a massive AirBnb advocate. We ended up staying in this apartment in a private room alongside our host. Because we were only there for a couple of nights and we wanted to find something that was relatively cheap, it didn’t bother us that we weren’t renting an entire apartment to ourselves. Our host kept himself to himself apart from when we needed recommendations on things to do. The room was bright and minimalistic, equipped with leaflets and maps giving us a whole lot of info about Copenhagen. We didn’t spend much time here though, as we were mostly out exploring the city. We were lucky to be a few steps down from a bus stop, which took us straight to the airport or down the road to the metro station which had a direct line into the city centre. This was our first port of call when we arrived.

THINGS TO DO

I checked out things to do in Copenhagen before I arrived and found that there wasn’t a great deal of touristy attractions, so we thought we’d just chance it and be spontaneous. It’s when you arrive to the city that you realise it’s not really about the tourist attractions, but instead it’s more about the lifestyle, culture and aesthetic. There is one place I had in mind to visit though, and  that was the famous Nyhavn – an amazingly pretty harbour in the centre of Copenhagen. Make sure you bring your camera along if you plan on visiting – you’ll definitely want to be snapping away! We walked along the harbour, the blue skies enhancing the brightly coloured buildings, making a perfectly scenic skyline. The restaurants by the harbour were pretty extortionate so we decided to avoid these. Instead, we took a boat trip as I am a pretty big admirer of boats. It departed from Nyhavn and took us along the harbour, through the canals and past some iconic Danish buildings and monuments such as the Opera House and Little Mermaid statue. You also get a guided tour that informs you about some of Denmark’s history and the buildings you see along the way. In my opinion, there is no better way to see a city than by boat. We sat admiring the neo-classical architecture, the gothic churches and the colourful canal sides, while learning about Denmark’s rich history including stories about its long lost empire. The trip was approximately an hour long, and was surprisingly cheaper than a lot of boat trips I’ve been on elsewhere, costing around 52DKK (currently equating to approx. £6). You must make sure that you tick this one off your list – especially if you want to see Copenhagen from a different perspective.

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After our boat tour we had a few hours of our day left to waste. We decided to take a walk into Christiana Freetown – a small district burrowed inside the city that was colonised by hippies in the 70s and which declared autonomy from Denmark. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before and a somewhat surreal experience. Inside you see all sorts of structures such as cottages, tree houses, caravans and cabins where the people of Christiana reside. They have their own laws, economy and even postal service that are entirely separate from the rest of Denmark. This means that weed is legal in their district and they are heavily reliant on it as their main export. Although the consumption of weed is allowed here, the Danish government still frown upon the selling of it. This doesn’t stop them though, as they came to an agreement with the government to stop them from interfering. However, they still want to keep on the down low when selling, so you see tourists and customers queuing up outside stalls that are hidden behind some kind of military meshing, with scary-looking men wearing balaclavas behind the stalls, and also along the street. At times it was a bit unnerving walking through what is called the ‘Green Light District’ and being watched by these balaclava-clad men who were probably there to make sure you weren’t making any dodgy deals or taking any photos (or maybe they were making the dodgy deals themselves). However, it was definitely a different experience and there are pubs, bars, health shops and food stalls all inside that you can visit if you don’t mind a bit of passive smoking every now and then. Christiana is far from the reality of Copenhagen, but certainly somewhere worth visiting. 

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On day two we weren’t so lucky with the weather in the morning (although later in the day it did start to clear up). But when we woke up and looked out the window to see rain, we thought that it would be the perfect day to do the culture vulture activities like visiting museums and churches. We put our rain coats on and after stopping off for some coffee, took the metro into the centre and ended up walking through Amalienborg and visiting Frederik’s church – both not too far from Nyhavn.

We stumbled across Frederik’s Church whilst walking around to find something to see to escape the drizzle. Visiting places like churches and cathedrals always reminds me of family trips abroad as a child. I always used to kick up a fuss if my parents dragged me to some Catholic church or a museum about classical archeology – leaving was always a relief. However, now I’m at the old age of 20 I feel as though I can appreciate the architecture and history of places a bit more. We went into Frederik’s Church (also known as the Marble Church), which belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran denomination and has the largest church dome in Scandinavia. It was built in the late-Baroque architectural period (one of my favourite classical art movements), so the building and the interior were pretty spectacular. We spent no longer than 15 minutes in here as we only had access to the chapel area, but it sure was interesting to see.

Just down from Frederik’s Church is Amalienborg – Denmark’s version of Buckingham Palace, home to the Danish royal family, with four identical classical palace façades around the octagonal courtyard, and a monumental equestrian statue of Amalienborg’s founder in the centre. Again, we just walked around here briefly for no longer than 15 minutes, but we were able to see the Danish royal guards and even witnessed some sort of marching parade.

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PLACES TO EAT

Because we were only in Copenhagen for 36 hours and on an attempt to steer away from the Scandi costs, we decided to avoid any of the restaurants and their exorbitant prices. This resulted in trips to the Seven Eleven store just down the road from our AirBnb to stock up on pasta salads, sandwiches and some things from the hot deli counter. This post probably isn’t the best place to go if you want restaurant recommendations… However, we had heard good things about a place in central Copenhagen called Paper Island which is just across from the harbour, so we got on the taxi boat and went there. If you’re familiar with the London street food scene then Paper Island is pretty much like that. There’s a selection of Danish and international street food stalls as well as juice bars and proper bars. It caters for all – meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans, and the prices generally average between 40-90 DKK (between £5-10). 

I decided to go for a pulled duck burger from a stall called Duck It and it was juicy and delicious (even though the photo doesn’t do it any credit). After finishing our lunch and a couple of drinks from Cow Bar (where I was able to get student discount!) we decided to take another walk around in a quest to find dessert! I’m a fan of crème brûlée and I’m also a fan of donuts so when I found a crème brûlée donut stall I just had to get one and even though I felt incredibly guilty afterwards it did not disappoint.

We also stopped off at a few coffee shops and pubs around Copenhagen (I forgot to note the names of any of them down), but because we were only there for a short amount of time we didn’t have time to explore Denmark’s cuisine, or many of the numerous eateries and watering holes that they have to offer.

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Copenhagen was everything I expected and more and it’s a shame that we didn’t have more time to spend here. However, I loved the small insight that I got into the city and the Scandinavian lifestyle, and it’s the perfect place for a short trip away. There’s no denying that Copenhagen is an expensive city, like most countries in the Nordic region are, but it’s certainly not impossible to scope out some cheap places to dine and drink outside of the city centre and away from the tourist hot spots! Buying a city guide is definitely a good idea (I bought the Wallpaper City Guide) as it shows you all the cute independent shops and eateries in one place, whereas on the internet I found it a little bit more difficult to do so!

If you choose to visit Copenhagen then I hope you enjoy your time there as much as I did!

Steph 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Few Days in Amsterdam

Snapping open your eyes at 5am to the sound of your alarm isn’t usually the ideal to see the ‘light’ of day, but we’ve all experienced the small buzz of excitement you get when you’re waking up early to take a trip abroad. There was no exception when doing so for our brief trip to Amsterdam last week. We were really excited about visiting this wonderful city again. You just can’t tire of walking down the picturesque canal streets and immersing yourself in the relaxed Dutch atmosphere. Not forgetting to mention the beautiful renaissance architecture, open skyline and the rich and interesting history that lies within the city. 

As some of you may know, the flight from Gatwick to Amsterdam may as well be replaced by a trebuchet – as soon as you’re in the air, you’re getting ready for landing – it’s a stones throw away by air. After a flight lasting marginally over 40 minutes – and having cruelly missed out on our complimentary tea/coffee as the flight attendants didn’t get to us in time – we had landed at Schiphol Airport. The Netherlands; in a flash. 

Amsterdam is full of things to do, that even though we visited last year for ten days there was still so much left for us to see and explore. We were staying with family in Haarlem, so once we made our way from Schiphol Airport to the central station we stashed our bags in one of the locker rooms so we could walk around freely. We had one destination in mind to check out as soon as we got there: Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. Luckily for us, the temperamental late-August weather took a turn for the better, and as we strolled through the leafy environs, visiting a butterfly sanctuary and various different eco-systems contained in large greenhouse-type structures (think Eden Project, but smaller), the sun showed its welcome face, bathing Amsterdam in its warm glow. The gardens here are just absolutely beautiful with a great collection of different plants from all over the world. This place certainly makes for relaxing entertainments – especially the previously mentioned butterfly sanctuary. 

Once we had emerged from beneath the botanical foliage bequeathed on us by Hortus, we made our way into the centre, keen to get in amongst the beautifully picturesque maze of canals that make Amsterdam so iconic as a European metropolis.

Our modus operandi on this trip was to keep costs low, but see and do as much as possible in the three days that we were there. This involved a lot of walking (we each averaged over 20,000 steps a day) and the borrowing of travel cards and cultural cards from Dutch family who live just outside of Amsterdam in the almost-as-lovely Haarlem (if you get the chance you should definitely jump on the train and give this city a visit). This meant that we could go into the museums for free and skirt the ~EUR 17 entrance fees that are common at Dutch cultural institutions such as the Rijksmuseum.

All of the main museums in Amsterdam are relatively close together in the Museumplein so you can definitely make a day of it. I find that museums are a great way to spend your time and to find out more about the cultural heritage of a city, especially if the weather isn’t on your side. We went to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum and these are all within walking distance from each other. That’s a whole lot of art!

My personal favourite was the Van Gogh Museum, which was displaying the ‘On the Verge of Insanity’ exhibition while we were there. It took us through Vincent Van Gogh’s mental health journey and documented his works through his difficult life in chronological order. The museum also shows a spectacular display of his art, including many of his self-portraits (it’s safe to say that he was a narcissist) and his floral and landscape paintings. I loved this museum, despite not knowing much about Van Gogh and his work beforehand, I was definitely enticed. It may be one of the most popular museums in the city, and after visiting I can totally see why. Don’t let the queues and crowds deter you!!

Just a few steps down is the Rijksmuseum. The building itself is quite an impressive piece of architecture, as you’ll be able to see by the hundreds of tourists snapping pictures outside of it by the iAmsterdam sign. The museum is heavily based about Rembrandt, but also has hundreds of other interesting objects on display, and pieces from famous Dutch artists such as Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer. I’d advise dedicating a couple of hours to the Rijksmuseum if you visit. There’s tons to see and read! 

As for Stedelijk, it is definitely the place for fans of modern art and keen Instagrammers. It had a versatile collection of contemporary art, some of which confused me, but most of it incredibly interesting. If you think that modern art is a load of garbage, then this definitely isn’t the place for you. But if you are a fan then I’d highly recommend visiting for something slightly more light-hearted than the other museums. 

As Amsterdam is a city tied to the water we had to explore all of the canals, and what better way to do that than doing it by boat? Nothing beats it. I always get slightly envious of all of the Dutchies chilling out in their boats on the weekends and in the evenings – almost always with a bottle of wine and a selection of charcuterie and cheeses. What a life. The boat cruises here are the closest thing to that if you’re budgeting. They take you through the beautiful canals, past the charming buildings and along the Amstel river and you get to see it all from a different perspective. The only downside to the tour is that you can’t spend all day doing it! It cost us around ~EUR 18 each, but I would say that the experience itself is priceless, and something that you absolutely must do!

Our cost-cutting also led to us avoiding many of the Amsterdam eateries that could be regarded as not-so-kind to the wallet, and paying a few trips to the fabled Febo Snackbars where you can indulge in a few fried Dutch delicacies such as croquettes, kaassoufflé, Frikandel, and chips with satay sauce for around ~EUR 1.60-2.50. It might not be kind to the waist (in fact, it definitely isn’t), but if you’re in Amsterdam for a few days then it’s certainly a more fun and inexpensive alternative to heading somewhere unimaginative like McDonalds. You just insert your coins, open the little door, and there you have it! 

We also revisited our favourite pancake house called Old Dutch Pancake House just by the famous floating flower market. The pancakes here are delicious and never disappoint and if you sit by the window you’ll witness one of the most Dutch scenes ever. Pancakes with a tulip market in the background. Heerlijk! There are loads of pancake restaurants dotted around the city, but the Old Dutch Pancake House is my favourite. 

Amsterdam is also not short of good coffee shops (and I’m referring to actual coffee shops here). You’re always within walking distance of some good coffee, and we happened to stumble across one called Ivy & Bros by a canal in the heart of the wonderful Red Light District. It had a quirky, eclectic interior and the staff were very friendly. It was certainly a gem!

Apart from the previously mentioned (and our last supper at Burger Zaken) we generally just popped into the Albert Heijn stores for our food supplies for the day. There’s just something so satisfying about browsing European supermarkets and seeing what we’re missing out on here in the UK. Budgeting when it comes to food is easy, you just have to steer away from the touristy restaurants. 

We loved our trip to Amsterdam, and we will definitely be back again soon. It’s such a charming city, despite some of the claims that it’s a seedy city solely revolving around sex and getting stoned. Whether you are there for a short weekend trip or a longer stay, it’s almost impossible to run out of things to do and explore. You are spoilt for choice when it comes to museums, eateries, pubs, bars, coffee shops etc. And even if you fancy a chilled day, a walk or cycle along the canal-side admiring the picturesque buildings, or a picnic in one of the many parks is equally as enjoyable. It’s incredibly easy to budget, and even if you want an extravagant trip, the city caters for all.

If you’ve got this far then thanks for reading. We hope you consider a trip to the lovely Amsterdam, and if you go then we hope you enjoy your trip.

Steph and Mike x