This article has been published in print in Downend Voice, November 2016, Issue 45
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It was 8:30pm when, still a little dizzy from the flight, I needed to find my way out of the airport to the city centre, so I won’t miss my last chance of checking in to the hotel. There were no signs guiding me towards the exit, but decided to follow some of the tall, sharp looking Danes, who seemed to have known exactly where they’re going. I was a little shy asking for help from locals, but to my surprise, in Denmark everybody speaks English, and apparently many other languages too.
I boarded the self driving metro towards the city centre, when, for the first time I saw a blue sign saying “Welcome to Copenhagen”.
Copenhagen is my favourite European city. A rather bold statement to make given that I have travelled quite a bit, but there is something about the Danish capital that really stole my heart. I’m not sure if it was the food, the tremendous amount of green space or the out of ordinary customer service and local friendliness. It might sound cliché, but honestly, the Danes are incredibly talkative, curious and open to a conversation. What’s even more interesting is that for the long weekend I’ve spent in Copenhagen, I’ve always dealt only with really happy, polite baristas, waiters and shop keepers. I was mesmerised. To ensure I’m not biased, I decided to visit a different coffee shop every morning and each and every single time I’ve received my morning brew accompanied by a huge smile. You know how they say Copenhagen is one of the happiest places on Earth? Well I was on my way to discover why. The answer is as simple as it gets: the quality of life. In Copenhagen salaries are higher than in many other places. There are more bicycles in Copenhagen than people, hence the air is cleaner than in most European countries. And finally, the Danes have a top notch health system as well as free education. Pretty difficult not to wake up with a smile every morning.
There was much more to my Copenhagen visit than just buying coffee, starting with the culinary side of Denmark which really has its crème de la crème in the capital city, with Noma, the world’s best restaurant right at its door step. Unfortunately though, unless you are Angelina Jolie, you probably won’t be getting a reservation to Noma anytime soon. Beyond the untouchable and celebrity spots, Copenhagen really is down to Earth when it comes to food. I can’t imagine any better way to brighten the day than by grabbing a Danish pastry for breakfast, continuing with a Smørrebrød for lunch and finishing off with dinner in Tight. Tight is a reasonably priced, top notch restaurant, and the only place in Copenhagen which offers the elusive black charcoal buns, a weird and delicious type of bread made with charcoal flour.
In my opinion, you need to spend weeks in the Danish capital to really get to know it, yet due to its high price tag, many travellers choose to visit it for a weekend. During my short stay in Copenhagen, I started my first morning with a fresh and crisp walk by the Langelinje Pier. The pier walk is decorated with Scandinavian sculptures, including The Little Mermaid, the famed statue inspired by the fairy tale with the same name, written by Hans Christian Andersen.
When the midday clock struck, Copenhagen didn't just get ready for lunch, but for the changing of the royal guards ceremony at the Amalienborg Palace, home of the Danish Royal family and one of the greatest works of Danish Rococo architecture.
I’ve always thought that in order to truly see a city, one needs to go high above it, oversee its rooftops and admire its skyline. To capture the best view of Copenhagen, I went for no other than the Christianborg Palace, a government building which happens to be the tallest tower in the Danish capital. I was lured in by promises of 360degrees arial views of the city, alongside free admission.
If I have learned one thing from the Danes, is that late afternoons should be spent in great company, alongside a delicious cold beverage. All these can be found in Nyhavn of course, Copenhagen’s coolest side of the city, which is essentially a port dotted with colourful fishing houses and lined with bars and eateries. Dare I say, Nyhavn is Copenhagen’s most epic entertainment corner with too many options to choose from. Did I mention the beautiful sunset you can capture in Nyhavn whilst savouring a hand crafted Danish beer?
There is no rush in Copenhagen. Whether it’s raining or the sun is shining, the locals have the same laid back pace, stress-free way of living.
On my second day, I went straight into the city centre, to Strøget, to people watch and capture a glimpse of the more fashionable side of Copenhagen. I expected Strøget to be a busy and agitating street but instead, a civilised, vibrant and elegant Copenhagen revelled itself to me. Strøget was colourful, clean and atmospheric, like no other shopping street I’ve ever experienced before.
Soon enough, I found out about an unconventional side of Copenhagen: Christiania. I allocated a few hours to meander around this so called “Free Town”. But Christiania wasn’t Copenhagen’s dark secret, but a place of colour, art and self expression which promotes peace, human rights and free spirit. Christiania is nothing but a permanent Woodstock, an anarchy with its own laws and rules, a welcoming little community willing to accept, educate and liberate.
It was Sunday at 8pm, when I was back on the self driving metro, towards the airport. Copenhagen didn’t just steal my heart, but engaged my imagination, and created a new vision whereby we could all learn from the Danes, and create a society based on acceptance, great quality of life and promotion of human rights. I simply cannot wait to return to Copenhagen to yet again emerge myself in the world’s happiest capital city.