Copenhagen has hundreds of bicycle parks

Copenhagen – Denmark’s stylish capital || Part 1

Copenhagen is a vibrant and clean capital city, full of history, culture, grand palaces, fine restaurants, ancient winding streets, beautiful canals and stylish modern architecture. This unique blend of old and new is enhanced by its laid-back atmosphere and the friendliness of its population.

Much of its compact centre can be visited on foot but all its major sights can be seen with consummate ease using the comprehensive ‘Hop-on Hop-off’ bus and boat sightseeing arrangements.

Copenhagen is also a cycling heaven – more bikes than people and five times as many bicycles as cars. Three-quarters of its residents use their bikes every day and most Danish MPs actually cycle to work. The city has a superb infrastructure of cycle lanes supported by hundreds of designated bicycle parking areas. Unsuspecting tourists are soon reminded that cycles have right of way and bicycle lanes are not pedestrian walkways!

Our hotel, the Scandic Palace, overlooked the Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) and was close to many of the major attractions and the terminus of the Hop-on Hop-off bus network. There are three different bus routes, the best of which conveniently links up with the superb canal boat tour. A two-day ticket for unlimited access to bus and boat is good value at €30, and we made maximum use of this comprehensive travel system for our exploration of the city’s highlights.

Tivoli Gardens is a fairy-tale land for all the young-at-heart. Tivoli has been thrilling visitors since it opened in 1843 and is the second-oldest theme park in the world. It has an eclectic mix of rides, attractions, restaurants, colourful flower gardens and theatres; making it an absolute treat for all the family.

On a cold, blustery day, having already enjoyed strolling around the park, we were invited to lunch in the open air at one of Tivoli’s many restaurants, a traditional ‘American Diner’. Whilst eating, we were entertained by some classic 1950/60s pop music (from Everly Brothers to Elvis) bringing back nostalgic memories of our youth!

The cheerful staff made us warm and cosy by providing a personal electric heater and blankets. Such outside dining comforts are quite normal in Denmark.

Nyhavn is an enchanting waterfront district overlooked by brightly coloured 17th century townhouses and lots of historic wooden ships moored in its canal. It was once a commercial port packed with sailors, alehouses and ‘ladies of pleasure’. In recent years, the houses have been renovated and the pubs and brothels turned into respectable bars and restaurants serving traditional Danish food. Now, Nyhavn is packed with locals and tourists enjoying its relaxed ambience, live music and great food. We discovered that this was the perfect place to watch the world go by whilst dining on delicious rye bread open sandwiches, washed down by a refreshing Carslberg beer.

World famous children’s author Hans Christian Andersen lived in three different properties overlooking Nyhavn and wrote many of his famous fairy-tales here. His lifelike bronze statue stands at one end of Rådhuspladsen, outside Tivoli Gardens and attracts great interest from visitors, particularly those from the Far East.

Harbour sights

A harbour tour is the best way of seeing the city’s beautiful old buildings and stunning contemporary architecture. Both bus and boat tours visit The Little Mermaid, the celebrated and surprisingly small landmark commissioned by brewery magnate Carl Jacobsen and unveiled in 1913.

The famous bronze sculpture was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a mermaid who gives up everything to join her handsome prince on land. Because she is such a prominent national figure, this unfortunate fishy lady has been vandalised many times – beheaded twice, lost an arm and on numerous occasions been covered in paint. But still this elegant and endearing figure survives, sedately perched upon her rock bidding welcome to all visitors to Copenhagen harbour.

The tour boats take visitors through the winding canals of Christianshavn, lined with houseboats and pretty 17th century houses, a charming area somewhat reminiscent of Amsterdam. They also travel along the wide waters of the inner harbour to view two of Copenhagen’s most iconic examples of modern architecture, the Black Diamond extension to the Royal Danish Library, clad in polished black granite, and our personal favourite, the spectacular Opera House.

Nearby, the graceful Danish royal yacht is moored in mid-stream and on the quayside just beyond sit two tiny green-domed pavilions where the family and guests gather before boarding.


Copenhagen has many lovely palaces and castles, notably Rosenborg Slot, Christiansborg and Amalienborg. The last of these looked so appealing from the inner harbour, we chose to take a closer look. It is made up of four almost identical palaces, built in the 1750s, set around an octagonal square, with a splendid statue of King Frederik V on horseback as its centrepiece.

One of the palaces is the residence of Denmark’s Queen Margarethe and Prince Consort Henrik, and another the home of the Crown Prince and his family. The changing of the royal guard takes place here at noon and attracts throngs of tourists.

Whilst admiring these fine buildings, our eyes were attracted inexorably inland towards the ornate dome of the nearby Marmorkirken (Marble Church). Perfectly aligned with Amalienborg and also the Opera House across the harbour, this church is possibly the most beautiful building in Copenhagen.

Its superlative copper-green-coloured dome is modelled on St. Peter’s in Rome and its circular interior is just as awe-inspiring. Whether you are religious or not, this is a church where you are tempted to sit down to enjoy peace and quiet in the most beautiful surroundings. It is an architectural jewel.

Whilst searching for our morning coffee close to the Marble Church, we chanced upon Mormors (means maternal grandmother), one of the city’s oldest cafés. Its quirky décor, full of intriguing little knick-knacks, was clearly reminiscent of a grandmother’s house. We couldn’t resist sampling their delicious home-baked cinnamon-swirl pastries, locally called ‘kanelsnegl’ (which means cinnamon snail).

As we scooped up the last sticky crumbs and warmed our hands on our coffee mugs in these comfortable surroundings, we undeniably felt we were experiencing ‘Hygge’. Now hygge, roughly pronounced “hue-gah”, is a Danish word that cannot easily be translated into English but it encompasses that lovely feeling of cosy contentment. This can perhaps best be likened to the warm satisfaction you feel whilst sipping a hot cup of cocoa in front of a roaring log fire on a snowy winter’s day!

Hygge has become such a vital part of Danish life that it is seen as a defining feature of their cultural identity. Throughout our time in Copenhagen, we were made welcome in all the restaurants and cafés we visited and the surroundings were invariably warm and comforting. We even enjoyed breakfasts by candlelight at our hotel! Maybe hygge is one of the reasons that the Danes have the reputation as being the world’s happiest people?

Next week: We explore Stockholm after a smooth five-hour high-speed train journey from Copenhagen.

By Nigel Wright
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Nigel Wright and his wife Sue moved to Portugal 13 years ago and live near Guia. They lived and worked in the Far East and Middle East during the 1980s and 90s, and although now retired, still continue to travel and seek out new cultural experiences. His other interests include tennis, gardening and photography.

Copenhagen has hundreds of bicycle parks
Tivoli is a fairy-tale land for all the young-at-heart
Tivoli has flower gardens and theatres
Nyhavn has brightly coloured houses and old wooden ships
Hans Christian Andersen’s popular statue is in the City Hall Square
The Little Mermaid welcomes lots of visitors to Copenhagen Harbour
The spectacular modern architecture of the Royal Opera House
The graceful Danish Royal Yacht
One of the four Royal Palaces at Amalienborg
The beautiful dome of the Marmorkirken behind the Royal Palaces