Copenhagen has been on our wish list of cities to visit for a long time. One influencing factor to finally book the trip was because one of our good friends from London and Jerome’s godmother had moved back to her home country two years ago. With only a two hour flight from London it made it a practical weekend destination as well, so after a short journey into town on the metro after we landed, we arrived at our small hotel Skt Annae to the back of Nyhavn. The lobby of the small boutique hotel was impressive, but the room was tiny, we could barely walk around our beds, so it was a bit of a disappointment.
We had not eaten dinner and due to the late hours we had a limited choice of restaurants. We wanted to avoid the busy pubs and bars on the nearby canal side of Nyhavn but luckily found Ravage, just opposite the Kongens Nytorv. It was happy enough to serve food at the late time of day. The menu had a beef flavour and Jerome and Chris went for the burger sliders while I enjoyed my Danish style beef tartar. Prices were slightly on the expensive side but the friendly service and delicious food made up for it. The big steaks att he next table looked delicious too.
On the Saturday we had a quick breakfast at Emmerys, a local chain of organic coffee shops with tasty fresh Danish pastries and bread. We had not really planned on what we were going to see and do that day, but we knew the best way to get around town would be by bike. The vast amount of bicycles is one of the first things we noticed after our arrival in town and Copenhagen has always been famous for its cycle friendly roads. Originally we had planned on getting the Copenhagen Bycyklen, a bike hire system very similar to the “Boris” bikes in London or the Citibikes in New York. We went to the closest hire station, Jerome is tall enough these days to ride a city bike in London but unfortunately we found that the Copenhagen version was slightly higher and he would not be able to ride these posh bikes. Jerome was sad as they had a tablet built into the handlebars and also had an electric motor.
Instead we went to hire bikes from a friendly Dane just around the corner. Jerome got a junior mountain bike and helmet, while Chris and I were happy to look more like locals on our classic Holland style bikes. Even if you have smaller children or toddlers you should use bikes to explore the town by pedal, there are bikes with standard child bike seats but also family bikes, where up to two children sit in a box in the front of the handlebars. Our hire shop did not have any on offer but try Baisikeli or Copenhagen Bicycles. If you do visit then try to book ahead as the family bikes can get booked up well in advance, especially on weekends in the warmer months.
We set off on our bikes and just as we wanted to cross the road to Nyhavn we saw the royal guards marching down the road. What a sight that was, they looked very similar to the London ones apart from their bearskins which were perhaps not as tall as the Brits.
We went on past the colourful houses on Nyhavn, where we stopped to watch the sightseeing boats go in and out of the canal. Jerome spotted an old lightship as well. Nyhavn was once the red light district here in Copenhagen, quite hard to imagine considering its proximity to the royal palace just a few blocks further east. These days the houses along the canal have been turned into cafes, bars and restaurants, with tables and chairs outside on the traffic free pavement on the eastern side. Despite it still being early in the day, all tables were taken and we could see people struggling to get from one end to the other. We were happy to admire the charming old houses from the opposite side before cycling on. At the end of Nyhavn we had the option to either cycle across the bridge to Christiania but we turned right and south along the quayside.
It is amazing to think that the whole city has dedicated cycle lanes throughout, mostly separate from the main street and busy with bikes. Living in the UK we avoid using our bikes in the City completely except on weekends when there is less traffic. With the tiny London streets it is too scary to consider cycling most of the time, as there are no specific bike lanes, apart from the one or two cycle highways that have recently been implemented by the mayor. In Copenhagen by contrast smaller children cycling on their own bikes or parents with small children in the family bikes were a common sight and cycling is so much fun. I can still remember how proud I was when I first went cycling with my Dad and Jerome was even younger when he first cycled without stabilisers.
Copenhagen is not only great for cycling, it was incredible to discover how child friendly it was. Nordic countries like Sweden and Norway have always been known for the fact but I guess we had to be there to realise how big the difference was to England. We had just turned the corner from Nyhavn along the promenade we found a playground and children and adults bouncing on hidden trampolines in the ground. We stopped as Jerome was eager to have a go, I joined him and have to say it was so much fun, they were far bouncier than your average trampolines. In the end Chris had a go as well and only when we could feel our legs getting tired we decided to move on.
To our right we passed the Nationalbank, designed by Arne Jacobsen, one of Denmarks most famous architects and designers. Ahead of us Jerome spotted a funny looking spire made up of four dragon tails entwined tails. The tower belongs to the Danish stock exchange and above the windows we could see heads peeking out of the pediments. In front of the stock exchange we turned left, pedalled across the bridge and straight right back onto the cobbled quayside.
We followed the quay beside the local neighbourhood of Christinashavn, now a largely residential area with many canals, life here seemed more laid back and calmer than the centre we had just left behind. We could see people sitting in the parks on picnic blankets, relaxing in the warm sunshine enjoying a drink with the kids running around. We crossed the Cirkelbroen, a cool pedestrian bridge, which the architect had designed based on his childhood memories of fishing boats moored together so closely that people could cross the harbour by walking from one boat to the next. The bridge was also designed to open for taller boats to pass through. Jerome would have loved to see that happen, but it was unlikely as the only boats going by were the local ferries and some kayaks. We stopped for an ice cream, which we bought at a vintage ice cream van and watched the people on the quay go by.
Refreshed we enjoyed one of the latest introductions to Copenhagen’s cycle highways, the Cykelsangen, the cycle snake. Imagine a bridge just for cyclists, no one else is allowed to use it and it truly winds its way over the canal and past buildings before ending at a mall and the Vesterbro side of town.
Vesterbro is home to many cool cafes, restaurants and bars, part of it used to be the former meatpacking district. We cycled past little independent design boutiques and fashion stores, heading towards the home of Carlsberg beer. Beer enthusiasts come here to visit the brewery and sample some of the craft beer that is still being made on site, but I wanted to see the Elephant Gate. Cycling up the hill we noticed a lot of building going on, basically most of the old brewery site is being converted into residential apartment blocks. We could see the impressive gate up the hill in front, the gate was built in 1901 and the quartet of life sized granite elephants appear to carry the tower above on their backs. Jerome immediately noticed the swastikas on their sides and asked how they could have these symbols engraved. When Carl Jacobsen built the gate, obviously pre-German nationalism times and liked the idea of the symbols, which descript luck in Sanskrit for good fortune. Each of the elephants carry the initials of one of his four remaining children, after the other four had died. The swastikas were therefore not only for the good fortune of the brewery but also for his children and their future.
Not far from the Elephant Gates we had seen the Ramen Restaurant To Biiru and as we were quite hungry by now we decided to have a hearty bowl of hot ramen to fuel us for the rest of the day. It most likely was one of the most expensive ramen we have ever had, but the yuzu ramen was rather tasty and we all felt more like being in Japan than Denmark. We got tickets for the ramen at the machine by the entrance, there was a vending machine for canned beer and alcohol and Jerome liked the old school Sega games machine.
Our route took us on cycleway 51 past the university and the botanical gardens towards the Superkilen Park. As I mentioned earlier, there are so many options en route for children to let off steam, from playgrounds, to skate parks, petanque courts, to swings and more.
When I had read about Superkilen Park I had not realised how big it was going to be. It is a vast area, made up into one of the best playgrounds ever. The park was designed to bring together the 60 nationalities that live in the area. It has been divided into three parts, the Red Square, Black Market and Green Park. No matter how big or small, you could spend hours here. We first went onto the ship swing, watched a girl doing some amazing hoola-hoop acrobatics and also watched the skaters. I had never seen a boxing ring on a playground before! Obviously the Danes take a more liberal look at a health and safety than the Brits, which I liked a lot, it seems in London they are so worried about accidents that it has taken all the fun out of public playgrounds, I cannot imagine the kinds of apparatus like the trampolines ever being installed in the UK.
Further back, we found the Black Market area, where we could see lots of chess and Nine Men Morris tables, I could just imagine the locals meet there on a warm summer evening to play rounds of games. We could see kids on their scooters going down the stripy hill and the best part for all the little ones was the black octopus slide that was imported from Japan. We had seen a similar one in Shirahama, Japan a few years ago and it brought back memories of that holiday. Jerome and I went up on the slide and slid down on the different tentacles, some of them were rather steep and Jerome bounced his sides on one of the bends. It did not matter as we had so much fun and could have stayed on all afternoon.
We were conscious of the time and had to be back at the hotel to meet our friend for dinner. We followed the cycleway further on in a wide loop around the north of the city through the rest of the park and then along the side of the streets through residential and commercial areas. It soon led to a long stretch of cycle way by the train tracks and Jerome raced the Metro trains on his bike. After a while we skirted the Kastellet the star shaped old fort and made a brief stop at the Little Mermaid, the most famous and visited sight of Copenhagen. We all agreed it is a bit of a let down, not helped by the throngs of tourists crowding there. The character of Hans Christian Andersen cast as a statue by Edvard Eriksen was rather tiny, in fact much smaller than most people would probably imagine her to be. It is a pretty location but spoilt by just too many people. From there it was a short cycle ride to the hotel, around the moat of the star shaped Kastellet and along the quay.
We had an enjoyable dinner with our friend around the corner in one of the local pubs near Nyhavn with Danish meatballs and salmon.