It was pastry and cake-fuelled fun all the way in the sea-faring port of Copenhagen
Cathay has launched a raft of new routes recently, including a direct flight to Copenhagen. An avid fan of Scandi-style and hopeful of some snow without the drama of having to hit the ski slopes, I figured the Danish capital was the perfect post-Christmas destination for some family fun.
Along for the ride (and the chocolate) were three of my children, aged from eight to 13 years, as well as a husband with more of an eye on what top Danish brewer Carlsberg might have to offer. And so it was that we landed in a fog of cloud on a freezing January day.
We had booked into the waterside Admiral Hotel, which is handily located between The Nyhavn canal and royal residence Amalienborg Palace. The hotel building is a former grain warehouse, completed for a trading company in the 1780s. It was converted into a hotel in 1974, winning the European Architectural and Natural Heritage Award. For us it was perfectly located; walking distance from the major sites and the city centre and offering practical duplex junior suites which comfortably accommodated us for our three-night stay.
Our first port of call was The Nyhavn, the classic Copenhagen picture postcard waterfront, lined with brightly coloured seventeenth century townhouses which have these days mostly been converted into cosy restaurants and bars. Add a couple of waffle shops into the mix (don’t expect to come to Copenhagen and lose weight) and this was Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook heaven, but with the children’s education never far from my mind, I quickly hustled them onto one of the many riverboat tours.
A cruise along the numerous waterways is a great way to soak up most of this compact city in one sitting. The one-and-a-half hour guided trip took us into the harbour and past the infamous Little Mermaid. She’s a tiny but tenacious statue, having been graffitied and even beheaded in the past in the name of political point scoring. Despite this, she has maintained her spot in Langelinie since 1913.
We travelled on past Amalienborg Palace, the current residence of the Danish royal family, The Copenhagen Opera House, Christiansborg Palace and the Royal Library. We squeezed our way up the narrow canals of Christianshavn, the boat barely scraping under the incredibly low bridges – my 6’4” husband regularly had to ‘duck’ as the eight-year-old experimentally implored him not to. A decapitated daddy? What fun!
That evening, as the children rested back at the hotel with friends, we ambled over the bridge and back into Christianshavn. The cobbled roads were lined with welcoming candle-lit bars and restaurants (darkness descends around 3.30pm at this time of year) as Danes on bikes bumped along with small children bundled into baby-seats and groceries packed into bicycle baskets. Similarly to Holland, two-wheeled transportation rules in this city, with wide cycle lanes running along most roads.
On the second day we hired our own bikes through the hotel and spent a happy morning checking out the changing of the guard at Amalienborg Castle and lunching at the Torvehallerne open-air food market in Norreport. Copenhagen has long been a seafaring city, so it was only right that we were blown away by the fish and seafood offerings – the sushi was cut and rolled fresh as we stood and watched, the salmon options were endless, and of course there were plenty of beer and glogg (Danish mulled wine) stalls to wash it all down.
Whilst on the subject of food, my top tip would to be to forego the breakfast option at your hotel and instead head out to the numerous bakeries. We merrily stuffed ourselves with the outrageously good Danish pastries and coffee (when in Rome…), saved only by all the cycling and walking that we were doing.
Talking of walking, if you have teens in tow, Copenhagen boasts Stroget, Europe’s longest and oldest outdoor shopping street, which kept the 13-year-old more than happy one snowy afternoon. From big name fashion stores, to Lego (of course) and heaps of boutiques, it’s shopaholic heaven. Don’t forget to drop in at Royal Copenhagen for gorgeous homewares and stunning displays. And I was pleased to have my Danish advent calendar fixation cemented further still with the gorgeous display of LED windows across the front of the sixteenth-century Hotel d’Angleterre – each day in December a huge new picture window had been illuminated.
We climbed back onto the plane exhausted but replete and slept our way back to Hong Kong.
Copenhagen with kids
The National Museum of Denmark
Brush up on, or kick-start, your Danish knowledge with a wander around this fascinating museum. From Vikings to modern day, we walked away with all sorts of facts and figures. Did you know that the Danish flag is the oldest in the world? Or that Denmark used to rule over Norway, Sweden, Iceland and the Faroe Islands? It’s all fascinating stuff, richly depicted with stunning displays and succinct descriptions. If you have littlies in tow, head downstairs to the Children’s Museum, where the same subject areas are covered but with 100% hands-on displays and loads of fun activities. Our anklebiters particularly enjoyed clambering around on the Viking ship and the life-size armoured battle horse.
10am-5pm, Prince’s My Vestergade 10, natmus.dk
Carlsburg Visitor Centre
A big hit with both dad and the kids, Carlsberg Visitor Centre entrance includes a free horse-and-carriage tour of the Carlsberg District and old workers cottages, which of course is followed up with a beer tasting at the Old Carlsberg Brewery. There are also guided walking tours available. Carlsberg was founded in 1847 by JC Jacobsen, a Danish industrialist and philanthropist. Although he had no formal scientific training, he realised that the production of beer, until then carried out in numerous small breweries, had to be based on scientific method to be industrialised. The resultant Carlsberg brewery is named after his son, Carl Jacobsen, and remains on the same site in Valby on the outskirts of the city today. A fun morning for all, particularly for those who don’t mind a drop or two of the amber nectar.
10am-5pm, Gamle Carlsberg Vej 11, visitcarlsberg.com
This former royal residence is now the seat of the Danish Parliament, the Danish Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court of Denmark. Several parts of the building are regularly used by the Danish Royal Family, including the Royal Reception Rooms, the Royal Chapel and the Royal Stables, all of which can be viewed. We were blown away by the stunning chandeliers, the gorgeous ornaments, the majestic tapestries and the sheer splendour of it all – Scandi-lust? Moi? The kids particularly enjoyed the Royal Stables which contain real royal horses and a host of royal carriages.
10am-5pm, Prins Jorgens Gard 1, kongeligeslotte.dk
The Round Tower
Situated in the heart of Copenhagen, The Round Tower – or ‘Rundetaarn’ – was interestingly first built here in the 1600s as it was the geographical heart of Denmark. Indeed, until the 1700s when both Norway and Sweden fell under Danish sovereignty, downtown Copenhagen was the centre of Denmark – it now lies on the country’s far eastern edge. The Rundetaarn is also the oldest functioning observatory in Europe and is still used by amateur astrologers. To reach the viewing platform at the top, follow the wide, cobbled, spiral walkway 270m to the top.
10am-6pm, Kobmagergade 52A, rundetaarn.dk
This 175-year-old amusement park and pleasure gardens is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world. It contains one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters still in operation, as well as more up-to-date rides including The Demon roller coaster, The Golden Tower turbo drop, in-the-dark roller coaster The Mine, and a virtual reality ride through ancient China. The relatively recently opened Star Flyer offers panoramic views across the city. Other, slightly tamer, entertainments include bumper cars, a Ferris Wheel, Classic Carousel, mini bumper cars and the Elf Train.
11am-9pm (weekdays), 11am-10pm (weekends), check website for seasonal opening, Vesterbrogade 3, tivoli.dk
Not strictly in Copenhagen, the original Legoland is situated in Billund adjacent to the original Lego factory. It was opened in 1968 and is Denmark’s biggest tourist attraction outside of the capital. The park was built by Lego founder Ole Kirk Christiansen’s son, Godtfred, who took over the family business in 1957 and constructed the 14-acre park to promote his toy business. It now sprawls over 45-acres with 50 rides spread across Duplo Land, Imagination Zone, LEGOREDO Town, Adventure Land, Lego City, Knight’s Kingdom, Mini Land, Pirate Land and Polar Land. The park operates from March to October and was unfortunately closed during our visit. If you’re travelling from Copenhagen by public transport, it takes around three hours and it is recommended to stay overnight in Billund.
Nordmarksvej 9, Billund, legoland.dk