Love a bit of coincidence – sitting in departures at Stockholm airport and Pink Martini were playing at the café near where we were sitting, then when we checked into our hotel and went to the bar for our complimentary drink, who should be warbling out of the speakers but…Pink Martini! The Scandinavians have taste!
We began our four night stay in Copenhagen on a positive note – with some very fine drinks in the bar! John had an ‘Old Fashioned’ (Maker’s Mark whisky, bitters, Cointreau) and I had a Domaine Jean Paul Balland 2017 Sancerre rosé. I liked this rosé so much that I tracked down a bottle at the next door vinoble for a much cheaper price than continuing to drink it at the hotel bar!
After one night in a room in Skt Petri with an over bath shower we asked to change rooms. I slipped trying to get out of the thing (too old for such shenanigans!) and wanted a room with a separate shower. Reception were very accommodating, found us a room immediately and we ‘moved house’ after breakfast. Our new room was refurbished only 3 years ago, so there were no shower/bath issues at all. We were on the first floor with floor to ceiling windows that ran the width of the room. There was a low heated marble bench with cushions along the window where we could sit and watch the world (or at least the shoppers) go by on the pedestrian street below.
We loved having a Netto around the corner from the hotel. This is a chain of discount supermarkets, similar to Aldi. With eating out being so expensive, it was certainly worth it to do a bit of a shop for supplies and have the occasional dinner in our room. Their pre-packaged salads filled with all kinds of vegetarian loveliness, like quinoa, hummus and sprouted this and that, proved very popular with the Bontaks pair.
Pretty much everything is shut on Monday in Copenhagan, except for the Tivoli Gardens, Round Tower and the Canal Tours, so that’s what we set out to do. When we left the hotel, it had started to snow, so we bought a Copenhagen Card (which was such a bargain considering the things we ended up doing), and hopped on the S train to the Tivoli Gardens. Unfortunately, they were closed due to major works going on to have it ready for summer. Instead we hopped on a bus to go and do a canal tour. We did a ‘classic tour’, which was really a bit of a harbour tour, rather than a canal tour – they couldn’t run the canal tour as the water levels were too high for the boat to go under the bridges!
City street strolling
After the harbour boat ride, we headed somewhere warm – even though it was only 0°C, the apparent was -7°C, and we ended up in a huge department store enjoying some vegan soup at Gló (organic Scandi restaurant chain).
Fortified with soup, we continued our walk through the gorgeous cobbled streets of expensive shopping, buying nothing but looking at plenty. This is such a walkable city, so much in close proximity and no hills!
Almost by accident we found ourselves at the Round Tower (Rundetaarn), one of Denmark’s most renowned and visited structures. Built in the 17th century, it’s the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. There is an outdoor platform at the top with 360° unobstructed views of the city. Even though the tower is only 36m tall, you walk about 209m on the spiral walkway to get to the top.
The next day we had noble ambitions, both in the subject of our attentions and the number of attractions we intended to visit: Royal Palaces. We began with Christiansborg Palace – the big place in the middle of Copenhagen where the royals once lived, but they now live in Amalienborg. One interesting (and slightly ironic) thing about Christiansborg is that the parliament offices are now in the palace, not the royals! The palace is still used for official royal business, but otherwise, they just hang in Amalienborg.
I have to admit that this is probably my most favourite palace of all the palaces we have visited around the world, mainly for it’s immaculately maintained presence and the touch of modernity, such as the 17 tapestries commissioned in 1990 for Queen Margrethe’s 50th birthday. But it took 30 weavers 10 years to complete, and they were presented to the queen in 2000 for her 60th birthday. They hang in the Great Hall, very contemporary and gorgeous, “One of the greatest depictions of Denmark’s history ever made.”
After exploring the royal shack used for formal occasions, we headed to Amalienborg Palace. The rain had set in, but we watched those poor bastards do the changing of the guard in the rain, anyway. They didn’t flinch once! I do like the laid back attitude that the Danes have to royalty. They adore them, but they refer to them by their first name. And Mary is a big hit here, which I love!
Amalienborg is four identical small palaces in a circle where the royals live. They were originally built for four high ranking aristocrats, but when the old Christiansborg Palace burnt down in 1794 the royal family took up residence in Amalienborg. As crown prince, Frederik and Mary live with their children in Frederik VIII’s Palace (which was once inhabited by the queen mother), the current queen and her prince live in Christian IX’s Palace, the museum is housed in Christian VIII’s Palace, and Christian VII’s Palace is used for guests and official receptions.
Amalienborg Museum was fascinating, truly an insight into royals past. There was a section that had been preserved as it was when the previous royals had been in residence, and the hoarding nature of these people was intriguing (and not exactly a surprise). The rooms were their personal spaces, not official reception rooms, and were claustrophobic! You couldn’t even really make out the area of the room where the desk was due to the…stuff! I do understand the necessity for posterity and sentimentality, but do you have to drown in all of it?
We also discovered the queen’s passion for the arts, so much so that she has actually designed costumes and sets for seven professional ballet productions (and countless amateur ones for family at the palace). Some of her costumes from The Nutcracker at the Tivoli Ballet Theatre in Copenhagen are on display in the Amalienborg Museum. From what I have read about this monarch, she is quite extraordinary.
We were on a roll, and decided to push on with the city palaces – the next day was planned an out of town train trip, so we needed to squeeze all the city palace viewing we could into the one day. Clearly, four nights were not enough time in Copenhagen!
Pushing on, the weather was not kind. We approached Rosenborg Palace in the rain through the park, but it was still a glorious sight! And inside it was so many floors of so much history and antiquities and artefacts. There were rooms of glass and amber and ivory that almost made me weep! Beautiful, beautiful things, but some of which were obtained through such cruelty. The crown jewels were damned impressive, though!
I booked this restaurant months before our holiday for the one important fine dining experience of the trip. And there had been many to choose from – Scandinavia is riddled with Michelin starred restaurants. We chose Relae for both the excellent reviews and their ethos:
- Relæ works on focused and tasty food, no muss, no fuss.
- Everything is cut to the bone, no frames but the few hanging on the walls.
- Simplicity with quality comes first, great details are just beneath.
- It’s our choice to be certified organic, because it’s worth it.
- Wine? We pick ‘em naturally, You pour ‘em.
A large part of the appeal of this place was the relaxed atmosphere, yet it oozed style – guests felt hip being there. The soundtrack to our meal was in English, and when our waiter saw us using our Shazam app to work out who some of the artists were, he brought us the playlist.
The tables were solid oak with grains that showed strength and character, and had more than a passing resemblance to stretch marks – those tables had been through a lot! The water bottle sat in a wool-lined bottle holder with a leather-encased base to stop any ring marks on the table – brilliant.
The bread that we were served was home made. They used to bake at the restaurant, but expansion in demand meant they needed to move to nearby premises, but they still make it themselves. Honouring the providence of the food is important to this team, and this is apparent in all of their choices in sourcing produce.
Every course was exquisitely presented. Each first bite was a delightful surprise that released nuances of flavour that made us chew slowly with eyes closed. It was nice to chat to others in the restaurant who clearly had similar gastronomic interests and had also done their research – a unique and memorable dining experience.
While we easily could’ve spent our final day with further exploration of the city of Copenhagen, instead we decided to take a train to Hillebrød, the home of Frederiksborg Castle (38 min train trip). The rain held off, and even though it was overcast, it was a lovely day.
Frederiksborg is a 17th century Renaissance castle (the largest Renaissance residence in Scandinavia) and has housed the Museum of Natural History since 1878. Of particular interest to us was the content assembled by Queen Margrethe II that charts the history of the Danish royals through paintings, photographs and antiques. Loved that ‘our Mary’ features so much in the contemporary royals section. The portrait collection is the largest in Denmark.
Not only is it an amazing museum, but the architecture had so many elements to marvel at and admire – the Chapel was beyond magnificent! The organ, built and installed by Esajas Compenius, is the oldest organ in Denmark and has 1,001 wooden pipes, and still has its original manually driven blower. It’s richly decorated in ebony, ivory and silver, and is fundamentally gobsmacking.
More Christiansborg Palace
Caught the train back to Copenhagen and headed back to the Christiansborg Palace. This time, we were set on visiting the Court Theatre (now a museum) and the Royal Stables. The Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre charts the history of Danish theatre from the 1700s to the present day. The collection consists of costumes, set designs, set models, paintings, drawings and photos. Its wooden creakiness took us back in time to royal intrigue and candlelit actors in 18th century garb.
Next door to the theatre are the Royal Stables. This was a highlight for the hippophile in me. The breed of horses they now use for the stables (which is 300 years old) is the Kladrubers, known for their gentleness and strength. Of course, I fell in love with them immediately! There were signs everywhere saying to stay away from them, so difficult! But I did! I followed the rules! I stayed behind the ropes, but just standing there and sending out the love to these horses, gave me rewards in abundance! One boy stopped eating at his trough against the wall, and turned and put his head up over the stall, desperate for some contact. I didn’t cross the line, I just talked to him. On my return trip through the stables, this same boy was eating his dinner. When I arrived at his stall, he stopped eating and came over to the gate, making those gorgeous mouthing movements with his lips. He so wanted a pat, but I couldn’t reach!! Devastated! Tops moment, though. Clearly, these animals are loved!
Copenhagen is a city that is worth time and consideration, and anything less than three nights isn’t even coming close to discovering her charm and beauty. We look forward to a visit in warmer climes for further exploration.
Accommodation: Skt Petri