It’s probably the best capital city in the world. Or is that just the drink talking, asks Enda Mullen?
Carlsberg might venture to suggest its famous brewery is “probably the best attraction in Copenhagen”.
But, in truth, you’d be hard pushed to single any one thing out in a city that offers visitors a multitude of things to do and places to see.
That brewery is well worth a visit, though, and more of an insight into the history of brewing and Copenhagen’s social evolution than the celebration of a global beer brand. I was amazed to discover it was the Carlsberg family who took the Bavarian beer style now universally known as lager and brought it to the rest of the world.
The brewery’s influence on the development of Copenhagen cannot be under-estimated and the beers served from the tap in the bars there tasted so much better than the canned variety we get at home.
Visiting the brewery entails a short bus ride but most of the attractions in Copenhagen are easy to get to if you’re staying somewhere central. We walked everywhere although the locals favour cycling.
We stayed in two locations, firstly at the Guldsmeden Axel Hotel, which is an oasis of sustainability in a bustling and vibrant city centre.
It’s in the city’s red light district, but ‘red light’ in the Copenhagen context is distinctly low-key compared to a city like Amsterdam.
The Axel Hotel has to be seen to be believed but from the moment you walk in there’s a welcoming and relaxed air. The rooms have an individual and homely character yet they’re also classy and stylish and a reflection of that sense of simple style Scandinavians seem to have running through their veins.
We dined in the hotel’s cosy restaurant a few times, going back to enjoy the delights of the wholefood tapas menu in the evenings but the real draw is the organic breakfast buffet which offers everything from bacon and eggs to freshly baked bread and home-made muesli.
Getting about in Copenhagen is easy and for tourists the best option is a Copenhagen Card, which gives you free travel around the city and entry into a whole host of attractions.
We started our sightseeing with a boat trip, which gives a flavour of the city’s history as well as taking in some of the major sights such as Nyhavn, with its brightly painted old houses, restaurants and bars.
Copenhagen’s best-known landmark is the Little Mermaid (a gift from the Carlsberg family, of course), which we viewed before venturing to Christiana, Copenhagen’s famous ‘free’ city within a city. It proved something of a disappointment. It was probably ‘cool’ back in the sixties but these days it’s a bit of a dark and dingy place with an atmosphere verging on the sinister rather than hippy.
One of the huge bonuses about the Axel Hotel was its spa. Our nine and 10-year-old daughters would have spent the whole day there if they could.
We prised them away for busy tourist itineraries which included the Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark’s national art gallery and a breathtakingly brilliant place to visit whether you’re an art aficionado or a casual observer.
We also took in Rosenborg Castle, built in the early 17th century by King Christian IV and home to some of Denmark’s cultural treasures including the crown jewels.
Rundetaarn, or the round tower, is well worth a visit, too. It’s the oldest functioning observatory in Europe where astronomers have been watching the stars since 1642. A curious work of civil engineering, it involves navigating a circular ramp rather than a spiral staircase to get to the top where you can enjoy a fabulous view of the city.
We were also impressed by the Post and Tele Museum, which didn’t sound like much but proved an educational and interesting exploration of the history of communication.
While leaving the Axel Hotel felt like a wrench we soon felt at home at STAY Copenhagen. A little further out, this stylish and funky apartment complex offers a slice of modern living that is quintessentially Scandinavian and very classy.
We loved the minimalist surroundings and the spectacular views from our apartment day and night.
Although it’s essentially self-catering, the complex has its own restaurant so you can take the lazy option if you like – and the breakfasts were pretty good too.
Having done most of our city sightseeing, our main foray from our new base was to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, about half-an-hour’s drive from the city.
This purpose-built gallery is huge, with plenty to keep both adults and children occupied for a whole day.
After a drive down through Sweden we returned to Denmark on the bridge that links Malmo and Copenhagen.
It’s quite a feat of engineering but nothing compared to the Great Belt Bridge linking Funen and Zealand that we traversed on our overland route to Copenhagen after sailing to Esbjerg from the UK.
Going by sea and land to Copenhagen might have been time-consuming but it was also great fun. DFDS Ferries offer an experience that is more cruise-like than a traditional ferry journey and our 19-hour overnight voyage passed pretty quickly, aided greatly by comfortable cabins and fabulous food on board.
It means you need to build a bit more time in to your visit in terms of the voyage itself, travelling to Harwich (Essex) and a similar journey the other side (186 miles) but it didn’t feel like a punishing trek and it also offers the chance to see a little more of Denmark.
But one thing is for sure, Copenhagen really does live up to its ‘wonderful’ tag.
Enda Mullen travelled from Harwich to Esbjerg courtesy of DFDS Seaways and was a guest of Guldsmeden Axel Hotel and STAY Copenhagen.
DFDS operates the only ferry route from the UK to Scandinavia. Crossing costs from £128 a head, based on four people sharing an en suite sea view cabin including carriage of a car.
There are three restaurants, a bar, shop, kids’ club and live music onboard. The service departs Harwich two to four times per week, depending on the time of year. Visit www.dfds.co.uk or call 0871 522 9976.
To find out more about Guldsmeden Axel Hotel visit www.hotelguldsmeden.com/axel/ To find out more about STAY Copenhagen visit http://staycopenhagen.dk/ For more information on Copenhagen see www.visitcopenhagen.com