Copenhagen: where stories come to life

And with that delightful title, I almost don’t want to tell you that… I didn’t love Copenhagen.

Back in 2012, Her Majesty had a Diamond Jubilee and we all got an extra day off work tacked onto a bank holiday weekend, giving us four days off in a row (well, those of us who work traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday, anyway). I wasn’t going to waste those four days watching a lot of boats sail down the Thames. I live by the coast. I can watch boats any time I want. I used those four days to go to Denmark.

For reasons I’ve now forgotten, I didn’t stay put. I flew into Copenhagen in the east and out of Aalborg in the north via Odense. I tried to fit Legoland into my itinerary but it was just too far off the line of my quest.

So, Copenhagen, days one and two and the first half of three.

My method of choosing accommodation as I backpacked around Denmark for a few days was “private room, within five minutes of the station and as cheap as it can possibly be” and in Copenhagen I struck gold. Literally. Look at the front of this place!


Yes, the entire front is covered in huge gold sequins. Yes, that is a 17th century-style gold desk and chair inside. But if you look beyond that, you see a dark corridor, reception that consists of a shelf in a doorway occupied by a man watching three laptops at once and a lot of abandoned tools that suggest renovations not due to be completed in the foreseeable future. And then you get up to your room and the opulence blinds you again.


I’d flown out of Gatwick at the crack of dawn and it was only about midday so I had an entire afternoon and evening to get to know Copenhagen. And you can’t go to Copenhagen without going to visit the Little Mermaid, so that was my first target.

Copenhagen suffered terribly from the Bucharest Effect, in that there were major roadworks and demolition going on just outside the station. I know they’re necessary, I know I shouldn’t judge but something about them just set me against the city from the get-go. That and the fact that I got a little bit lost finding the hotel in the red light district.


Anyway. Off I went. I found the City Hall, which has an impressive tower best appreciated from afar and some odd fountains and a lot of pigeons.


I found Nyhavn and didn’t take nearly as many photos of it as it merited.


I found the best sandcastle competition in the world:


I found Amalienborg, Danish royal residence, guarded by the most bored-looking guards I have ever seen.



I found St Alban’s Anglican Church, an English parish church dropped incongruously into the Danish capital, complete with a noticeboard outside encrusted in Union Jacks.



And then I spied the most exciting thing I think I’ve ever seen. I’d been reading the Prose Edda on the plane, trying to learn my Norse mythology. The second part of the Prose Edda is the Gylfaginning, about a king called Gylfi who speaks with Odin and asks him about all the mysteries of the world but he goes to Odin in the first place because he’s perturbed about the gods, having offered to a woman as much land as four oxen can plough in a day. Little does he know she is one of the gods and the oxen she uses are her brothers who are giants from Jötunheim, shape-shifting Frost Giants if you take the Thor/Avengers version, and they plough so hard and so deep that they sever a portion of land and drag it out into the sea. That bit of land is the island that Copenhagen is now on and Gefjun has a fountain right next to St Alban’s showing her driving her oxen.


I am quite possibly the only English-speaking tourist in Copenhagen to ever have read the Prose Edda and I am definitely the only one who was so taken with the story coming to life right in front of me that I nearly choked to death on the dust of the Polos I was eating at the time in my excitement at seeing the fountain.


I know I’m not the first tourist to be disappointed by the Little Mermaid but nothing was going to live up to meeting Gefjun like that. But yes, the Little Mermaid is tiny and it’s difficult to get a photo of her without either a crowd of tourists or warehouses in the background.




Next I discovered Kastellet, a star-shaped fortress just behind the Little Mermaid, an absolute oasis from a city that isn’t big enough to really need an oasis. It was once a military fort which protected Copenhagen from, amongst others, the Swedes (1658), the British (1807) and was taken by the Germans in 1940. These days it’s mostly a public park and museum and I really enjoyed spending a while just ambling around not doing anything in particular. This is the problem with cities in particular – you have to go and see the tourist sights and you rarely have time to just sit and enjoy the scenery or the atmosphere. That’s why I like Snæfellsnes in Iceland, it’s just a day of enjoying mountains and cliffs and birds and lava field with no pressure to See Things. Kastellet is the Danish Snæfellsnes.




On my second day in Copenhagen, I didn’t do anything in particular. Other than the Tivoli, which seemed too full of scary rides for my liking, I’d seen all the Important Things You Have to See In Copenhagen already and so I mostly just wandered down by the canal. Well, it was once a canal, anyway. It’s now four squarish-lakes separated by bridges and roads and I’m not entirely sure that they’re not actually one long thin piece of surviving canal. Either way, it’s a nice quiet green chilled part of the city and now I was to come face to face with my third living story, after Gefjun and the Little Mermaid and this one was getting no attention whatsoever.


It’s the Ugly Ducking! An actual Hans Christian Andersen ugly ducking right here in the town where Andersen wrote the story. And no one else cared! The Little Mermaid gets venerated, the cygnets get ignored.

And it wasn’t only cygnets – all the waterfowl were out in force with their babies that day.





I found the stave church-style chapel at Holmens Cemetery.


I found this statue of a man who looks like he’s getting dried and dressed after a bath.


I spent a while at the botanical gardens.




On the way back, having got caught in a very short but sharp rainstorm, I found Cap’s shield:


It’s almost always worth glancing down at the drain covers in Scandinavia.

If I were to go back to Copenhagen, I think I might venture into the Tivoli. I’d have a better look at Rosenborg, I’d pop into Christiania, go to Slotsholmen and spend more time at Nyhavn. However, I’ve finished with my time in Copenhagen and on the morning of my third day, I hopped on a train for the next leg of my little adventure, to a small town called Odense.