Denmark was a surprise. A surprise of epic proportions, a surprise I will cherish forever. When I’m not Sarah L. Travels (so, the majority of my life) I’m the founder and one-woman show behind a very small food business that is growing soon.
In a nutshell, I’m a young broke entrepreneur. And broke 20-somethings don’t have Denmark at the top of their must-visit list.
Scandinavia is saved for a day when pennies don’t count.
As the door to the world slowly creaked open, my travel budget went largely unused. I went to Mexico for my annual best friend trip with Val, and spent the rest of the year in Nashville. I had more travel money left than expected.
When Mom wanted to go to the Tattoo Festival in Edinburgh, I leapt at the chance to see Scotland for the third time. But the Journey to 197 always beckons me to add another country. Whenever. Wherever.
Country #24 was almost Portugal. That idea fell apart when flight paths were all over the place, leaving us with very long travel days in Europe when Schengen airports were absolutely chaotic.
So I looked at other options. Wherever. Whenever.
And there it was: Denmark. The perfect, affordable nonstop from Edinburgh to Copenhagen. We were wheels up within weeks.
For three long days in Copenhagen (no, really—August in Scandinavia means lots of sunlight) this is what we did. Of course, I’ve peppered in sights and attractions I would have loved to visit given more time.
As for just three days in Copenhagen, though? I’d say this was the best itinerary for an arts and culture lover like me. If you enjoy similar things, I think you’ll love it, too.
What to Eat in Copenhagen
There was a time when I would tell you to eat your weight in pastries when in Paris. After visiting Copenhagen, my answer is different now.
Of course, still go to Paris. Make sure you eat croissants, madeleines, macarons, petit fours. Eat more; eat them all.
It turns out, though, that Paris does not begin and end the story when it comes to pastry. If you’re a culinary or foodie traveler like I am, you simply must go to Copenhagen.
In my Copenhagen travel research before flying to Scotland, the most valuable thing I read was this post on Danish pastries in Scandinavia Standard. As it turns out, the Danes don’t eat cheese or cherries in their sweets. And what Americans call a “Danish” is inspired by spandauer.
When in Copenhagen, I tried raspberry flødeboller, almond spandauer, and a frøsnapper.
For my tips on where to eat all three, see my vegan guide to Copenhagen.
What to See in Copenhagen
In a city as stunning as Copenhagen, just strolling its charming side streets is a pleasure. For arts, culture, and history lovers, Copenhagen offers a bounty of sights, from castles to churches to museums.
Number one on my list of must-see attractions in Copenhagen is Rosenborg Castle. There are two castles in Copenhagen, the other being Amalienborg. I chose Rosenborg after seeing a handful of photos—I’m sure you’ll see why in the ones I took below.
Our visit to Rosenborg required no planning—we just walked there after brunch at the best vegan café in Copenhagen.
One glance at the ticket line spilling onto the sidewalk and I was on my phone, Chase Visa in hand, spending 250 kroner on kongernessamling.dk.
As we waited for our entry slot, we perused the bookshop, chatted with a couple of Bostonians in the ubiquitous ladies’ bathroom line, and took some photos of Rosenborg’s elegant exterior.
When the clock struck 14, we made our way to the roped-off line and were inside Rosenborg minutes later. The first room we entered set the stage for just how beautiful this castle is. Grandiose paintings in intricate gold frames hung on every wall. Where there weren’t paintings, tapestries depicting stories from Danish history and fairytales adorned the halls.
Like Versailles and other royal sites, what makes a castle is its details. When it comes to beauty, not a single inch is spared.
My favorite room was the throne room, at the end of the self-guided tour. I love over-the-top ceiling paintings, and this one is magnificent.
With more time in Copenhagen, I would have loved to see Frederiksborg Castle. It’s the only attraction I would focus on seeing if and when I return to Denmark.
Frederiks Kirke (The Marble Church)
After our hours at Rosenborg, we ambled down paths of pastel rose bushes to Frederiks Kirke. This stop was an impromptu find from Google. My pre-trip research boiled down to four sites, and this church happened to be on the way to the next one.
After 10 minutes of walking due east, pastel buildings made way for the imposing marble architecture of Frederiks Kirke, right in the middle of its neighborhood. Fortunately for us, the doors were open, beckoning visitors inside.
A sign at the entry encouraging silence in the chapel set the tone for a relaxing space to unwind and marvel at priceless architecture. Sculptures of swans, a fixture in Danish art, are carved into the bas-reliefs on the church’s massive organ pipes. The green dome roof reminds me of Berliner Dom, its ceiling interior depicting biblical figures amid white and gold tiles.
When it came time to depart the silent refuge of Frederiks Kirke, we headed east still towards the water. Our destination was Nyhavn, the most popular sight in the city. If you search for Copenhagen on Google, the image you see is Nyhavn.
Varied colorful buildings line a canal of boats. On the right is a narrow sidewalk full of tourist shops selling the same inventory. On the left is a wide pedestrian sidewalk that shoulders the canal, where tourists eat definitely overpriced, likely mediocre food on the street, menu stands prominently placed to entice passersby.
It’s every bit as charming as it looks. I stopped for a million pictures until my growling stomach stopped me.
After traveling to 24 countries, most travel planning looks the same: read a few blog posts, watch some YouTube videos, find the top sights that look interesting, add in some lesser-known sights, and top it all off with a short list of local vegan restaurants. Rinse and repeat.
But when it came to Copenhagen, I stopped short at Christiania. It was unlike any place I’d ever been, and, quite frankly, isn’t usually my kind of place. What beckoned me in was food. Tantalizingly good food.
After our experience there, which I go into detail about in this issue of From the Aisle Seat, I can’t tell you whether or not you should go.
All I know is, if given the opportunity, I would go back to that little vegetarian restaurant in a heartbeat.
Museum of Danish Resistance
Tied with Rosenborg Castle for my favorite place in Copenhagen is the Museum of Danish Resistance.
If you’re a regular on the blog, you know that my absolute favorite reading genre is WWII-era historical fiction. The 1930s and 40s are my favorite years to learn more about.
When I first learned about the Holocaust in school, the book we started with was Number the Stars, about little girls living in Copenhagen. I even read this one before Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. As an aside, I visited Anne Frank House in Amsterdam years ago and highly recommend it.
In the literary world, the majority of World War II novels cover the French Resistance and British war effort.
Many people don’t know Denmark was also occupied, and that resistance activity was robust in Copenhagen.
When I found out that there’s a museum dedicated to the Danish Resistance, I knew we couldn’t leave Copenhagen without visiting. What awaited us was even more inspiring and, frankly, chilling than I imagined.
Small-town fishermen were integral to the resistance. Copenhagen is a short boat ride from neutral Sweden, and fishermen used compartments in their boats to hide Jews, taking them to safety under the cloak of night. It was brave, brilliant, and effective.
The exhibits at the Museum of Danish Resistance go into detail about this aspect of resistance activity and much more.
In this issue of From the Aisle Seat, I talk about the exhibit that stood out the most to me.
If you want to learn more about Copenhagen under occupation, I watched The Bombardment after this trip and it is amazing.
Den Lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid Statue)
A 10-minute walk from the Museum of Danish Resistance is Den Lille Havfrue, or the Little Mermaid statue. Did you know that she’s Danish? Before Disney animation put her on the big screen, Ariel was written into existence by Hans Christian Andersen, a famous Danish author who wrote fairytales.
The statue is actually on the sea, perched on a pebbled shore near a lovely park. If you look closely, you can see her fins!
Where to Stay in Copenhagen
We stayed at AC Hotel Bella Sky and had a great experience. It’s about a five-minute walk from the metro, which is very straightforward to use and costs 24 DKK per ride (for 2 zones). Like the rest of Copenhagen, it wasn’t cheap per se, but it cost less than I expected.
I thought the hotel’s location would be a problem, but it was quick and easy to reach the city center.
In Barcelona or Paris, this would have been an issue—to reach anything would have taken much longer. Copenhagen is a small city, similar to Amsterdam but even easier to transit.
The only area I would not recommend staying is the northern part of the city. We considered it, but I read several hotel reviews citing its difficulty with transit. That may be fine if you have more time in Copenhagen, but a 3-day trip is too short to spend a long time on the metro.
From the moment I stepped off the metro in the center of Copenhagen, I knew it was the right choice. This trip, this year, this moment. Every bit of it was a delight.
From our afternoon at Rosenborg Castle, to all the delicious food we ate, Copenhagen left a lasting impression. Every step was a reminder that, to me, experiences like these are what life’s all about.
Of all the countries to explore in Europe after a years-long hiatus, Denmark was the one I’d choose over and over again.
As amazing as my time was there, I hope yours is even better.