COPENHAGEN, Aug 30 — The birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, Copenhagen is a colourful, almost fairytale city. But you’d be forgiven if all you knew of Denmark is Hamlet or those Danish butter cookies of our childhood that came in royal blue tins.
Now is a great time to visit: the Danish capital has fewer swarms of tourists in late summer and the chill of autumn has yet to arrive. There is still sun and decent hours of daylight to see the city, which abounds with both famous tourist hotspots as well as lesser-known pleasures (think: delicious street fare such as crêpes and world class coffee).
The first thing every visitor to Copenhagen looks for is Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. Based on the fairytale of the same name by the Danish author, the 1.25-metre-tall bronze statue sits on a rock and looks out to the waters at the Langelinie promenade.
The sculpture was commissioned in 1909 by beer magnate Carl Jacobsen (son of the founder of Carlsberg). The sculptor Edvard Eriksen was faced with a dilemma when the ballerina, Ellen Price, who was to model for the statue refused to pose in the nude. Ultimately the mermaid’s head was fashioned after Price’s head while her body was modelled after the sculptor’s wife, Eline.
In “person” the statue is actually far smaller than one would expect, but that presumably adds to the “little” part of its moniker. Watch out for vandals and other tourists, but it’s an iconic, postcard moment that can’t be missed. It’s Copenhagen (and arguably Denmark) in a nutshell.
Close to The Little Mermaid is Langlinie Park, a slice of bucolic serenity in the city centre. There are bright, red bricked houses here, dotting the verdant landscape like scarlet mushrooms. Take a slow stroll and enjoy the greenery.
In the centre of the park, in front of St. Alban’s English Church, is the Gefion Fountain which depicts the Norse goddess Gefjun, who is associated with fertility and ploughing. She’s a sombre reminder that this used to be the land of the Vikings.
There are plenty of other statues in the park: from obelisks soaring high to a monument of Princess Marie of Orléans, a French-born member of Danish royalty who was popular for her beliefs in social equality.
Perhaps the best place to visit in Copenhagen during summer is Nyhavn. Originally a 17th-century waterfront and canal district, Nyhavn is lined with 17th and early 18th-century townhouses, bars and restaurants painted in vibrant colours.
As a nod to its past as a former port where ships from around the globe would dock, Nyhavn’s canal still has many historical wooden ships. It’s now considered a “heritage harbour” where the renovated townhouses are filled with restaurant patrons enjoying food, wine, music and the sun (the last one for those dining alfresco and there are plenty of them during summer).
Take a walk along the streets and spot some memorable houses including No. 9, Nyhavn, the oldest house (built in 1681) and the houses where Hans Christian Andersen used to live (Nos. 18, 20 and 67). No. 20 is by far the most popular: Andersen wrote the fairy-tales The Princess and the Pea, The Tinder-Box and Little Claus and Big Claus here.
Given the wonderful weather during late summer, perhaps the ultimate Danish foodie experience is to pack a picnic and enjoy your lunch while sunbathing at the harbour or in a park. One great lunch option is the famous Danish open sandwich, or smørrebrød.
Typically a piece of buttered rye bread (or rugbrød) is topped with ingredients such as pickled herrings (marinerede sild), cold cuts of meat, cheese and spreads. One popular smørrebrød spread is leverpostej, a traditional pork liver pâté.
If you’re not a fan of a cold lunch, head out to the streets where many street vendors will be plying their trade. Nothing quite like a made-to-order crêpe — you can’t go wrong with the crowd favourite of Nutella and fresh banana.
Another popular destination is Amalienborg, the winter home of the Danish royal family. Four identical classical palaces with rococo interiors surround Amalienborg’s central octagonal courtyard. The changing of the Royal Guard takes place daily at noon and is worth waiting for.
Between the palaces and the Frederiksstaden waterfront lies Amaliehaven, a beautiful park designed by the Belgian landscape architect Jean Delogne. The park has stunning gardens and various sculptures; the latter created by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro.
If all the walking has tired you out, perhaps it’s time for a coffee break. The Danes love their coffee and at The Coffee Collective, they take it more seriously than most. The founding team include head barista trainer Klaus Thomsen, the 2006 World Barista Champion and twice Danish Barista Champion, and roast master Casper E. Rasmussen, the 2008 World Cup Tasting Champion.
Head to their original coffee shop and Copenhagen’s first open roastery at Jægersborggade. The ambience is casual and decidedly (coffee) geeky. They get their coffee beans via Direct Trade, which means coffee farmers are paid at least 25 per cent more than typical Fair Trade prices.
Does this spirit of social responsibility translate to better coffee? Consider their prized Panama Geisha Hacienda La Esmeralda: floral, clean and sweet; its notes and flavours change as its temperature shifts. It’s like sipping a cup of magic.
This is how Danish coffee tastes like: a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale.
The Little Mermaid
Langelinie Promenade, Copenhagen, Denmark
Langelinie Park, Nordre Toldbod, Copenhagen, Denmark
Nyhavn (New Harbour)
Nyhavn 1-71, Copenhagen, Denmark
Amalienborg Slotsplads 5, Copenhagen, Denmark
The Coffee Collective
Jægersborggade 10, Copenhagen, Denmark
Open Mon-Fri 7am-7pm; Sat & Sun 8am-7pm