City Guide: Copenhagen
My family struggles to make holidays successful. We’re not good at traditional ‘lying in the sun’ breaks. We get bored easily, which makes us irritable — which in turn cancels out the entire purpose of the family holiday.
This year, following last summer’s particularly disastrous luxurious fortnight in Greece, we decided to focus on city breaks instead, the theory being that a) we won’t be away for too long, b) we’ll be too busy to argue and c) if my husband and daughter drive me nuts I can at least go shopping.
So a city break it was. But which city satisfies the needs of two adults in their forties, and one 11-year-old girl? After much deliberation we settled on Copenhagen, based on two factors. Firstly, it boasts a theme park smack bang in the middle of town, and secondly its design heritage makes it a great location for shopping. In reality, what we discovered was that Copenhagen has much more depth to it than just rollercoasters and fancy chairs. It’s a welcoming city full of warm, friendly people, with a huge number of attractions that appeal to both kids and grumpy grown-ups.
We’d never visited Denmark before and decided to head to Copenhagen in May half-term, just a few weeks after the city hosted the 2014 Eurovision song contest. After a short hop from Gatwick (the flight is less than two hours), and an easy cab ride from Copenhagen airport, we found ourselves at our hotel, chosen mainly for its proximity to Tivoli Gardens.
Denmark has a reputation for being expensive, and deservedly so. What saved us from holiday bankruptcy was the Copenhagen Card, which gave us access to 72 major attractions and unlimited use of the easy-to-navigate and efficient public transport system. You can choose to buy the Card for 24hrs (adult DKK 339/approx. £36, child DKK 179/approx. £19) 48hrs (adult DKK 469/ approx. £50, child DKK 239/approx. £25), 72hrs (adult DKK 559/approx. £60, child DKK 289/approx. £30) or 120hr card (adult DKK 779/approx. £83, child DKK 379/approx. £40).
We opted for the 72-hour card, which proved to be well worth the price — it kept a handle on our spending and encouraged us to pack more into each day. There’s also the handy Copenhagen Card App you can download to help you navigate the city and find the places at which the card is accepted. The card also gives you discounts in certain restaurants, selected car hire companies and in some shops.
More info can be found at:
My daughter and I LOVE rollercoasters. The bigger, faster and scarier the better. But I’m not a fan of British theme parks, which are generally over-priced, with mind-numbingly long queues and a strong smell of chip fat. Tivoli Gardens is literally a breath of fresh air. Not only does it look great (think waterfalls, lakes, flowers and grassy lawns) but it’s clean, the queues are short and there are heaps of fantastic places to eat and drink, or even just sit and enjoy the views. But back to the scary stuff — our favourite rides were The Demon (three loops and reaching heights of 28 metres) and The Star Flyer (a breath-taking 80 metres high and reaching speeds of 43mph). My husband was generally happy to hold our bags, eat ice cream and take photos. The Copenhagen Card gave us free entry, which meant we could justify multiple visits to Tivoli Gardens; we went three times during a five-night trip, and found evenings particularly good fun.
If not using the Copenhagen Card:
Adults over 8 years – DKK 99/approx. £10.50 (or free with Copenhagen Card)
Kids 0–7, free
Ride tickets DKK 25 each/approx. £2.50, rides generally two or three tickets per ride.
Multi-ride ticket DKK 199/approx. £21
Canal Tours Copenhagen
We generally avoid organised tours on holiday, but the Copenhagen Canal Tour was recommended by a friend who is married to a Dane, so we were encouraged to give it a go. It proved to be great fun. Lasting around an hour, it’s a fantastic way to see the city and includes sights such as the Copenhagen Opera house, the Little Mermaid statue, Amalienborg Palace, the pastel coloured buildings of Nyhavn and a whole host of wonderful modern architecture.
Prices: Adults DKK 75/approx. £8, Child (aged 6–11yrs) DKK 35/approx. £3.75, children under 5 yrs are free.
Or free with Copenhagen card if you depart from Gammel Strand.
Admittedly, not all families love to shop, but thankfully mine do. Denmark’s reputation as a leader in design makes Copenhagen the perfect place for hunting down cool bits and bobs for your home, and cutting edge fashion brands that aren’t on the high street in the UK.
We loved Illum, essentially Copenhagen’s answer to Selfridges, a premium department store offering everything from fashion and beauty to homeware and food. We bought some great Danish glass from Holmegaard, a Hoptimist (a smiley, bouncy spring toy), a selection of chocolate, and drooled over By Malene Birger clothes that I couldn’t justify buying — well, not with my husband in tow, I couldn’t…
1001 København K
Where to stay
The Scandic Copenhagen is a huge, modern tower block. Our room was on the 16th floor giving a magnificent view over the city. It’s also a short walk from Tivoli Gardens. It’s aptly Scandinavian in feel with super-cool furniture and crazy murals on the walls. We stayed in a junior suite, easily big enough for a family of three, and would even suit a family of four if only for a few nights. Breakfast was a wide-ranging and generous buffet, though the dining room was often crowded. In the interests of truthfulness, the bar and restaurant lacked atmosphere and were often under-staffed. But for those looking for a base from which to enjoy the Copenhagen nightlife, all in all a good, efficient hotel experience.
Prices from: Standard double DKK 1000 – 2400/ approx. £106 - £256 Junior Suite DKK 1700 – 4000/ approx. £182 - £428
Actually a little further from Tivoli Gardens than the Scandic Copenhagen, but a great choice for anyone travelling with young kids as it’s very family-oriented, even offering rooms decorated in the style of Tivoli Gardens. A great, family-friendly choice.
Prices from: DKK 1395/ approx. £150 per night for standard double room. Packages including entry to Tivoli Gardens including multi ride ticket and dinner available from DKK 695/ approx. £75 per person.
For a truly indulgent experience try the Hotel D’Angleterre. Glamour and decadence abound (think plush carpets, velvet-covered furniture and Bang and Olufsen electronics). This hotel was completely renovated in 2013, and though on the surface may seem more suited to a romantic weekend away, it receives great reviews from families as well as loved-up couples.
Prices from DKK 2750/ approx. £300 for a superior room
Where to eat
As a vegetarian I found Danish menus a little limited (there was generally only one veggie option per menu). But my meat- and-fish loving family had no problem. Herring features quite heavily, we spotted ‘herring three ways’ a number of times, and were amused to see ‘herring according to the chef’s mood’ on one restaurant’s menu. Pork is also very popular.
These are our three best restaurant experiences.
Bento Restaurant & Cocktail Bar
A truly wonderful sushi and bento restaurant run by three generations of the same family. A beautiful restaurant, but tiny so you’ll need to book. The sushi was really amazing (we had both the fish and veggie options) and the service and attention to detail was fantastic. Not cheap, but worth every kroner.
Approx. DKK 280/ £30 per head, not including drinks.
For a traditional Danish experience Groeften, set within Tivoli Gardens, is a must. It specialises in Danish open sandwiches, which they’ve been serving since 1874 (not the same ones, obviously) and are far yummier than they sound. Lovely fresh food, vegetarian options (more than one! A miracle!) and they even had gluten-free bread, a big plus when travelling with a child with a food allergy. My husband particularly recommends the dark beer, which he claimed was so good he had to try it numerous times just to be on the safe side.
Approx. DKK 190/ £20 per head (for a selection of sandwiches), not including drinks.
Sticks N Sushi
This Danish chain now has branches in London, but visiting Copenhagen is a great opportunity to try out one of their original restaurants. The principle is explained in the name – very good sushi and yakitori sticks –meat or vegetables marinated and cooked on a grill. They also have a great cocktail list. Various locations across Copenhagen, but we’d recommend visiting the branch in the Tivoli Hotel as it has a fantastic view across the city.
Approximately DKK 280 /£30 per head (though you can spend much more) not including drinks.
Box out – Top 5 Family attractions
Tivoli Gardens – a fabulous theme park, rides for all the family with various levels of thrill seeking.
The National Aquarium Denmark (Blue Planet) – a seriously impressive aquarium surrounded by water and housed in a stunning building designed by uber-cool Danish architects 3XN
Adult (over 12) 169 DKK / £18
Child (3 – 11yrs) 95 DKK / £10
National Museum of Denmark – probably the best museum in the world if your kids are interested in Vikings.
Tycho Brahe Planetarium – a great place to immerse yourself in the night sky, also has an IMAX cinema and shows 3D movies.
Adult 144 DKK / £15.50
Child (under 12) 94 DKK / £10
Copenhagen Zoo – a collection of over 264 species and an elephant house designed by Sir Norman Foster.
Adult 160 DKK / £17
Child (3 – 11 yrs) 95 DKK / £10
Make the most of the public transport system. It’s easy to navigate, efficient and quick in a city where traffic can be slow.
If you’re having ice cream ask for some ‘guf’ topping. It’s a sort of whipped meringue, very sticky and sweet!
There are cycle lanes everywhere and more than half the population cycles, so you’re as likely to get knocked over by a bike as a car! Keep ’em peeled…
Try a cinnamon roll – they’re gorgeous, and with late morning coffee, will keep you going until dinner.
According to a survey published in 2013, the Danes are the happiest people in Europe, so don’t be a grump — relax, smile and make friends.
What to buy
Scandinavian glassware by Holmegaard and porcelain by Royal Copenhagen.
Liquorice — it comes in many flavours. Try the chili!
Lego – of course.
Christmas decorations (at any time of the year).
Chocolates, Anthon Berg for high-end delicacies, or a Toms Skildpadde for an alternative to a Mars bar.
What Bonnie, aged 11, thought of Copenhagen
“I thought Copenhagen was a unique, bright and interesting city – with lots to do, a great atmosphere and really lovely people. I really loved visiting Tivoli Gardens (especially at night), The Blue Planet and a great art gallery called Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek where I saw paintings by Monet and Gauguin. I liked eating sushi and having guf on my ice creams!”