The last time Sophie and I travelled just the two of us, it was the summer of 2017. After the mayhem of three chaotic weeks together travelling through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where we ended up flirting our way into front row seats at the Siem Reap circus, eating our bodyweight in pho and being barricaded on Cat Ba island by the police due to an ocean cyclone while we were trying to reach an emergency doctor in Hanoi to deal with my large and badly infected burn from a motorbike exhaust, I felt we were due another trip. Now, Copenhagen is somewhat less frantic than Southeast Asia, but we did our best to bring the same adventurous spirit to Denmark’s serene capital.
Our trip was dominated by beautiful buildings, flødeboller and body modifications, as all good minibreaks are. We also walked a very long way. Copenhagen is a small city but somehow, as a result of non-existent route planning and poor google maps skills, we managed to walk over 35km across the two days. You might assume that with that amount of walking we saw all the major sights, but that would have been too easy. We saw a paltry minority of Copenhagen’s most lauded tourist spots, but did manage to wander past Nyhavn Harbour upwards of seven separate times and find a great spot for me to get impromptu ear piercings. An alternative, repetitive tour of a few of Copenhagen’s landmarks.
We flew in late on Friday evening and made our way to our Airbnb. Sometimes, you find a gem – a cheap, central Airbnb room in an expensive city with fresh towels, natural lighting and a friendly host. Sometimes, you get one man and his notably smelly cat. Can’t win them all. In fairness, I can’t say we were the best guests either, but when the shower is literally just a showerhead attached to the wall with nothing to separate it from the rest of the bathroom and the bathroom isn’t big enough to swing a hamster in, you have no choice but to soak the bathroom in water. Sorry Allan. Thanks for the cheap bike rental.
As two regular London cyclists, cycling around Copenhagen on Saturday was a deeply relaxing experience. Everyone rides upright bikes at a gentle pace. People cycle in their regular clothes given there’s no plan to break a sweat. I think this suits the average citizen more than the ‘Tour-de-France-reject’ look that so many London commuters seem to be shooting for. Of course, despite the gentle pace, Sophie still managed to throw herself into incoming traffic due to her blatant disregard for red lights (this particular behaviour was better suited to Ho Chi Minh than Copenhagen). Old habits die hard.
After a delicious, if designed for a person with a smaller appetite than myself, breakfast at Original Coffee, we cycled toward the only attraction we’d researched in advance, the ‘Big Art’ exhibition at Kunsthal Charlottenborg. I love enormous, outlandish contemporary art pieces plus the Danes are known for their design savvy, so I was optimistic about this activity. As we locked up our bikes, however, we realised the this gallery was right next to Nyhavn Harbour, which is, in my mind, the most iconic image of Copenhagen. The colours are so bright and eye-catching, a photographer’s dream. I wonder how much Copenhagen residents actually notice how photogenic their city is. I know in London I’ll walk past any number of notable, intricate buildings without a second thought but as soon as I’m in a new place I focus in on the most minute details. The power of novelty, eh?
We then headed into the art exhibition. It was excellent. A number of different artists had collaborated to each produce a huge feature and we loved wandering around to see each installation. Sophie watched a video accompanying a particular exhibit, in Danish with no English subtitles, and concluded from one hand motion that we were supposed to get into the white box filled with plastic balls. Turns out we were mistaken. Oops. Bastardising art one exhibition at a time.
Following our artistic adventures, we meandered down to Christania, Copenhagen’s arty bohemia. I wanted to enjoy it more. But when an ostensibly subversive, progressive art collective starts trying to herd you into the gift shop, it undermines the authenticity. That being said, I’m not a bohemian artist so I did cave to their capitalist pressures and bought an incredibly beautiful pearl and silver necklace. I’m weak. There was also an overwhelming smell of weed, the universal sign of an artists commune. We avoided the brownies for fear that they might be less innocent than advertised.
After leaving Christania, we turned to wandering the city. Copenhagen has lots of gorgeous spires and we headed toward one, exploring the church it was attached to. It appeared to be a Catholic church, based on the Jesus figures and the heavy gold accents, but also contained wall inscriptions in Hebrew, lots of elephants around the organ and angels playing the cello. Denmark’s twist on classic Christianity. I must have missed that part in my religious studies classes.
Throughout the day we sampled some mostly delicious food, including open sandwiches, rye bread (which even the Danes can’t make enjoyable) with fresh toppings and my new favourite thing, flødeboller. Flødeboller are huge marshmallow treats covered in chocolate with a wafer base and they come in many different flavours. They are basically teacakes on steroids. The chocolate shop Frellsen was a highlight for me, especially when I realised there were eight different flavours of flødeboller for me to try. Afternoon activities sorted, then. Chocolate tourism might just be my favourite kind of tourism, and I’m already planning a short trip to Belgium with the sole intention of hitting up every chocolatier that I can find.
The next morning, after a brief and questionable visit to Denmark’s most overrated sculpture, the mermaid, we headed into Copenhagen’s cathedral which boasted similarly unorthodox decoration. It was full of pink flowers suspended from the ceiling!
After the cathedral, my memory gets mildly hazy, likely because this was the aimless wandering portion of the weekend. We passed the Prada in the central square numerous times, knocked over a whole display in a Flying Tiger shop with a thigh-master and behaved badly at the butterfly house. Then I got more ear piercings because there’s no souvenir like permanently changing your body’s topology!
Post-piercing, we headed back to my favourite place Frellsen, which sold not only my new love flødeboller but also ice cream that, after being put in the cone, was encased in a hard chocolate shell. I’d never seen this particular form of dessert before and had been thinking about this ice cream for a full twenty-four hours since I’d bought my first flødebolle the previous afternoon. The sun was shining, we had ice cream and marshmallow sweets and we were laughing together. Pure joy. There’s nothing as sweet as sugar and new places with one of your best pals.
My second flødebolle was white chocolate coated and contained raspberry marshmallow. While I’ve yet to meet a marshmallow I don’t like, the white chocolate and raspberry combo ended up being more fresh linguine than fresh fruit. I know, but that’s really what sprung to mind. You’d be right to say that linguine and raspberry flavoured marshmallow sounds weird, but I obviously still finished the whole thing. If I don’t have my principles, what do I have?
We finished up our second and final day in Copenhagen with a long wander around the back streets and canals, followed by some excellent bagels from The Bagel Co. We then had to start making our way to the airport, but not without a quick bop to the enormous live concert being held in one of the main squares that the whole of Copenhagen descended upon en masse.
Copenhagen is such a calm, gentle place. This makes me sorely out of place at the best of times. I once pulled my whole curtain rail off the wall while merely trying to close my curtains. I can’t whisper. I try – I really do. But whenever I am honestly convinced I’m speaking quietly, my friends will say, “you know this is just normal volume, right?” I can’t grate cheese without crumbling the whole block of cheddar or splitting it in half. Calm and gentle are not words used to describe me. However, I appreciated two days of peacefulness. Sometimes I doubt that cities can truly have different temperaments, but I did feel a distinct lack of rush, not from an overly languid approach to life but from organisation and purpose. I’m pretty sure they’d throw me out if I ever tried to live here.
It is also a very beautiful city. It reminded me a lot of Budapest without the grit. Sophie was extremely patient as I photographed numerous random buildings, because the colours and the clean lines were too good to miss. There are so many ornate spires, brightly coloured houses and gold details to enjoy. I don’t always love wandering around aimlessly, but in a city as well-designed as Copenhagen, 35km slips away from you.
Exploring a new place is my favourite way to spend a weekend, especially with a friend. I can’t wait to head to Prague at the end of October!