Enjoy Danish delights in colourful Copenhagen
Arlene Harris writes of a life-long fascination for Copenhagen and her much anticipated visit to the city...
My grandmother never smoked, but like many women of her generation she had a collection of ornaments she had been given over the years.
One of these included an ashtray with the image of Copenhagen's Little Mermaid etched into the glass. As a child I was fascinated by this depiction of the bronze statue perched so gracefully on her rock as she silently stared out across the Baltic.
So when more than three decades later the opportunity arose to visit the Danish capital, my first thought was not of the Eurovision Song Contest which will take place there on May 6, but the prospect of seeing the Little Mermaid in real life.
The journey from Dublin on Scandinavian Airlines seemed extraordinarily easy – less than two hours after leaving our capital city behind, we arrived in Copenhagen.
We had arranged to stay in a selection of hotels during our four-night trip, and first stop was the luxury Nimb Hotel directly across from the central train station and overlooking the famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park. With only 17 rooms, Nimb should have felt small but was in fact spacious, light and airy with sumptuous decor and, unusually for such a high-end hotel, an extremely friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
After checking in we did a quick tour, taking in the Brasserie restaurant, an incredibly well-stocked basement wine bar, the terrace and the various areas for relaxation before heading out into the bustle of this vibrant Scandinavian city.
Being located so centrally, we were a mere 10 minutes' walk from the pedestrianised shopping district of the city which catered for every sector of the population – from the high street staples of H&M and Topshop to the more exclusive Gucci and Hermes stores, there was something for everyone, including a vast array of techie outlets which seemed well interspersed in order to keep the often-bored male bystanders happy.
In keeping with my unspoken rule of a ban on calorie-counting while travelling, we stopped in one of the many coffee bars for a coffee and Danish pastry while making plans for our whistle-stop tour.
First port of call was obviously going to be the Little Mermaid, so with comfortable shoes and a map we set off on a mission to find the famous icon.
As is often the case with well-known landmarks, the statue itself wasn't extremely remarkable. Set a little away from the shore – to protect her from the vandals who decapitated her twice – the Little Mermaid is very simplistic, but despite, or perhaps because of this, she is beautiful.
A gaggle of French schoolchildren soon roused us from our spot and we headed away from the waterfront and back into town to Amalienborg, the winter palaces of the Danish royal family, arriving just as the changing of the guard was taking place.
The soldiers, who strangely looked just like their miniature cast-iron versions, were coming off a 24-hour shift, and despite their obvious fatigue they completed their synchronised routine to perfection. I tentatively stood next to a guard for a photo opportunity, and whether for show or security was rewarded with the cocking of a rifle as he told me not to stand so close.
Suitably chastened, we used our three-day city pass (Copenhagen Card) to gain entrance to one of the four identical palace buildings, two of which are open to the public and consist of museum pieces and ornate decor giving an insight into the opulence which must lay beyond the entrance to the private quarters.
Copenhagen is not a large city, so getting around on foot is easy and a great way to explore all the museums, art galleries and royal buildings. Many of the museums we visited are free to enter, while the rest offer free entry to pass-holders.
The one-for-all pass makes exploring much more leisurely as it also covers bus, metro and train travel, so when getting to the next point of interest becomes too far for your jaded feet to attempt, the stereotypically efficient public transport links deliver you there in no time.
After a sumptuous dinner in the Brasserie at Nimb, we succumbed to the lure of its luxurious accommodation and awoke refreshed and ready for another day of adventure. One hearty buffet-breakfast later we headed for the second hotel of our trip, the D'Angleterre.
This imposing building dates from 1755 and is located in Kongens Nytorv right in the heart of the city, only minutes from the canal area, which is bustling with restaurants and shops.
Having played host to various celebrities including U2, The Rolling Stones, Alfred Hitchcock and Bill Clinton to name a few, the accommodation was suitably impressive. but after checking in we resisted the urge to stay put and instead continued on our tour of the city.
First stop was a canal trip, and although it was bitingly cold we opted to stay out on deck in order to get the best view possible. Commentary was provided in a variety of languages, so we plugged in and watched the world go by.
This hour-long trip is a wonderful way to see the city – we sailed through Nyhavn, one of the oldest areas of the harbour which dates from 1673, passed the large anchor which is a monument for the 1,600 Danish sailors who died during the Second World War and the old stock exchange before heading out into more open water for a view of Holmen, which was a naval base for 300 years and still houses ships and an old submarine. The trip also brought us for another view of the Little Mermaid as well as several royal palaces and government buildings.
Despite the chill in the air, it was well worth the effort and a great excuse to indulge in a warming coffee and pastry afterwards.
I've never been a fan of zoos and don't like the idea of animals being cooped up for our entertainment, but with all the controversy surrounding Copenhagen Zoo we decided to take a look.
Picketed by a small number of animal rights activists, the zoo was a hive of activity as most people seemed oblivious to the international bad press over the killing of several animals.
Once again, the city pass granted us free entry, and eschewing the farm animals and aviary we made for the lions' den, where its inhabitants were recently reduced to a single pair. Perhaps it was coincidental, but they looked decidedly forlorn, huddled together with their backs to the camera-clicking audience.
Again, despite all the media fuss, there was little going on in the giraffe pen, so we headed instead for the polar bears as these seemed to be attracting the biggest crowds. Separated by a deep moat, these lumbering creatures looked frighteningly powerful, and when they dived into the water we made our way into the tunnel underneath to watch them play.
I'm undecided as to whether their next meal was given out of necessity or for shock value, but we all gave an involuntary gasp as in front of our eyes the two bears grappled over a horse's head. With a mere few inches between us as they rolled around in the water, this scene is something I won't forget for a long time.
For our last day in Copenhagen we checked into the Axel Guldsmeden hotel, which is a complete contrast to where we had been staying.
Priding itself on being environmentally friendly and totally organic, this laid-back establishment had a warm and relaxing atmosphere, and even though there was no concierge or offers to carry our bags upstairs, it felt homely. Located just behind the central train station, it was ideally situated for our early morning trip to the airport.
The finishing touches are being put to the city as it gears up for the Eurovision Song Contest.
I have no doubt that the hordes of visitors who will descend on the city for the event will appreciate the efficiency, friendliness and diversity of this historic and beautiful place.
People often talk about how expensive Scandinavia is, but apart from alcohol the prices seem much the same as our own. So for a few days of fun, culture, great food and interesting attractions, I believe this city has it all.
In the Know
An hour-long canal trip is a wonderful way to see the city, taking in many of the major sites, including the Little Mermaid.
What to know
Flights to Copenhagen from Dublin cost from €171pp return with SAS (flysas.com) and €121 with Norwegian Airways
B&B for two in a double room at the Axel Guldsmeden costs €187 (guldsmedenhotels.com)
B&B for two in a deluxe double room at the Nimb costs from €650 (nimb.dk)
Leading Hotels of the World d'Angleterre has room-only for two people from €300 (lhw.com/dangleterre)
A Copenhagen Card which offers free transport and entry to 75 attractions costs from €48pp
For more specific information about the city, see visitcopenhagen.com