Tivoli in Copenhagen is a wonderland
[Note: Travel Diary updated to include this trip!]
Last journey in Europe: the Scandanavian cities of Stockholm (Sweden) and Copenhagen (Denmark)! This was yout typical ‘unwind’ trip – it took place right after my graduation and several days before we were set to leave the UK for good. After exhausting but totally excellent adventures in places like Greece and Italy, northern Europe was the place to go to relax. We started off in Stockholm, stayed for about a day and a half, then took the train to Copenhagen and stayed there for a day and a half. Short but sufficient. Besides, with the prices in those cities you wouldn’t want to stay for too long!
Note that even though Sweden and Copenhagen are part of the EU, both countries still retained their local currencies – the Swedish Krona (SEK) and the Danish Krone (DKK).
Having done less research than usual before visiting a city, I was very surprised when I first arrived in Stockholm. It was less touristy than I had envisaged, though it met expectations in terms of cleanliness. There were very few people walking the streets, and even fewer cars – the exact opposite of what I had experienced in London. The city is essentially made up of a series of islands, so no matter which way you walk, you are likely to run into water sooner or later. And when you do, you’re likely to fall in love with the city because the waters are so crystal clean and incredibly beautiful.
Swedes are very proud of their clean water and their tap water is highly drinkable. Honestly, it tasted just like bottled spring water.
Dragon slayer St George in St Nicholas' Church in Stockholm
After visiting Stockholm, Copenhagen was a little bit of a shock. I had expected the two cities to be similar, but Copenhagen was more touristy, dirtier and substantially more crowded (though still not that bad). However, the place really grew on me during the second day, and now I am very fond of it. There are some exceptional attractions in Copenhagen which are really worth checking out, and while things are expensive, it is the ‘cheap’ food that really satisfied my taste buds. The Nyhavn area is also quite pretty with its multi-coloured houses and restaurants lining the sides.
There are plenty of things to see in Stockholm, with over 70 art galleries and 70 museums, the Royal Palace (the interior is a bit overrated in my opinion, the Swedish Parliament and so forth. Of course, with only a day and a half, we had to be extra selective. Here are the top 3 things I thought were worth checking out:
3. Gamla Stan (Old Town) – this is a nice area to walk through and check out. It has a distinct flavour to it, and even though it is rather touristy it was time well spent. The streets may seem a little grotty with many dark stains, but it’s probably just all the dried spilt ice cream! Speaking of ice cream, there are quite a few vendors around, as well as high-priced restaurants and souvenir stores. If you head there from the north, you’ll get to see the Swedish Parliament and the Royal Palace from the outside, as well as some pretty views of the waters, including the City Hall where the annual Nobel prize banquet is held.
2. Boat cruise - with the many islands, if you have limited time, the best way to see Stockholm is a boat cruise. Most of them are conducted by Stockholm Sightseeing, and the most popular cruise is the Under the Bridges tour, which costs 190 SKK a head and lasts for roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes. It is very relaxing – you just sit there, enjoy the views, the breeze and listen to the audio guide if you want to (in about 10 languages). It’s not cheap but you really get to see a lot in a short period of time.
There are also several hop-on, hop-off boats which can be handy (40 SKK per person one way) if you want to get from island to island.
If you have slightly more time, consider taking a trip to the Stockholm archipelago, a maritime landscape of 30,000 islands, islets and skerries. We didn’t get a chance to go but apparently it is magnificent.
The maginificent Vasa Museum is my No. 1 in Stockholm
1. Vasa Museum – without a doubt one of the best and most unique museums I’ve been to and the highlight of my trip to Stockholm. The Vasa is a warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 but was not salvaged until 1961 – 333 years later. Despite this, the ship remains in remarkably good shape – something to do with the mixture of salt and freshwater at the point where it sunk (apparently). The wreckage is the museum’s centrepiece, but there are 5 floors of fascinating things to explore, see and learn. Do yourself a favour and make sure you don’t miss it.
We ended up seeing quite a bit in Copenhagen. Like Stockholm, we caught a short 50 minute cruise that took us to see many of the main attractions, such as the Little Mermaid (just a statue by the water), Nyhavn (and the place where Hans Christian Anderson lived), the Black Diamond (just a building) and the Opera House, as well as Our Saviour’s Church. We also walked to see much of the same the next day, including the Marble Church which was pretty cool. However, these are my top 3.
The Little Mermaid...that's all there is
3. Stroget – the famous shopping street was a little disappointing to be honest, but if you’re in Copenhagen it’s hard to avoid it. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, with plenty of shops, hot dog vendors and ice cream shops (some with exquisite ice cream), the latter two of which are a lot more up my alley. The good thing about Stroget is that there are several other attractions in close proximity to it.
2. Rosenborg Castle – this one was a big surprise. We almost went there by default, thinking that we didn’t have enough places to go, but it turned out to be an amazing experience. The Castle itself is impressive, but it is the beautiful gardens and the park surrounding it that make it worth visiting. We must have sat there for a good hour or more just admiring the scenery.
Rosenborg Castle was a pleasant surprise
1. Tivoli – the big theme park in the middle of the city, and one of the most popular places for tourists. However, you don’t have to like rides to enjoy Tivoli (we didn’t go on any). Entrance is 85 DKK, but each ride costs extra (I think between 20 and 40 DKK ). The best time is to go is when it is just starting to get dark, so you can see what it is like in daylight and then when the lights come on, it’s a totally different feel. For those who want to experience that fairytale carnival sensation you often see in movies, Tivoli is about as close as you’ll get. Apart from the screaming youths flying overhead in the various rides and the many food and candy vendors, you’ll also see some very well-kept gardens with colourful flowers to appreciate. Maybe I’m getting old, but I really liked just walking around and absorbing the summer carnival atmosphere.
Tivoli at night
Just missing the cut is the National Museum, which has plenty of interesting exhibits and turn into a bit of a maze, but they really could turn up the air-conditioning in summer.
The must-try foods in Stockholm, apart from ice cream, are salmon and Swedish meatballs. We tried both once in a restaurant in Gamla Stan and they were excellent. I must say though, I have had better of both elsewhere.
There is also a nice little French crepe place in Sodermalm too, for those so inclined.
I only expected the waffles and ice cream to be tasty, but while they were indeed, it was the hotdogs that blew me away! You’ll see them everywhere, especially near the Town Hall and in Stroget and Nyhavn. Make sure you try them. The regular hotdog (boiled, or you can get the grilled sausage) with fresh hot bread, onions, fried onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard, mayo – was just divine. We must have had 3 or 4 of them in just a couple of days!
And the ice cream – superb. Look out for ‘Paradis‘ – there’s a couple in Stroget. The Pistachio is the best I’ve ever tasted. The Ferrero Rocher is not bad either. Unfortunately Paradis doesn’t have the ‘soft ice’ addition that some other places have.
Oh, and don’t forget the Danish open sandwiches (essentially just a sandwich without the top piece of bread).
Lots of hotdog vendors near Town Hall
We booked hotels about as close as you can get to the main train stations, both 3 stars – Scandia in Stockholm and Astoria in Copenhagen. Super expensive for the quality, but it was good enough for a couple of nights each. Be warned though – most 3 star hotels in Copenhagen (we’re told) don’t have air conditioning. This is usually not a problem, but if you go in the summer, like we did, it can be rather unbearable at night if you keep the windows closed. We had a couple of fans, but for security reasons we kept the window largely closed on the first night, and I couldn’t sleep. It was brutal. On the second night we ignored safety concerns and left the window wide open, and slept like a baby (despite the bright neon sign flashing on the building across).
In all, it was a fitting end to our stay in Europe!