Making the Most of a Festive Weekend in Copenhagen at Christmastime
Sleigh Bells Ring, Are You Listening?
Although Copenhagen is delightful at any time of the year, it is at its glorious best in December. The twisted cobbled streets, soaring spires, turreted buildings, blend of gothic buildings and cute multi-hued houses are a winning combination. Add a sprinkling of Christmas and you feel as if you are in a scene from one of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.
At the heart of the city lies the Tivoli Gardens. During the six weeks before Christmas, it transforms into a festive fantasy land of snow, illuminations and seasonal fun.
Less than a two hour flight away, Copenhagen makes a perfect weekend jaunt from the UK, as I recently discovered when I headed there to soak up some festive spirit. Here’s how to make the most out of your Copenhagen Christmas!
After a 7:00 a.m. flight from London, I found myself at Copenhagen airport with most of the day ahead of me. The city is only 11 kilometers from the airport and I hopped onto the efficient metro system. Within 15 minutes, I had arrived at Christianshavn, an attractive area with canals running through it, often referred to as Little Amsterdam.
Vor Frelserskirke, a church with a unique gilded spire and an exterior staircase, is the main feature of the Christianshavn skyline. Visitors can climb the stairs to the summit for stunning views of Copenhagen. I however, was on a mission and made a beeline for the hippie haven of Christiania, a short 10 minute walk away.
Established in 1971, this extraordinary village of around 1,000 residents is a self-governing autonomous district. I spent a couple of hours exploring the colorful street art, galleries and creative eco-friendly houses.
Pusher Street is lined by shacks and stalls selling vegan food, ethnic clothing and as its name indicates, various illegal substances. Parts of the village appear post-apocalyptic, but there is a beautiful lake, around which many of the inventive houses are situated. It’s a fascinating area and unmissable for anyone who has an interest in alternative culture.
I made my way across the canals and through the streets to one of Copenhagen’s most famous tourist attractions, Tivoli Gardens. On route, I wandered through a couple of the many Christmas markets. The aroma of cinnamon and spices wafted in the air and I sipped on steaming hot glogg, Denmark’s version of mulled wine. That’s what Christmas in Copenhagen is all about.
Wooden huts sold delicacies such as delicious caramelized hot almonds and a seasonal favorite, smorrebrod (an open sandwich) with pickled herring.
By early afternoon, I arrived at the grand entrance of the Tivoli Gardens and for a fee of 120 Krone ($19 USD), I entered another world. With winsome wooden houses, sleighs and Christmas trees all strewn with snow, this winter wonderland was a feast for the eyes.
Not only are the gardens home to Santa and his elves at this time of the year, but is also one of the oldest amusement parks in the world.
Its wooden roller coaster dates back to 1914 and the Star Flyer is the tallest carousel ride in the world. With plenty of dining options, food stalls and Christmas shops galore, there is enough to keep both kids and adults entertained for hours. As the sun sets, the twinkling fairy lights create a magical ambiance.
Nyhavn is one of Copenhagen’s prettiest neighborhoods. A canal lined with vibrantly painted houses and restaurants, it was the perfect spot for a Sunday morning stroll. The now familiar cute wooden huts sold festive treats and Nordic handicrafts, and strings of lights added to the picturesque scene.
Hans Christian Andersen lived on this enchanting street, which surely helped inspire his fairy tales. Stopping off at a quirky café off the canal, I indulged in a warming hot chocolate and a selection of tiny accompanying donuts.
A walk through elegant Frederiksstaden took me to Kastellet, a fortress surrounded by grassy ramparts and moats. No trip to the city is complete without paying homage to the iconic Little Mermaid statue nearby. Based on Han Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” she sits on a rock in the harbor, often with a seagull perched on top of her head.
Next up was a little retail therapy in Stroget. Comprising of five pedestrianized streets including Copenhagen’s main shopping drag, which is flanked by alleyways, there are restaurants, bars and shops galore to explore. From department stores with spectacular window displays to funky independent shops, there is something for everyone.
Christmas decorations and carol singers added to the cheerful atmosphere.
I rounded my weekend off with a final glass of glogg and a roast beef, pickle and horse radish smorrebrod at one of the many restaurants. Dining al fresco in the winter is still an option in chilly Denmark. Most of the restaurants have outside heating and blankets to keep their customers warm.
I enjoyed people-watching and soaking up the seasonal vibe while I reflected on my weekend in wonderful Copenhagen.
A Few Interesting Facts
- Copenhagen is known as the happiest city in the world. A low crime rate, a progressive social system and good work-life balance are just a few of the contributing factors.
Danes are known for their friendly, laid back attitude and everywhere I went, I was met by congeniality and hospitality.
- English is widely spoken, making life easier for foreign visitors. I did learn a few basic words such as ‘hej’ for hello, ‘farvel’ for goodbye and ‘tak’ for thank you!
- There is no getting away from it, Copenhagen is expensive. There are however, a couple of ways you can save money. Street food is abundant and substantially cheaper than eating in restaurants and there is lots to see by walking and exploring the different neighborhoods which doesn’t cost anything!
- Cycling is as much a part of daily life in Copenhagen as it is in Amsterdam. Bikes are everywhere! It’s the quickest and easiest way to get around the city and there are over 350 kilometers of cycle lanes.