In Denmark in December, darkness settles in around 3:30 p.m. Spend a few days where there is such an early sunset and late sunrise, and you’ll know exactly why a festival of lights is a grand idea. Danes embrace the Christmas season with candles, evergreens and warm mulled wine.
The result of the cheer is a feeling that the world is drenched in pools of warm, soft glows. The candles and evergreens promise that the darkness will eventually lighten is enough to carry one towards spring.
The mulled wine called glugg, help seal the deal. The best glugg is served with the almonds, raisins and spices still in it.
Toss in a city of stunning architecture that artfully blends the old with the new, cobblestone walking streets, and centuries old canals and there you have it: winter magic. Copenhagen in December is a visual treat.
Last December, I traveled back to Denmark where I had spent a semester in college living with a family about twenty miles outside of Copenhagen. The trip brought back memories of my first Christmas away from home and reestablished the thought that I must have been Danish at one time. Denmark and me? A hand to a glove.
Here are my must see suggestions if you head to Copenhagen at any time of the year. On this visit, I was with my 16 year-old daughter so I picked out the places that I thought she would enjoy, plus those that would offer her a wide overview of Copenhagen’s cultural history and delight. We were also interested in spending as little money as possible.
We traveled twice by train into Copenhagen from our friend’s house where we stayed.
Day 1: In the early afternoon, we started out at Nationalmuseet, the Danish Resistance Museum. Denmark’s resistance movement against the Nazis during World War II is impressive. The museum tells the story of how the movement started, the important players and what occurred in Denmark between 1940-1945.
Since the time I visited when I was in college, the museum has a new building and the exhibits have been updated. Most of the information is also provided in English. Take time out to watch the videos of interviews that are scattered throughout the museum. They have also been translated. This museum is marvelous and it’s FREE. I repeat. FREE!
From here we walked to Amalienborg Palace to see where Queen Margrethe II lives with her family. Depending upon when you arrive, you can see the changing of the guard. We missed this, but we enjoyed watching the guards anyway.
As you go to the palace you’ll also see the gorgeous Fredriks Church, also called The Marble Church. We didn’t go inside the church or tour the Amalienborg Museum in the palace complex as we were in a hurry to get to Nyhavn and the canal boat ride. Besides, the day before, we had toured Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød, a town in the northern part of Sealand, the island where Copenhagen is located. Of all Denmark’s castle’s, it’s my favorite.
At Nyhavn, the oldest part of Copenhagen’s original harbor, we took in the Christmas market where I found glugg and we ate pølser, the Danish version of a hot dog. Pølser is better. Each cost about $3. Nyhavn is also where you can catch a harbor canal tour. There is more than one company but DFDS Canal Tours is the only company to offer winter excursions. The boat tour takes visitors along the canals that were dug out by prisoners in the 17th century. This is one of the best ways to find out about Copenhagen’s history while seeing important landmarks–both modern and historic.
The statue of the Little Mermaid is one of the tour’s points of interest. If you go on the 50 minute tour in winter, bundle up. The $12 per person fee we paid seemed like a bargain.
After our tour that started before dusk and ended in the dark, we browsed the Christmas market once more and watched the ice skaters at the area’s outdoor rink before walking back to the train station.The market is an excellent place to buy Danish-style Christmas ornaments and fur hats. We bought a nativity set and a rabbit fur for my son. He used to be Daniel Boone in a past life. The $10 fur was the best present ever.
Day 2: (Between the two days, we took a ferry from Helsingør, Denmark to Helsingborg, Sweden to go to the Christmas festival at Fredriksdal Open-air Museum. Helsingør is where Kronberg Castle of Hamlet fame is located. Shakespeare set the play here. Remember? “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
We started out at Rosenberg Castle to see the Crowned Jewels. The castle was closed on that day. Oops. Next stop, shopping along Strøget, the pedestrian shopping street. Here I discovered I had been pick pocketed. Credit card? Gone. Money? Gone. Someone snagged my wallet right out of my day pack. Next came the detour to the police station to file a report and call VISA.
Without any money or a credit card, there wasn’t any reason to go to Royal Copenhagen, as we had planned. Sure, it would have been a gorgeous store to visit since it was decked out in its holiday finest, but how depressing would that have been? Why go to a place to shop when you can’t shop?
Instead, we headed to Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli, an amusement park that opened in 1843, served as inspiration for Walt Disney when he was designing Disneyland. During the Christmas season, Tivoli is a twinkling fairyland. Glugg and apple fritters are plentiful and the amusement park rides are in full operation. Every building and tree seems to be awash in holiday lights. We were content to walk around the park enjoying the ambiance and displays.
We left Tivoli for home around 9 p.m feeling satisfied, despite a day of being robbed. On a return trip, we’ll see the Crown Jewels and Royal Copenhagen. They’ll still be around.