Flying from Amsterdam to Copenhagen is like connecting sister cities — bikes, canals, lots of construction work, slick and extensive infrastructure, and people who really know how to have fun.
As I mentioned earlier, my two-month summer trip has five sections: Germany guidebook research, filming in the Netherlands, Scandinavia guidebook research, filming in Berlin and Prague, and finally guidebook research in Poland. I’m just kicking off part three and ready for some Scandinavian travel fun. Join me for the next two weeks as I offer my latest travel tips from in and around Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, and Bergen. First up: Copenhagen.
In cities like Copenhagen, I enjoy tuning into the little details of everyday life. For example, the pølse (hot dog) is fast, cheap, tasty, and — like its American cousin — almost worthless nutritionally. Even so, what the locals call the “dead man’s finger” is the dog Danish kids love to bite. Danes gather at pølsevogne (sausage wagons) for munchies and pølsesnak — the local slang for empty chatter (literally, “sausage talk”). If you join them, you can study this institution — and maybe pick up on some societal insights, as well. Denmark’s “cold feet cafés” are a form of social care: People who have difficulty finding jobs are licensed to run these wiener-mobiles. As they gain seniority, they are promoted to work at more central locations. Traditionally, after getting drunk, guys stop here for a hot dog and chocolate milk on the way home — that’s why many of these stands stay open until the wee hours.
Wandering Copenhagen’s harborfront, visitors are struck by the many young people out drinking in the streets. There’s not more beer consumption here than in the US; it’s just out in public. Many young Danes can’t afford to drink in a bar (where the tax on serving booze is astronomical), so they “picnic drink” their beers in squares and along canals, spending a quarter of the bar price for a bottle from a nearby kiosk. In my guidebook’s self-guided walk of Copenhagen, I encourage my travelers to drop by Nagib’s kiosk (a block from the popular wharf at Nyhavn) and grab a cold $2 beer to join in the scene. It was fun meeting Nagib, as for years, he’s had a steady stream of Americans dropping by to buy a beer…as dictated by some mysterious guidebook writer.
Appreciating local culture extends to sightseeing, as well. When you’re traveling, don’t just seek out the Van Goghs in Sweden, the Rembrandts in Scotland, or the Titians in Spain. Instead, open up to the local artists. In Norway, check out Munch. In Vienna, go for Klimt. And in Prague, give Mucha a look. All over Copenhagen, you’ll see the swoon-worthy art of the great Danish Neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. This local Canova’s work is in the cathedral, in the palace, and packing a museum dedicated entirely to his statues right next to the palace. Do you have a favorite underrated national artist that we should keep on our list when in that artist’s homeland?
Copenhagen is a city of lovely spires and public spaces. As in many towns, once-formidable fortified walls and moat systems have morphed into peaceful, lake-filled parks. In the maps of these cities, you can see the “star fort” shapes centuries after the last cannon was retired. Copenhagen does a particularly good job of utilizing land formerly spent on defense to make the city a wonderful place to live. Wandering through these parks, you can understand why Danes usually top the list of the world’s most content societies.