The final leg of our summer trip to Scandinavia (I’m really drawing this one out, eh?) was Copenhagen. We drove across one of the longest bridges and crossed from Sweden into Denmark.
Danes are routinely noted for being some of the happiest and most peaceful people in the world—and we were excited to see why.
We’d chosen an AirBnB in the Frederiksberg neighborhood—we were on the most beautiful, lush little street. The family who lives there are full-time residents who escape to a little garden house on a plot within the city when they rent it out. Again, staying in a family’s home and seeing how they lived was one of the best parts of the trip. The yard was a communal garden I would liken to that scene out of the movie Notting Hill. The kids wasted no time at all running outside to the sandbox and swings. There were other children kicking a soccer ball and climbing atop a little playhouse, which Hudson thought was the most exciting prospect. It was just beautiful!
Light-filled and filled with children’s toys! Skyler spotted the same Brio pull toy we have at home (her absolute favorite, you might recall) and we took it on trips around the city over the next two days (trying to be as gentle as possible).
After settling in, we made our way over to the Meatpacking district for dinner at Mother—a buzzy pizza spot with a great little wine bar attached. The people-watching was awesome. We actually had a reservation that we’d missed, but it turned out great—as in Stockholm, reservations are for inside tables, and we were able to sit down outside after just a few minutes. Lap blankets are kept handy in case it gets too chilly.
The street, Værnedamsvej, is a good one to explore in this area, but it was getting late for us!
Bananas and peanut butter. What else? We actually pack a small jar of the stuff now. I figure there are worse things than including a bit of their favorite routines when we travel.
Hudson didn’t have any of the small Legos yet, so discovering them here was a major thrill. (And I think it’s pretty cool that he built his first thing in Denmark—where Legos originated.) We had to drag him away.
The weather quickly soured and we ducked into a bakery—Lagkagehuset has lots of locations around the city and makes wonderful bread, as well as a prized strawberry cake jordbær (we tried the tart version)—for second breakfast. (We actually go out to breakfast fairly rarely these days—something I really miss, as breakfast food is my favorite. The kids are just too hungry to wait.)
With no signs of the rain letting up, we thought it might be time to indulge the kids in one of those hop-on, hop-off Stromma tourist-bus rides. But it was a total fail: without the roof open, it was just a boring means of transportation for them. We made it a few blocks before we decided to get back on our feet. We should have handed our tickets to someone else hoping to buy some—that turned out to be a waste for us. If we were to do it again, I’d just buy tickets with the company for one of their canal tours: Trips depart every half hour from Nyhavn or Gammel Strand, cost around $12, and last one hour on one of the long boats that ply the canals.
The bus had let us off just around the corner from the pedestrian-only shopping street, Strøget—it stretches from the city square (Radhusplasn) to Nyhavn (Kongens Nytorv). We’d been warned that it can feel touristy, with crowds coming for its big-name stores and the colorful waterfront nearby. Apparently, Strøget is a popular hangout for the city’s street performers as well. But the weather seemed to keep the crowds low, and the kids were happy to jump around the Stork Fountain (which, I read, newly graduated midwives have been dancing around since 1950).
This also gave Aron and I a chance to take a look inside some of the stores. I was especially excited to look around inside Illums Bolighus—which is a center for Danish and international design. Furniture, lamps, kitchen and bathroom articles, ceramics, porcelain, silver, and glassware span multiple floors. One floor had apparel, and I bought myself a raincoat from Rains.
We asked the man at Illums for a lunch suggestion and he pointed us to his favorite: Cafe Norden sits inside the large Hay department store at the far end of the Strøget. It looked intimidatingly lovely and adult at first glance, but—like most places we went on our trip—welcomed the kids with offers of smoothies and kids’ plates, high chairs, and even a kids’ nook with books and stuffed animals. Our two were starting to crash however (which for some inexplicable reason tends to mean “act crazy”) so we resorted to the iPhone for a bit while we ordered. They snuggled up together on a bench by the window while we asked for a pitcher of the summer drink.
I went up to the bar to order and it was hard not getting one of everything. The smørrebrød gave us the chance to have some more traditional Nordic dark rye bread—dense and nutty—and the sampling of items on the lunch plate was beautiful and delicious.
It was one of our favorite meals—which was a surprise as it was just off a main tourist square, not typically the best place for great food. It was also incredibly beautiful. I loved the dusty rose accent walls: this sort of greyed peachy-pink shade seems to be key to the unofficial color palette of Nordic design. It was everywhere! I love it.
After lunch, I took note of all the shops I’d hope to return to and then headed for the Lego shop to let the kids have some fun at the display tables. (Anyone spot Anthony Kiedis? The Red Hot Chili Peppers were playing in Roskilde that week.)
Up and down the side streets of the Strøget are plenty of other gems. We stepped off to find the Copenhagen Coffee Lab, a passionate coffee bar with its own roasting operation.
Sidenote: I realized when I saw this tip jar on the counter that this was the first time I’d seen any local currency. We were prepared to head to an ATM if ever necessary but were able to go cash-less through our entire two weeks in Scandinavia, simply using a credit card without international fees.
After lunch, we found the skies had cleared and the forecast looked pretty good—naturally, since I’d finally gotten myself a raincoat—so I suggested we hurry up and rent bikes.
Everyone cycles in Copenhagen. Almost half of the population bikes to work in the city. (And unlike us, they rarely are paying attention to the forecast: they simply have the proper gear for any weather.) There are paths everywhere, and racks and racks of bikes everywhere you look.
Without kids, you could use city share bikes, but with you’ll need to find a dedicated rental with child seats. We stopped at a corner shop and took out one of their Christiania bikes, which are made in Freetown Christiania (an autonomous township within Copenhagen).
It was perfect: we could fit everything—the kids, our stroller, and our purchases—up front.
Our first stop was to admire the colorful waterfront, Nyhavn, whose colorful houses date back to the 17th century.
I was so grateful we got the bikes. It really allowed us to see much more of the city. We even followed the Segways out to the harbor to see the Little Mermaid statue—something we might not otherwise have detoured for—and it lead us around so many beautiful parks. Aron did the riding, and we did have one slightly unnerving moment going up onto one of the raised bike lanes, but it generally felt very safe. We asked the shop for any instructions about hand signals and road expectations that might be different for us before setting off. People do go fast and it’s best to ride predictably!
Nearby, we also circled the castle and rode through the Royal Palaces at Amalienborg (which I don’t think we were supposed to do).
We’d actually been heading in the direction of Freetown Christiania where, in 1971, people moved into the barracks on an abandoned military base and established an autonomous district in the middle of the city. There’s a long and complicated history surrounding the area—particularly as its been known for drug use and sales. After many conflicts and clashes between the local Christianites and the Danish state, the Danish Supreme Court ruled that the state owns the 86-acres of land, which is home to nearly 1,000 residents. Many visitors go to see the unique neighborhood, biking its paths and checking out the handmade structures and murals—and some go to smoke. We rode by but ultimately decided to skirt around it.
This actually led us to my favorite part of our bike ride: the canal of Christianshavn. I loved seeing all of the sailboats and houseboats.
I recalled reading that, in Copenhagen, the harbors are all clean, so you can just jump in! And sure enough, when we came to the canals we saw a few people taking early summer leaps into the water. The sun had just begun to peek through the clouds, making it feel warmer, but I could imagine that on a sunny summer day the scene is breathtaking!
Though Copenhagen is a very small capital, I found myself a bit disorientated throughout our stay—perhaps because we ended up doing less walking. Still, I could see how one would easily learn one’s way around, falling in love with the charming architecture, side streets and canals.
We started our next day at Torvehallerne, a food market in the city center, that’s filled with stalls filled with everything from fresh fish and cheese to gourmet chocolate. Coffee from the Coffee Collective was strongly encouraged.
As was GRØD, which means porridge in Danish—and they have a huge range of sweet and savory combinations. Mine is the dulce de leche porridge with apples and almonds.
After the porridge, we couldn’t help ourselves: We also sat down for fish & chips, Smorbrod (open sandwiches), and local oysters (we tried not to think too long on how much each one cost—yikes!).
With the rain still intermittent, we took one more ride on our bikes, stopping in the the area around Istedgade, in the Vesterbro district. The interior design store Dansk made for rooms, was one of the first businesses to move to this road, which starts from the central train station and is almost one kilometre long, but there was a ton to tempt. From the bike shop, I walked back to the department store Magasin—near the Strøget—and Aron caught an Uber with the kids for some downtime and packing at the house.
I think the kids could have spent the entire two days in that wonderful yard.
The plan was to meet up at Pony, a small restaurant in Vesterbrogade at which a reservation had been made for us by a concierge service I’d tried out. I underestimated the travel time and was about 20 minutes late, but fortunately, we had brought along a hotspot, so I was able to call the restaurant and have them let Aron know not to worry.
When I did get to the restaurant, I was very surprised: it was a tiny little space with an open kitchen at the bar and an all-adult crowd. Then there was my table, with books and crayons splayed near crystal wine glasses of red juice. Aron raised his eyebrows in a “we’re doing this” gesture and I apologized while laughing and taking a bracing a sip of my wine. At the same time, a waiter appeared to drop the first courses: thing like Whole grain, oatmeal, yogurt, and beer bread with whipped buttermilk; freshly made oxtail jerky; plaice fillet with carrots served five ways (including dried roe); and skewered duck hearts.
Again I looked at Aron, replicating the raised brows—eyes wide this time.
But Skyler didn’t give a second thought to eating duck hearts on a skewer! (Ah, the magic of putting things on sticks.) And Hudson loved the Oxtail jerky! I’m not sure they left full, but they did eat.
Apparently, Pony is the (younger) sister restaurant to Michelin-starred restaurant Kadeau, specializing in New Nordic heritage food. Unfussy fancy-food might be my quick assessment. We really appreciated, once again, their approach to including our kids.
After dinner, we opted to make it a later night and spend our last hours at Tivoli Gardens—an amusement park founded in 1843, Tivoli Gardens is a national treasure. The scenery is beautiful—thousands of colored lights create a really unique scene at night—and there are historic buildings built to look like exotic lands.
We were able to bypass a lot of the rides (which you buy individual tickets for and add up quickly) by telling the kids they were still too little. But they each got to go on a couple.
Apparently, there’s a wooden roller coaster from 1914 and it’s one of only seven roller coasters worldwide which have a brakeman aboard every train.
My favorite moment was watching Aron try to fit into a Dumbo-style airplane ride with Skyler. When it was clear he wouldn’t fit, they suggested he just let his legs dangle out the side. Now that’s something you’d never see at Disneyland!
As you can imagine, no one wanted to leave.
But it was time to pack up and so we headed back through the Istedgade area of Vesterbro, picking up some airplane-ride treats along the way.
There’s plenty that we wished we’d had time to include in our all-too-brief stay. Some of the ones that stood out to me: it sounds like the kids would have loved running up the sloped ramp inside the Round Tower observatory—which is used in place of stairs; I’d heard the National Gallery is full of incredible treasures; we would have loved an adult-only night at Noma, repeatedly voted best restaurant in the world; and, if it were warm, I’d like to rent a Go Boat on the Canals and jump in the cold water. Finally, it would be fun spending an entire day looking for the best playgrounds. I hear Valby park is amazing (it holds Denmark’s biggest nature playground, replete with hills, bridges, climbing walls, cycling paths, and a huge rose garden, all right on the water); and my friend Koseli has been sharing some pictures of playgrounds from their time in Copenhagen this summer and I can’t stop thinking about this “Traffic playground,” a “fenced-in, free park with bike lanes, traffic signals, grass and shade, and bikes and helmets to check out. For kids only.” Incredible.
Anyone have more to add?
Everyone pulled down their black-out shades and dreamt sweet dreams of air travel before we left early the next morning.
There’s a highly efficient metro that runs out to the airport—but we decided to use a car for that last schlepp with the kids and our stuff. (That said, the public transportation is wonderful throughout the area and you can download a metro app to your phone: Mobilbilletter Hovedstaden.)
We left feeling that Copenhagen—a cozy national capital with beautiful architecture, an incredible fashion and design culture, a wealth of good food, and extensive parks and canals—is a place we could spend a lot of time in. Especially in the summer. And with the family-friendly civic design, the strong bike culture, and healthy sharing economy, it was easy to see why Danes are so happy.
But it was time to go: We had a layover in Stockholm (thankfully a long one, because customs and the flight change took quite a while), where we picked up our car seat from the luggage hold and boarded a direct flight back to Oakland.
Hudson’s request was a Swedish flag, and Aron had been coveting a reindeer pelt, so we added them to our carry-on load for the last leg. I always have fun, after a trip, seeing what makes it back. Here are the souvenirs the four of us brought home from Scandinavia: