Rosenborg Castle and the King's Garden.
Rosenborg Castle and the King's Garden.

Discover the wonders of Copenhagen

THE Hop On, Hop Off Boat guide tells us we are coming up to the most photographed tree in Denmark.

Tree?

OK. There are so many highlights on a canal tour around Copenhagen, this must be an impressive tree if it's important enough to point out.

Along with the other passengers, we ready our smartphones and cameras for the big moment.

Then the penny drops.

As the canal boats come out of the tunnel under the bridge, Our Saviour Church's distinctive "corkscrew" tower comes into view.

We only have about 30 seconds before the boat moves on.

But many people miss the momentary shot, capturing the tree just above the canal instead.

It's so commonplace that the tree has its own Facebook page: Missedthegoldenchurch.

Look it up. We all laughed and laughed.

The good news is that you can get off the boat at the Christianshavn stop and have a much closer look at this elegant baroque church with a black and gold helix (corkscrew) spire that reaches 90m and the external anticlockwise winding staircase that can be climbed to the top for 360-degree views over central Copenhagen.

 

The Marble Church and fountain in Amalienborg Palace and Gardens.
The Marble Church and fountain in Amalienborg Palace and Gardens.

 

You will also marvel at the melodies played by the bells of its carillon - the largest in northern Europe - which plays hourly from 8am to midnight.

Nearby at the same boat stop is Christiania: a quirky "Freetown" that boasts colourful houses and sculptures, creative artists and an alternative hippy society - the equivalent of our Nimbin but on a smaller scale.

In 1971, a group of hippy squatters broke down the barricades to the abandoned military base and Christiania was born.

Hundreds of curious visitors daily now pass through the defined entrances to this anti-establishment commune that houses up to 1000 people on 7.7 hectares.

While the community governs itself with its own rules that are independent of the Danish government, it has still had its run-ins with police, mostly due to its reputation as an area for cannabis trade, especially in the so-called Green Light District's Pusher Street.

Many residents are actively campaigning to rid Christiania of drugs but on the day we visited last July, stalls were still in operation and we abided by a sign warning visitors that no photos are allowed inside Christiania, due to the possible sale of drugs and paraphernalia that might be captured.

But there is much more to this bohemian area than meets any disapproving eye.

Christiania hosts regular concerts on stage and in various venues that attract jazz, blues and contemporary music lovers from far and wide as well as those wanting to join in impromptu jam sessions.

 

The Little Mermaid statue.
The Little Mermaid statue.

 

Skaters from around the world make a beeline for the ALIS Wonderland skate park with its wooden bowl that also hosts contests and demonstrations, as well as graffitied half-pipes and other equipment to test skills.

Plenty of cafe seats are available for a quick caffeine hit, and visitors have an array of breakfast/brunch/lunch takeaway choices including tasty organic vegan and vegetarian offerings, hamburgers, Thai-inspired dishes as well as Sunshine Bakery pastries.

Or simply get away from the crowds and relax by the canal, surrounded by trees and good vibes.

To learn more about this fascinating place, Christiania guided tours are held at 1 and 3pm daily.

But there's certainly plenty more to explore in this city, which is home to Australia's homegrown Princess Mary and her husband Frederik, the Crown Prince of Denmark.

We found even a 48-hour Hop on Hop Off Boat ticket wasn't enough time to quench our curiosity for this enticing capital but the routes do help visitors explore the well-defined neighbourhoods and their distinct vibes.

One of our favourite spots for a drink overwater on the canal happened to be at this same stop, at Christianshavns Badudlejning and Cafe.

Apparently the watering hole has been welcoming guests since 1898 and it's also right opposite our favourite bakery and cafe: Lagkagehuset, where we couldn't resist a coffee and cinnamon roll (kanel snegle) daily.

Another boat tour guide tells us that while thousands of visitors to Copenhagen all want to see the Little Mermaid at Stop D, the relatively small sculpture also regularly makes Europe's

Most Disappointing Attractions List, alongside other statues such as Brussels' Mannikin Pis.

 

Colourful Nyhavn of tourist brochure fame.
Colourful Nyhavn of tourist brochure fame.

 

It's still fun to tick it off the bucket list but try to pick your time (early morning or late afternoon) or you'll be jostling for a picture with busloads of other tourists.

While here, stroll along the top of the ramparts of one of the best-preserved forts in Europe at the Citadel (Kastellet), which forms the shape of a star or pentagon with bastions at its corners.

The historic site, built in the 17th century to guard the approach to the harbour, these days is mostly a public park that attracts joggers and walkers around its large parade ground, barracks and various other buildings including the Citadel Church and a windmill.

Christiansborg Palace (Departure Point A at Ved Stranden) is where we spent the better part of two hours, wandering the opulent, 800-year-old seat of power. While visitors can choose to inspect The Royal Stables, The Royal Kitchen, Christiansborg Palace Chapel and the ruins under the palace, we devoted our time to The Royal Reception Rooms and The Great Hall with its 1100 years of Danish history laid out in tapestries.

Queen Margrethe II carries out her official duties in these rooms: receiving guests, signing acts of Parliament into law, hosting banquets and gala dinners for state visits and other occasions.

It's an insight into a whole new world - one of parquetry floors, crystal chandeliers, and black-and-gold colour schemes, magnificent antique sideboards and priceless ceramics and paintings.

 

Our Saviour's Church up close.
Our Saviour's Church up close.

 

Among the friezes is one 35m long by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, done in 1812, of Alexandra the Great entering Babylon after his conquest of Persia. The Plate Room highlights the Flora Danica setting featuring life-size plants in the botanical artwork (being porcelain, the plates are only used to serve dessert despite being a complete dinner set, because other courses are usually served on silver plates).

The royal dining hall, where royal banquets were once a daily ritual for the court, is dominated by the massive oval mahogany table, able to seat 52 guests, but which is now seldom used.

The eye-catching Tapestry Room is a pleasant surprise of history through colourful embroidery, with faces of The Beatles and Donald Duck, the Second World War and Berlin Wall among some of the 20th-century inclusions.

The Throne Room is another must-see for its gold and embossed burgundy thrones, Greek marble pilasters, with a ceiling painting by Danish artist Kraesten Iversen and walls clad in silk hangings of Danish coat of arms with three lions and nine hearts from Lyon in France.

The king's throne features two golden lions and the queen's throne has two gilded mythical creatures called griffons.

The thrones - historic relics from the time of absolute monarchy (1660 to 1848) - were nearly lost when the palace burned to the ground in 1884, but are not used by the Queen, who ascended to the throne the day after her father died in 1972.

 

The Citadel Church.
The Citadel Church.

 

Take along an audio guide to explore on your own or join a guided tour of the palace.

The Ofelia Plads Departure Point (or if we just turned left and walked from our Wakeup Copenhagen Borgergade hotel) is closest for Amalienborg Palace and Gardens and the spectacular Marble Church (Frederik's Church) or further on to the beautiful Rosenborg Castle and The King's Garden (which is home to the statue of Little Mermaid author and revered Dane Hans Christian Andersen).

But Copenhagen's best-known attraction is Nyhavn (Departure Point B) - with its colourful 17th-century waterfront buildings that have been reimagined as restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels and specialty shops.

As a tourist mecca, Nyhavn is simply a fun place to be at any time of year.

We happened to visit during the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, which offers free and ticketed events throughout the cities at various venues including the little park surrounding Memorial Anchor at Nyhavn, where we spent a couple of hours listening to a hardworking trio play popular music hits from artists including our own Crowded House.

Pull up a chair and gaze out over the passing parade of people and boats (including historic wooden ships) while downing a Carlsberg or two.

But be warned: Copenhagen isn't cheap by Aussie standards and an extended time here will cost you.

 

Copenhagen life, viewed from the water.
Copenhagen life, viewed from the water.

 

We lapped up the twilight on our first night, paying just under $200 (915 Danish kroner) for a three-course meal for two.

Our choices from a set menu led us to half-lobster entrees, main meals of eye-fillet steak wrapped in bacon with hollandaise sauce and potatoes, and grilled salmon pasta with tomato, mushroom and basil, with crème brulees for dessert.

With drinks (half-bottle of white Chilean wine and two schooners of Jacobson brown ale), the bill was worth it just once for the happy atmosphere and waterside panoramas begging to be photographed.

For something a little more reasonable, cross the Inderhavnsbroen - a bridge that opened in 2016 connecting Nyhavn on the west side of the river to Christianshavn on the east - for a choice of bars and street food vendors including Gasoline Grill, Pasta Station, Sweet Treat and Fish & Chips in the Broens Skotebane food court, where it's easy to strike up conversations with visitors from all over the globe at the picnic table seating.

Other major attractions you will want to linger longer at on the boat tours are Tivoli Gardens (for its flowers, restaurants, roller-coasters and concerts), the Opera House, and the impressive waterfront Black Diamond extension to the Royal Danish Library (so nicknamed because of the polished black-granite cladding and irregular angles of the building).

 

A 20th century tapestry in the Tapestry Room.
A 20th century tapestry in the Tapestry Room.

 

Four full days weren't enough to conquer one of Europe's oldest cities, established as a 10th-century Viking fishing settlement.

If you can avoid that tree near Our Saviour Church and any pricey tourist traps, you'll find the city really can be like the song from my childhood:

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

Friendly old girl of a town

'Neath her tavern light

On this merry night

Let us clink and drink one down

To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

Salty old queen of the sea

Once I sailed away

But I'm home today

Singing Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful

Copenhagen for me.

DISCOVER IT

COPENHAGEN

Canal Tours Copenhagen, which operates open and covered boats, has been plying the Copenhagen harbour and canals since 1904.

The Hop On Hop Off routes allow travellers to see old and new architecture and historic points of interest, with commentary by experienced guides.

If you buy the Best Offer ticket, you can use the bus and the boat for different perspectives and sights on land and water.

CONTACT

Go to stromma.com/copenhagen.

ACCOMMODATION

Wakeup Copenhagen Borgergade, 9 Borgergade, Copenhagen.

Call (45) 44 800 000.