God Jul! Means "Merry Christmas" in Danish, and I had the experience of spending part of the holidays in Copenhagen, Denmark with my friend Dida! We took a direct flight on Norwegian Air from JFK airport in New York to Copenhagen and spent the weekend there. We stayed in a private room at a three bedroom apartment through Airbnb. The other two rooms were occupied by two lovely German girls who were both studying in Copenhagen and warmly welcomed us into their "home" so to speak! As soon as we got settled in, we hit the ground running as we had lots to explore with a time limit of only three days! Christmas markets, Nyhavn and The Little Mermaid Statue were on the top of our list, which Dida had perfectly laid out for us, and we managed to knock out all three in the first day as well as trying the local treats and drinks along the way! Below you will find descriptions and interesting facts about the sites we saw from our list of "Things to do" as well as some Christmas traditions that take place in this beautiful city of Copenhagen!
Little Mermaid Statue
The Little Mermaid Statue ( Danish: Den lille Havfrue), is a sculpture, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's fairy-tale, "The Little Mermaid." Displayed on a rock by the waterside at the Langelinie promenade and one of Copenhagen's most famous attractions, "The Littler Mermaid" is an icon to the city similar to how the Statue of Liberty symbolizes the United States of America or Christ the Redeemer symbolizes Rio De Janiero in Brazil. Don't let the pictures fool you. While she looks massive in photos, the statue made of bronze and granite is only 1.25 meters (4.1 feet) tall and weighs 175 kilograms (385 lbs).
The Little Mermaid was a gift to the city of Copenhagen in 1913 from Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen, who fell in love with the character after watching a ballet performance based on the fairy tale at the Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen - a fairy-tale, which later became a Walt Disney classic in what we all know as today, the story of Ariel, the beautiful red-headed mermaid princess who dreams of becoming human.
Speaking of the color red, the Little Mermaid statue was found painted red, earlier last year (2017) by anti-whaling activists, with a message that stated, " Defend the Whales of the Faroe Isalands." The message likely refers to the practice of hunting pilot whales, in which Faroe Islanders drive the aquatic mammals into shallow waters and kill them by hand using lances. I believe the red symbolizes the blood from the slaughtering of the whales. Fortunately, according to the American Cetacean Society, pilot whales are not endangered and there are likely to be more than a million pilot whales currently alive worldwide.
Copenhagen's Nyhavn (New Harbor) is a 17th-century waterfront which originally served as a busy commercial port where ships from all over the world would dock and was notorious for beer, sailors and prostitution. Today the canal is lined with the colorful houses from the 17th and early 18th centuries, some renovated into restaurants, bars and coffee shops for tourists and locals to relax and take in this scenic view of the canal, pictured below.
The oldest house in Nyhavn, at No. 9, dates from 1681, and the design has not been altered since that time. The famous Danish fairy-tale writer, Hans Christian Anderson (as previously mentioned, who wrote "The Little Mermaid" ), resided in No. 67 from between 1845 and 1864. Pictured a couple photos below, No. 20, the red building is where he wrote the fairy-tales 'The Tinderbox', 'Little Claus and Big Claus', and 'The Princess and the Pea. From 1871-1875 Andersen lived at Nyhavn 18, which currently houses an Andersen-themed souvenir shop where Dida and I bought Christmas cards!
Interesting facts of Hans Christian Anderson, among his most famous fairy-tale, "The Littler Mermaid," he also wrote "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Emperor's New Groove." If you look up the original version of "The Little Mermaid" the way Anderson wrote it, you'd be surprised to find it's more dark and gruesome than the cutesy animated Walt Disney picture we all know it as today. Click HERE to read nine ways the original 'Little Mermaid' is a little disturbing.
Conditori La Glace
Conditori (which means pastry) La Glace Is the oldest bakery in Copenhagen. It opened in 1870 and has survived six generations bringing a vast selection of pastries and cakes to customers with a love for sweets. Dida and I enjoyed a pastry and a cup of coffee for breakfast in the setting of an old fashioned room. You order your desserts/beverages at the front of the bakery and the waitress will bring it to your table. The atmosphere feels very quaint and cozy, especially on a cold day in the city.
If you want to get into the Christmas spirit then Copenhagen is the place to visit. You would think of the city to be cold and gloomy around that time of year, but Copenhagen is very much alive and festive during the holiday season. Just around every corner you'll run into a Christmas market of some sort with lights/garlands strung along every vendor stand and in between buildings while walking down the street. The smell of traditional Danish sweets and treats waft through the air. Lighted Christmas trees and decorations of Santa in his sleigh complete with his eight tiny reindeer (and don't forget Rudolph), are strewn about the plazas. The hustle and bustle of city-goers and tourists are filled with joy as they meander through the vendors of food, drinks and shops.
At the first Christmas market we stumbled upon, we stepped up to a bar and ordered Glogg (pictured below), a traditional alcoholic beverage of Denmark, similar to mulled wine but sweeter and a higher alcoholic content. Traditionally, raisins and almond slivers are added to the drink, and it is served warm.
We also tried Æbleskiver (apple strudel) which basically is a pancake baked in the shape of a sphere (much like the little munchkin doughnuts you can order at Dunkin Donuts) and topped with powdered sugar! It is delicious and a popular treat around Christmas time. We ordered a small batch between the two of us as they are very sweet and have sort of a cinnamon-apply hint to the taste. Mmmm.
My favorite Christmas treat was probably what they call "Chimney Cakes" - made from sweet, yeast dough of which a strip is spun and then wrapped around a truncated cone–shaped baking spit and rolled in granulated sugar and topped with a variety of flavors including cinnamon or coconut. The one I had pictured below was topped with coconut shavings. I wasn't sure how to go about eating the thing, so I just dove in (as you can see below), and it was very, very delicious!
The Royal Smushi Cafe
During one of the days we spent exploring Copenhagen, we ended up eating lunch at the Royal Smushi Cafe. (Smushi is a take on the popular Danish open-faced sandwich known as smørrebrød and is sized much like a piece of sushi). The Royal Smushi Cafe is very cute and charming (pictured below: photo from their website). You feel you are in a princess-esque setting with white tables and chairs, pink walls, and chandeliers hanging above from the ceiling, and all the meals are served on royal Copenhagen porcelain. While the cafe is famous for "smushi," their heart-shaped menu offers a variety of items ranging from brunch options like eggs Benedict and pancakes to salads, burgers, and desserts and pastries.
Tivoli Gardens is an amusement park in Copenhagen and is the second oldest Amusement park in the world. You feel a sense of nostalgia as soon as you step foot inside the gardens. During the holidays the park turns into a Christmas fairy-tale with lit up trees and Christmas market vendors set all around the walkways.
Dida had a friend who's family is from Copenhagen and was visiting the city the same time we were. He took us to Tivoli and showed us around (taking us to a couple local bars afterword). Reliving our childhood, we rode on an old wooden roller coaster (The Mountain Coaster). Built in 1914. It is one of world's oldest wooden roller coasters that still operates today. The park also has other various rides and attractions including bumper cars and a broad selection of restaurants ranging from French Cuisine to Asian food and traditional Danish food- one of which where we ended up having dinner overlooking one of the ponds inside the gardens.
We walked throughout the park, amid thousands of twinkling lights and Christmas decorations everywhere and had a cup of Glogg to stay warm. At one point it started snowing, just slightly, setting the perfect scene for a real winter wonderland. (Pictured below is a castle decked out in lights located just inside the main entrance of the park).
Fun facts about Tivoli from a History of Tivoli:
Christmas Traditions in Denmark
Aside from the things we got to do and see I thought it would be interesting to include some Christmas traditions known to Denmark itself!
The Dane's Christmas begins with the advent wreath. An advent wreath has four candles and one candle is lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas Eve where then, all four candles are lit. The advent wreath is typically made of spruce twigs and spruce cones and decorated with red and white ribbon.
The present calendar is also a Danish tradition. A small tiny present (such as a piece of candy) is received each day from December 1-24 to symbolize the days leading up to Christmas. A live advent calendar can be seen at the D'Angelterre Hotel in Copenhagen pictured below, with lighted/moving window displays and Christmas decor.
Traditionally a Christmas dinner for the Dane's consists of roast duck with prunes served with red cabbage, boiled and sweet potatoes, beets and cranberry jam. The desert is called risalamande, which is cold rice pudding with whipped cream, sugar, vanilla and peeled chopped almonds. One whole almond is hidden in the bowl and whoever finds it receives a gift.