- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

“Let’s sit outside and have a sandwich,” my guide said after three hours of strenuous sightseeing. “Outside” was a little table on the cobblestones of a lovely 18th-century square.

The “sandwich” was the restaurant’s lunch special of three open-faced sandwiches, called “smorrebrod,” chosen from a list of about a dozen different sandwiches featuring fish, meat, cheese or vegetables. I chose shrimp, smoked salmon and a lovely cheese-and-tomato combination. With a glass of dry white wine, followed by a cup of great coffee and a shared strawberry tart, it was perfection.

If you’re traveling all the way to Norway, Sweden or beyond, it’s worthwhile to stop on the way over or back in Copenhagen, that most delightful of Scandinavian cities.

Food is important in Copenhagen, and it’s wonderful, whether in a restaurant, at a sidewalk cafe overlooking the canal, or in one of the restaurants in the Tivoli Gardens. Fish, of course, is always a specialty, and those little North Sea shrimps are truly delicious.

Denmark consists of the peninsula of Jutland and 474 islands, less than a quarter of which are inhabited. Settled originally by hunting tribes and then by the vikings in the ninth century, Copenhagen became an important trading center in the Baltic region in the Middle Ages. Because the city was devastated by two fires in the 18th century, it is now a romantic, Baroque town.

Unlike most European nations, Denmark and King Christian IV invited the Jews of Europe to move there in 1622 and gave them religious freedom and extensive trading privileges. Most who came were successful merchants from Amsterdam and Hamburg, Germany, and by the mid-18th century they had developed a significant presence in Copenhagen. In October 1943, the brave Danes ferried almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark to safety in Sweden.

Because Copenhagen is relatively small, it’s easy to wander through the center of town in a relatively short time. It has splendid palaces, a delightful spired old stock exchange and excellent museums showing everything from viking stones inscribed with ancient runes to artifacts of Danish cultural history and contemporary art. The stunning modern wing of the Statens Museum for Kunst — Denmark’s national art gallery — is shaped like a ship made of concrete and glass, but it is closed until February for improvements in acoustics; the new library, across the street from the harbor, is almost all glass.

The Amagertov (Amager Market) dates back to the 15th century and is the center of the pedestrian zone, lined with elegant shops. The shops sell the designs that have made Denmark famous.

Even if you don’t buy anything, whether it’s Royal Copenhagen porcelain or the latest from Georg Jensen, art glass or current accessories, it’s fun to look. The airport, by the way, is also an excellent place to shop for high-quality Danish goods at good prices.

When all the walking and sightseeing get too tiring, stop off at one of the dozens of sidewalk cafes on the Nyhavn (new harbor), the canal dug between 1671 and 1673.

The once-seedy gabled houses, the earliest of which dates to 1681 (Hans Christian Andersen once lived in one of them), have been painted and spruced up, and the area has become one of Copenhagen’s most popular.

There’s another reason to stop off in Copenhagen. Tivoli, though an amusement park, is not Disney World. It has some of the usual rides, to be sure, but it is an enchanted park, fun for old and young alike, where ballet, acrobatic, musical and other stage performances take place all day and into the evening.

There are concerts, magicians and puppet shows.

There’s even a humorous show by an acrobat hanging upside down, high above the crowd, attached to a metal beam with heavy magnetized shoes — as are the tables and chairs he uses in his act.

When dusk falls, thousands of tiny lights illuminate the trees. It’s unique and truly magical. Also with the night comes the opening of restaurants featuring all sorts of Danish and continental specialties. They offer everything from fine dining to smorrebrod and pizza.

The Danes are warm and friendly people. They make visitors feel welcome, regardless of whether they can speak Danish — almost everyone speaks some English in Copenhagen. And when you go down to the harbor, don’t forget to wish the little mermaid, who sits patiently looking out to sea, a happy 90th birthday this year. In 2005, Denmark will celebrate the 200th birthday of her creator, Hans Christian Andersen.

• • •

Scandinavian Airlines — SAS — (800/221-2350) flies nonstop from Washington Dulles International Airport to Copenhagen. SAS has what is probably the best airline in-flight duty-free shop.

Train transportation from the Copenhagen airport to the center of town is quick and easy. Trains also go to Elsinore, and it’s only about an hour to Sweden.

A good source of information for Copenhagen is through Wonderful Copenhagen, the Visitors’ Bureau of Greater Copenhagen. The e-mail is [email protected]; the Web site is www.visitcopenhagen.dk. The Visitors’ Bureau also will be able to supply information on the Visitor’s Card, which gives a visitor access to museums, transportation and Tivoli.

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