We finished our three-week tour of Denmark with a return to Copenhagen, the city where we tentatively knocked at the front door of our second Airbnb six years ago. Since then, we've called 230 different Airbnbs home.
This time our Airbnb was in the Christianshavn neighborhood. One of the most beautiful (and expensive) parts of the city. We knew we would spend more on accommodations while traveling in Denmark, but we'd saved money in less expensive places like Portugal and Peru, so we settled into our lovely new home where we enjoyed a view of the curling spire of the Church of our Saviour feeling good about our decision.
Daily life here costs a pretty Kroner. Copenhagen is the 20th most expensive city in the world. However, that doesn't keep the Danes from being some of the happiest people on the planet (ranked #3 in the World Happiness Report) even though they pay 45% of their income in taxes. For that sacrifice, they receive free health care, free education, generous pensions, lots of vacation time, generous maternity and paternity leave and compassionate elder care. Don’t worry. Be Danish!
We would have to be careful with our spending, but fortunately, there is much to see and do in this city for free or nearly free. As always, we planned to take a Sandeman's Free Walking Tour. But when we arrived at the meeting point and met our guide, we decided to postpone our tour. Although he seemed a nice fellow, it was only his second solo tour and he'd just arrived from Chile four months ago. Since we know the city fairly well, we decided to explore on our own instead. We didn't get around to re-booking the free tour but we found plenty of ways to enjoy the city on a budget.
We happened to be in the city during their annual Jazz Festival so most everywhere we found ourselves there was music playing on small stages sprinkled throughout the city. Of course, where there is music there are beer wagons and sausage stands standing by, so tourists and locals alike found shade where they could and enjoyed everything from Dixieland bands to soulful crooners while sipping a frosty beverage.
Our favorite was a snazzy sextet with a female singer that was really good (didn’t catch the name). One by one, couples filled the small space in front of the stage and began to dance. But partners were not necessary as proven by an elderly woman who gracefully moved to the beat and several little girls who twirled in their summer frocks and boys who ran in and out between the dancers legs.
On Tuesdays the Glyptotek Art Museum is free. We've visited hundreds of museums, and some stand out more than others. Of course major museums like the Louvre in Paris, the Uffizi in Florence, and my favorite, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam will always be memorable. But sometimes there are gems like this one to add to our list of special places. The collection of sculpture and paintings that fill this elegant 18th-century building belonged to Carl Jacobson, the son of the founder of the Carlsberg brewery. His family donated the collection to the city in 1888. The building itself is magnificent - almost a museum in itself. There is an elegant winter garden in the center filled with exotic plants and a cafe. The galleries spread out from there and cover two floors. It is primarily a sculpture museum and includes an extensive number of Rodin pieces along with rooms full of European masterpieces, ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan works, and a floor dedicated to Egyptian antiquities. The upper floors are filled with Danish and French paintings from the 19th century and include works by Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Degas and many more. To top it off, there is an extensive wing filled with artifacts from several ancient civilizations. It's sort of mind-boggling that one family could have amassed this staggering collection.
The museum sits near Tivoli Gardens, a beloved amusement park founded in 1843. We decided to splurge for tickets on a clear summer evening that featured a chamber music concert in the performance hall and a free big band concert on the main stage outdoors. What a magical place! Thousands of colored lights blurred as the old-meets-new amusement rides whizzed and twirled and shot skyward. The ornate buildings were outlined in white lights and the many gardens and pathways around the lake glowed with lanterns.
After the first concert, we strolled the grounds with our ice cream cones and waited for the jazz performance. The stars of the show belted out everything from Frank Sinatra's greatest hits to the best of Aretha Franklin with rousing Danish favorites in between. I'd say people were dancing in the moonlight, but it takes forever to get dark in Denmark in the summer. That's why the fireworks display signaling the end of another happy day at Tivoli Gardens didn’t start until just before midnight.
Fortunately, we had some Airbnb Experience credit built up so we booked a walking tour called Feel the Danish Hyyge and Happiness. It was advertised as a slow-paced stroll through some of Copenhagen's coziest neighborhoods with stops for treats along the way. We arrived a few minutes and the tour was just getting underway when we rushed to join the group.
Our host Jacob was gracious, but also seemed confused because he didn't have us on his guest list…. and the tour was full. It quickly became apparent that we had booked the tour for the next day. Oops! The other guests on the tour kindly invited us along - and that made everyone feel Hygge! (pronounced hue-guh) a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, as cozy, charming or special.) A good start to a "feel good" tour. We enjoyed Jacob's take on life in Denmark, including why everyone is so darn happy, along with some interesting history and stops for local treats.
We avoid Hop-on Hop-off buses and similar touristic activities, so we were certain we wouldn't take a canal boat cruise in Copenhagen. But friends and a few other credible sources told us they were worth the money. So we set about finding the most affordable option. The boats are all pretty similar - wide-bodied with lots of seats open to the sky, along with a few covered versions. They also range in condition. Some are quite fancy, and others have seen better days. We opted for a Netto Cruise - a bargain at 50 Danish Krone ($7.50) each (many were over 100 DK). The boats were a little worn and the seats were hard plastic, but once you were on board, you took the same tour as every other boat and our guide spoke good English. Our friends were right. Viewing the city from the water is an enjoyable experience and there was much to see, especially where the city is expanding along the waterfront. The architecture of the newer buildings is remarkable - all glass and sharp angles, but they’ve settled in nicely right alongside their older neighbors.
One of the new buildings along the main canal has been dubbed "The Black Diamond" because of its dark glass exterior and angular shape. It houses the main library as well as some cultural spaces. Since we've been on a library visiting kick lately we stopped in. It is attached to the 18th-century building that housed the original library so there is an interesting juxtaposition between the two. As i turns out, it isn't really a space for the general public other than to see special exhibits and enjoy the waterside cafe.
It's a good thing that Copenhagen is such a walkable city because we needed to get well beyond 10,000 steps a day to offset our intake of delicious Danish pastries and ice cream. Speaking of pastries, we met up for coffee and baked good with our friends Jan Ohstrom and Desiree Hoycnk van Papendrecht who are fellow sailors and and former slip mates of ours at Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle. They live in The Netherlands now. Jan is Danish and Desiree is Dutch so they spend time in both countries - we caught them on their way to their summer place on the Danish coast. In our six years of travel we've met up with them three or four times.
As for walking, I finally wore out my favorite walking shoes. Since we did our internship at Airbnb Headquarters in San Fransisco two years ago, I became a fan of Allbirds, the "it" shoe at HQ. The flagship store is in San Francisco so I bought my first two pair. This last pair of black Wool Runners was purchased in December.
Allbirds claim to be "the most comfortable shoe in the world" and I think they may be right. They are made with all-natural materials (including soft, washable wool), they come in fabulous colors and can be worn with anything. I put enough miles on this last pair that I could have walked from Seattle to San Francisco to buy another pair! But since I am in Europe and they don't ship here I was at a loss as to how I would replace them. However, I found an inside track at Allbirds through a senior exec from Airbnb who recently went to work there. My timing was perfect as they were just a few weeks away from launching free shipping to select European countries through their UK operations. My contact put me in touch with the marketing team and they loved my testimonial so much they sent me a free pair! Does that make me an influencer? If so, I would like to "influence" you to try these ultra-comfortable, fun to wear kicks :)
Our Airbnb location was perfect for walking just about anywhere in the city. Not only was it a pleasant walk along canals and over bridges to the city center, but we were also just down the road from Freetown Christiana - the hippy enclave that embraces a communal way of life with disregard for most of the city’s laws and regulations. While it seems a bit strange to go gawking through a community like visitors to the zoo, the residents are quite used to it and just ask for a little respect.
Also down the road lies the Christianhavn Vold, the remains of what used to be a moat and is now an idyllic lake with bike and walking paths that lead back into Christiana or all the way around. There are plenty of leafy hideouts along the edge for scofflaws to smoke a little pot procured at Christiana, or just dip their toes in the water. The city is full of green spaces and thoughtful pocket parks that only add to the happy quotient.
We were fortunate that while many parts of Europe were sweltering under record high temperatures, our three weeks in Denmark were often cool and cloudy, or when the sun did come out, it was a lovely 75 degrees with a breeze. And with the long hours of daylight, we enjoyed sitting outdoors and taking long evening walks.
Our Danish tour took us to four cities on the Jutland peninsula by car and a week in Copenhagen without a car. It was the perfect combination of spontaneous road tripping through the countryside and city living. I loved the colors of Denmark. The many shades of red, the mustard yellow and the muted blues that ran through the landscape became my favorite palette. The intricate rust and often black brickwork on city dwellings was captivating. And finally, the many elegant sand colored municipal buildings and elaborate palaces topped with shocks of mint green from oxidized copper rooftops and spires, offered simple grandeur.
Whether you are in the city or at the seaside in Denmark, everything is in its place and the streets are spotless. We rarely saw graffiti anywhere, and litter was almost nonexistent. And the people really are happy - and very friendly. But we had a sense that most Scandinavians, even when they stop tidying for a moment to take in the warm days of summer - have one eye on the woodpile, and are preparing for the long dark winter ahead. So while we enjoyed Denmark in July, I doubt we'll be back to experience Denmark in January. Although winter is when Hygge really comes into its own...so you never know!
Thank you for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads
NOTE: This is the 180th blog I’ve written since we began our Senior Nomad adventure in 2013. All of the blogs are searchable by topic or location. And, if you’d like to try living daily life in an Airbnb, use this link and save $40. on your first booking and receive $15. credit towards an Airbnb Experience.