When we decided to book a very last minute post-Christmas weekend getaway to Denmark, we weren’t particularly excited by the destination – we were more excited to just be out of London. We knew very little about the country so our expectations were quite low. We knew only 2 things: they make good pastries and everything is expensive (oh and their future Queen is a true blue Aussie!).
We landed in Copenhagen at around 10am and not long after that I quickly realised that our return ticket to London was in fact booked in the wrong direction (i.e. it was another London to Copenhagen flight!). So I panicked and the first thing we did when we arrived at the hotel was rebook the flight back to London. Thankfully flights were still available at a reasonable price. Phew! Crisis averted!
Unfortunately being Winter, the weather was pretty miserable. It was gray and damp but this was no reason to spend our weekend away indoors. So instead we opted for the 3 hour free walking tour of Christianhavn and Christiania. Not surprising, the tour guide was another Australian (for some reason this has been the case for numerous free walking tours we’ve been on across Europe). Now the district of Christianhavn lies just east of Coppenhagen central and is tied together by a network of canals which is why it is often referred to as ‘little Amsterdam.’ Back in the day, this area was inhabited by wealthy merchants and so it was considered very much a ‘privileged’ area to live in. These days it is much more diverse with young families, hipsters and the like all having their share in the area.
Now one of the most interesting things about this area is not the town itself, but the mini-community that lies within it, known as ‘Christiania Free Town.’ Now at first glance it looks just like a hippie commune, which in many ways it is. Everything is covered in beautifully planned graffiti and recycled artwork and nothing in this area could be considered mainstream. Before I go on describing what is in there, I’ll give you a bit of a backstory. This area was an abandoned army base. Over time, squatters started using it as their permanent residence and over the years this continued to expand into a relatively large community with an estimated 800 residents there. Now there aren’t proper houses here – if you can imagine an old factory like building with heaps of randoms living in it and decorating/refurbishing it to make it whatever they like, this is what it is. There are many reasons why this area is infamous among the locals and they are: the community pays no taxes or any rent (i.e. they pretty much live there free) despite it being located in a prime real estate area and they sell marijuana quite openly there which makes it a huge tourist attraction. To become part of this community you must have some skill that is of value to it such as being a teacher, plumber, cleaner etc. Everyone in the community must contribute to its sustainability in one way or another. Whilst this community does openly sell Marijuana (which is illegal in Denmark), it does not accept anyone selling anything considered ‘hard drugs’. There is a well-known period in time when the community turned on the ‘hard drug’ dealers by surrounding the building and literally kicking them out of Christiania.
Prior to actually walking through this town we were warned by the tour guide to abide by 2 rules:
1. Do not take any photographs (to avoid any drug dealers getting caught on camera)
2. Do not run (because the only reason people would run is if they are running away from the police, so if the drug dealers see people running, they will immediately destroy their ‘stash’ to avoid being caught in a raid)
We were quite nervous coming in as we’d never experienced an area like it. The beginning part was fine, it just looked like an area with hippies living in, but when we arrived to the street appropriately named ‘Pusher Street’ that’s where we saw an entire street lined with small timber shacks each covered in army netting with men in balaclavas selling marijuana in different forms. It was actually quite intimidating to see, but once we passed this street there were small street stalls selling craft items similar to what you’d see in a typical market. Once the tour ended we decided not to stay in Christiania, there’s just something a bit uneasy about going there. Despite it being a cool and unique thing to see as a tourist, it’s not a place we could comfortably just hang out. By this stage our toes were absolutely freezing and I was pretty sure the beginnings of frostbite were starting to occur and each step became more and more painful. The 20 minute walk back to the hotel felt like hours, but we managed to get there with all 10 toes in tact!
The next day we decided to take a day trip out to see the Lousiana Museum of Modern Art which lies on the north east coast of Denmark. The amazing thing is that you can actually see Sweden on the other side of the water! I didn’t expect much from the museum given that neither of us are really interested in Art, but after a strong recommendation from my cousin Teresa, we decided to see what the fuss was all about, and I’ve got to say, I’m so glad we did. The experience was amazing – not only was the art incredible but the way they made the exhibitions so interactive and unique made it all the more enjoyable. It’s pretty hard to describe so just look at the photos for a better idea!
The evening was spent at an amusement park called Tivoli Gardens. Now I know what you are thinking – what dags! But before you judge, you have to see some photos of this place. Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world (the oldest is not too far out from Copenhagen). It was originally built in 1843 with permission by King Christian VIII because “when the people are amusing themselves, they do not think about politics” i.e. let’s distract the people so I can do something dodgy. The park is like nothing we’ve seen before. We were fortunate enough to be there whilst the Christmas Markets were still on and so were greeted with the smells of caramel popcorn and sausages as we arrived. There were beautiful light displays, shops and rides but what made this an incredible experience was the 10 minute fireworks display. We had an absolute blast and would highly recommend this place for all ages!
On our final morning we lined up at a packed-out bakery and of course devoured some of the most amazing pastries we have eaten in our lives. There’s a reason why they’re called ‘Danishes’.
So that winds up our quick visit to Denmark. It certainly was much more enjoyable that we had expected and it had a lot more to offer than most European cities we’ve visited.
Til next time
Ann & Jason xo