Cheerful in Copenhagen

PEOPLE smile a lot in Copenhagen.

This is distracting for a first-time visitor, and also highly gratifying. Danes tend to be exceptionally good-looking. A few hours in the city, and your head is spinning from desire, and adulation. Then you see you are just being silly. They are smiling because they live here. When you live in Copenhagen, there is a lot to smile about.

To start with, there is the efficiency. This is as absolute as anyone has ever tried to tell you, although you may not have believed them. When you live in a country where ‘leaves on the track’ is an acceptable excuse for a train being delayed, it is hard to believe in efficiency. And yet, in Copenhagen, everything works exactly as it is supposed to from the moment you get off the plane and step onto your automated train.

14 minutes from the airport to the city centre. No driver, no conductor, not as much as a ‘mind the gap’. This is public transport for grown-ups; clean, quiet, effortless, apparently. It is also the citywide norm. In Copenhagen, conveyances arrive when they are supposed to.

Over the course of three days in the city, travelling around by land and sea, every single train, bus, bike tour and boat ride arrived and departed exactly on time.

The courtesy we were met with as travellers was a revelation as well. In Denmark, people fall over backwards to help you in any way they can.

One of the defining features of Copenhagen as a city in fact, is the way in which everything you could possibly want to see, or do here as a traveller turns out to be even easier to pull off than you think it will be.

Want to buy lunch, but worried you don’t speak any Danish? Fear not. Every single person in Copenhagen, from the hot dog seller to the barmaid speaks better English than you do, and three other languages as well, probably.

Maybe you would like to rent a bike, but you are nervous because you know this is the busiest city in the world for cyclists and you’re afraid you might fall off or crash? There is no need at all to worry, everyone has good cycling etiquette and follows the rules of the road in spirit, if not to the letter. Plus, they will be polite, and courteous when you need to stop them to ask for directions, even if they are trying to cycle home at the time, in the pouring rain, with a child and a pot plant strapped onto the back of the bike.

This actually happened to me, and the cyclist, a mother with a baby, stopped in the middle of a downpour, and in flawless English, gave me such clear directions, that even I, a person who would get lost in a box of Rice Krispies, found my way back to the hotel.

Everywhere we went in Copenhagen, from the shops of the Stroget to the trendy restaurants of the hipster meatpacking district, all along the waterfront, and the theatre district to the tourist hub of Nyhavn, we encountered unfailing courtesy and lovely manners. Nobody seemed to be trying very hard, either. It all came naturally. People smile in Copenhagen because they know they are doing everything right.

They smile because they have a magnificent waterfront, and they enjoy it every chance they get. All you really need to do in order to understand the unique serenity at the heart of Copenhagen is get yourself out on the water as soon as you can.

This is one of the great maritime cities of the world, and it deserves to be seen from its harbour, where the Copenhagen of the present-clean, liveable, architecturally audacious breathes alongside its historical self, the Royal Kingdom, and military superpower of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Boats full of sightseers sweep not only past cutting-edge feats of architecture, like the Henning Larsen-designed Opera House with its magnificent, swooping paper plane roof, but also, just across the water, august historic buildings like the Amalienborg Palace, where the Danish Royal family lives when they are at home.

Downstream from the Opera House, are the massive warehouses, silos and docks where the mighty Danish navy equipped itself, and traders have done their business for hundreds of years. One of these brick warehouses is now home to Noma, the restaurant voted best in the world for the second year in a row.

A guided boat trip around the Harbour and the canals of Copenhagen will give you a good feel for the lovely waterfront within an hour, but Danes have come up with all sorts of ways to see the city away from the shore. And all of them are as safe, and as practical as you’d expect from a country that has built an international reputation on the intelligence of its designers, as well as the skill of its sailors.

Copenhagen is bristling with boats, from the gorgeously old-fashioned high masted wooden fishing ships that stand proud along the fairytale harbour of Nyhaven, the picturesque waterfront precinct famous as the home of Hans Christian Anderson, to the shiny little pleasure cruisers docked all along the still, sparkling canals of Christianshavn, and Fredricksholm.

These hip waterfront neighbourhoods are working thoroughfares for the boats who live on them, and for their owners, who come out in the evening to perform some maritime maintenance, or just have a civilised beer by the water.

For more adventurous souls, there’s also a chance to get outside your comfort zone, in the safest way possible. What better place to try kayaking?

There are a range of different operators hiring along the canals. Kayaks come in singles, or in doubles, for those who feel the need for moral support (and a hand with the rudder), and while there can be a fair amount of traffic out on the water, what with canal boats, and the larger tourist cruisers, people here are sensible and considerate enough to make it safe for even the most nervous paddler to have a go.

It’s an exhilarating way to experience the city from the water, and there’s a sense of real adventure in sallying forth across the harbour under your own steam. And if you do fall in the water is clean enough to swim in. You’ll even be safe if you swallow some by accident. This is Copenhagen after all.


SAS Scandinavian Airlines fly to Copenhagen from Dublin 13 times a week. Not only as efficient as every other form of transport in the city, SAS also channels Scandinavian courtesy and logic by offering the following ‘perks’ as standard on all bookings: 24 hour money-back guarantee, free online check-in, free seat selection, child’s discount, free tea and coffee in economy class, and 23 kg luggage allowance on every flight.

Flights start at €74 one way ex-Dublin at time of writing. see for latest offers and prices.


The Admiral is a towering 18th century warehouse which has been transformed into a 4-star hotel on the same magnificent stretch of Copenhagen waterfront that is home to The Playhouse and the Royal Opera House. For little girls and fairytale believers, the Little Mermaid is one minute away. for reservations.

The shopping

One of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe — Strøget — is located right in the heart of the city: the shopping here is legendary, with everything from US and European budget chains to designer boutiques all on the same, easily walkable stretch of pavement. A word of warning: most shops close early on Saturday, and don’t open at all on Sunday.

The food

Copenhagen is a white-hot foodie destination right now, with Noma winning Restaurant of The Year for the second year running. Good luck getting a table there unless you’re royalty, or your phone manner is spectacular. But for diners who want a taste of the Noma philosophy-food that is sourced with passionate care, and prepared in a way that respects it’s origins, there are some very exciting places to eat in the city.

Fiskbaren in the uberhip Meatpacking District is run by the former Sommelier at NOMA. The winelist is superlative, and the food is just as good as the atmosphere, which is saying something. This is the best looking crowd I’ve ever seen at a restaurant. Nobody looked particularly dressed up, just naturally gorgeous, like the menu. Hard to book, wait at the bar for a table.

Across the road from Fiskebaren, in the Meatpacking District, Nose2Tail is run by an up-and-coming young chef, keen to celebrate every part of the animal. They named the pigs the sausages came from and wrote it on the blackboard. Chef said his mother picked the potatoes. Great sensibility, hard-going for vegetarians.

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