Tan’s Travel Guide: Copenhagen

In this new series on Tan’s Topics, following on from Tan’s Tips is Tan’s Travel Guide. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while, documenting places I’ve visited and would (or wouldn’t) recommend to others.

In this series, I will of course mention the best attractions to see, fun facts about the place I picked up along the way, where’s good to go if you’re part of the LGBTQ community, and of course because I think it’s important and nobody else does it – talk about what it’s like for Chinese and other East Asian people and travellers.

First up is Copenhagen. Admittedly, I chose this place because flights were pretty damn cheap over the Platinum Jubilee weekend. But of course the first thing to bear in mind about Denmark and other Scandinavian countries is that they’re not cheap. So while you may save money on flights expect to fork out quite a bit for hotels and other things such as food and drink.

Rosenborg Castle is one of several impressive castles and palaces dotted around and near Copenhagen.

Attractions

Copenhagen is largely a very picturesque and clean city. It’s relatively small, not much larger than Manchester, but it has so much more to see and do. My first tip would be to invest in a Copenhagen Card, which grants you entry into more than 80 attractions around the Greater Copenhagen area, even those outside the main city centre, and allows you to travel on local buses and trains and the metro (which is modern and deep underground, yet you can still get signal down there!). And if you’re planning on seeing several things each day, the standalone ticket prices very easily and quickly rack up, meaning it is definitely great value for money, roughly increasing by about £15 per adult card every day from 24-120 hours. Up to two children under 11 can go for free with each adult, making it a brilliant money-saving idea for families. It’s definitely something more cities should have if they don’t already, including those in the UK where most museums and art galleries are usually free but many other attractions aren’t and can be expensive.

My top 5 places to go or things to do to use the Copenhagen Card are: the zoo, the canal boat tour, Tivoli Gardens, the many palaces and castles, and The Hans Christian Andersen Experience. Copenhagen Zoo is one of the most aesthetically pleasing and interestingly designed zoos, which includes fewer enclosures where the animals are “caged” in, offering an open viewing experience, and structures such as the Arctic Ring where you can walk under the polar bear’s swimming pool. Other highlights include the giant pandas, elephants, hippos and several species of savannah animals all in one big enclosure.

The zoo’s structure means there are different levels at which to see most of the animals, giving far-reaching views across the landscape and uncaged enclosures.

The canal boat tour takes roughly an hour and sails through Copenhagen’s waterways, which look very clean and are free of waste that you sadly see in many of Manchester and the rest of the UK’s canals and rivers. On it you can see some of the city’s landmarks and other canal side architectures that have interesting cultural and historical significance, from the waterfront district of Nyhavn to of course The Little Mermaid statue to the opera house, which doesn’t look quite as impressive as Sydney’s.

Tivoli Gardens is basically a permanent funfair and theme park in the centre of the city. The Copenhagen Card only gives you entry to the gardens so if you want to go on the rides and do other things, you have to pay extra. As well as a variety of rides and rollercoasters for people of all ages, there’s also an aquarium, stages where live performances take place (50 Cent and Sir Tom Jones are scheduled to perform there soon), plenty of food and drink stands, restaurants and cafés, shops, and features for those who want a bit of relaxation such as a Chinese pagoda, pirate ship and garden areas (obviously). The place does however get extremely busy, particularly after school hours and on weekends but is very nice in the evenings when the lights come on and they start the firework display later on at night near to midnight.

Tivoli Gardens is a multi-purpose area that serves as a funfair, theme park, entertainment centre and of course garden/park.

With links to Swedish royalty and other neighbouring or nearby countries, including Norway and the Netherlands, Danish royalty is, similarly to British, rich, intertwined and extensive. The current monarch, Queen Margarethe II, celebrated 50 years on the throne earlier this year which is very impressive, even if it of course far off from Queen Elizabeth II’s record-breaking reign. The main places of royal interest are Christiansborg Palace, Rosenborg Castle, Amalienborg Palace and Frederiksborg Castle (NOT to be confused with Frederiksberg Palace). Christiansborg Palace has a lot of ground to cover with a predominant focus on architecture and interior design, Rosenborg Castle is a typical, grand renaissance style building surrounded by a vast garden, Amalienborg Palace isn’t huge but it houses jewellery owned and worn by the Queen and other members of the royal family as well as details the history of the family through photograph, portraits and objects.

Frederiksborg Castle is situated out in Hillerød, about 25 miles or 40 minutes away. Entry is still included in the Copenhagen Card, as is the public transport to get there, which is very good. It looks like an even more impressive and grander version of Rosenborg Castle. Frederiksberg Palace on the other hand is a former palace next to the zoo that is now used as a military training ground. The building itself cannot be viewed inside but the big beautiful grounds which include an English landscape garden, a Chinese summerhouse and an Apis Temple, are open to the public.

There are numerous museums and exhibitions to see in Copenhagen, which certainly dwarf those in Manchester, showing how much more comparatively culturally and historically intriguing it is. One of the many museums that is worth visiting is the Hans Christian Andersen Experience, which isn’t big but it pays homage to the famous Copenhagen-born author, making it stand out from the others as fun, interactive and educational for literature lovers of all ages.

As I previously mentioned, Copenhagen is a clean city, and Scandinavian countries are well known to be environmentally friendly, something the UK’s government fail to take action on and the public seem to care less about. When you buy drinks in shops and cafés the paper cups, plastic bottles and aluminium cans come with an extra minor charge which means you can return them when empty and get that money back. An innovative way to encourage recycling and reduce waste!

LGBTQ

Luckily for LGBTQ people in Denmark, they enjoy practically all the same rights as heterosexual people and couples. Only some discrimination and hate crimes or speech are illegal in some contexts, usually mainly just covering sexual orientation. The Danish public are also largely supportive of LGBTQ people and rights, and high percentages of LGBTQ people reported not being discriminated against or harassed at work in a recent survey. There were several Pride flags hung up around both commercial and residential buildings.

So with that, Denmark is considered one of the world’s most LGBTQ-friendly countries and Copenhagen’s gay scene is quite diverse. There’s a variety of different types of bars and clubs across the city centre, the smaller ones of which (such as Centralhjørnet, whose glazed windows are reminiscent of secret gay bars of old) allow smoking in them because of their size. Most gay bars are within a few streets of each other – Centralhjørnet, which has been around since the early 1900s then a gay bar since the 50s and claims to be one of Europe’s oldest, is not far from Oscar’s (a stone’s throw away from Tivoli Gardens). It’s good for early night drinks and has outdoor seating. SLM is round the corner from there but is temporarily closed – and it’s known as the largest fetish club in Scandinavia!

Jailhouse CPH is one of Copenhagen’s most famous gay bars, not least because of it jailhouse theme inside.

A bit further west are Cosy Bar (appeared to be frequented by more women) and Masken Bar, which has table football and is another where smoking is allowed. Another favourite is Jailhouse CPH where bar staff dress as police officers because of course it’s a decorated in theme of a prison – definitely something different! And my final recommendation is G*A*Y club, which is not affiliated with Jeremy Joseph’s franchise in London and formerly Manchester. It appears to be one to few that has regular live entertainment and drag queens who either perform there or simply promote the place.

Copenhagen definitely has a good mixed scene and even though there is no specific “gay area”, it’s a small enough centre to not take too long to walk around and bar hop. Of course, as with most gay bars, the music in all of them is pretty much consistent – camp tunes, diva classics and either Eurovision favourites as is popular in European countries, locally known pop stars singing songs in their native tongue. Drinks are, as you’d expect, not on the cheap side, even for the famous Danish beer, Carlsberg, which usually sell for about 50 DKK (more than £5!) a pint.

Other places to go

For Lego fans, Denmark is of course where the company was founded and therefore a must-visit place for them. Sadly, their Legoland is not in Denmark but Billund where it’s headquartered, nearly three hours away, which I didn’t visit this time. But if you have time to travel there it could be worth a trip, especially for those with children where there is also a Lego House, the Teddy Bear Art Museum and holiday resort Lalandia, among other attractions.

If you are a family and have time to spare, a trip to Billund to visit Legoland is probably a good shout.

For somewhere a bit closer to Copenhagen yet in an entirely different country is the Swedish city Malmö. Malmö is just over 30 minutes away by train across the Øresund Bridge. It’s unknown whether you actually need a passport or identity card when you alight at Malmö as no-one checked but it’s recommended you take yours just in case. One stark difference about these places compared to the UK is how trusting they are of people on public transport, with no barriers at train or metro stations and hardly anyone checking tickets at all, including on buses.

Malmö is of course much smaller than Stockholm and Gothenburg, but being so close to Copenhagen it’s a popular choice for day trips. Places to see in Malmö include Malmö Castle, the Turning Torso building and Lilla Torg (little square in the middle of the city centre). You can also do canal boat tours similar to Copenhagen.

East Asian life

Asians, or more specifically Chinese people, are a very small minority in Denmark. Roughly less than 3.5% of the population are from Asia and less than 1.5% of Danes are of Asian descent. Not much is known about other ESEA (East and Southeast Asian) people but there are an estimated 12-15,000 ethnically Chinese people in the country, with the largest number obviously residing in Copenhagen.

It is said 86% of the Danish population are Danish, though there is no differentiation made to White Danes. Supposing that that 86% are all White, such a high percentage shows a huge ethnic majority and is similar to the UK’s 87%. Simply googling “racism in Denmark” unearths the worry that it does indeed happen, both overtly and subtly, with systemic racism being viewed as a problem by some, especially in regards to Black and Middle Eastern people and refugees.

For Chinese and other East Asian people, not much is known about them as a community or the racism they face, though there have been a couple of high-profile incidents and articles about Sinophobia they have experienced in public and in the press. While many Chinese and East Asian people will hopefully thankfully go by without any racist incidents happening to them, tourists should make sure they know where to go and who to report them to if they experience it. Most embassies are situated in the north and northwest of Copenhagen, the furthest in the Hellerup area, where they should receive support if they need it. And there are several police stations dotted around the city.

Hans Christian Andersen is one of very few Western authors who is extremely popular in China.

Of course, the majority of Chinese people in Denmark work in the food industry and East Asian faces are not as common as other places such as London whilst walking around. Chinese restaurants are not quite as popular there but sushi sure is, with countless branches of different sushi companies all over. But the many sights to see in Copenhagen – especially those related to Hans Christian Andersen such as The Little Mermaid, the Hans Christian Andersen Experience and the H.C. Andersen House in Odense, which is about 2 hours away – are major draws for Chinese tourists. In addition, Tivoli Gardens is one of very few attractions where its website can also be viewed in Chinese, showing the importance of Chinese tourism to them.

All in all, I highly recommend Copenhagen as a city to visit. With attractions of all kinds for everyone, a thriving LGBTQ scene, very few problems for Chinese and East Asian people and tourists, and places beyond the capital city to travel to as well, Copenhagen makes for a fun weekend getaway or short city break.

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