Reading about fairy tales and little mermaids is probably one of the most enjoyable memories from our childhood. A noted gastroenterologist reminisces his childhood as he travels to Denmark, the land of castles, palaces, magic, and happy endings
Text and photos by dr. Jun R. Ruiz
Denmark is the smallest of the beautiful Scandinavian countries. The country consists of the Jutland peninsula and an archipelago of 443 islands. Its small size is well compensated by the temperate climate, the unspoiled white sand beaches, gentle sloping hills, at farm lands, and multiple tourist attractions that promise a magical vacation for the entire family.
Denmark has one of the world’s highest standards of living and a very generous social welfare system that is funded by one of the highest tax rates in the world. Without a doubt, no Dane likely lives in poverty due to a fairer distribution of wealth in this part of the world. As a result, Danes are believed to be among the happiest people in the world.
Growing up reading fairy tales was one of the more enjoyable memories from our childhoods. Fairy tales feature European folkloric fantasy characters and usually involve magic and happy endings. Stories like “The Snow Queen”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Ugly Duckling”, and “The Little Mermaid”, all creations of the famous Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, transport us to the land of magic, make-believe, and fairy tales. A visit to Denmark and its castles plus a date with a mermaid would be partly realizing this fantasy.
Something Old, Something New
Denmark’s capital city is the charming Copenhagen, home of 1.7 million people. It is located on the east coast of the island of Zealand, facing the Oresund that is the sound between Denmark and Sweden. Copenhagen is the perfect blend of something old and something new.
Many believe that Copenhagen is the liveliest and most enjoyable capital city in the region. It is the capital where pedestrians and cyclists rule the streets. It is one of the most bicycle- friendly cities of the world, with bicycles outnumbering its inhabitants. Shopping is superb in Copenhagen, and the city offers a lively and exciting night life.
Copenhagen got its name from the word koben-havn, which means “merchant’s harbor”. It is surrounded on all sides by the omnipresent water. The presence of water makes this city a much pleasant place to live in.
The Little Mermaid
As such, the best way to get an initial impression of the city is from the water by sailing through its beautiful canals. From the Harbor Gammel Strand or Nyhavn, you can take a 50-minute canal boat trip.
Going around the city is also convenient as the bus and metro are very e cient and easy to navigate. Buying a Copenhagen card entitles you to free and unlimited travel from one to three days. If you prefer a city tour, there are various sightseeing buses that pass by more than 35 tourist attractions. In four to ve days, you can explore the city extensively and totally enjoy the pleasures of Copenhagen has to offer.
For the star-struck tourist, the rst stop is the Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue) and the site can be reached either through the canal cruise or by bus. After all, she is the most photographed statue in Scandinavia. She is one of Andersen’s most beloved characters and continues to earn more
The Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue) is the most photographed statue in Scandinavia. Her sweet and melancholy grace makes her a famous symbol of both Copenhagen and Denmark (Photo cour- tesy of the Copenhagen Media Center and www. mermaidsculpture.dk Billedhuggeren Edvard Erik- sens Arvinger)
fans with her reincarnation in the Disney’s animated movie. This is a tale of a mermaid who fell in love with a human prince with a not-so-happy and tragic ending.
The four-foot bronze statue is the work of sculptor Edward Eriksen and this was unveiled in 1913 at the Langelinie dock. Despite her smaller than life-size, this statue that sits on a rock with her sweet and melancholy grace makes you fall in love with her. This extraordinary appeal has made her a famous symbol of both Copenhagen and Denmark.
Copenhagen is also called the “City of Green Spires”. Colored-green copper plates dominate the spires of castles and churches in the old city that tower over the city’s skyline. One of the prominent landmarks is the towering City Hall (Radhuset) and its clock tower that is anked by the City Hall Square (Radhuspladsen) where Danes celebrate their monumental events.
The Tivoli Garden
On the western side of the square is one of the most popular attractions of the country – the Tivoli gardens. It houses the second oldest amusement park in the world in its eight hectares, and is the world’s most-visited seasonal theme park.
Spend an afternoon here as you enjoy the exciting roller- coasters (there is a ride called the Demon), carousel rides, open-air amusement parks, restaurants, lush gardens, and concert hall.
Tivoli is a cultural showcase of Denmark in the heart of Copenhagen and one can step into a world of fairy tales. It is also an ideal place for a stroll and you can stay till the evening to be mesmerized by the colored lights and the night-time fireworks display that gives you a magical atmosphere.
If you want shopping or just plain strolling on the next day, Stroget is the place to go. It is a promenade consisting of a series of pedestrian- only streets and squares crossing the old city portion of Copenhagen. There are hundreds of stores, and you can certainly find one that suits your interest. It begins in the Radhuspladsen and ends in new king’s square, covering a distance of 1.8 kilometers, making Stroget one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe.
After exploring Stroget, you can spend your afternoon and then have an early dinner in Nyhavn (New Port). This harbor was built in the 17th century as a shelter port for ships from storms and served as pleasure hub for sailors where they fought, got drunk, and slept with women.
Today, the bright multi-colorfully painted preserved wooden houses lining the canal and the old fishing boats that are still moored by the port provide the old-fashioned nostalgia. The relaxing ambiance of Nyhavn provides the perfect place after a stroll where one can hang out at one of the many pavement cafes to enjoy coffee while gazing on the old ships. This is also a popular night spot in Copenhagen because of its great views, jazz music, and several classy restaurants and bars that offer best food and beer.
Another beloved symbol of Copenhagen is the peculiar Round
Tower (Rundetarn). The structure was built by King Christian IV in 1642 and forms part of the Church of the Holy Trinity. The tower stands 36 meters (118 ft) high.
Though it looks like a bell tower, this was designed as a center for astronomy. There is an observatory at the top that provides good panoramic vistas of the city. A lot of people enjoy walking the extraordinary spiral ramp that is 209 meters in length as it twists seven and half times around the tower until it reaches the observatory.
A Land of Castles and Palaces
Denmark is the home of the oldest monarchy. There are majestic palaces in the city that at some point lived real life princes and princesses. The Christiansburg Palace is the seat of political power in Denmark, as it houses The Parliament House, the Supreme Court, and The Royal Reception Chamber containing the Throne Room. This palace was once used as a royal residence until 1794.
The royal family moved to the red-brick Dutch Renaissance- style Rosenberg Castle after the Christiansburg Palace was burned down. This now houses the dazzling crown jewels and royal regalia, including King Christian IV’s crown.
Amalienborg Palace is the winter residence of the royal family. It is composed of four identical palace facade of Rococo architecture with an impressive square in the center and a beautiful garden. Go inside the Amalienborg museum to take a peek into the royal life of kings in the past two centuries. You can also witness at the palace grounds the changing of the guard that occurs daily at noon and attracts both locals and visitors alike.
If you want more of the royal castles, take a tour outside Copenhagen to visit more castles that are just an hour away from the city. Fredensborg Castle is called Denmark’s Versailles and is the royal family’s spring and autumn residence. This elegant baroque castle was built to commemorate the end of the war between Sweden and Denmark in 1722. It is the venue to celebrate important royal events and to welcome world leaders during official state visits.
Kronborg (Castle of Elsinore) is the Renaissance-style castle that Shakespeare set Hamlet in. The main attractions are the collections from the renaissance and the 62-meter ballroom.
Frederiksborg Palace is the most elaborate in Scandinavia – constructed on three islands in a castle lake and is surrounded by the beautiful palace garden. It was built to be the royal residence of King Christian IV, and now serves as a museum of national history.
If you want more of the fairy tale atmosphere, you can go on a day trip to the quaint but lively Odense, the birthplace of author Hans Christian Andersen. You can visit his childhood house along the cobblestone street Munkemollesreaede. Visit the museum and learn about his childhood and appreciate the multiple memorabilia.
With our four-day tour in Denmark, we enjoyed a magical and fantastic vacation filled with encounters with a little mermaid, a peek at the royal castles, and a cultural wonderland. It was definitely a happy ending when we left Copenhagen.