Copenhagen: Sun & Beer!

I spent the last weekend in Copenhagen. The impetus for the trip was a Danish friend of mine inviting me to the Danish Beer Enthusiasts' annual Ølfestival, but since we'd never been to Copenhagen - or Scandinavia for that matter - we decided to do a 3 night, 4 day trip while trying to keep it on a budget. We sort of succeeded. I will have a more detailed rundown on my blog - are we allowed to advertise our blogs here yet? I know it was a no-no in the past but I've seen other people doing it recently. Anyway, that should be up in a day or two, and I'll link to it in a comment. Here I'm just going to write some basic tips and recommendations based on our trip. 1) GET THE COPENHAGEN CARD. Yes, it's expensive - $90 for 72 hours - but for a busy traveler it saved us a TON of money, because it also includes all your public transit in half of the island of Zealand, which means you can go to Roskilde or to Elsinore included. Virtually every major (and many minor) attractions in the area are covered except the Viking ship museum. I estimate we saved about $100 per person with this card, maybe more. We also did things we wouldn't have due to the cost because we had the card (like the weirdly political and artsy sand sculpture "competition" near Nyhavn). It was also just so convenient and nice to not have to worry about buying metro tickets or anything like that. With the card, it's all taken care of.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

2) Don't feel bad about the language. I usually tell people when they travel that they must memorize a few basic phrases in the native language - at least, "Do you speak English?" But Danish is INSANE. (I will never complain about German again). The pronunciation is nothing like the spelling. And literally everyone speaks English. I just resorted at first to asking people in english if they spoke it, to which I'd always get a slightly annoyed "Of course!" (Very unlike the German "A little bit...") Danes know their language is impossible for foreigners and don't expect you to be able to speak it, nor did they seem impressed/appreciative when I tried. 3) Everything costs a fortune. By far the most expensive place I've been to. (Once again guys...Germany is a budget destination in Europe! And Paris seems really reasonable all of a sudden...) We DID get a good deal on an apartment for 5 through airbnb, which was large and nice but reeked of smoke. Hotels cost a fortune. Food at sit-down restaurants is easily twice as much as it would be in the U.S. for similar fare. Plan accordingly. We ate primarily schwarma, pizza, and hot dogs. Kind of a bummer, because New Danish Cusiene is really exciting and cool, and they do great burgers there, but it's just not worth the cost. 4) Learn the buses.
Good advice for anywhere, but we found there were many places in central Copenhagen that were not that well-linked with the Metro/S-Tog. The buses come VERY frequently, even on Sundays, and tend to go where you need to. It's worth it to learn the system, and the bus drivers are helpful, too. 5) Rent a bike. We didn't do this, but we wish we had. The most cycling-friendly city I've ever been to.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

6) A budget traveler in the summer should plan accordingly. Despite the LOOOONG hours of daylight, the attraction/museum admission times were relatively short - 10-11 to 4-5 for pretty much everything in late May. We often found ourselves at 5pm wondering what to do that didn't involve spending too much money at a restaurant or bar. To eliminate this problem, I'd try to hit those attractions as much as possible during the opening hours, then leave the evening for strolling/walking tours, or napping. It didn't get fully dark til 11pm, and the sun was up by 4am. I woke up very early every day thinking I'd overslept only to find it was 5:30 a.m. Very weird. What we liked:
Just walking around Copenhagen was really a highlight. Such a beautiful, fascinating city. It felt very different from any place I've ever been to. The maritime history and the great variety of cool boats in the various harbors were really fun. Tivoli is a must-see in my opinion. It's right between the main train station and the town hall, so it's convenient. It's best at night. The rides are really expensive individually, and there's not enough "interesting" ones for us to justify a multi-ride ticket, so I spent $12 to go on the Demon roller coaster. Totally worth it, though, it was great. The National Museum is free (!!) and well laid out, although not enough focus on Vikings if you ask me. The Ny Carlsberg Glyptohek building is awesome enough to justify going, and the ancient art collection was fantastic (didn't make it anywhere else in the building). The boat ride was cool, there wasn't one with live narration included in the Copenhagen Card, unfortunately. Still worth the time. A daytrip to Roskilde is a must, the Viking Ship Museum is fantastic as is the cathedral there.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

These reports are really helpful. They beg the question, though - how do the Danes manage with such highly inflated prices? Is it only that prices are exorbitantly inflated in the areas frequented by tourists, or...?? Same for Switzerland. Are food prices equally inflated in the regular markets (not counting beer)?

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

The beer festival was a huge highlight for me, as Danish beer culture really must be in the top 3 in the world. They are doing amazing, crazy things with their beer there, and even at basic bars you will find a much larger international selection of beers, both on bottle and tap, then in any other European country I've been to. It should be a pilgrimage site for beer lovers, as opposed to Germany or Czech Republic, which get the type but are relatively staid when it comes to beer. Seriously, any kind of crazy style, you can get it here. I had a "Belgian IPA", a "Not-for-wusses lambic", a bunch of different "West coast styled" IPAs and double IPAs, "Nordic summer ales", and the dark beers...wow, it was more like syrup than beer, some made with coffee, or honey, lots of them smoked. Super cool scene. There's several beer festivals in Copenhagen so if that interests you, look around!

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Rose, according to my Danish friend, salaries are quite high - then again, so are taxes. There's two issues at work that make Denmark expensive for Americans: the basic cost of things is just high overall, but also a not-particularly-beneficial currency exchange ratio. I know a lot of Americans from the midwest see San Francisco as incredibly expensive to live and wonder how we do it, but I always point out that our salaries are usually quite a bit higher as well. (Even so, I do get tired of explaining to other Americans that no, I'm 33 and I don't own a home back in the U.S. Europeans never ask me if I do! They understand that high property prices means that most people who own homes make 6+ figures or inherit them.) So I think it's similar with Denmark. Almost everyone in the cities rent apartments that are small by American standards and live in much higher population densities than we'd be used to. That helps, I imagine. There's a real culture of trying to "prettify" and "cozify" your living space, which makes sense, because when it's so expensive to eat out you might do a lot more entertaining and hanging around your home than other people would.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9134 posts

Thanks for the trip report, Sarah. So, was there actually some sun in Copenhagen recently? I wonder if any of that could drift its way south a little. Interesting comment about the language. Supposedly, Danish is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn, especially if you know an additional Germanic language. I found that I could understand more than half of the writing in newspaper articles... but yeah, verbal comprehension of Danish is extremely difficult. A Swede once described Danish to me as "sounding like Swedish if the speaker is drunk and has a throat infection." Unfortunately, outside of the beer festival, I think the Danish beer scene might be rather disappointing. I found that at restaurants and in stores, your options are mostly limited to pale lagers. Better stuff than Norway, but not as good as Sweden or Finland. I don't think many of those styles you tried are readily available on a day-to-day basis. I would agree, a bicycle is the best way to navigate around Copenhagen. I probably packed in about twice the sight-seeing on bike that I could have managed on foot. Did you sample any of the "New Nordic" cuisine while there? And yes... your money just doesn't go as far in Scandinavia as it does in other parts of Europe. Unavoidable fact in that region.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I think the speciality beers are available in beer bars, but even at a rather unremarkable bar in Nyhavn we found Brooklyn Pale Ale from the U.S. on tap, which was pretty exciting, and the cafe we ate lunch at in Roskilde had microbrews from a prominent microbrewery on tap. Those weren't planned stops, but I was happy for the variety. The other bars we went to were specifically for the wide beer ion, as our Danish friend is a serious beer nerd. The weather was great except for Sunday. Sunny, highs in the high 60s and even up to 70 on Saturday. Much better than here. And it's supposed to be warm there right now as well. I don't know why we're having such crappier weather in the south than anywhere else in Europe right now, it seems, but it's really starting to irritate me. After that winter, we deserve real summer! Or at least spring.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9134 posts

Must be the difference, that I didn't go to any bars.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Ok, my blog entry is up. Sadly my photographer friend is being slow with processing his pictures and I only have my point-and-shoot ones available, but oh well. Here's the link.

Posted by Mme Eli
XXX
1170 posts

Sarah, we were there from the 24th May for a week. I think we had one day of rain in that time. We used to live in Norway (two years), and didn't like the high cost of everything, but you learn to manage. They're used to it. Always made every other country seem CHEAP after a visit to Denmark! haha Switzerland was very cheap, we thought :-)

Posted by Laura
Bellevue, WA
22 posts

Geez, I am beginning to be grateful that I am planning so well for our trip to Copenhagen and Switzerland. We decided to see how much money a family of five could spend in 3 weeks on vacation ;). Actually, I am hoping to keep us to $10,000 all in and maybe even lower. I remember being in Copenhagen in 1985 (when the dollar was worth 8kkr!) and feeling that I couldn't afford to eat. So, this trip will be interesting, especially catering to the kids' finicky tastes (no pickled herring for them, lol!). Thanks for the great tips--- appreciate it!

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7213 posts

I thought we did pretty well on a budget in Copenhagen. Our lodging wasn't unreasonable during July/August (when the convention business is slow) - probably around 25 percent more than I'd expect to pay in Germany (and double what I'd expect to pay in Spain). We skipped bars and restaurants for the most part in favor of picking up supplies at a grocery store and finding a good people watching spot to eat a sandwich and drink some wine or beer. Our favorite was the wooden curb next to Nyhavn. We too used the 72 hour Copenhagen card. If you take full advantage of it, it's a good deal.