By Matt Mitchell
Vikings never wore horned helmets. There you go. They did, however, live in Denmark, ironically a pretty damned cool little horn atop the northern European mainland girt by hundreds of islands. For many, the gateway to Scandinavia.
For most, home to an almost impossible language whose deceptively simple grammatical structure belies a complexity in pronunciation that leaves the Danes lone masters of their mother tongue.
But fear not, the majority of Danes command a grip over English that would leave many native speakers to shame. And it’s just one of the many charms of an erudite people from a compelling land.
Copenhagen (or Koo-en-HAR-ven if you want to sound like a local, but don’t, you’ll fail) is the first port of call for most arrivals into the country. Fair enough, too. It’s a spectacular city on the main island of Sealand that is nowadays linked to the Swedish mainland (yes, you can drive to Sweden from Denmark) by the Øresund Bridge. Most long-haul arrivals to Copenhagen will disembark at the slickly designed and efficient international airport which is conveniently located to the city centre and easily reached by taxi or public transport.
Hotel-wise, the city centre is going to hit you like a punch to the guts: it’ll hurt financially and the fewer stars you see, the more nauseous you’ll feel with the rooms. Central Copenhagen and cheap, good hotels are mutually exclusive terms.
My tip: Stay outside the city along the Metro line in somewhere like Ørestad (think Melbourne’s Docklands or Sydney’s Pyrmont). The Metro is an automated train service that runs every five minutes into mid-evening; it’s cheap, fast and clean.
The Crowne Plaza Copenhagen is thoroughly modern with spacious rooms, en route to the airport with a free shuttle and a kick-arse Scandinavian breakfast of pickled herrings, curried pickled herrings and smoked herrings (don’t knock the herring until you’ve tried them). Carbo and protein-load to the limit before heading out for the day and to keep costs down. A standard room will set you back just over A$200 with breakfast about $20, about half of what you would pay in the city centre for pretty ordinary quality.
Denmark has a reputation for being prohibitively expensive and, in some respects, this still holds true. However, with a strong Aussie dollar and a Europe largely in recession, most things cost roughly the same or slightly more as Australia.
Copenhagen is clean, efficient and charming. Its Amalienborg Palace is home to the Danish Royal Family (oh hai, Mary! Bit colder than Tassie, hey?!) and is a must-see. Also throw in the Round Tower with its amazing view and easy amble to the top up a sloping ramp with few stairs. The Tivoli Gardens is a tourist drawcard and, while easy on the eye, is expensive just to get in (about A$20) with everything else at theme-park prices. Tick it off the list, take a few pics, and get out.
The capital is worth two days on its own, but definitely devote one extra day to jumping on the swift and clean Danish rail system and head out to Roskilde (less than one hour) and maraud your way down to the Viking Ship Museum.
The ancient boat skeletons are interesting in themselves, but absolutely jump on a real-life working Viking boat and sail around the fjord with the skilled captain and deckhands. A one-hour flit around the fjord (and, yes, you’ll have to row occasionally) is an absolute highlight and will only set you back about A$35.
Denmark is much more than Copenhagen and Sealand, however, and the savvy traveller will trek over the island and across to Jutland and Denmark’s second-largest city, Aarhus. Fares are cheap and can be booked online in Australia before departure.
The Line 888 departs regularly from Copenhagen’s relatively central, yet pretty derelict, Valby Station and prices start from roughly A$50 one way (includes bus and ferry) with the journey taking about three hours.
Aarhus is a compact city built for living and it’s here that you start to get a feel for the true Danish lifestyle. The Danes are an outdoor people who court every season. In summer, they sail and swim; in winter, they ski; and in autumn and spring they ramble through nearby woods. These are a people for whom the words of one of their finest writers, Karen Blixen, seem written: the cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.
In equal measure the Danes love the arts, and not just The Killing and Borgen. These are a people who use winter as a time to go to opera and theatre and go they do, in droves. Aarhus is jammed full of the arts with its epicentre the way-cool ARoS museum crowned in its rainbow panorama that allows the visitor to walk through the spectrum of colour that commands one of the most magnificent views, in various hues (see what I did there?) in the country.
Denmark is as much the beauty of its people as it is the bijoux-quality of its cities and landscape. She is Europe’s beautiful beckoning little finger encrusted with her captivating ring of islands and, like Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, she need not speak to captivate.