There was a time, way back when Danny Kaye was singing Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen, that the Danish capital was more readily associated with the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen.
But in recent years those innocent pleasures have been replaced in international consciousness by the dark shadow of crime thrillers The Killing and The Bridge or the political machinations of Borgen.
Peter and Ping are a company who specialise in literary walks around the city and the popularity of those Danish serials on BBC4 has opened up a new avenue for them. Now they run Borgen and The Killing tours every Saturday afternoon and will take visitors to the locations of The Bridge on request.
Our press group were given a sample of all three which entailed walking around some of the seedier parts of the city where tourists would not otherwise want to find themselves, the strip clubs, bars and doss houses of Vesterbro or the deserted meat-packing district (which actually is a lively bar area by night) where Sarah Lund and Martin and Sega followed up clues.
By contrast Christiansborg might be on the tourist agenda even if it wasn’t better known as Borgen, (meaning ‘the castle’), once a royal palace and now site of the Danish supreme court, parliament and the administrative offices of the royal family. Here are those semi-circular archways where prime minister Birgitte Nyborg held secret meetings and there the covered entrance where she came and went to and from parliament by limousine.
But Hans Christian Andersen remains a strong presence in the city in the form a couple of statues of the writer and, of course, the most recognizable symbol of Copenhagen, the famous statue of The Little Mermaid, is inspired by one of his stories.
There’s also the Hans Christian Andersen Fairytale House with living tableaux of some of his stories and the great man himself.
Andersen lived most of his life in three different houses in Nyhavn overlooking the harbour in Copenhagen’s centre. They’re among the landmarks pointed out on the canal tour which is a good way of seeing the old and new parts of the city. It travels out into the wide harbour to see the old shipyard B&W which has been converted into a concert venue which hosted this year’s Eurovision Song Contest and then winds through narrow channels past historic churches, castles, and old listed buildings.
Copenhagen is a compact and easy city to get around with many of the things to see within walking distance of each other.
Or you could follow the example of the locals and get on a bike (they can be easily hired). Practically everyone uses two wheels to get to work or school and even go on nights out. It’s nothing to be out in the early hours of the morning and see groups of young people pedaling past.
And everything is geared up to make travelling on two wheels easy. So much so that the phrase Copenhagenised – originally a naval term for the practice of confiscating the warships of a defeated enemy dating from the 1807 Battle of Copenhagen – has been coined for an international blueprint for urban planning and design centred on making a city more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians and less car dependent.
The 400 kilometres of bike lanes and the city-to-suburb Cycle Super Highway opened in 2012 suggest that the pledge amid Grand Depart euphoria to make Yorkshire the cycling capital of Europe has a long way to go.
There is though a Metro system, easily negotiated as there’s only a couple of lines, one of which brings you in from the airport.
A Copehagen card gives free travel on public transport and admission to 72 museums and attractions. The three-day version works out at around £60 but it does cover the Greater Copenhagen area so you can get further afield, say to North Sealand.
At Helsingor there’s the stunningly designed M/S Maritime Museum, ingeniously built down in an old dry dock, within walking distance of Hamlet’s castle, Kronborg. Also in the area is the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle and the fabulous Louisiana contemporary art gallery.
Back in Copenhagen it might be time to consider the nightlife. Which brings us back to Nyhavn, the waterfront district with its brightly coloured 17th and early 18th century townhouses visible by day replaced after dark by the bright lights of bars, cafes and restaurants.
Copenhagen has the world’s best restaurant – at least, according to one authority – in Noma which may be beyond the pocket of most visitors but its speciality of Nordic cuisine with a focus on ingredients foraged from the nearby forests and shores is readily available, especially in the form of the Smørrebrød, the famous Danish open sandwich.
We particularly enjoyed our lunch at the Restaurant Koefoed founded by people from the island of Bornholm from where they try and source as much of their ingredients as possible.
Copenhagen is ranked as the most liveable city in the world in a global quality of life survey and on the basis of a weekend you wouldn’t argue.
Flight: Scandinavian Airlines now operates a twice-weekly direct flight to Copenhagen from Leeds Bradford Airport. With a flight time of just one hour 40 minutes, departing on Friday evening with a return on Monday afternoon, they are timed perfectly for a long weekend. Prices start from £66 one way or £119 return, including all taxes and charges.www.flysas.co.uk 0871 2267760.
THREE PLACES TO SEE
Louisiana Museum Of Modern Art: A train ride away from the capital out in the countryside is this major gallery of contemporary art with special exhibitions, a collection that includes works by Picasso, Giacometti, Warhol and Hockey and a sculpture park overlooking the sea.
Christiana: The self-proclaimed ‘free city’ occupied by squatters and hippies since the 1971 is a ramshackle colony of warehouses, huts and houses, colourful murals and outdoor sculptures. Visitors are welcome to stroll around the market stalls, cafés, restaurants and bars
Hamlet Tour At Elsinore: A costumed guide who remains entirely in the character of Horatio leads the way round Kronborg Castle telling the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, in a such vivid way to make sense of the plot for anyone who has struggled to get to grips with Shakespeare.