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Helsinki is a vibrant seaside city of beautiful islands, green parks and fantastic food and nightlife
“The capital of Finland is a compact city easily explored on foot. Design, architecture, culture and shopping are all great exploration angles, while large park areas, forests, lakes, and the coastline with numerous islands sprinkled off it make certain there’s no shortage of natural presence. The city’s rhythm is laid-back yet at the same time refreshingly active in terms of both the number and quality of restaurants and nightclubs. Needless to say, there’s something going on in Helsinki every day of the year.”
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Venture to idyllic islands, pine forests and even the Arctic Circle, or stay urban in cozy Stockholm
“Sweden’s capital city, Stockholm, spreads out over 14 islands in Lake Mälaren and looks out proudly to the Baltic Sea to the east. Gothenburg and the West Coast have seafood, world-class restaurants and a coastline and archipelago to die for. Southern Sweden really is that gorgeous, with rolling plains, white cottages in the distance and endless sandy beaches. In Northern Sweden, including legendary Swedish Lapland, the Arctic Circle cities Luleå and Kiruna are the last major outposts of civilization, modernity and comfort just minutes from the wilderness.”
Itinerary: Stockholm for First-Timers … Discover Sweden’s vibrant capital city, one step at a time
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Once again ranked as the happiest nation in the world, Denmark points to its life/work balance as once of the secrets of success. Or maybe it’s the Danish obsession with cycling. The Danes took to their bikes during an oil crisis in the1960’s and haven’t looked back with bike-friendly cities and bicycle tracks everywhere, bikes for hire, signed loop routes and the ‘Margueritrute’, a 3,600km route passing more than 200 of Denmark’s top attractions.
The coast also calls. West Jutland has some Denmark’s most dramatic scenery with wild beaches and sand dunes. Learn more about the country’s fascinating maritime heritage at the impressive underground Danish Heritage Museum, next to dramatic Kronberg Castle, home Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Itinerary: Copenhagen for First-Timers … Renaissance splendour, waterside romance, flair for design
Denmark’s inviting capital of Copenhagen, on the sea and backed by rolling hills, is a place of subtle beauty, full of energetic people and a rich history. Touring castles and iconic monuments (like the Little Mermaid) could fill days, but it would leave out the joys of getting to know the people.
Copenhagen is rich in history and romance with cobbled streets and inviting shopping areas, waterside bars and dining and a lively atmosphere any time year. Design and art are kings in Denmark from the classic designs of the 1950s and 1960s to a current new wave of designers working with new technologies to produce innovative furniture, fashion and more; think talents like Bang & Olufsen, LEGO, Hay, Louise Campbell and Pandora.
Let’s start with when you visit, as it makes a big difference. Denmark is very far north, and in the winter it’s very dark, with barely six hours of daylight. That’s when the Danes come indoors and develop the art of hyggelig (translated as cozy, warm and familial. Hyggelig involves lots of candles, plenty of good food and drink, shopping and attending musical and artistic events.
Summers are spent largely outdoors, when the sun dips below the horizon only briefly. Life is lived by seizing chances to be on the water or cradling a beer with friends. Danes enjoy guaranteed long holidays and secondary homes along the sandy beaches of Jutland and the southern islands, so locals tend to leave the summer capital to visitors. But I digress, let’s take a tour.
On an initial visit to Copenhagen, the changing of the Royal Guard at Amelienborg is a must. It is right up the street from another must, Nyhavn, the colorful harbor district recently central to the film A Danish Girl. Fish restaurants and sidewalk cafes line the harbor, and with only a few steps, you can be walking down the Stroget, the long pedestrian shopping district. This is where you will find famous Danish porcelain, silver and design boutiques. The Royal Theatre is also close by, and from the end of Nyhavn you can take a regular transit boat to the waterfront Royal Opera House, located in a district transformed with restaurants, bars and other attractions.
All these must-see attractions are central to the city, as is the world famous Tivoli Gardens, adjacent to the central rail station, and one of the best art museums, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
Take a few days to visit, with mandatory breaks for famous pastries and open faced sandwiches, washed down by Danish beer and akvavit (potato-based spirits, an acquired taste essential to Danish cuisine).
Don’t miss two trips easily done by train from the Central Station. Roskilde, to the west, is the burial locale for Danish kings and queens. It will also lure you with the beautiful Roskilde Cathedral and a ship museum with Viking artifacts. Oceanside Helsingor, with its iconic castle made famous by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, features a museum carved into the courtyard of the castle.
To the north are two smaller but equally compelling attractions: the art museum Louisiana, and Isek Dinesen’s Rungsted home, lovingly preserved and featured in Out of Africa.
Close to the capital along the northern coast road are several iconic kros — thatched roof, stuccoed inns which house Michelin starred restaurants. Beginning with Noma, often cited as the world’s best restaurant, Danish cuisine has been invigorated of late. Enjoying modern cuisine in a traditional seaside venue is an almost-perfect way to experience being a Dane for a day.
Big shout out to Mary Harris for getting us started with this Copenhagen introduction. If you are a Copenhagen or Denmark destination expert, and would like to contribute, please contact us.
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