Fairytales of the North

Copenhagen is about waterside setting, evocative history and cutting-edge design dens

travel Updated: Sep 29, 2010 10:58 IST

The statue of The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen's harbour was tiny, but it evoked a rush of memories of growing up in India, reading fairytales from an illustrated Hans Christian Andersen book. The Little Mermaid's tale, along with Thumbelina, The Princess and the Pea, The snow Queen and a host of others, had captured my imagination. This was as good a pilgrimage spot; paying homage to a truly influential writer came easily. 

Copenhagen, a charming, prosperous city basking in a harbour with masts of ships framing its picturesque gabled homes, seemed no less a fairytale. The Danes are athletic, adventuresome, and deemed to be the tallest people in the world. They have a lot to be proud of; their capital is one of the greenest cities on the planet, and it aims to become carbon neutral by 2025. The Danes don't just host world summits on the environment; they step up and make a difference -- a lucrative sum of money is being paid to the Guyanese as an encouragement to not fell their rainforests. Their capital city has a good sprinkling of monuments, museums, restaurants and nightclubs, and can be easily negotiated on foot. They are forward thinking, multi-lingual folks with great attitude; "There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." To be Danish is to cherish the concept of hygge, or cosiness.
"Det var hyggeligt" is often the compliment paid to hosts after a dinner party.

Cutting-Edge Design

In the past centuries, the Danes have shown their prowess at exploration, they've been skilled seafarers and traders. "We were more boat craftsmen and anti-pirate security for our traders than the pummelling, plundering Vikings the world imagines" said Hans True, a local Historian. Today, they are mainly proud of Danish cutting-edge design. Arne Jacobson's architecture, furniture and objects are renowned over the world. Finn Juhl and Ida David are also luminaries in the world of design. In the central City area, design shops such as Illums Bolighus, Hay, Georg Jensen, Casa and the Danish design Centre are some of the hallowed shrines of innovative household décor.


Although Stroget is the main pedestrian street that meanders across the heart of Copenhagen, I found exploring the quieter side-streets much more interesting. Ved Stranden along the canal is by far the most picturesque. This is the springing-off point for canal tours, where you sail into the hidden waterways that surround the city. Laederstraede has a pick of eclectic restaurants and just north of Stroget, Pilestraede and Gammel plunge you into the central area, Indre by's local charm. I joined some local friends one evening in a cobbled square packed with cafés, where we huddle around a table laden with bottles of beer and smorrebrod, small, open sandwiches piled high with delectables such as sliced salmon, egg salad and avocado mash. We talked late into the night with the gas lamps casting a mellow glow, about the Dutch East India Company's early arrival on the South Eastern shores and more. It felt good to experience some of that special Danish cosiness, hygge.

First Published: Sep 29, 2010 10:58 IST