Denmark’s charms and confections certainly aren’t confined to Copenhagen’s city limits. After getting my fill of the capital’s infatuations, I was itching to explore the wider surrounds, because what amplifies Copenhagen’s perennial appeal is its close proximity to a supporting cast of masterly destinations. First stop was Hotels.com, which is fun and simple to use with all sorts of innovative tools to help you nail down your perfect stay. The mobile app is particularly good for bookings on the go and Hotels.com Rewards bags you a free night’s stay for every 10 nights booked. Eager to stay close to the train station, I scored a cracker deal with Hotels.com at City Hotel Nebo, a comfortable and cost-effective crash-pad a mere 100 metres from the railway station. www.hotels.com
It was the perfect base for my great Danish forays. Armed with my trusty Rail Europe Eurail Pass, I had a ticket to ride. Danish trains are super-efficient, clean, punctual and well-appointed with creature comforts galore, from in-seat power points to headphones for entertainment channels. Travelling in first class on the Intercity trains, complimentary tea and coffee was available in the carriage. The biggest dilemma I faced was whittling down the abundance of day-trip options. www.raileurope.co.nz
Being a train-spotter from way back, I highly recommend taking a ride over the water to Sweden. Just 40 minutes from Copenhagen, Sweden’s southern city of Malmo is connected by a stirring piece of engineering, the Oresund Bridge which is a 16km-long tunnel and bridge complex spanning the Oresund Strait between the two countries. It’s a transport marvel. Back in Copenhagen, I boarded a zippy regional train for the 40 minute journey to Hillerod in North Zealand, wrapped in thick woodlands and picture-book scenery. Taking pride of place in the town’s centre is the lake, bracketed on one side by the old town and crowned on the other by the resplendent Frederiksborg Castle.
It was built in the early decades of the 17th century in the Dutch Renaissance style and had to be rebuilt after a disastrous fire destroyed the original structure and hordes of treasures in 1859. Magnificently restored, with exquisite attention to detail, what makes the castle such a draw is its adjoining formal gardens and frothy fountains. But fairy-tale castles don’t get more storied than Kronburg Castle, further up the line. Scooting north to the port city of Helsingor on a direct train from Hillerod, Krongburg Castle marks the closest point between Denmark and Sweden. The imposing Kronborg Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has forever been immortalised as Elsinore Castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There’s no proof that the Bard actually ever visited the site, but he succeeded in capturing its formidably sombre spirit.
Built in the late 1500s, the castle played a fascinating role in toll collection from merchant ships, ramping up Helsingor’s prosperity. While admiring the Great Hall, I noticed there were no fireplaces in the castle. Apparently it was an oversight by the royal architect, so whenever the occupants laid on a midwinter bash, they’d march several thousand royal guards into the castle and the troops’ body heat sent the mercury soaring. The interior is largely spartan, although the catacombs, dungeons and cannons along the seawall evoke much drama. However, its theatrical grandeur is jollied up by a daily cast of characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who roam the castle interacting with guests and performing pop-up moments from the play.
If you happen to be in town in December, Kronborg Castle hosts of one of Denmark’s most cherished Christmas markets. Beyond the castle, the nearby National Maritime Museum does a fine job walking you through Denmark’s proud seafaring legacy, from the rampaging Vikings to the modern-day Maersk cargo empire. Walking back to the train station, I ambled across the cobbles of the medieval Old Town, studded with meticulously restored half-timbered houses. The Bard would approve. Trains back to Copenhagen depart every 20 minutes, for the 55 minute journey. https://www.visitnorthsealand.com/ln-int/nordsjaelland/vacation-north-sealand
After a restful night’s sleep, I grabbed my Eurail Pass for another quick and easy day-trip by train from Copenhagen to Roskilde. Despite only being a 30 minute trip down the tracks, Roskilde feels like a world away from Copenhagen. With a glorious history stemming a millennium, Roskilde was Denmark’s old capital, with remnants galore of its illustrious past as the royal seat. Today, this bustling town of boutiques and cafes proudly honours its past. I ventured inside Roskilde Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where its two soaring spires loom large over the city. This 800 year old red-bricked Gothic behemoth, had a profound influence of Northern European building design, making bricks as a construction element fashionable.
The cathedral serves as the burial place of nearly 40 of Denmark’s monarchs, with many of the royal tombs personally designed by the ensuing inhabitant. Some are astonishingly extravagant, with enough marble to pave a small town. The current Queen has signed off the design of her final resting place, which has already been installed in the cathedral – an ultra-edgy design depicting an opaque glass chrysalis. Amid the heady trove of artworks, a fabulously playful clock dating back 400 years struck a refreshingly theatrical note. It features a re-enactment of St. George’s slaying of the dragon on the hour, every hour letting out a horrifying wail in the process.
But the highlight of my visit to Roskilde was the Viking Ship Museum, located beside the beautiful Roskilde Fjord. It has a stirring display of five old resurrected Viking ships that were once purposefully sunk in the fjord to block the entrance to the royal city. Scuttled in the 11th century, they were excavated from the sea bed in 1962 and are now proudly on display. But where this museum really excels is in its living history. Boatbuilders were busy at work in the boatyard reconstructing full-scale Viking ships using traditional tools. Many of these new ships are made-to-order. Fancy that for a Christmas present, here’s a Viking ship, darling. Planning on ticking-off a lot of Danish sights? Purchase a Copenhagen Card and save a bundle. For more trip inspiration head to www.visitcopenhagen.com
Rail Europe has all your rail needs covered across Denmark and Scandinavia. Whether you want to pre-purchase a Eurail Pass, Scandinavia Pass, point-to-point tickets, or make seat reservations in advance, Rail Europe are the experts in great rail travel. www.raileurope.co.nz
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Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.