Last spring, a good friend texted me a flight deal with SAS airlines, “Buy a flight to Scandinavia, get kids free.”
Okay. I’ll fly to the place at the top of my bucket list. If you insist.
The parameters on flying out to Scandinavia were that travel must be between the week school started, and the dead of winter. Brian immediately had to opt out, which meant I needed for Jack to opt out as well if it was going to be a manageable trip. Though I don’t love taking the girls out of school, I also feel very strongly that travel can be one of the best teachers, and both of them are excellent academic students and only in elementary school, and would catch up quickly.
We booked for October 1-8. Before the extreme cold, but deep enough into the school year for teachers to not worry about the week they’d miss. My mom said she would join me, and the plan was set!
My great-grandparents on my mom’s side immigrated to San Francisco from Denmark, so we knew for sure that we wanted to go there. We still have family we know who live in Sweden in the town directly across the bridge from Copenhagen, so our second objective- to visit them- was also set. More on Sweden in a post to come. :) Here is a little recap of our three+ days in Copenhagen! Only took me 6 months to get this up here!!
Day 1, Tuesday
Arrive at Airport 8am
Train to Norreport Station
Rest at cafe Lagkagehuset
Explore the Round Tower
Check in to our AirBnb
Dinner at Olive
Day 2, Wednesday
Meyers Bageri for breakfast
Shopping in Kobenhavn K
Dinner at Torvehallerne
Day 3, Thursday
Breakfast at Torvehallerne (very near our place)
Changing of the guards at Amalienborg Palace
Walk toward Little Mermaid (give up because of distance)
Easy lunch at a little market called Logismose
Visit to Rosenborg Castle
Dinner at Tivoli Food Hall
Day 4, Friday
Breakfast at Coffee Collective
Off to Bornholm via train, auto, & ferry!
My cousin recommended staying in Kobenhavn K., aka. Indre By, because everything is super convenient for walking, and she was SO right. When I’m with my kids, I just find that the fewer uber/taxi/train rides we take, the better. Location for me matters more than size, and the home aesthetic and cost matter next. I search relentlessly, mark all my favorites with a heart, then do a google street-view before I actually book. Hosts will always show the prettiest side of their homes, but sometimes they are across from a massive thoroughfare, or they are in front of a gas station or something that isn’t optimal. Thankfully we found this Airbnb that had all three of my ideals, AND the loft style that the girls saw me browsing and LOVED.
From the airport, the easiest mode of transit is the train. It sounds daunting- a taxi must be a better way right? No, it was 100% best to have taken the train as we did. Please note when you come: except for the airport train machines, the train machines in Copenhagen do not take credit card. They DO take debit cards. Perhaps that will save yourself a moment of frustration. ;) I try not to use debit when traveling internationally, but this machine is the exception.
Day 1, Tuesday
Caught the super clean train from the airport and took it to the Nørreport stop, and went outside and down the block to these beautiful flower stands being set up to welcome us to the gorgeous city. Our residence was directly around the corner of the yellow building. Prime location.
We had the disadvantage of a 7am arrival & and a 1pm check-in. I was apprehensive about that wait when I booked it, but I know now for sure that I will really try not to do that again on future travel. The girls were thoroughly jet-lagged, and our suitcases were pretty heavy and we FELT those hours. We made ourselves comfortable at a booth in a nearby cafe Lagkagehuset, and Sophie slept on the bench for a couple hours after we ate breakfast and waited to drop luggage. Maggie started her homework, of course, because she is kind of obsessive about making sure every single thing is done and done on time for 2nd grade.
Maggie had a muffin, but I delved directly into that salmon breakfast that Scandinavia has absolutely mastered, and I felt incredibly pleased with that decision. Sophie I think slept through breakfast on the booth bench. We were “those people,” but sometimes we all have to be those people (especially for the benefit of children)… and everyone around us was incredibly gracious with our taking time & space in the cafe.
We were finally able to drop the luggage (11am), we immediately started sightseeing and feeling almost alive again. The Round Tower is just a few blocks from where we were, so we walked straight over to climb the cobblestone path to the upstairs views. It seemed to be a lunch break for students, because there were Danish teens racing up the cobblestone path, but otherwise, it was not crowded at all.
We checked in to our cute spot and napped our little hearts out. We tried to wake, but it was just not happening. Three hours later I made the call that we MUST get up and go to dinner. We found a spot nearby called Olive. It was rated perfectly, and honestly, I could not have picked a better option for our first night - even if I had done hours of research, which I did not. The mushroom soup was life-changing and it’s doubtful I will ever enjoy mushroom soup the way I did that one (I’ve never actually had mushroom soup, because frankly, it doesn’t sound truly appetizing as a general rule. It was amaaazing). We were there early enough to walk directly in, but I would 100% recommend a reservation. It has nearly perfect reviews and is generally booked for the night in advance. We just got incredibly lucky. Maggie got a second wind and talked our ear off about everything, which is honestly one of the BEST things about traveling. Interacting with my kiddos at length without distraction is one of the most beautiful things ever. Sophie’s jetlag took its toll (truth be told, she was physically sick twice and I was concerned she had picked up a stomach bug and we would all be indoors suffering from the same bug rather than sight-seeing for our vacation!!!) and we went directly back to bed after the dinner, and slept until morning (off and on, I mean. I was wide awake replying to emails and texts in the U.S. at 3am for awhile because my body was in such a weird not-sleepy state. ;)
Day 2, Wednesday
Day two was my favorite day. Absolutely perfect. Most importantly, everyone was totally healthy. The weather was beautiful and chilly. Everyone was fresh and ready to explore, and jet lag was no longer an issue.
We started our morning with pastries from Meyers Bageri. My mom actually went to get them and bring them back, which was really nice for the girls so that they could have a leisurely morning in our space. I took a cliche pastry photo, obviously.
But what I really loved were the photos of the perfect light outside our window that morning. It felt like it wasn’t real life. Those views were stunning.
I reserved a spot for lunch at a beautiful space in Nyhavn called Kompasset. When I travel, I prefer to do a mix of pre-planning and improvising. If it’s all improvised, it can be a recipe for hunger and crankiness, which we always want to avoid. Having reservations also gives a bit of structure and expectation to a day. We walked there and took some side roads to see small courtyards between homes and businesses. My eyes savor the beautiful architecture and detailed design. I never became the architect I imagined I might be when I was child, but I DO have a deep appreciation for beautiful structures.
Nyhavn is the iconic row of buildings that you see on any Copenhagen postcard or guide. It’s every bit as beautiful in real life as in the pictures. It’s actually a longer street than I realized, and it’s both sides of the water that are the classic Scandinavian views. Visiting on weekdays in October was the perfect formula for avoiding excessive crowds, but it also means there was no way we would be eating outside. Give & take! We ate inside in a bright sun-soaked room. The tables by the window allowed only for two per, so Sophie sat with my mom and I sat with Maggie and got to chat with a tiny bit of separation.
Kompasset offers traditional Danish food, with a bit of a higher price tag, but remember- no need to tip (except on VERY exceptional service), so the price you see is the price you pay. San Francisco does not have the same luxury, so for the experience and food, the lunch felt like a good value. Thankfully my girls love seafood, because it is served everywhere here, and tastes SO fresh and right. It was a good, special time and I wished my husband was there because he would have loved it. Maggie sketched everywhere she went, and tried to capture everything she was seeing.
From there we walked around and shopped. There was a great LEGO store (LEGO is a Danish brand), and the girls wanted to move in. We made a crucial stop at Zara for a winter coat for Sophie. Her Target thin green SF jacket wasn’t getting the job done, and I wasn’t into having her freeze. She tried about 8 coats and we purchased one that was marked down to $21 USD. The price was mis-marked but they honored it, so she was SUPER warm after that, and it’s a really cute coat she’s worn since. I clearly love a good deal. I almost got some Vejas I’ve been eyeing, but realized the price was actually less at home, so I held off and got them for my birthday a week later instead.
It was a beautiful, full day (my personal favorite day in Copenhagen), and we ended it with some REALLY good sushi to-go from Torvehallerne, which was super convenient to our Airbnb. Convenience wins often when kids are involved, because waits for restaurants after walking a lot and flying around the world just doesn’t make for an optimal experience.
Day 3, Thursday
We kept the simple theme for breakfast and had coffee and pastries for our Thursday morning, also at Torvelhallerne. It was two blocks from us, and had so many amazing options, so it quickly became our morning go-to.
When Sophie’s 4th grade teacher heard we would be in Copenhagen, she made a list of a few spots that the class would be reading about in the book Number the Stars when we returned from break. Among them was Amalienborg Palace. My mom had also visited there when she was last in Copenhagen, and knew the girls would enjoy the changing of the guards. We walked over there with a few stops on the way. The little shops have so many good Danish pieces that it was hard NOT to stop.
The guards are very official, and not approachable. The girls took polaroids and Maggie sat and sketched the guards from a distance (the sketch turned out super cute too).
This might be my favorite polaroid Sophie took on the trip.
Amalienborg got a bit crowded, so after watching the changing of the guards, we went around toward the water for a walk toward The Little Mermaid statue. We got maybe 1/4 mile away and quit the walk. None of us were THAT motivated to see it, and the kids felt like we had walked far enough already, so we stopped and grabbed a GREAT lunch at a little gourmet market called Logismose.
Fueled up, we headed back toward the Rosenborg Palace. I really feel that when we travel with kids, it would be remiss to not attempt to understand the culture and history while in that place. Touring museums and castles or places with historical relevance is also a way for me to justify the missed days of school for travel. ;)
When we booked our flights, everything worked perfectly for our schedules, EXCEPT that the infamous Tivoli was closed for a seasonal update the exact date we flew in. Tivoli is a wonderland of beauty and amusement park history. We did the next best thing on our last evening in Copenhagen and went over to Tivoli Food Hall. These food halls in Copenhagen are just a dream. Everyone in one place having the exact food they want is beyond ideal. We got ramen, bao, and I think a burrito? All in one place. We ate outside overlooking the charming, twinkling lights of Tivoli. I wish I got better pictures there, but I was truly focused on eating all my favorite things and savoring every bit of the last evening there.
We walked the cobblestones back to our home for the last night, and heard musicians playing beautiful music and vowed we would be back to spend more time in this magical city.
On our last morning, we hit up Coffee Collective again, and then headed with all our luggage back to the train. Note to travelers to avoid frustration: the train machines only take DEBIT cards. I tried every credit card I had in my wallet, knowing they should work, but nothing did. Finally figured out that ahhh, it’s cash or debit only. They say don’t use debit when traveling overseas (who is “they?” I don’t actually know).
We loved Copenhagen, but we were off to Bornholm and Sweden. :) I will post every detail on both places the next two weeks!!