Scandinavia Copenhagen and Helsinki

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 55 of the March 2016 issue.

(Third of three parts)

Artwork graces ceilings in Frederiksborg Castle in Copenhagen. Photo by Randy Keck

On the final part of the 12-day tour of Scandinavia that I took with smarTours (partially hosted) in August 2015, our group enjoyed an overnight DFDS Seaways cruise from Oslo, Norway, to Copenhagen, exploring the Danish capital for two days before flying to Helsinki, Finland.
Boarding the ship in Oslo in late afternoon, we enjoyed two sunny hours of revelry on the 11th-level open deck with a view of the city skyline and harbor. The cruise was off to a great start and we hadn’t yet left the dock.
Smooth sailing within sight of the coast for most of the journey plus good food and entertainment made for an enjoyable overnight diversion.

Copenhagen touring

Our morning arrival in Copenhagen (urban population, nearly 1.3 million) was infused with sunshine and clear skies as we sailed into its quiet, orderly harbor.
Upon disembarking, we began a city tour, first visiting the statue of “The Little Mermaid,” from the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, which overlooks the harbor in seeming indifference to the crowds of visitors who flock to see and photograph her each day.
Touring by coach and on foot, I enjoyed the period architecture of and around Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish parliament, and the impressive rococo-style Amalienborg Palace. We also visited popular Nyhavn, a restored, canal-front area of restaurants and shops that is one of the most photogenic venues in a city of superlative canalscapes.
After the tour, most of us remained in the central city, exploring on our own.

Copenhagen’s canals

Any visitor to Copenhagen absolutely must do a canal cruise because the city can be fully appreciated only when viewed from the water.
Most canal cruises last about an hour, winding their ways through parts of central Copenhagen as well as through some of the colorful waterside residential areas that help define the city. Onboard commentary helps passengers identify many prominent landmarks.
Those on a summertime cruise typically observe locals at play, as the main canal is clean enough for swimming. On the hot summer day that we experienced, local “under 30s” were jumping and diving off docks to great fanfare, providing entertainment for visitors on the passing canal-tour boats.
Our hotel was only a few blocks from Strøget, the busy, pedestrian-only street that runs for about a mile through the central city. It was continuously crowded, so I made better time on foot by skirting it.
While Copenhagen generally is pedestrian friendly, bicyclists rule the roost, transporting both locals and visitors in safe, dedicated bike lanes throughout the city. Bicycles can be rented at most hotels and many other venues in Copenhagen, but visitors contemplating cycling should be bike savvy or they’ll risk being overwhelmed, at least in the busier parts of the city.
Later, our group had an unexpected evening of gourmet dining at Nimb (Bernstorffsgade 5;, which bordered and had an entrance into Tivoli Gardens. After dinner, as a bonus, we were able to wander through Tivoli, enjoying the beautiful lights and displays without having to pay the normal entrance fee of about $15 apiece.

Castles, anyone?

On our free day in Copenhagen, the majority of our group joined smarTours’ optional “Castles of North Zealand” tour ($115 each), journeying north from the city through seemingly endless upscale seaside residential areas.
Arriving in Elsinore (Helsingør), on the island of Zealand, we viewed the outer walls and towers of majestic Kronborg Castle, the setting for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Our guide informed us that Kronborg was originally constructed as a show of the country’s strength and to extract tolls from ships passing through the narrow strait.
We paid a visit to Denmark’s Museum of National History, which has been housed in Frederiksborg Castle since 1878. Completed during the reign of King Christian IV in 1625, the castle was restored after a fire in 1859.
The museum features magnificent rooms, including the Great Hall, the Chapel, the Rose Room and the Audience Chamber. These rooms compare with the finest in Europe in terms of ornate interiors. Also featured is Denmark’s most important collection of historic paintings and portraits, fine examples of decorative art plus a collection illustrating Denmark’s history from 1500 to the present day.

Copenhagen wanderings

Returning to the city in late afternoon, I undertook a long trek to find Copenhagen Street Food (Trangravsvej 14, 7/8, 1436 København K; phone +45 69 66 95 61), a new, rustic food emporium comprised of food stalls featuring many cuisines.
My effort was rewarded with excellent smørrebrød in the form of curried herring and seasoned flounder, both on wonderful seeded dark rye from the north of Denmark. At about $6 each, these two large appetizers offered great value, by Danish standards.
In the evening, six of us ventured forth in search of a pub that our tour leader, Betty, said had superlative onion rings. With some effort, we located one of the three locations of Cock’s and Cows (Gammel Strand 34;, and the rings, at about $4.50 per order, were as good as advertised.

Helsinki flight hiccup

Due to an unfortunate miscue by Finnair, I was unable to fly with the rest of the group to Helsinki, missing out on the capital city tour, which focused on Senate Square, surrounded by 19th-century classical buildings, and Market Square.
I arrived in the late evening, and the next morning I arose early to walk to the nearby harborfront while the morning outdoor market was just setting up. The market was rather disappointing, so I quickly ventured into the main part of the city, as this was my only chance to see any of Helsinki.
At 9 a.m. I was the first customer to enter the giant Stockmann department store (Aleksanterinkatu 52, Helsinki), the Finnish version of Harrods. I was bent on investigating, as a cultural experience, the basement-level gourmet food market.
There, I was able to sample several varieties of herring and other seafoods and acquired two types of black truffles that are hard to come by at home. I was advised the store’s motto is “If you can’t find it at Stockmann, you don’t need it.”
Out of time and heading back to the hotel, I cut through a park and came upon a solo violinist who was creating the most beautiful classical music imaginable. With his soulful renderings, my 12-day journey ended on a high note… literally.

Before you go…

For information on the “Scandinavia Explorer” tour I took or on any of a wide range of value-priced group tours worldwide, contact smarTours (New York, NY; 800/337-7773 or 212/297-0955,
Contact Randy c/o ITN.