This year, my private vacation takes me to two Scandinavian countries. At the top of the list were Copenhagen in Denmark, and Stockholm in Sweden.
On arrival at the airport, we picked up our Copenhagen Cards. You can order these online (www.copenhagencard.com) and while they may be quite a bit steep, the 72 hours card was enough for our 5 days 4 nights stay because it included access to trains, buses, boat tours and yes, entrances to all the sights and sounds in the Copenhagen area.
The weather was slightly on the warm side when we got to Copenhagen. Temperatures ranged from 29C – 19C. Sunrise was 5AM and sunset 930PM. Overall, the weather was pleasant. Warm (but not humid) during the day, cool (but not cold) at night.
According to surveys, the Danes are the happiest people in the world. Year after year, for the 7th consecutive year, Denmark has been the happiest or one of the top 3 happiest countries in the world. And that’s attributable to the fact that:
- It has a stable government
- Low levels of public corruption
- Access to high quality of education and health
Mind you, this country has the highest taxes in the world. But the Danes happily pay for it – because they believe that higher taxes create a better society. (This will never work in countries where corruption is a way of life.)
Most importantly, however, is their structural construct called “hygge”. It means high-quality social interactions. It is sometimes translated as “cozy”, but a better definition is intentional intimacy, which can happen only when you have safe, balanced, and harmonious shared experiences.
In Denmark, hygge is integral to people’s sense of well being. Acts as a buffer against stress. And creates a space to build camaraderie. And in highly individualised countries like Denmark (and Norway, Sweden, Germany), can promote egalitarianism and strengthen trust.
This review, however, comes with a BUT…
Only a handful of hotels in Copenhagen have air conditioners. Even the malls and market areas were warm during this summer trip. Of course, the Danes can always say that they didn’t anticipate climate change. But climate change it did, and not even the Scandinavian countries were spared.
Hotel Alexandra was home to us for 5 days and 4 nights. Of those days, we suffered from the warm weather. One electric fan in the room. All windows had to be opened. The noise on the street (from the 3rd floor of our room) was irritating. We had to open the curtains and the sun was up a couple of minutes before 5AM. There is a separate review I madefor this hotel at TabletHotels.com. The fine lines that were not revealed was the fact that the bill of the hotel included credit card charges of 3.5%. A rip-off, because has TabletHotels provided these two main reviews from the get go, this wouldn’t have been a hotel I would choose. For my readers, I wouldn’t recommend this hotel at all. And TabletHotels should delist them.
Of all the touristy spots on the list, I would highly recommend (in no order of preference) only the following. The rest (while we undertook because we wanted to get the most out of the Copenhagen Card) are truly for tourists only.
- Canal Tours Copenhagen
- Frederiksborg Castle
- Kronborg Castle
- Tivoli Gardens
- Trovehallerne (food market)
- Stroget (a whole couple of blocks of shopping therapy)
Most of the museums are open up to 6PM and most of the stores are open up to 9PM. The bigger department stores open up to 10PM. Most of the toy stores around are Lego and BR. And there’s not a lot of these gadget shops that abound. As a matter of fact, there was only ONE Apple Reseller I saw during my entire stay!
Espresso Coffee and Joe and the Juice are Scandinavian brands that serve great coffee (although if you still like Starbucks, I think Starbucks is over rated). With that said, I strongly recommend a trip down to Trovehallerne for good food worth the buck. The other restaurants are typical eclectic European cuisine. But nothing comes close to home as the hotdog vans or pølsevogne! And at 32 DKK, you can have your best hotdog meal for lunch, dinner or anytime of the day. You’ll find them on Central Station and around the square in City Hall.
Like most European countries, drinking alcohol after six seems to be a way of life.
Since we were here towards the end of summer, most of the days were beautiful. And the temperature wasn’t too bad as well (considering that I was coming from a much warmer and rainier country).
Copenhagen is one of the more touristy countries in the Scandinavian area. This, despite the fact that their Value Added Tax is a whopping 25%! Imagine, the taxes of my 5 days 4 nights stay at the hotel was equivalent to another night stay!
The Castles were not much of a tour compared to other European countries. Because Castles are smaller than Palaces, one should not expect anything too grand except for the display of the crown jewels (which I don’t think were actually the real ones on display, but I may be wrong). If there is only ONE tour you needed to take, I would highly recommend the Canal Tour. The story and the one hour trip itself would give you an awesome picture of what Copenhagen is all about.
Shopping hours are quite long and the whole Strøget area alone will leave you breathless for a whole day – from local fashion to boutique ware. As I mentioned, there is a 25% VAT. But you don’t get the whole 25% as a tourist refund. Depending on how much you purchase, and minus administration fee (I don’t know where that goes to), you’d probably get around 10-15% refund on the total price of the goods you purchase. And you’d need to make a total purchase of 300DKK (P2,500) in one store in one purchase, before you can even get a refund voucher. That voucher must be filled up and presented at the airport of exit together with the goods purchased. So if you’re still traveling to, say, 3 more European countries, you can claim the refund in the last European country of departure back to your home country.
As a tip: you’d need to pack all the items with a VAT refund separately (perhaps in a hand carry), and show them to the customs official on your way out. You will find them in every Schengen airport. And, if you’ve gone shopping galore, make sure you make an extra hour prior to your departure so that you can claim your refund (either in cash or as rebate to your credit card). Remember, there is only ONE queue for this refund at every airport. Be patient.
As a final reminder, you will love Denmark the way I did. The people are nice. The place is safe. The Danes are happy. And what is there not to love when you come to a country that welcomes you with open arms, a million more smiles than the Filipinos, and yes, a people so cultured that you’d feel ashamed being rude.