Winter in Copenhagen might be dark and frosty. But during the Christmas season, the Danish capital is transformed into a wonderland. Dazzling decorations and a light extravaganza start lighting up the city. And hygge makes a comeback through steaming hot gløgg and delectable æbleskiver.
Copenhagen is indeed serious when it comes to Christmas. As soon as I left the train station, my lungs were filled with the smell of cinnamon, gingerbread, and sugar-roasted almonds. Just around the corner, a lady was pouring gløgg (Danish mull wine) into the cups while chatting with the customers. The festive atmosphere got more intense as I strolled downtown, passing by gorgeously decorated shops that sell Christmas items and sweets.
After a while, I found myself standing at the entrance to Tivoli – an amusement park and the epicenter of all things Christmas in Copenhagen. With a myriad of lights framing an ornate gate, this place might be the closest thing to a true winter wonderland. The park has been operated since 1843, making it one of the oldest pleasure gardens in the world.
1. Tivoli Gardens
Since its beginning, Tivoli Gardens, simply known as Tivoli, has been famous for its delightful mix of rides, performances, and cultural shows. They are beautifully crafted and feature various themes, from the imaginary Orient to cultures that are closer to home. That’s why the park is hugely popular with kids and grownups alike. In fact, Tivoli is the most visited amusement park in Scandinavia, attracting millions of people annually.
During the festive season, Tivoli is transformed into some sort of fairyland. The whole park is adorned with wooden houses, spruces, and millions of twinkling lights. Even without the snow, I was still mesmerized. Together with the music, light shows, and steaming pots of mulled wine or hot chocolate, the park set the scene for an idyllic way of experiencing Danish hygge – basic, uncomplicated, and coziness.
Yuletide spirit was, however, not limited to the Tivoli. It spread throughout the Nordic capital and was visible wherever I went. Each site was more stunning than the last, putting me in a qualm of choice. After back and forth consideration, I ended up at the Christmas market in Nyhavn. Though not exactly the most famous one, this place had a picturesque setting; right at the water edge of the old harbor.
Originally, Nyhavn was Copenhagen’s main port where ships from all over the world would dock. It used to jampack with pubs, alehouses, sailors, and ladies of the night. These days, the waterfront and entertainment district attracts visitors with numerous classy cafes and restaurants. They are housed in charming brightly colored houses dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Here, I had the chance to try Æbleskiver – light, round pancake puffs served together with raspberry jams and powdered sugar. Together with Gløgg, they are two Danish specialties that symbolize the Christmas season.
3. The Little Mermaid
From the Nyhavn, there is a short walk along the promenade to the iconic Little Mermaid. Created by Edvard Eriksen in 1913, this human-sized bronze statue depicts a mermaid sitting on a rock by the waterside. She is on the verge of being human, with her legs gradually replacing the fishtail. The statue is based on the fairy tale of the same name written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837.
The way there is no less interesting. I stopped by Amalienborg to glimpse the home of the Danish royalty, before reaching Kastellet – one of the best-preserved star fortresses in Europe. Next to this spectacular fortress is the Nyboder neighborhood which includes long rows of distinctive yellow houses, once used as naval accommodation. In recent years, it has become popular thanks to the Oscar-awarded movie: The Danish Girl.