Close neighbors, these two Scandinavian countries may appear similar at first glance, but after arriving, you will see the unique qualities that make each of these culture-rich societies destination favorites for travelers.
Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is split between the new part of the city and the Old Town (Gamla Stan). The most picturesque streets lie in the Old Town, including the Swedish Royal Palace. For a relaxing dinner and good people watching, visit Stortoget Square. The fish dishes are fresh and the white wine crisp. Overall, I found the food in Stockholm to be light, healthy, and tasty.
As a city made up of more than 30,000 small islands, some of the main attractions lie on nearby islands such as the Djurgården–a green island in central Stockholm with an amusement park and many of the city’s museums including the ABBA Museum. You can walk, take the tram, or take a ferry to Djurgården. We took the tram, which was easy to use and our wait times were minimal. If you’re looking to journey further, one of the most popular day trips by ferry is to Vaxholm, a large island close to the city.
We took the SJ Night Train from Stockholm Central to Malmö Central. You can go directly from Stockholm Central to Copenhagen Central on the high speed train in five hours, but we opted for this slower eight hour ride so as not to waste half of a day on travel, plus we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a new adventure! Our two-bed cabin was not what you would call spacious. The picture you see below is it. ALL of it. But everything was clean, well-managed, and a comfortable night of sleep (even when strapping a safety net next to you on the top bunk).
This city is the perfect mix of old and new. You can stumble upon the royal residences almost by accident as they blend in with the surrounding city. Pedestrians don’t stand in awe at the presence of royalty cruising the streets as most would for other royal families. Here, equality is everything.
The King’s Garden (aka Rosenborg Castle Gardens) is a popular hangout spot for Danes on a sunny day. The sprawling lawns make you instantly feel comfortably outside of a large city, but don’t get too settled in–the best views are just behind the Rosenborg Castle in the Botanical Gardens. Rhododendron flowers seem to love the weather in Denmark, and can grow impressively large.
Aside from the Tivoli Gardens amusement park, no trip to Copenhagen is complete without three things…
Seeing the Little Mermaid. The Danish author of the popular children’s tale, Hans Christian Andersen, spent most of his life in Copenhagen. Andersen is also the author of “The Ugly Duckling,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” to name a few. This statue along the northern coast of the city is, appropriately, built onto the rocks of the water’s edge. On your way, take a stroll through Kastellet, a star-shaped 17th-century fortress brimming with park space, vibrantly painted buildings, and gentle waterways.
Wandering through the Christiania neighborhood. This community is a primarily self-governed area of Copenhagen where graffiti colors the walkways and marijuana (illegal in Denmark) is openly sold in market stalls. Tourists are welcome to stroll through, but locals ask no pictures be taken from inside (see above illegality). The local businesses are cash-based so bring some extra Kroner for that delicious-looking ice cream stand.
And, my personal favorite, Nyhavn. As you can see in the below picture, this is exactly where you want to be on a nice day. Walk all the way up and down the path on each side; it never gets old. Or, if you’re hungry, peruse the endless restaurants that line the canal. The options are limitless–every white tent in the photo is a restaurant outdoor seating area. At the end of the canal walkway, you will find the footbridge over to Christianshavn (where the Christiania neighborhood is).
Less than an hour by train, Helsingør sits due north of Copenhagen. The city is home to Kronborg Castle, or what you may know by the name of Elsinore Castle from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Touring the grounds, you will see all of the tapestries, giant fireplaces, and dungeons you would expect of a castle. But, the real treat is Holger Danske, a (sleeping) national hero, found in the depths of the castle’s underground passages. According to legend, Holger Danske will wake up the day Denmark is threatened by enemies. Clearly a heavy sleeper, the Winter War with Finland was not enough to stir the hero, but saw a Danish resistance group take on the name Holger Danske in his stead. The group “reawakened” during WWII to fight off the invading German forces.
Surrounding small towns, including Droningmølle, give you a sense of typical life of a Dane. Small shops, views of Sweden just across the way, and beautifully-crafted churches lend flavor to each town.
Get out of the center. So much of the charm of these two countries lies in the small towns. With good train and ferry lines, you can easily take day or overnight excursions to surrounding areas to explore charming shops, bike around the waterfront, or just wander the cobblestone streets.
Don’t miss the floating ships from Danish church ceilings. In old tradition, churches hung carved replicas of a ship in which a retired seaman had spent his life.