A Washingtonian's guide to Copenhagen

When scores of Capitol Hill staffers, members of Congress and other Washingtonians descend on Copenhagen next week for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, their primary focus will be … climate change. But while in Denmark, they should take time to drink a glass of Glogg, walk down the Stroget and visit Frederiksborg Castle.

The Hill asked three Washingtonians with ties to Denmark for their recommendations on what conference-goers can do in Copenhagen when they have time on their hands. Past Office of Management and Budget Director and former Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) is a Danish American and spent a year between high school and college studying in Copenhagen. Jan Scott, who used to be an aide to Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), worked at the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen for three and a half years. And Brad Hester, a former congressional and White House staffer, also worked in the Copenhagen embassy and still lives there after receiving a master’s in business administration from Copenhagen Business School. The three lent their expertise to offer a rough guide to the Washingtonians heading to Denmark next week.

Places to go

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Nussle has been to Denmark so many times he has lost count, but he remembers his last trip was with then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on a special assignment from President George W. Bush to thank the Danish people for their support in the Iraq war.

Nussle noted that the United States’ historically strong relations with Denmark provide for a welcoming environment for Americans, and he has always found Danes to be “a very friendly people and a very happy people.” (Indeed, Denmark has been called “the happiest place on earth” in recent studies.)
Scott wrote in an e-mail that one of the best aspects of Copenhagen is that it is small enough that most of the bars, restaurants and clubs are in the same general area, “and even in the winter, it’s walkable,” she said.

Hester pointed out in an e-mail that cyclists can get their fix in Copenhagen, too, with the city being one of the best in the world in which to ride a bike. Visitors can rent bikes at the central train station, he said.

However they get there, visitors should seek out these activities, the experts said:

* Visit Nyhavn. Nyhavn is a bustling neighborhood in Copenhagen with shopping, food and other attractions.

“It’s kind of a historical canal district,” Nussle said, noting that famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen once lived there. “It has a lot of great restaurants, pubs, shops, things like that — and it’s probably one of the more photographed areas of Europe.”

* Stop by Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. It is normally closed during the winter but opens around the holidays for a Christmas market.

“Danes are very proud of it, and after you are there, you will understand why,” Hester said.

Rides will be in operation, and the market will include arts, crafts, foods and other seasonal gifts.

* Take a picture with the little mermaid. Near Nyhavn stands the most popular tourist attraction in Denmark and one of the most photographed statues in the world — the little mermaid.

Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name inspired her, and Disney’s movie can be traced back to her, but her worldwide fame doesn’t match her size.

“It’s easy to miss because it’s small … like a child-size statue,” Nussle said.

* Stroll the Stroget. Copenhagen is a pedestrian’s city. It’s home to the Stroget, Europe’s longest pedestrian street.

“It just weaves its way through the city, and it’s just kind of a fantastic way to see downtown,” Nussle said. It’s also a great place to stop in one of the bakeries for a pastry, he said.

* Run the Kastellet. The Kastellet is a preserved Danish fortress that the military still uses today. It’s in the shape of a pentagram (a five-sided star), and pedestrians can run or walk around the grounds and on top of it. Hester said it provides good views to the Copenhagen Harbor.

* Day-trip to a castle. If one of the conference sessions lets out early, Nussle said, a quick train trip to one of the castles outside Copenhagen is a must-do. He recommended the Kronborg Castle, the setting for William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the Frederiksborg Castle, which he called “one of the most beautiful Renaissance castles.”

Nussle said to take a train — “You can set your pacemaker by the Danish trains” — to either one of these nearby destinations.

Foods to eat

Food in Denmark revolves around hearty staples like potatoes, dairy and salted meats and fishes.

“For those that are used to heavy, German kinds of meals, they may find [Danish food] to be similar,” Nussle said.

For those unfamiliar with herring, Hester said, an introduction will be inevitable.

“Herring is the king of all fish in Denmark,” he said.

To start your day, though, Hester recommended stopping into one of the city’s dozens of bakeries.

“Denmark — and Copenhagen — is loaded with bakeries,” he said.

For lunch, sandwiches are open-faced, usually on dark rye bread, and with cold cuts, fish, cheese or other meats piled on top.

“They are not to be eaten with your hands,” Hester warned. “Fork and knife are necessary.”

Both Hester and Scott suggested the restaurant Ida Davidsen in the city’s center for traditional sandwiches. Hester also warned that restaurant service can be slower than Americans are used to.

Dinner is more of the same — meats, fishes and especially pork.

This time of year, many Danes will likely be drinking Glogg, a hot, mulled punch with red wine and other ingredients that is a Christmas tradition. Drink it with an ebelskiver, a donut hole with sugar and strawberry jam, Hester recommended.

Beer is also big in Denmark, and the two national beers, Tuborg and Carlsberg, produce Christmas brews every year. “You will find it everywhere,” Scott said.

Season’s greetings

Scott pointed out that Americans will find it odd to see hearts everywhere during Christmastime.

“It’s not Valentine’s Day when you are there — hearts are a Christmas symbol,” she said.

But more importantly, both Scott and Hester said to be prepared for Danish winter weather. The average high in December is 39 degrees.

“Always be prepared for rain,” Hester said.

“Have fun and take a down jacket!” Scott said.