Why Copenhagen should be on your bucket list (if it isn’t already)

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Attending the IARU Global Summer Program on the Interdisciplinary Aspects of Healthy Ageing at the University of Copenhagen meant that I was lucky enough to swap the Canberra winter for the Danish summer throughout July. Participating in one of the Global Summer Programs at any of the IARU partner institutions is something I would recommend to any ANU student if they get the chance. Not only is it a perfect way to travel with financial support from the University, it’s an opportunity to experience life at some of the world’s top universities without committing to a whole semester abroad. The courses offer the opportunity to study something you are passionate about, or perhaps a subject you are interested in, but can’t quite squeeze into your degree at ANU.

The Global Summer Programs also offer the chance to mix with some really interesting characters. In my tight-knit cohort of 14 students, I was joined by fellow undergrads from Cambridge, Oxford and the National University of Singapore; master’s students from Peking, Copenhagen, Tokyo and Helsinki, and even a 58 year-old psychiatrist from Mexico City. It was with this diverse group that I tackled research issues associated with the world’s ageing population, but also – perhaps more importantly – discovered the city of Copenhagen.

The Danes are consistently ranked as the happiest people on Earth, and after a month in the Danish capital it isn’t hard to see why. Having grown up in South Australia, Copenhagen to me, is like Adelaide… if it were filled with hipsters and 17th century architecture. It won’t blow you away with tourist landmarks like London or Rome, but if you are willing to explore, there are some amazing sites to see. Perhaps the best place to start in Copenhagen is the classic postcard spot, Nyhavn. This famous canal lined by restaurants with brightly coloured facades is the most “touristy” place in Copenhagen but is a must visit to experience the crowds of people that flock there to hang their legs into the canal, enjoy live concerts and watch the boats come or go. Hopping on a canal tour at Nyhavn also gives you the opportunity to see many of the city’s sites from the water.

Central Copenhagen is a hive of activity. Being a royal city with a rich history, palaces and churches are some of the top tourist attractions. Climbing to the top of the Church of Our Saviour or Christiansborg Palace provides the best views of the city, while visiting Amalienborg Palace – the Royal winter residence – offers the opportunity to see the changing of the guard at noon every day. Strøget is the main shopping street in Copenhagen, and is a must-visit, even if it is only to purchase some of Denmark’s finest export from its official LEGO store. At the western end of Strøget you will find Tivoli Gardens, the second-oldest amusement park in the world. Walking into Tivoli feels like entering Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory; it really is an old-school theme park, with rollercoasters that are over 100 years old, alongside some of the fanciest restaurants in Copenhagen. Tivoli also hosts big name concerts regularly (Pharrell was on while I was there), as well as smaller acts almost every night.

On an island just to the east of the city centre is Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood that is perhaps most famous for its cannabis trade. The sale of marijuana in Christiania was tolerated by Danish authorities until 2004 and as a result the area is subject to regular police raids. However, take a walk down the famed “Pusher Street” to find marijuana being sold freely from market stalls by shady-looking sellers. There are free tours of the area every day at 3pm and music festivals are held in Christiania regularly. On the westside of Copenhagen is the Frederiksberg area which is home to, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the city, Frederiksberg Have/Gardens – home to an enormous royal park, Frederiksberg Palace and the Copenhagen Zoo. Just further south of Frederiksberg is Vesterbro, where the Carlsberg brewery sits. During the summer, the brewery’s courtyard is converted into an outdoor bar and restaurant every Friday. Carlsberg Fridays are a Copenhagen institution, with an atmosphere that can’t be matched anywhere else in the city, making it the place to be on Friday nights.

Now that you’re undoubtedly sold on visiting the Danish capital, either for one of the IARU Global Summer Programs, a semester abroad or a holiday, here my top three tips for visitors in Copenhagen:

One: Come prepared to spend money. Copenhagen is by no means a cheap destination, especially when it comes to accommodation. On the up side, groceries are about the same price, if not cheaper than in Australia, so it can be affordable in the food department.

Two: Get your hands on a bike. Copenhagen doesn’t have fantastic public transport – it is expensive and slow. The city does have incredible bike lanes throughout, however, and bikes are available to buy or rent for cheap. Cycling is by far the best way to explore the city.

Three: Eat and drink where the locals do. Wherever you go in Copenhagen, one thing you can guarantee is that there will be awesome food and drink – but be prepared to pay an equivalent price. If you want the best (and cheapest) option, however, go to where is popular. On the top of your list should be to try a smørrebrød (traditional open sandwich), jordbærkage (traditional summer strawberry cake) and the local Carlsberg and Tuborg beers. In terms of destinations, Torvehallerne (described as a supermarket, but not a supermarket) is a food hall in the centre of Copenhagen that will provide you with everything you could ever need.