Sail into Copenhagen on a cruise ship and, from the deck, you can almost touch Denmark on one side and Sweden on the other. The city grew rich on Baltic sea trade and has an impressive history and old town, but Copenhagen is also very contemporary and even avant-garde at times, with an abundance of Nordic design and architectural style. Save your shore excursion money: this small capital with big-city assets is also very easy to navigate.
Head city-wards from cruise terminals past the Little Mermaid, through Kastellet military fortress (kastellet.dk) and into the Botanical Garden (botanik.snm.ku.dk), where you'll find the National Gallery of Denmark (smk.dk). Then explore nearby Rosenborg Castle, surrounded by more lovely gardens, and Amalienborg (kongernessamling.dk), home of the royal family. The guard changes at midday. A little further along the waterfront at old harbour Nyhavn, outdoor eateries spill over cobbles against a backdrop of half-timber houses.
The New Nordic cuisine of Denmark and other Scandinavian nations is rightly famous. Restaurant AOC (restaurantaoc.dk) doesn't just offer great taste and the beautiful plating you'd expect of Nordic-influenced French food, but an entire sensory experience that takes in smell and sound, too. Two-star Michelin chef Soren Selin offers multi-course set menus that might include sea scallops, lobster and venison. The restaurant's location in a 17th-century, whitewashed cellar adds to the minimalist appeal.
Though not for everyone, Christiania (visitcopenhagen.com), a controversial district of Copenhagen founded by illegal squatters in 1971, remains an offbeat enclave of old-fashioned counter-culture. The leafy, car-free zone offers an eccentric blend of small eateries, music venues, artists' workshops and galleries. Famed pleasure gardens Tivoli (tivoli.dk) date from 1843 and offer retro amusements and modern thrills such as shriek-worthy roller-coasters. Locals come to admire the gardens, listen to live music, and dine in restaurants strung with fairy lights.
Stroget pedestrian-only shopping street runs for kilometres through the old town and is lined by galleries and elegant shops, including jeweller P. Hertz (phertz.dk), Royal Smushi Cafe (royalsmushicafe.dk) where designer browsing comes with caffeine, and Illums Bolighus (illumsbolighus.com), which supplies the royal family and resembles a museum gallery of Danish design. Henrik Vibskov Boutique (henrikvibskovboutique.com) on Krystalgade is the flagship store of a leading Danish designer known for unconventional, colourful fashions.
If you aren't on a cruise then Copenhagen Admiral Hotel (admiralhotel.dk) is on the waterfront, nearer the city than cruise terminals. Two huge 1781 grain warehouses have been imaginatively transformed into a hotel that effortlessly combines history, industrial minimalism (exposed beams, brickwork) and quirky contemporary style. Its SALT restaurant provides modern Danish cuisine. You can rent bicycles at the reception desk; the hotel is quick pedal to Amalienborg and the Little Mermaid.
Seasoned walkers can explore Copenhagen from Langelinie or Nordre Toldbod cruise terminals, but big-ship Ocean Quay requires a shuttle, or you can rent a bicycle for about $20. Copenhagen is exceedingly cycle friendly, with 400 kilometres of bicycle lanes.
Brian Johnston travelled courtesy of Celebrity Cruises and Visit Copenhagen.