According to a recent World Happiness Report, the Danes are the happiest people in the world. Whether it's the high wages and low unemployment rate or something magical in Copenhagen's salty sea air, a cruising visitor will feel the positive vibe -- and no doubt bring a little extra "happy" back to the ship.
Sitting on the east coast of Denmark, Copenhagen has been the country's capital for 600 years, and it's the largest city in Scandinavia, with a population of 1.9 million people. It's home to the world's oldest monarchy (King Erik VII set up permanent residence in 1417), and its present Queen, Margrethe II, currently lives at Amalienborg Palace.
A country rich in Viking history, grand castles and lush green countryside, Copenhagen is a charming city of 17th- and 18th-century buildings, beautiful parks and gardens, pretty promenades along canals, and ancient winding streets made for walking and biking. During the longer days and warmer weather of summer, outdoor cafe lounging and outings to magical Tivoli Gardens are highlights.
To many, Copenhagen is synonymous with Hans Christian Andersen. Born in 1805, he's the author of such beloved fairy tales as "The Little Mermaid" and "The Princess and The Pea." Andersen's childhood home (now a museum) is located in Odense, about an 1.5-hour drive away, reachable by train.
Getting your bearings in old Copenhagen is easy; it's a warren of pedestrian streets, bound by Norreport Station, Town Hall Square and the Central Train Station. Stroget, which is an amalgamation of five streets -- Frederiksgerggade, Nygade, Vimmelskaftet, Amagertorv and Ostergade -- runs practically smack-dab through the center of the city between Radhuspladsen and Kongens Nytorv. Pistolstraede is chock-a-block with galleries, restaurants and boutiques; Fiolstraede offers old bookstores; Straedet (parallel to Stroget) is lined with antiques stores; and Nyhavn is a popular restaurant zone.
It's a pricey city, but a visit there is worth the splurge. You might want to consider getting the Copenhagen Card, which offers unlimited free access by bus and rail throughout the metropolitan area for 24 hours (multiple-day cards also available), as well as complimentary admission to more than 70 attractions and museums. Up to two children younger than 10 are allowed free with each adult card.
Copenhagen offers three port facilities. Langelinie Pier, about 1.5 miles from the city's center, is a delightful port area with a series of shops and cafes, located a short 10-minute walk from the city's center. Taxis are also available. Look for a nearby Copenhagen Information Center with money-changing services and ATMs.
Designed for the largest ships, the newest terminal, Ocean Quay, is in Copenhagen's North Harbour, Nordhavn. This sprawling industrial zone is too far from town to walk, and there are no services nearby. Fortunately, tour bus companies line up there at the cruise dock to take passengers into town to explore. You might also encounter a taxi or two if you're simply looking for a lift.
Another port, Nordre Toldbod, is adjacent to the Copenhagen Kastellet and near the famous Little Mermaid statue.
Note: Don't arrange for a taxi in advance to take you from the airport to the ship if you're arriving in Copenhagen because you'll pay for waiting time, which can run up the fare quickly. Take a taxi that's already waiting instead.
Be mindful of bike lines as you walk around the city or board tour buses. Fast-moving cyclists won't necessarily go around you if you're in their way.
Denmark is one of Europe's hold-outs in terms of embracing the euro, so be prepared to master the krone. Beware of sticker shock at restaurants, hotels and shops.
Currency exchange can be made in most banks, post offices and train stations. Banks are open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. There are several exchange offices in the central station across from Tivoli Gardens that stay open late. For the best exchange rates, use ATMs, found almost everywhere.
Note: Many European ATMs display only numerals on the keypad. For pin codes that include letters, commit to memory or jot down the translation to numbers.
Danish, which is a bit difficult to master, is the language spoken. Generally, English is spoken and understood.
Royal Copenhagen porcelain or Georg Jensen silver are the two most notable souvenirs.
If you're visiting from outside the European Union, you can get back some 18 percent of the 25 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) you paid on certain goods. You must spend a minimum amount per store, and items purchased must remain sealed and unused while you're in Denmark. You will need to carry your passport with you and fill in a form at the time of purchase. Present the forms to Customs at the final departure from the European Union, but keep in mind the agents most likely will ask to see the goods.