copenhagen: my first international solo trip
Updated: Jan 5
During my first morning in Copenhagen, I visited Nyhavn
I always knew that I wanted to embark on a solo international trip at some point in my life. I've been told by so many travelers that solo traveling is when you can really start to learn about yourself, as both a person and a traveler. As cheesy as it sounded, I believed them. The idea of traveling alone, particularly in a foreign country, intimidated me—but, as you may know, I've always loved a good challenge.
I decided to tackle this travel bucket list goal when I was studying abroad in London in spring of 2019; I figured if I could muster up the courage to live and work in a new country for a whole semester, I could take a long weekend trip to a new place on my own—even if I didn't speak the language or know anyone there.
Full disclaimer: technically, my first "solo" trip was to Brussels earlier that year. However, I ended up meeting about six different friends that were there that weekend; thus, in my mind, it didn't really count as my first great solo adventure.
So, I decided that I would spend my long Easter weekend to finally take the plunge and buy a plane ticket. The first step was picking a place to go, which turned out to be a longer process than I imagined.
My days in Europe were dwindling, but I wanted to take full advantage of my time there. At that point in my study abroad journey, I had already managed to visit a number of incredible cities, such as Edinburgh, Paris, Brussels, Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. Through my previous travel adventures, I was fortunate to have already touched-down in a few popular study abroad locations: Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany, to name a few. Sure, homemade pasta and Italy's welcoming warm weather sounded enticing, but I wanted to go somewhere completely different—so I decided to look north.
That's when I happened upon Copenhagen. Friends and family have visited the Danish city and only had good things to say. As a female solo traveler, I was also concerned with safety—and Copenhagen consistently ranked as one of the safest cities to visit as a female solo traveler. It also happens to be referred to as one of the happiest cities in the world! Who could say no to that?
After looking into hotel and hostel options (and realizing that a flight to Denmark was WAY cheeper than a flight to Rome), I decided to go full-send. Copenhagen it was.
My Journey to Copenhagen
My journey to the airport was logistically pretty smooth; at that point, I had already learned how to take the tube from my flat in Camden Town to all of the main airports near London. I tried my best to pack as lightly as I could for my four-day trip—packing is probably my BIGGEST weakness when it comes to travel (as my friends can attest). I'm typically not the lightest of packers...
Unfortunately, during my journey to the airport, I began to get a strong migraine. Probably not the best way to start out my first solo trip, but I managed to power through. Once I got to the airport, I had a quick breakfast at Pret (a staple café during my time in London) before catching my flight.
Couldn't leave London without one more Pret a Manger meal!
After doing my best to rest on the plane, we touched down in Denmark. As we were landing, I couldn't believe how beautiful everything was—the water and sky were in these fantastic shades of blue, which contrasted starkly with the Øresund Bridge that I could see from above, which connected Copenhagen to Malmö, Sweden.
I was blown away by Copenhagen's beauty.
By the time I ended up in Copenhagen's airport, my migraine was full-blown. It was so bad that I couldn't be bothered to figure out the public transportation from the airport to my hotel; I knew the hotel wasn't that far away, so I splurged and hailed a cab. That was my first mistake.
It was in that moment that I realized just how expensive Denmark was! For a 15 minute drive, it was around $50.00. My heart sank as I handed the driver my freshly printed money from the airport ATM, but my migraine was so bad, I was just thankful to be at the hotel so I could rest.
Luckily I had selected a really great hotel called Wakeup Copenhagen, which was conveniently only a short walk away from Tivoli Gardens, one of the popular tourist attractions in Copenhagen. I know what you might be thinking...why not a hostel?
This was only the second time I stayed in a hotel during my study abroad; otherwise, I typically stayed at hostels everywhere I went. However, for my solo trip, I wanted to have some privacy.
Some background: a few weeks before the trip, my grandfather passed away during my spring break in Spain. I wanted to have some time to be by myself and have some privacy that I was so badly craving.
Fortunately, WakeUp Copenhagen was a great option for me—it was really clean and although the rooms were minimalistic and small, they were the perfect size for a solo traveler like me. Compared to other hotels in Copenhagen, it was fairly priced, but also wasn't cheap—in retrospect, that should have beeb my first tip-off that Copenhagen would be a bit pricier than I had anticipated.
My cozy but functional hotel room.
Once I got to my room, I breathed a sigh of relief. I relished the white, fluffy hotel sheets and my own space. Although I wish I didn't need to spend my first afternoon in Copenhagen asleep in my hotel, it was much needed.
By the time I woke, I was feeling better and re-energized. I decided to walk around my neighborhood, where I saw Tivoli Gardens for the first time. Tivoli Gardens is a charming and small European amusement park, which is said to have influenced Walt Disney to create Disney World. Seeing the rainbow lights swirl in the night sky and hearing children laughing as they rode rollercoasters was a welcoming sight.
Tivoli Gardens at night.
For dinner, I researched some of the best restaurants in the neighborhood. Ironically, a place called "NEIGHBOURHOOD" caught my eye, which was known for its pizza. Not exactly your typical Danish meal, but after a long day of travel, it sounded like a great first stop—and I was not disappointed. It was definitely a "hipster" place to eat, full of young and stylish people dining over red wine and good food. The restaurant was cozy and welcoming; its black-painted walls gave the room an intimate atmosphere and the candles scattered around the restaurant gave it warmth. Overall, it was a great end to my evening.
One of the best pizzas I had during my time in Europe.
My first time seeing Nyhavn, perhaps the most recognizable landmark of Copenhagen.
Due to the fact that my first afternoon in Copenhagen was wasted, I was eager to see the sights during my first full day in the city. I decided to visit Nyhavn, which is a 17th-century waterfront, canal and entertainment district in the downtown area of Copenhagen. I asked the helpful staff at WakeUp Copenhagen about some of the best ways to get to Nyhavn; they suggested I buy ticket for the Hop-on Hop-off Bus. The bus would not only take me to Nyhavn, but also some of the other popular sights in Copenhagen, from the Royal Palace to the famed Little Mermaid statue. The ticket cost around $30 US dollars and expired in 72 hours. This ended up being perfect for me, because I was there for 4 days and would spend one day in the surrounding neighborhoods by my hotel.
I enjoyed sitting on the top level of the double-decker bus, where I could soak in the sunshine and the sights .
When I first arrived in Nyhavn using the bus, I hopped off the bus to grab some breakfast and walk around. I remember everything being so lively. The streets were bustling with people eating al fresco along the waterfront and nearby street musicians were playing songs like "La Vie en Rose." It was a very happy morning! I didn't want to spend too much on breakfast due to my overpriced taxi the day before, so I grabbed some freshly made churros at a nearby shop (I promise I ate Danish food on this trip)! It worked out well because I could eat and walk around. I sat by the water and watched some of the boats pass by; I also asked a group of girls who were taking pictures to grab a solo shot of me (seen at the top of this blog post). The weather was also perfect; I was worried about it being pretty cold, but all I needed was a light sweater, since it was sunny out.
Churros in Denmark? Why not!?
After my breakfast, I hopped back on the bus, which proceeded to take me around the city. One of my most memorable stops was the Little Mermaid statue, but probably not for reasons you are thinking of. The statue was unveiled in 1913 and was based off of the 1837 fairy tale of the same name by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Upon our arrival at the site of the statue, I remember the tour guide complaining about how ugly the statue was upon our arrival—something I didn't expect her to say! The guide even mentioned that the statue has been vandalized, beheaded and even blown off of its perch in recent years. You can read more about its tumultuous past here.
After learning more about the statue's wild past, us tourists took our obligatory photo in front of the famous—or perhaps infamous—statue and continued on our tour.
The (In)famous Little Mermaid Statue
Some of the other stops included Rosenborg Castle and Amalienborg. At the end of the tour, I conveniently got off where the tour started, and quickly freshened up at the hotel.
I then decided to check out Tivoli Gardens, despite the ~20 euro ticket to get in, which did not include the price to ride any of the amusements. However, I decided it was worthwhile to walk around the park for the experience. The park ended up being absolutely beautiful and I could easily understand how it became the inspiration for Walt Disney World. The rides were small, but looked fun, and the park was segmented by different themes based off of different countries, from China to India. It was a charming park and wasn't too big either. It probably took about 20 minutes to walk around the entire grounds.
Scenes from Tivoli Gardens
I ended up getting this delicious ice cream/waffle treat and strolled around the park. I also ended up purchasing a Denmark sticker for my laptop, which is currently decked out in stickers from around the world. I also sat in the main garden area and journaled for a bit. I secretly really wanted to go up on the big swing ride, but I didn't want to have to pay the money to get on it.
I still think about this ice cream to this day...
That night for dinner, I ended up getting shawarma because it was cheap and not too heavy. It ended up being great! Later that night, I ended up going back to the Tivoli Food Hall (which is accessible from the outside of the park), where I capped off the night with a fancy passionfruit G&T.
The third day in Copenhagen was perhaps my favorite. It also happened to be Easter Day.
That morning, I walked up and down Strøget multiple times, which is Copenhagen's main shopping street. There were a lot of great stores, including Flying Tiger, but I didn't get to go into many of them due to it being Easter Weekend.
Later that day, I visited Freetown Christiana, which was absolutely wild! According to Culture Trip, "Christiania is a former military base that sat abandoned for many years before becoming the neighborhood we know today. In 1971, a group of hippies broke down the barricades and began squatting there. Nowadays, approximately 900 people live in the area, comprising a community that has its own rules and regulations completely independent of the Danish government."
Due to the commune's own rules, it is kind of a free for all — it's a hub of artists and free spirits and it's a place where people can sell weed (i.e. Pusher Street) and host events. However, upon entering the complex, visitors are greeted with a sign that says: “Dear friends, There are three rules in the green light district: have fun; don’t run—it causes panic; no photos—buying and selling hash is still illegal!" In other words, what you see in Freetown, stays in Freetown.
In fact, photography is still a touchy subject in the commune — you'll find photos all over the commune, particularly on Pusher Street, that discourages others from taking photos. In recent years, however, photography is more accepted, as long as you ask permission from those in the frame first.
Walking around the commune, you'll find artist studios, a skate park, some small restaurants and homes where residents of the commune live. Apparently, you can also rent out some of these buildings for housing, which I think would be a fascinating experience. Needless to say, it was one of the best days of my study abroad experience and the most eventful Easter Sunday I've ever had! I spent it around the campfire with hippies reciting slam poetry and singing songs in a number of languages.
That evening, I enjoyed a traditional Danish meal of Millionbøf (Million Beef with Mashed Potatoes) at a nearby restaurant and recounted my experiences in Freetown in my journal while I ate.
Some of the sweet treats I snacked on over the course of my trip
For my final day in Copenhagen, I wanted to take advantage of the fact that many places were open again after the long Easter Weekend. I started my morning with some long overdue shopping on Strøget, after a delicious meal from one of the bakeries on the street. I have to admit, my diet on this trip was not the best, but trying Danish delicacies sure was fun! After a morning full of shopping, I ended up purchasing a few souvenirs, including new shoes, because I literally tore a hole through my much-beloved black boots that I sported during my study abroad trip. I even gave my trusty Frye shoes a small goodbye ceremony, thanking them for their service — before tossing them in a public trash can in downtown Copenhagen.
During my last day in the city, I also made a trip to Nikolaj Kunsthal and Kunsthal Charlottenborg, which are two contemporary art spaces in downtown Copenhagen. I remembered one of my art history teachers talked a lot about some of the great art museums in Copenhagen, so I wanted to make sure that I went to at least one before I left town. I was particularly fascinated by Kunsthal Charlottenborg. The art in the exhibit was certainly cutting-edge, and I was definitely puzzled by a lot of the pieces there. Although I'd say I'm more of a fan of traditional art, it was interesting to see the work of contemporary European artists, including the work of a variety of talented Danish art students. Overall, I had a great time and I ended up spending several hours there.
Later that day, I ended up going to a beach called Svanemølle Beach, which was located in the Østerbro district of Copenhagen. It was probably the lengthiest commute I had on public transportation in Copenhagen (around 30-40 minutes), but it was worth it once I got to the beach. I was proud of myself for navigating this leg of the trip, considering most of the journey required me to navigate transit in Danish. Once I got off at the stop, I had to walk down a few residential streets before making it to the waterfront. It was nice to see a more residential neighborhood of the city and I admired the Scandinavian architecture of the buildings.
Scenes from my journey to the beach
It was still a bit chilly out, so I ended up wearing jeans and a light cardigan and sat in the sand. The beach was empty, but there were a few families occupying the beach. It was fun to people watch and see the adorable Danish kids playing with one another. I can still remember how peaceful the water looked and how happy everyone seemed to be. I even ended up getting a vanilla soft serve cone with chocolate sprinkles, which was delicious, and ended up reading a book for a few hours. It was the perfect ending to my trip.
I'm not sure if there is anything better than ice cream on the beach.
Overall, I'm really glad I ended up going to Denmark for my first international solo trip. It was safe, peaceful and a great escape from the bustling city of London. I'm also glad I was able to visit Scandinavia for the first time; I'm not sure when or if I'll be able to visit that region of Europe again. Through my solo trip, I experienced a lot of self-doubt. However, through trusting myself to plan out my days and navigate a new city, I was able to become a more independent traveler. As the trip progressed, I became more confident, breaking out of my comfort zone and trying new things. If you're able to take your own solo trip someday, don't hesitate— chances are, it will be a rewarding and transformative experience.
Until next time, Copenhagen!