The “First Cousins” Capitals: Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm

It has been an interesting exercise to try to think of the Scandinavian countries and come up with a good and succinct outline of what makes them different from each other without requiring a degree in history, architecture, and other similar fields.  So I decided to not be that ambitious and limit this to taking a look at the Scandinavian “first cousins” capitals – Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen – and see what I came up with…

All of these first cousins felt very manageable for a first time visitor.  There was nothing daunting or complex about getting around which made it easy for me to walk aimlessly to see what I would discover.  Everyone spoke English which certainly facilitated the visit though I am OK attempting to communicate in any number of languages I can dabble in.   I visited them all more or less around May or June making my comparison even in terms of weather.  Clearly the time of the year I visited made them all come across as “alive” since everyone by then had finished thawing off from their winter “slump”.  Everyone was out and about enjoying the weather – and their cities.


In Norway, they were actually having a warm spell in early May (I carried a coat through Europe because I was supposed to need it when I got to Norway; it was hotter than anywhere in Europe at the time!).  Everyone was out at the parks and streets just hanging out.  The outdoor cafes were all packed, everyone enjoying a beer or four.  I partook even if I was a little horrified at the cost of everything.

Akershus, Oslo, Norway, fortress, church, sunset, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking towards Akershus Fortress at sunset

My favorite meal was a bucketful of fresh shrimp and beer sitting at a water-side restaurant (maybe by the Herbern marina) right around Aker Brygge, a modern shopping, entertainment, and office district near the Nobel Peace Center.  Of course, my favorite activity overall was taking a brief boat ride down Oslofjord but that is a different story!

It was neat to walk right by boats selling their catch to local restaurant buyers right across from City Hall.

Olso, Norway, fisherman, boat

Buying seafood right from the boat!

Oslo probably felt the smaller of the three cousins (I actually have not looked up population statistics) and the more relaxed, perhaps because of its size, perhaps because people just wanted to enjoy the newly found warmth by chilling (!) outdoors.  I loved scenes like the Akershus Fortress and the massive ski jump off in the distance!


As a capital city, Stockholm didn’t have a presence that screamed “big city”.  And I liked that.  It sits comfortably by the water built on and surrounded by islands.  It is quite easy to move about even if unfamiliar with it – its vast waterfront makes it hard to get lost.  I have previously written about this city by the water so I will not elaborate here.

We headed first to the area where the Royal Palace sits, “Stadsholm”, an island itself.  This is all part of old town or Gamla Stan.  Gamla Stan is full of charming architecture and beautiful streets.  From there, one can easily cross to a small island where Parliament sits (Riksdag) and exit it on the other side to enter the pedestrian shopping street (Drottninggatan) and move on to parks and other areas of town.  Almost across the water from the Royal Palace, of course, on another island, one finds the Vasa Museum (a must-see in Stockholm).

Gamla Stan, old town, Stockholm. Sweden. architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Charming architecture in Gamla Stan

Riksdag, Parliament, Stockholm. Sweden. architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Riksdag (Parliament)

Stockholm, and the people, there felt very relaxed, none more so than the students celebrating being done with school atop a party bus, one of the city scenes I shared in another post.  I could see myself lounging a few days, weeks, or more in this capital.  Of course, likely not during winter.


During my visit to Copenhagen (three days), we toured around all the main areas of town you are always told to see and visit.  These included palaces, museums, the maverick community of Freetown Christiania, and other key sights.  As with many cities, my favorite part of Copenhagen was exploring the smaller side streets and finding that little jewel of a restaurant (as happened to us, with Restaurant and Café Nytorv which sits at about 150 years old).

We also happened upon the Copehagen Carnival (in June!) which made the main pedestrian street, Strøget, a lively corridor.  It may have lacked the wildness of Rio’s Carnival or Nawlins’ Mardi Gras but I certainly give it an “A” for enthusiasm and effort!Carnival, Copenhagen, Denmark, parade, colorful, fun, Canon EOS Rebel

The Danish capital definitely felt the more developed of the “first cousin capitals”, the more urbanized, the more identifiable as a capital.  While it sits on the water’s edge like the other two, it lacked the splendid fjords of Oslo or the charm of the many islands in and around Stockholm.  Granted it may have more diversity of older and modern architecture than but it often was not impressive.  For example, the buildings composing the royal palace/residence at Amalienborg were not imposing, nor terribly interesting from the outside, nor graced with gardens or green spaces (Rosenborg Castle fares much better.)

Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, royalty, architecture

Amalienborg Palace

While it was interesting to visit Copenhagen and walk its old streets, I hate to say, it did not wow me.  I didn’t feel an urge, say, to live there for 6 months, nor linger longer (though that may be precisely what I should do to “get” Copenhagen?).

Have you visited these first cousins?  Which one did you like best/least?  What influences your answer?

Photo of the Week – Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark

I finally visited Copenhagen in 2011 with my family.  One of the most picturesque areas of this city by the sea is Nyhavn.  Nice waterfront cafés (and also good eateries in the side streets!).

Nyhavn harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark

Picture of the Week – Awesome People Facing Sunset in Copenhagen

You cannot tell this sunset is happening in Copenhagen.  But it is.  This is from our hotel (the Marriott, an awesome property in the chain!) facing the Tivoli Gardens on a beautiful mid-June sunset.

And these two are some of the most important special people in the world to me:  my nephew and my niece.  No amount of money, of travel experiences, or anything tops having these two.  I love this picture and I think will treasure it more as the years go by…

Sunset over two people

(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)

Exploring Some of Copenhagen, Denmark

My trip to Copenhagen involved 9 people from three different starting points.  My aunt and uncle from Miami drove to Tampa to meet the rest of the group (minus me) there.  Then the group was flying from Tampa to Atlanta to then connect with me at Hartsfield to catch the flight to Copenhagen.  Needless to say, everyone was excited and eager to get the show on the road a few months after the trip was first conceived.

The flight over to CPH was mercifully very smooth.  Not so the reception by the Danish immigration official who, for some strange reason, threw my 68-yr old Mom’s passport back at her so that it went all the way to the edge of the counter and fell to the floor (she had not said anything to him so he could not have taken issue with her on anything she said).  That must have satisfied some power trip or, we hoped not, given us a first glimpse how we would be treated in Denmark.  Fortunately, the latter did not seem to be the answer.  But, Denmark, those first impressions count…  In any case, after some initial confusion for some family members as to currency conversion and the ATM machine, we proceeded to load 9 of us in 3 taxis and head to the hotel – the Copenhagen Marriott where my points took care of the rooms (!!).

The hotel is beautiful and has a good location along the canal which gives it great views over to Christianhavn and, on the opposite side, to the city.  The area where the hotel is does not have restaurants or shops right there, though they are a 10 min walk away which is not too bad.

The red “M” is the location of the Marriott

After settling in and a quick break from all the traveling, we opted to do a Hop-On/Hop-Off (the yellow route)  the first day to orient ourselves and take it relatively easy for my parents, aunt, and uncle (less walking).  It was a great way to get our bearings as well as see some of the city.  As we got off the bus after having completed a loop, the green route bus was about to leave on its last run of the day so we jumped on it to get to see other parts of town like Christiania and Christianhavn.  The ticket for the bus was valid for 2 days which was perfect as we then took it the next day as a way to move between the attractions that were furthest from each other.  I normally would walk everywhere but given the group, it made tons of sense to use the bus to our advantage.

One of our first stops was the Little Mermaid.  I personally do not quite see it as something worth all the attention – there are so many statues in most cities – but because it is so famous, I agreed we had to see it.  I expected to be further from land that it was.  Mercifully, the bus made a 15-min stop there since there is not much else to do right there and saved us standing waiting for the next bus…  Our next stop was to see the Anglican Church , the Resistance Museum (, and the Gefion Fountain .  All this was next to the Kastellet or citadel dating from 1662 (,_Copenhagen) which we did not get to explore to my chagrin. The Resistance Museum was free, as were other museums in the city, and was very well laid out to present the story of Denmark during WW II.  I enjoyed learning about WW II from the perspective of a country other than the big ones (Germany, France, the US, the US, and the USSR) and to learn about the courage of those who tried to resist and fight.

Copenhagen does have a few current and former palaces all in relative close proximity.  Amalienborg is the one where the current monarch resides.  It is one of 4 buildings placed around a plaza that is open to the public.  Another of the 4 buildings is where the crown prince lives.  We got there, by coincidence, when the change of guard was taking place.  It was unique in that there are guards at each of the 4 buildings so the change of guards was longer than I am used to.

Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark

Amalienborg Palace

After walking around Nyhavn, a canal lined with colorful and beautiful buildings (though maybe too crowded), we walked down the Stroget, the pedestrian shopping street in the city center.  As it turned out, Carnival was being celebrated (though it was June!) so the walk became much more interesting than originally expected!

Parade in Copenhagen, Denmark

Our most memorable meal in Copenhagen was a small place called Restaurant & Cafe Nytorv, sort of hidden away in the middle of things, fairly close to the Stroget.  I had a fried pork place that was delicious.  And the decor felt more like a smalltown eatery than a restaurant in a European capital, which was exactly what I was hoping for so big thumbs up.

It is worth noting that exploring the opposite side of the Stroget from Nytorv gets you to where a church and a university are.  The residential streets in that area are worth walking around as they give a different feel for the place.

Other key sights were the City Hall Square, the Tivoli Gardens (which we actually did not visit), the Danish Museum, Rosenborg Palace, and Christianborg Palace.  Lots to see in this city and, unfortunately, not enough time…

An Imperfect Baltic Cruise Was Perfect for the Family…

A couple of years ago, I embarked on a family trip with my mother and stepdad, my sister with her husband and teenaged kids, and my aunt and uncle.  The reasons for the trip were many but we more than anything wanted a grand trip all together to give my niece and nephew a great memory of their first trip to Europe and for the rest of us to get some R&R.  We chose a cruise as it facilitated a group of 9 people traveling together since the cruise ship offers many options for at-sea days and there is no moving from place to place every few days carrying or rolling luggage around, something the older ones in the group would not have been able to easily do.  We have done cruises before together and knew the cruise dynamic works well for us giving everyone things to do and space when needed.  Much as I may have enjoyed driving around one or more European countries, it would not have made sense with a group like this one.

We decided on a Baltic route as it was new to most of us and because if we were ever to do it, this time of the year was perfect.  I personally had a goal of getting to sample a few of the countries in the region to know where to focus future trips.  The destinations involved were Copenhagen, Tallinn, Warnemunde (but really, Berlin was the target), St. Petersburg, and Stockholm.  I had been to none of these cities though I have been to Germany a few times.  I will write separately about my impressions about these places but St. Petersburg, in particular, was top of my list of places I have not seen in Europe.

Copenhagen is where the cruise departed from so we planned to spend a couple of days there before and after the trip.  We wanted to arrive early in case there were issues with the flight over – so we would have a couple of days of “cushion” especially given the size of the group.

Nyhavn harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark

The cruise line (Costa) was supposed to be very decent and we got cabins with blocked views (by the lifeboats) which were cheaper -obviously- than the ones with a view.  But we chose them as it allowed us to get some sunlight in the room for the little time we spent there and not feel like we were in a box.  That was a good choice.  My cabin was even better as it faced the space between two lifeboats so we could actually look out!  The ship was no different in design and options as past cruise ships I have been in which was good and bad.  Good because I had liked them but bad because there was nothing new to discover.  It may have lacked a little in activities on at-sea days which was surprising.

The biggest shock of this cruise vs. all the other ones we had been on was the food.  My past experiences have been that I look at the dinner menu and I want EVERYTHING on the menu.  This time, I generally struggled to find a main entree that I REALLY wanted .  I was surprised at that (others in the group felt the same way).  I cannot quite put my finger on what was off with the menu but it proved true every night.  However, the pasta served as first dish was outstanding every night and that was the most enjoyable part of my nightly dinner.  Desserts were generally OK except that the first night’s creme brulee was almost egg soup.  After hours or in between meals, the choices were extremely limited (mostly to pizza) and the ice cream machine was off!!! (Contrary to past cruise experiences.)  So overall, the dining experience was not up to snuff for me.  On the bright side, I only gained one pound!

The onboarding and disembarkation processes were very efficiently run though perhaps that assisted by the fact that there were 2 embarkation ports which meant the load was split.  However, organization of the cruise tours was equally efficiently run so perhaps this is a strength for this line.

Tallinn, Estonia, Baltic, cruise, visit, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, skyline

Tallinn – a city we all found charming

The drawback for me of taking a cruise is the limited time at port.  I wish, for example, the visit to St. Petersburg has been split over two days as my Mom experienced on a past cruise there.  Seeing these towns in two days even is not enough but I sure wish we could have spent one overnight in any of these towns.  Given the limited time, we left the boat as early as we could which meant we had an early wake-up time every day.  We had 3 days in a row visiting ports so by the 3rd day we were fairly exhausted as we also did a lot of walking in the cities visited.  However, I do not regret it as there is no way I would have missed seeing as much as I could but so much for the “rest” part of R&R!

So even if it was not the perfect cruise experience, I can tell you that the memories still live on. Sadly, the rhythm of life moves on and the health of one of the group does not allow this type of long trip anymore.  Believe me when I say I would gladly suffer a poor creme brulee (and more) for another opportunity to be with this group doing something like this…  It sure puts it all in perspective…

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