“What drew me to dance specifically is the [ability] to tell a story without the limitation of words.” – Jason Karman, independent filmmaker of Muse.
Having spent my youth from age three to nearly nineteen in a ballet studio or on a stage, dance for me can be a powerful portrayal of personal expression within a given framework. It requires no words, but uses the body as instrument. It is the means to communicate story, emotion, pattern and art. The body is the medium AND the message. But do we communicate through dance differently? Does where you are “from” impact your means of expression?
As an American currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark with my family from Portland, Oregon – the question of where you are from has been an intimately intriguing one as we grow our lives here abroad. When I learned that the Oregon Ballet Theatre was sending six of their company dancers here to Copenhagen for a week’s immersion into the famous Bournonville Method – a most Danish ballet tradition that has been practiced by the Royal Ballet here continuously since the 19th century – I was immediately curious how their “from” would color this experience. As a former season ticket holder the past six seasons in Portland, I was extremely excited to know Oregon Ballet around the world.
When our American family of five expatriated from Portland, Oregon to Copenhagen, Denmark in the depths of December’s dark Danish days, everyone said – wait for summer. It’s amazing here. And it is. Summer in Copenhagen. But, speaking from experience, just don’t expect perfect weather. When it’s blue blue skies over head, there are few places better. Be prepared for some good days and some potential grey days. Remember to bring layers! Even if you turn up during a few of the more lacking days weather wise, you can absolutely still enjoy this beautiful city and have a great time exploring. So, without further ado, here are my favorite things to do in summer in Copenhagen, so far.
My Top 10 Danish Summer Experiences in Copenhagen – in no particular order:
Tivoli is the 2nd oldest amusement park in the world. (Bakken, right up the road in Klampenborg is the oldest, but we bought annual passes to Tivoli so it makes my list and should yours too!) Tivoli is all sorts of charming, but it can be crowded with tourists in the summer. A small luxury having annual passes, we can hop in and out as we please if the lines are too long. Just chilling on the lawn while the kids dart in and out from ride to ride is truly a lovely way to spend the afternoon. Most Fridays in the summer – there are free concerts (after you pay admission) from the lawn stage. My daughter loved Jessie J recently and we can’t wait for Snoop Dogg arriving soon! You can find the current events listing here as well as visiting hours and park plans.
Simple sampans on Tivoli Lake
The Dæmon offers more excitement
Tivoli Boys Guard adds charm
Saturday fireworks at Tivoli
2. Picnics –
There is a ton of green space in Copenhagen – large parks and gardens where you can enjoy the outdoors. We love our nearby Fælledparken in Østerbro and the Kings Garden (Kongen Have) by the Rosenborg Slot in the center of town. My absolute favorite place to picnic is really anywhere by the water, particularly a beach. Bellevue Beach in Klampenborg is worth the effort to get to (just jump on the C train and get off at the Klampenborg stop – then head towards the water). If that is too far from town for you try Amager Strand towards the airport with views of the Øresund Bridge. Our go to local hangout is Svanemøllen Strand – perfect for a dip, instant grill and a game of football. (And by football, I mean American football.) You can pick up a 20DKK disposable grill (approximately €2.7 or $3.00) at most grocery stores during the summer months. There are many excellent places to procure picnic provisions – but my favorite has to be Torvehallerne – the Glass Market near Nørreport Station in the middle of town. Lots of great take away options to eat there right there or take to nearby Botanical Gardens.
Pølser picnic at the beach
Insta grill at the beach
Rosenborg Slot Rose Garden
3. Boating in the canals –
Really – you must do this. Copenhagen is a harbor town. There is water everywhere. You must get out on it. Especially in the sommer. Don’t have a boat? No problem. Go Boat rents charming electric picnic boats by the hour. There is also a boat rental outlet near Fisketorvet. You can also rent kayaks from several places. But I adore the slow, cozy, picnic table centered Go Boats for their charm, ease and maneuverability. Highly recommend it at least once. So very fun fun!
4. Swimming in the harbor –
This is a so very Copenhagen thing to do. There are several Harbor Baths on the main canal where you can swim free of charge. And by baths – don’t think large men in towels – this is just a swimming pool on the water with lifeguards. Islands Brygge can be quite a scene when the weather is nice. People go to see and be seen hanging out on the lawn. My kids ignore the masses and LOVE jumping off the platform into the cool canal. Don’t like swimming with the masses – try the Copencabana Harbor Pool by Fisketorvet Shopping Mall – you can still jump off a slightly lower platform, but there were FAR fewer people there. More geared at lap swimmers and kids who like to jump in and out repeatedly. Worked for us!
5. Biking in the breeze –
No list would be complete that didn’t include biking in Copenhagen. This town is made for it. There are ROADS with their own stop lights for bikes here. Something about warm breezy weather and just biking bespeaks sommer to me. Perfection. Now that I can ride a bike that is! Yay me! Bike to your picnic. Or to a Harbor Pool. Or to a park! Or to drinks on the water… it can ALL be done on a bike in summer. (Or really anytime here in Copenhagen.)
When in Copenhagen
6. Drinks by the water –
Literally anywhere by the water. BYOB and pull up a bench along the canal or on the beach. Copenhagen has a very tolerant open container policy which I will admit feels very strange to me, but seems to work here and with the price of a drink out, I appreciate the option. Or try one of the many charming spots right on the water. I love the little kayak bars that skirt Slotsholmen or sit on the super darling canals in Christianshavn. So cute. Not out and about in a boat? But still want to feel part of the canal action? Go to Papirøen and the home of Copenhagen Street Food. Yummy drinks and so many good food choices. Or on the opposite side of the canal down near the Kastellet (not far from tourist stop the Little Mermaid) – go to Toldbolden. Drinks are a little spendier here and the stylish crowd reflects it, but the atmosphere is lovely. Nab a lounger and enjoy the people watching on and off the water.
Copenhagen Street Food
7. Fresh Danish Jordbær and Kirsebær –
Bright red, shiny, delicious and fresh Danish strawberries and cherries. You can buy them all over town. There is a fruit stand right by the Royal Botanical Garden. Another perfect spot for a picnic in the sommer to enjoy the flowers. You can also pick up fresh fruit and vegetables with your picnic supplies and excellent take away food at the Glass Market near Nørreport Station. A sunny late afternoon, early evening at a table outside at Torvehallerne is perfection. Grab a glass of cava or rosé and the duck confit sandwich from Ma Poule or tacos from Hija de Sanchez and enjoy. Delightful.
8. Flowers everywhere –
Speaking of flowers, they are abloom everywhere in Copenhagen. Hard not to notice them. Fragrant and lovely, the roses are beautiful here. Coming from a town known as the “Rose City,” (Portland, Oregon) I appreciate and adore this about sommer here.
Roses around the doors in town
A rose a day
Dragør a bloom
9. Is –
I scream, you scream, we all scream for is cream! Danish ice cream is delicious. Paradis is a chain that is all over town and affords an excellent scoop or two. My personal favorite is Østerberg Is in Østerbro. It is a small shop on Rosenvængets Allé run by Catherine Østerberg and family. Every flavor we have tried here is fantastic, but my go to (if it is available) is the lakrids (yes, licorice! The Danes are seeping in!) and kokos (coconut.) YUM. My husband loves the avocado and the kids go for the havtorn and hyldeblomst – also very Danish flavors.
Get off at the Klampenborg Train Station and head up the hill to the bridge. Here you can hire a horse drawn carriage to take you to the oldest amusement park in the world – Bakken. Or you can ask them to take you through the enormous Dyrehaven (Deer haven) Park up to the castle and see the huge herd of royal deer. Dyrehaven is also an excellent place for a picnic.
Carriage ride through Dyrehaven
More to add? Things so very Danish that I am missing? Please share. Cheers from Denmark! – Erin
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“Where are you from?” I’ve brought it up before. It’s an interesting question and one that I am as tempted to ask as be asked. I’m not off put or bent out of shape or annoyed in any way when I am posed this query. We’re different here. As Americans living in Denmark. It’s ok. Where we have lived shapes us. The cultures, norms and lifestyles play into who we are and how we approach things. What I have noticed is that the foreign perception of heritage may be different than that of an American’s. How many of my American friends and readers did a “roots report” of sorts in grade school? How many of us celebrate holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and the like because of ancestral ties to the “old country?” My great-grandfather did emigrate from Ireland. We know this. Beyond that, we don’t know a ton about him because after moving to Kansas and marrying my great-grandmother, he left our family including my grandpa and his 3 siblings when they were quite young. But if I were to say I was “Irish American” here in Denmark – I would be met with smirks, scoffs and genuine looks of incredulity. (I am used to that.) “You are not Irish. I know Irish.” or “Why are Americans so obsessed with who their ancestors are?” “You’re American.” Yes. I am. But my ancestors were Irish. I never said
What I noticed fairly quickly moving here is that the foreign perception of heritage may be different than that of an American’s. How many of my American friends or readers did a “roots report” of sorts in grade school? How many of us celebrate holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and the like because of ancestral ties to a specific “old country?” My great-grandfather did emigrate from Ireland. We know this. Beyond that, we don’t know a ton about him because after moving to Kansas and marrying my great-grandmother, he left our family including my grandpa and his three siblings when they were quite young. But if I were to say I was “Irish American” here in Denmark – I would be met with smirks, scoffs and genuine looks of incredulity. (I am used to that.) “You are not Irish. I know Irish.” or “Why are Americans so obsessed with who their ancestors are?” “You’re American.” Yes. I am. But my ancestors were Irish. I never said
But if I were to say I was “Irish American” here in Denmark – I would be met with smirks, scoffs and genuine looks of incredulity. (I am used to that now living abroad.) “You are not Irish. I AM Irish.” or “Why are Americans so obsessed with who their ancestors are?” “You’re American.” Yes. YES, I am. But my ancestors were Irish. I never said I was Irish. And I do like corned beef and Guinness. So sue me. (Please note: I never actually have uttered the words “I am an Irish American”, but the topic has been discussed with my local international friends. And I know how very American the saying “so sue me” is as well and living here in Denmark I do appreciate their non-litigious leanings.)
On the other side of the coin – my husband’s “heritage” has Swedish roots as evidenced by our last name – Gustafson. Having the last name Gustafson in Scandinavia instantly makes you a Swede. King Gustav was big there. We saw him in Stockholm. Somehow – we are his sons. Not really. But it’s fun to say. And having a Scandinavian name in Scandinavia is not actually a boon as it bestows higher expectations on your knowledge of local language and customs. Like my son who was taller than his peers from an early age – the expectations of his early development a grave disappointment when his size didn’t match his language maturation. But he is only 14 months old! Whew, that indignation came back quickly – sorry. Back to our story. When they hear our name, people ask us if we’re Swedish. I have been asked that more than one time in Denmark and in Norway. Weirdly, no one asked us in Sweden. 😉
Heritage it seems – where we are from – an important question. Not only historically, but a serious question in our modern societies. The issue of immigration a hot bed topic the world around. It was intruiging to bear witness to the question during the recent Danish elections. It will clearly be a popular topic in the upcoming American Presidential election. Where are you from and how are you different from us. It is so very interesting a topic to me as the one who is currently part of “the different.”
But apparently we aren’t all that different and ancestry is messy according to an evolutionary geneticist, Mark Thomas, who wrote a piece in the Guardian a few years back in response to pay-for-ancestry genetic tests that could determine your heritage. Thomas shows that the science can’t definitively say. He states that…
you don’t have to look very far back before you have more ancestors than sections of DNA, and that means you have ancestors from whom you have inherited no DNA. Added to this, humans have an undeniable fondness for moving and mating – in spite of ethnic, religious or national boundaries – so looking back through time your many ancestors will be spread out over an increasingly wide area. This means we don’t have to look back much more than around 3,500 years before somebody lived who is the common ancestor of everybody alive today.” ¹
So what does that mean to you and me? We’re all descended from Vikings! Or Celts. Or Jews. Or Masai. Or Zulu. Or… you decide. Anyway. Around here – I’m a Viking. It’s fun to say. Vikings are fierce. Snap. And we’ve learned a lot about them lately. They are very popular. We have been to three different Viking Ship museets in Denmark and Norway. Comparing and contrasting for your reading pleasure in the next post. Stay tuned. Cheers from Viking land wherever you are from! – Erin
Dancing with sommer. Playing with sommer. Flirting with sommer. But what a tease she is here in Denmark. I will admit that this past Friday was beautiful – lunch outside with a friend at a charming café patio. (I can highly recommend the avocado sandwich at Café Bopa on cute and leafy green Bopa Plads in Østerbro if you need inspiration!) Soaking up brilliant blue skies and sunny warm rays surrounded by loads of other Copenhageners doing exactly the same. Friday night followed by catching the “scene” down at Toldbolden on the water to extend our sommer day, which isn’t hard to do when the late stays so long. Stalked ourselves a table with a view and more sunshine with cold drinks and warm nuts (yes, its true) and the most excellent people watching on land and on sea. The boat traffic on the Copenhagen harbor accelerates in direct proportion to the rise in centigrade. Tourist canal boats tour with tops off (the boats, not the people) sailboats those wee and those mighty, yachts of various ilk, motor boats, zodiacs, water taxi’s, all trying to grab onto this idyllic Danish sommer ideal which has been fleeting so far. I am told that it is magical when it stays and I can well imagine from the brief glimpses we have encountered so far.