[ 3 DAYS IN... ]

Tivoli, an amusement park for all ages, has been a tradition for 150 years.

paradise abroad

Copenhagen offers the cultural
and social benefits of a big city
while minimizing negatives like traffic

If you go

The envelope, please ... The award for best country to live in goes to -- Denmark!

This premier social ranking accorded by a recent University of Pennsylvania study puts Denmark's capital city of Copenhagen high on any destination list. And yes, it is the most visited city in Scandinavia, likely due to the mix of sophisticated modern culture and a well-preserved history reflected in the city's ambience and architecture -- a picturesque harbor surrounded by the old town, with its palaces, museums and gardens.

Copenhagen is a medium-size city of 1.2 million that gives you the benefits of a cultured metropolitan center without congestion. It is similar in size and character to Stockholm and Amsterdam. "Hagen" means harbor, so water is integral to Copenhagen's identity and history, for Denmark consists of 406 islands. Copenhagen is on the largest island, Zealand. The city has been an important commercial town since the time of the Hanseatic League in the Middle Ages, when it was connected into a vast Northern Europe trading network.

Copenhagen is an expensive city, but you can save money by spending most of your time walking, which is the best way to see any city. You can also save by visiting in July when hotel rates are lower than peak times, and the weather is fine, with extended summer daylight giving more time to explore. If you plan to visit a lot of museums, purchase a $60 Copenhagen Card for three days of admission to 70 attractions and free travel on all city buses and trains.

The famous Little Mermaid icon of Denmark has just turned 90 years old.

Day 1

The town center, including a boat tour, the Amalienborg and Rosenborg palaces, National Gallery and Tivoli Gardens

Day 2

Government center, art museum, shopping and street party

Day 3

History museum, working-class neighborhood and some day-trip options

Day 1

The town center, including a boat tour, the Amalienborg and Rosenborg palaces, National Gallery and Tivoli Gardens

>> Strøget: Start your day with a short town center stroll, walking the famous pedestrian street of Strøget. Most shops will not be open yet, but for now, enjoy a simple reconnaissance with a goal of getting to the excursion boat dock a few blocks away by 9:45 a.m.

The circular canal boat tour offers one of the best ways to get a quick city overview, enhanced with historical and descriptive narration from a guide. The 50-minute tour can be started at two different locations: Gammel Strand, or Nyhavn, which would be closer to the next activities. The route is the same either way.

The boat winds through several canals, passing under the bridges and into the harbor.

The boat will take you back where you began, and your next goal is to reach Amalienborg Palace, only a few blocks away, at noon for the colorful Changing of the Guard ceremony.

>> King's New Square: Nyhavn canal ends at one of the city's two main centers, the King's New Square, or Kongens Nytorv, built by King Christian IV. When he ascended the throne in 1596, Christian wanted Copenhagen to become a trading center, so he built up the city in many ways, including the network of canals, town squares and warehouses. A great admirer of France's Louis XIV, Christian presided over a period of expansion, doubling the city's size.

King Christian's nation-building efforts were frustrated during the 17th century when Denmark lost its long war with Sweden and was reduced to its current boundaries -- a considerable loss of status since the Danes had been the effective rulers of all Scandinavia and parts of England in previous centuries. Today the Danes live in harmony with their neighbors, except during soccer championship season.

The King's New Square is surrounded by some of the city's grandest buildings, including the French Ambassador's Residence and the Royal Theater. Next to the theater is the Charlottenborg Palace, with a gallery of art exhibits. Other landmarks are the Copenhagen Amber Museum and the Royal Academy, where young artists are educated. Art exhibits and special events are occasionally held on the square. King Christian V is immortalized in the center with a bronze equestrian statue. The wonderful pedestrian lane, Strøget, begins at this square next to the deluxe Hotel d'Angleterre and continues a mile to the City Hall Square, the other main center of town. Exit the square on the opposite side, walking along Bredgade Street toward Amalienborg Palace, into the district of Frederickstad.

The biggest outdoor party in Europe happens every day in nice weather along the historic canal Nyhavn. Have a fine meal in one of the restaurants, or just grab a beer and sit by the road to meet the locals.

>> Frederickstad and Kastellet: Frederick's City is an elegant neighborhood just beyond Nyhavn, sitting on land donated to the people by King Frederick V in 1749 to celebrate 300 years of royal rule. It was developed as a noble quarter, with grand 18th-century mansions along wide boulevards. Amalienborg Royal Palace is the district's centerpiece, but stop along the way to admire the Marble Church "Marmorkirken," sometimes called Frederick's Church.

The towering dome, based on St. Peter's in Rome, is beautiful in its baroque grandeur. The church is open from 10 a.m. Mondays to Thursdays and from noon Fridays to Sundays.

Amalienborg Palace is a unique complex of four nearly identical, rococo mansions around the edge of a broad, octagonal square, with a huge equestrian statue of Fredrick V in the middle. Built in the late 1700s, the royal family took possession of it in 1794 after their former palace burned down. Denmark still has a royal family, headed by Queen Margrethe II, but the royalty have no political power.

There is a small museum in the palace, the Royal Danish Collection, showing monarchy memorabilia and furnishings. The guards change at noon, so time your visit accordingly. If the queen is home, a marching band accompanies the ritual, but in early summer she may be out of town, canceling the ceremony.

Now you have a choice to make: The shorter route is to walk a mile to Rosenborg Palace, or choose the longer route to the Little Mermaid. If you must see the mermaid again, it is a pleasant mile stroll from Amalienborg to the waterfront, past docks and warehouses converted to expensive apartments. En route are two museums of interest: the Danish Museum of Decorative Art and the Resistance Museum. The former has a large permanent collection on the history of furniture, ceramics and handicrafts from Europe and Asia, supplemented by special exhibits of contemporary design, for which the Danes are famous.

The Resistance Museum in Churchill Park documents the Danish struggle against Nazis, ranging from early collaboration by government leaders to youth-led insurrection.

Your path continues through the park around Kastellet citadel, a 17th-century fortification with a moat and defensive walls, leading to the Little Mermaid. The sculpture was inspired by the tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark's most famous storyteller. After visiting the little gal, catch a city bus to our next destination.

There are quite a few examples of daring contemporary architecture along Copenhagen's modern waterfront, but not in the city's historic center.

>> Rosenborg Slot: The area around Rosenborg Slot (Palace) is filled with fine art, royal history, geology and exquisite gardens. Enter through the Royal Gardens, originally built for King Christian IV in 1606 to provide food for his kitchen, but now the oldest park in town with its original plan still intact, offering broad, green lanes and narrow paths.

Rosenborg Palace is the museum of the Danish kings, containing the crown jewels, a throne, original furniture and dark wood paneling throughout.

After touring the palace, head to the Botanical Garden, with 20,000 species of plants from around the world arranged in beautiful patterns that utilize remnants of the old fortified walls and moat that once circled the city.

Inside the park you will find the largest art museum in Denmark, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, with a comprehensive European collection ranging from old masters up through early 20th-century artists, and including one of the world's best collections of Danish painters.

When you have finished in this area, catch a bus back to the center or continue walking. Tivoli, your next destination, is a mile away on the other side of town.

>> Tivoli Gardens: This is undoubtedly Copenhagen's most popular attraction, drawing 3 million visitors annually due to its lively mix of rides, 40 restaurants, live music, tree-lined gardens with 400,000 flowers, and evening illumination by 115,000 colored lamps.

When entering, ask for the day's entertainment schedule so you can catch events such as the pantomime show of light ballet, the boys marching band, acrobats, animal acts and free music performances. You could go along with a 100-year tradition and ride a balloon for a bird's-eye view of the area. Tivoli is the third most popular amusement park in Europe and will get even busier next year when a triple-loop roller coaster ride opens.

A fireworks show begins at 11:45 p.m. every Saturday; it's best seen in front of the concert hall. The park stays open to 11 p.m. Sundays to Wednesdays, and to midnight the other days.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is the finest art museum in Denmark, with an important collection of classical statues and European paintings. The indoor garden is a special oasis.

Day 2

Government center, art museum, shopping and street party

>> Christiansborg: Just 10 minutes from the Strøget, Christiansborg is a large complex of government buildings and gardens on a small island. It has been the town's political center since 1167 when Bishop Absalon founded the city by building his castle here. This was the royal residence for many centuries, but fires burned down a series of castles and palaces until the huge Christiansborg Slot was built in the early 20th century.

Parliament, High Court and the Prime Ministry are housed here. For a small fee, go inside to admire the Royal Reception Rooms and also descend beneath to see foundations of earlier, destroyed palaces.

A passage through the arcades leads to the beautiful Library Garden. Amazingly, this garden was once a harbor where Christian IV's warships were secretly prepared for battle, hidden behind large buildings that still stand. Here you will find the Arsenal, open as a military museum with one of the world's best collections of 18th- and 19th-century armaments, housed in Europe's longest arched room, 170 yards long. The Royal Library is also still functioning here, with its ultramodern black glass extension, called the Black Diamond, attached on the harbor side. The garden also has a bronze statue of Soren Kierkegaard, a renowned philosopher who started the existential movement. If you don't believe this space could have been a warship harbor, look behind the benches to find a large metal ring once used to tie up the ships.

>> Fine Art Museum: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is Copenhagen's artistic gem, housing fine arts that span thousands of years, from ancient Egypt up through French Impressionism. The complex is as beautiful as the art within, starting with the Winter Garden, a large, glass-domed greenhouse just inside the front door. This indoor jungle has palm trees and other tropical exotics, with benches scattered about for absorbing the scene.

The front building, which wraps around the indoor garden, contains mostly Danish and French sculpture, featuring the largest Rodin collection outside France. Behind is a building added in 1906, containing the Classical collection of ancient Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian statues, jewelry and related arts.

Kings New Square sometimes has outdoor art exhibits and special events.

Conserve energy by starting with the third building -- a modern structure designed in 1996 by the nation's leading contemporary architect, Henning Larsen -- holding the extensive French Impressionist collection of masterpieces by Degas, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and their contemporaries.

After exploring the museum, walk a block to City Hall Square (Radhuspladsen) and enter the pedestrian zone.

>> Shopping and exploring: Copenhagen's town center is like a shopping mall, but one that is set in quaint historic buildings rather than a sterile arcade. Strøget is the main mile-long pedestrian lane connecting City Hall Square with the Kings New Square. Automobiles were banned from this street in the early 1960s, making this one of the first pedestrian zones in Europe.

Side streets are much quieter and offer relief from the Strøget masses. Oddly, this appealing lane changes names five times during its course but is never officially labeled as Strøget, even though that's what everyone calls it; so don't look for it on a map or street signs.

Several pedestrian streets -- Kobmagergade, Fiolstraede and Kompagnistraede -- branch off from Strøget. Look for peaceful little squares like Graabrodretorv, with welcoming benches for you to sit and relax awhile, under trees and surrounded by pubs and restaurants.

On Kobmagergade you'll find the Round Tower ("Rundetarn"), with an outdoor observation platform providing a great view across rooftops. Walk up an internal spiral ramp seven times around to reach the top of this 17th-century astronomical tower, 115 feet above the street. The slope is steep on the inner edge but gentle on the outer side of the ramp, and much easier coming down.

This central neighborhood is a perfect size, at 1 square mile, large enough to provide many places to explore for days but small enough that you won't get lost or exhausted covering the sights.

Walking up Round Tower's unusual spiral ramp to the top of this 115-foot-high tower renders a fine view over Copenhagen's town center.

The best shops, with high-quality clothing, electronics, souvenirs, jewelry, restaurants and cafes, are in the section of Strøget between Gammetorv, with its Dolphin Fountain, and on toward the Kings New Square. In the center, at the Dolphin Fountain, you will find a strong lineup of four major retail names in a row: George Jensens Silverware Shop, Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Shop, Holmegaard Glass and Illums Bolighus home furnishings with an excellent display of Scandinavian design. These stores are interconnected and together make up a display of Danish goods at their best. The latest trends in crystal and ceramics are displayed a few doors down at Rosenthal StudioHaus.

When you get hungry, options range from sidewalks stands selling pizza to some of the most expensive dining in Europe. The most typical, simple meal is the "smorrebrod," a small open-face sandwich you can find in a hundred varieties. The large department store, Illiums, at the intersection of Strøget and Kobmagergade, is pricey but has a reasonable cafeteria with excellent food, as does Magasin, the town's other main store at the end of Strøget. Many bakeries are now offering inexpensive, takeout sandwiches.

Gammel Strand, along the picturesque shore of the Holmen Canal, represents Copenhagen at its most charming. Here, and further along Nybrogade, you will find rows of historic buildings lined with art galleries, antique shops, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, including Krogs, the town's oldest and most famous seafood house.

You could extend your reach on bicycle. There are 2,500 free bicycles available at 125 different locations around town, thanks to an innovative city-sponsored program. Everyone is welcome to use them within the city limits. Riders pay a $3 deposit to unlock the yellow bicycle. The fee is refunded when the bicycle is returned to any of the convenient drop-off points. There are also 10 different guided tours on bicycle, offered by City Safari (see Web listings). Denmark is a nation on two wheels, with 3 million bicycles for 5 million people.

>> Nyhavn: Nyhavn means "new harbor," but it was built 350 years ago and many of the colorful buildings lining the canal date to that time. For hundreds of years this was a sleazy waterfront dump where drunken sailors and hookers congregated, but it turned around 40 years ago. Now fashionable, it makes a lovely stroll any time of the day or evening. The restaurants are very good along this picturesque waterfront.

Most shops close at 5 or 6 p.m., which is a good time to hit Nyhavn, just beyond the end of Strøget, across the Kings New Square. An amazing outdoor party takes place every evening along the picturesque Nyhavn canal, where people gather by the thousands to drink and talk. The street party is fueled by beer purchased in nearby shops rather than from the more expensive bars. The scene at Nyhavn is very civilized, with no sign of rowdiness or loud behavior. Most of the partygoers are young professionals joining friends after work. You're welcome to join in if you feel comfortable in this setting, because the locals speak English and are friendly, especially if you bring a six-pack to the circle. Things are especially lively here in the summer, when it doesn't get dark until after 10 p.m.

Day 3

History museum, working-class neighborhood and some day-trip options

>> National Museum: This magnificent museum covers 14,000 years of history in a huge former palace that occupies a city block, between the Glyptotek and Christiansborg. Half the space is devoted to Danish history, from the Stone Age through modern times, with thousands of artifacts arranged in chronological order. Walk through the displays in the proper sequence to get the full effect. Another large section takes you around the world, with special emphasis on the Inuit. The exhibition also includes artifacts from Africa, India, Indonesia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Japan, China, Central Asia and Siberia.

Those interested in modern design should visit the five-story Danish Design Center, just around the corner, next to the City Hall Square. Clean, functional style has been a hallmark of the Danish Modern movement, influencing industrial design, furniture and fashions worldwide, and this is the showcase for modern Danish design.

That completes the list of main attractions, leaving the afternoon free.

>> Vesterbro and free beer: To get away from the tourist center and see how the natives live, explore a working-class neighborhood in the Vesterbro district behind the train station, which will also lead you to the Carlsberg Brewery for a tasting tour. This area has been rejuvenated in recent decades and transformed into a multicultural district, with affordable housing, ethnic restaurants, schools and parks.

An excellent case study of successful urban renewal can be found at Hedebygade, an old housing block at the end of Matthaeusgade that has been transformed into a model development, with communal gardens in the center and refurbished buildings.

All this urban investigation might just be a good excuse to get to the brewery. Enter the Carlsberg complex through a gateway straddled by four massive granite elephants, but arrive well before the 4 p.m. closing if you hope to tour the factory and sample the free beer; then catch a bus back to the center. The brewery is closed on weekends.

>> Christianshavn: The island of Christianshavn, which you passed on the first day's boat tour, is an easy 10-minute walk from the center, or short ride on Bus No. 8 from City Hall Square. It has some quaint canals, cobblestone streets, lots of old buildings and several attractions: a steep spiral on the outside of the tower of Our Saviour's Church you can climb for a breathtaking experience, and the Royal Danish Naval Museum.

>> New Metro: Another way to get around town and see some typical local neighborhoods is by taking a public transit system ride. Copenhagen has a new metro system that opened a year ago, operating completely by computer control. The underground rail system reaches 13 stations, with more expected to open in the next few years. There will eventually be 22 stations and three lines extending 16 miles, half underground and half elevated, covering the city in 2007.

>> Excursions out of town: Perhaps the most interesting day trip is to Roskilde, the former royal capital from the 11th through 15th centuries. Just 20 minutes away by local train, this is a rewarding journey to a small, old-fashioned town famous for its cathedral and Viking museum. The burial place of Danish royalty, the Roskilde Cathedral has an elaborate Baroque interior with four chapels filled with statues and tombs. The nearby Viking Ship Museum has five authentic boats recovered from the harbor, dating to the glory days of Viking exploration.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is located 25 miles north of town along the beautiful shoreline. This is one of Europe's most innovative displays of modern art. Highlights include works by Francis Bacon, Max Ernst, Sam Francis, Giacometti, Kiefer, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. By train (ask for Kystbanen) it is 36 minutes from Copenhagen, and a 10-minute walk or bus ride from Humlebæk/Louisiana Station.

Or you could just stay in town and walk. Copenhagen is one of the safest cities in the world -- you can walk everywhere without feeling threatened.

By the way, the standard of living survey mentioned at the outset makes some other interesting comparisons with other countries. This Index of Social Progress, published annually by the University of Pennsylvania, ranks the world's nations based on quality of life as shown by various social, economic and political indicators. Rounding out the other top slots were the rest of Scandinavia, plus Germany, Austria, Iceland and Italy. The United States was quite far down the list at No. 27, between Poland and Slovenia, primarily due to "chronic poverty" affecting 33 million people.

This brings up some deeper social reasons why Copenhagen has evolved into such a fine city. Despite the disparity between rich and poor in all countries, Denmark has one of the world's most even distributions of income, with social benefits available to all. For example, the upper fifth get 40 percent of the total income, compared with America where the top fifth get half of all income.

Dennis Callan is president of the Hawaii Geographic Society and produces the "World Traveler" TV series, airing 6 to 7 p.m. Mondays on 'Olelo, channel 52. He frequently leads tours through Europe, Canada and the United States, and writes "Three Days in ..." the first Sunday of each month for the Star-Bulletin, explaining how to get the most out of three days in the world's great places. This is his 28th piece.


If you go ...

Following are places to stay and see while in Copenhagen, plus Web sites for further research. Use the prefix 011-45 for calls from the United States.


In the city center

>> City, at 24 Peder Skramsgade. Call 33-130666; fax 33-130667;

>> D'Angleterre, on Konges Nytorv. Call 33-120095; fax 33-121118;

>> Mercure, at 17 Vester Farimagsgade. Call 33-125711; fax 33-125717;

>> Opera, at 15 Tordenskjoldsgade. Call 33-478300; fax 33-478301;

>> Palace, at City Hall Square. Call 33-144050; fax 33-145279;

>> Radisson SAS Royal, at 1 Hammerichsgade. Call 33-141412; fax 33-141421;


Hours listed are for summer season

>> Botanical Gardens: Admission is free; the smaller greenhouses are only open from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The larger Palmhouse is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

>> Danish Design Center: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends; $4.

>> Danish Museum of Decorative Arts: Open noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays; $6.

>> Fredeiksborg Castle: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; $10.

>> National Museum: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays, admission $6; and free 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays.

>> Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Monday; $6 admission, but free on Wednesdays and Sundays.

>> Resistance Museum: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays, with $6 admission, except Wednesdays, when admission is free.

>> Rosenborg Palace: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; $10.

>> Round Tower: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; $3.

>> Royal Danish Collection: In Amalienborg Palace, Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; $10.

>> Royal Museum of Fine Arts: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays, admission $9; and to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, when admission is free.

>> Thorvaldsens Museum: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays; free.

>> Viking Ship Museum, in Roskilde: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; $8.

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