My dad’s grandfather came over from Denmark in the late 1920s. As long as I can remember, I’ve been told I take after this ‘Nielsen’ side of the family: tall with an athletic build, and thick and wavy light hair. I was excited to visit Denmark at the prospect of, for once in my life, feeling small.

Well, after boarding my flight from Ireland to Copenhagen, I got my wish. I didn’t feel small though really, just extraordinarily average. Never before had I been surrounded by so many other people with my same coloring and build! (My mom’s side has roots in what was once Czechoslovakia, with slightly darker coloring and slighter builds. Definitely no curly hair on this side!) For the remainder of my time in Denmark, this sense of belonging stayed with me. It was fun to imagine what life might have been like there for my ancestors…

(They probably didn’t eat as much candy as I do… Did you know they have salty gummies in Scandinavia? Mind blown.)

While the culture and people of Copenhagen are completely charming, unfortunately most of the top recommended sites are saturated with tourists. (I know, I know, so said the tourist…)

It was interesting to learn two things upon arriving in the city center: First, medieval Copenhagen no longer exists. After two big fires in the 1700s, the old city was burnt to the ground and has since been entirely rebuilt. Secondly, a lot of the Danish buildings rebuilt after the fires were actually fashioned after architectural designs in other European countries (for example the City Hall, or Rådhuset, pictured above was inspired by the city hall in Siena, Italy).

True Danish architecture therefore is an anomaly of sorts within Copenhagen, which helps explain the younger generation’s thriving interest in modern design, possibly as a means of filling in that piece of its national identity.

Wandering the streets (and escaping the tourist throngs of Strøget) led to some great exploring through Copenhagen. The entire downtown area is small and easily walkable in a day. I didn’t rent a bike but, had I ventured out more in the countryside, I definitely would.

As you would expect from the world Bike Capital, biking lanes in Copenhagen are huge! In between the pedestrian walkway and actual motor road, cyclists have more than a lanes-width to ride. Since the city is so flat, with no hills to speak of, it’s a super smart and inexpensive way to get around the city. I was shocked to see that people don’t even lock up their bikes! Listed as one of the safest and most peaceful countries in the world, the Danish people are clearly very trusting.

My wanderings brought me to the sweet neighborhood of Christianshavn, pictured above and below, my favorite part of Copenhagen. Separated from the city center and dominated by canals, it has a lovely nautical atmosphere with Dutch-inspired architecture. It was the perfect place to stop for a cup of coffee and people watch.

Next on the wandering path was famous Nyhavn harbor, the postcard-picture scene below. Following the advice of my AirBnb host, I took a boat tour from the harbor and was able to somewhat escape the crowds. The cruise was a fun way to get out on the water and see the sites. It lasted about 90 minutes and was totally worth the 80 DKK (~$12).

After Nyhavn I headed to visit the most famous of Danish landmarks, the Little Mermaid statue. Based on the fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, the statue was commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobsen, who had been fascinated by a ballet about the fairytale in Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre and asked the ballerina, Ellen Price, to model for the statue.

Last on my to-do list was a visit to the famous Tivoli Gardens. The amusement park is the second oldest in the world, and located right in downtown Copenhagen.

Besides rides, the park also has beautiful gardens and various exhibits styled after sites across the world.

I was there for the rides though, and while they only had a few thrillers, they were awesome.

So awesome, in fact, I got motion sick for the first time in my life on a ride. It was the above ride that did me in, appropriately named Vertigo. Afterwards, while I was sitting down to recover and contemplating both the demise of my youth and whether I had it in me to go on another ride, a huge thunderstorm swept in and I decided to call it a day.

Walking home I finally found the streets empty! The thunderstorm only lasted about 20 minutes and afterwards the sky was a perfect blue. The Danes are famous for their concept of hygge, an idea not existing in the English language but approximately translating to super blissful coziness. After witnessing the fickle summer weather ranging from rain to thunder back to blue skies, I decided to go home, put on some cozy socks and, like my ancestors before me, see what this hygge was all about.

Thanks for reading!

xo Carrie