December in London, and in other big cities I’ve been to, often feels like a suffocating vice grip to make you feel ‘Christmassy’.
Songs are constantly wormed into your ear so you’re sick of it, buying presents is like a court ordered service, and all of the parties and dinners feel like a never-ending battle to keep fit while simultaneously guzzling fizzy wine and munching on mince pies.
When it all settles down, you finally get to enjoy what the holidays are really supposed to be about. You get to spend time with people you love, play along with the tradition, drinking and eating good food. You end up wishing it wasn’t over so fast.
Christmas in Copenhagen feels like this.
To kick off the beginning of December, three friends and I headed to Denmark for a short winter break. This was my first winter break abroad.
As we flew out from London Heathrow at the incredibly unsociable hour of 7am, we arrived in Copenhagen at half nine local time. A short train ride later and we were in the city center.
Choosing a relatively cheap place to lay our heads, we opted for Hotel Ansgar only ten minutes walk away from the train station.
So we didn’t have to constantly worry about money, we were relieved to have Copenhagen cards. For a small fee, the cards get you free admission to over 60 museums, all public transport, the canal tour, and even the world famous Tivoli Gardens.
They are definitely worth the money.
As we were only there for a flying visit, we figured the canal tour would be the best way of checking out the city – and Eurovision 2014’s hosts.
From the artistic Nyhavn to the Little Mermaid statue, it was a stunning, if slightly freezing, experience.
My first impression was that the city has a quiet confidence to it.
It does not mess about when it comes to Christmas, that’s for sure, but it never feels overbearing. There’s no sarcasm, tackiness or anything that feels like a wink to camera.
This can be both a good and a bad thing.
With The Little Mermaid, it perhaps needs some added gravitas. All it is is a small, fine-looking statue ten feet out in the water. It’s free, it’s a photo opportunity of sorts, but undeniably underwhelming.
But with Tivoli Gardens, it is absolutely unafraid to say it is celebrating the holidays.
With most ‘winter wonderlands’ being an ice rink, a couple of shops selling Christmas tat, with a bit of tinsel chucked onto the odd tree, I can tell you this one definitely filled me with wonder.
I was Jack Skellington in Christmasland.
Like the city itself, the pleasure gardens never feels structured as if there’s not a pattern to anything.
While this lends itself to getting lost often, it conjures a sense of adventure.
Tivoli is lit up like Las Vegas, with sweets bigger than your head decorating the paths, and the screams of happy children filling the air as they go on as many rides as they can.
As we were looking for an exit, we had an experience I’ll never forget.
I turned into a path we had not crossed before, followed it, and stumbled across a pirate ship resting on a mirrored lake. Like stumbling through the wardrobe into Narnia, it felt as if we were in a fairy tale.
We had another, similar experience on the same day. While exploring the city, and looking around, we discovered the World AIDS Day tribute.
Thousands of candles were lit around the red ribbon in one of the biggest squares in memory to victims of AIDS. Simple, yet breath-taking.
Fantasy is a common theme in this city, for Copenhagen often pays tribute to their most famous son and (arguably bisexual) Little Mermaid author Hans Christian Anderson.
But, again, it never feels like it’s desperate for you to know they are proud of the man’s legacy.
If our first day was a typical tourist day out, then the second was an insight into a real local’s view into their city.
Meeting up with our wonderfully friendly tour guide from Visit Copenhagen, we were taken to Kronborg: A gay-owned traditional Danish restaurant.
We had a chance to try proper home food, with their own brewed (strong and delicious) schnapps.
Open-faced sandwiches were the order of the day, a must-try in the city.
Afterwards, we were taken to Le Glacé for dessert. Tucked away in a side alley, we would have never have seen it if we weren’t told about it.
But this is a world-famous pÃ¢tissiÃ¨re, a setting for a documentary series, and incredibly gay-friendly.
To celebrate when Copenhagen hosted the World OutGames in 2009, they created a cake made of chocolate, hazelnut praline and marzipan decorations.
As it was so successful, it became a part of their daily line up of confections. I tried a piece, and yes, it is delicious.
Afterwards we were off to the biggest LGBT bars in the city. Café Oscar was the first, the go-to hangout and hub of gay culture in Copenhagen.
Jailhouse followed, a theme bar where you sit in ‘cells’ and drinks are served to you by bar staff dressed in police costumes.
We finished at Never Mind, a late-night place to dance, chat and chill. While none of them were exactly the best party places on earth, it was a Monday and understandably relatively quiet.
On our final day we were resting our hungover heads, shopped in the arty Nyvahn, and headed home back to the suffocating holiday grip of London.
While I’m sure some Danes feel exactly the same way about their city as I do about mine, for me it was a welcome reprieve to be part of their world for the weekend.
In Copenhagen we were all little mermaids, venturing out to find something different. Thankfully, we didn’t fan girl over a prince and subsequently lose our voices and/or souls.
But by doing something new, like she did learn, you have no idea what delights you’re going to find.