With thanks to our guest blogger Helen Elmore
My name is Helen and I am a total Scandophile. I’ve consumed endless volumes of Scandi noir literature and TV drama (I’ve even bought academic texts on Swedish culture – I’m probably taking it a bit far!), I’ve taught myself to tell my hej from my hej då and I’ve consumed my body weight in daim bars, but although we (husband Stuart and I) have scratched the itch by holidaying in Denmark and Sweden previously, we had not visited in a campervan. Until last year. As Fenton, our own Sprinter camper, was very much still ‘under construction’, we hired Quirky Camper ‘Angel’ and set off on a two-week road trip through Europe to Scandinavia.
Having been to Copenhagen the previous year, we were very keen to go back and do more exploring. The Danish capital is not naturally suited to van living and campsites are not in abundance so we decided to stay a little further out of the city centre and make the most of Angel’s toilet and shower facilities! Amager Strand is a manmade beach not far from Kastrup airport. Those two facts do not make it sound very appealing but having spent a hot summer’s day there on our first trip I knew this was where I wanted to be! I feel I should point out that the car parks at Amager Strand do not allow overnight camping. Officially. But it was late September, the parking was plentiful and we were discreet. We stayed there two nights (with a handful of other campers) with no issues. The long, winding Amager promenade takes you through sand dunes, over bridges and through a marina and is perfect for running or cycling whilst enjoying views of the Øresund Bridge. There are also what appear to be concrete spaceships dotted along the beach which open during the day and contain toilets and kiosks. We parked up in Angel during the evening and enjoyed a sunset bike ride and an ice cream before settling in for the night.
The following morning we took a trip to the stunningly designed Kastrup Sea Baths (known as the snail because of its spiral shape). I chickened out of an actual swim because the September sea looked rather cold and choppy, but there were still some hardy Danes taking a dip! Sea swimming is popular in Denmark for its purported health benefits (and I guess there is a lot of sea to swim in when your country is made up of islands and a peninsula) but this is one aspect of Scandi culture I’m yet to embrace!
One of the things that makes Copenhagen so special to me is that the infrastructure is built for cyclists, with very few cars compared to what we’re used to in the UK. I love cycling but I get nervous in traffic and usually prefer traffic-free cycleways. The ‘green path’ is a fab way to see the city if you prefer to avoid roads and takes you to Fredriksberg, which has beautiful gardens where you can relax and steal a free peek at the elephants in Copenhagen zoo! We had taken our folding bikes with us (although there are plenty of places to hire from and a reasonably priced city bike scheme) so we left Angel to enjoy the sea views and cycled to Østerbro – a quiet and leafy neighbourhood that is also home to Souls, a delicious vegan restaurant. For a fairly hefty price tag you can enjoy a beautifully presented, fresh and interesting brunch or lunch. We opted to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine with our smoothies.
From Souls we headed to along the waterfront to Christiania, a commune founded on squatted army barracks in 1971. Although the area is subject to Danish law, the authorities (mostly) turn a blind eye to the soft drug trade that goes on there. I was keen to check out this hippy city within a city but I did not feel wholly comfortable there. There is some amazing art and architecture within Christiania, with lots of natural and reclaimed materials being put to new and interesting uses but the people living there are very protective of their community and lifestyle, which can make it feel a little inhospitable. We wandered around the residential areas, trying to be respectful of people’s homes, to get a feel for the place but I could not shake the feeling of being watched. I was happy to move on to our next port of call, the Church of Our Saviour.
The magnificent church tower can be seen from all over Copenhagen and for a fee you can climb the 400 steps to the top. And when I say top, I mean top. Copper-clad steps spiral up around the outside of the spire until your feet can no longer squeeze onto the treads! The views are spectacular even if space is a little tight, although coming back down made me feel rather queasy and necessitated a recovery cuppa in in the coffee shop across the road.
On our first trip to Copenhagen we spent an incredible evening drinking mojitos and chowing down on Middle Eastern flatbreads on Papirøen (‘Paper Island’), a former complex of paper warehouses turned fabulous street food market. So we were pretty disappointed to note from the top of the church spire that the whole area had been razed to the ground! Fortunately Papirøen has been reincarnated a little further up the quayside as Reffen. The large and eclectic mix of bars and food vendors caters for every taste and the evening we visited there was live music, fire pits and a great atmosphere. We may not have been able to crack out a campfire in the beach car park, but we made the most of the festival camping vibes at Reffen!
We were fairly shattered from a LOT of cycling (and those 400 steps) but the ride back out to Amager and Angel is one of my favourite memories from the trip. The chill of the night after a hot day, long stretches of smooth cycle path and the stillness of quiet roads with only the odd passing car – it is hard to believe you’re in a city at all. Being able to sleep by the sea with the sound of waves lapping the shore and the glitter of lights on the Øresund Bridge was pretty special – I’m certain I’ll be back for more.