Nordic Noir: A weekend in Copenhagen and Malmo

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Can’t get enough of such Scandinavian noir dramas as The Bridge, The Killing or Borgen? Take it to the next level by visiting the cities where they are set and filmed, and discover much more than just bleak landscapes and furniture design in both Denmark and Sweden. The author was inspired to visit by too many BBC4 dramas and these will be referred to the article, but there are no plot spoilers.

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The Bridge from Copenhagen

Arriving and First Impressions

There’s no easy way to put this to a student readership. Scandinavia isn’t cheap. It’s not as expensive as the reputation suggests (a long weekend in London would almost certainly cost more) but this hurts the bank balance more than that weekend in Prague or Budapest would.

Flying in over the North Sea to Copenhagen Airport, you will be struck by how similar Denmark looks to the UK from the air, and relax a little as you fly over Jutland and the intermediate island of Funen between the mainland and the island of Zealand on which Copenhagen sits. As you fly in, depending on which side of the aeroplane you are on, you will be unable not to notice the bridge across the Oresund strait. This is, of course, The Bridge from which the TV series takes its name, but more on that later. Visitors who are both observant and who have spent too much time watching BBC4 will notice the large expanse of wood and bog you fly over on the way to land. This is the area in which the iconic opening scene of the first series of The Killing takes place. When you land, take the Metro to Central Copenhagen for a relatively low price (around 36kr or £4 for a single journey) considering that the airport is some way out of the city.

Changing of the Guard at the Amalienborg Palace
Changing of the Guard at the Amalienborg Palace

Things to do and see in Copenhagen

Most attractions in Copenhagen charge some sort of fee, but these tend to be low and fairly reasonable. In terms of sightseeing, most of the main sights are situated in a fairly small area, rendering transport unnecessary unless your accommodation is some way out of the city centre. Perhaps the highlight of your visit will be the Christiansborg Palace, which is a parliament building, royal residence and high court all rolled into one. Politics buffs will know this is the only single building in the world to house all three branches of government, being also home to the Prime Minister. Take a walk around the outside, and the royal apartments are often open to the public and most definitely worth a visit if they are. The grounds themselves are quite scenic and a sight in themselves. TV fans will recognise this as the primary setting of Borgen. The other palace in the area, the Amalienborg, is the main royal residence and the public are able to walk through the central courtyard unimpeded, with often being able to get quite up close to the daily changing of the guard at noon. Worth a look, and close to the waterfront. Near to here is the National Museum, which is free and has an exceptionally good exhibition on Viking history if beards, axes and helmets with horns are what you are interested in, and who isn’t? The ‘picture postcard’ spot in Copenhagen, so lovingly recreated at Legoland, is Nyhavn. This area gets very busy during the afternoon, but the coloured houses and boats are not to miss. One excellent way of experiencing this area is to take a canal tour (the start/end point is near the Christiansborg Palace) which will also allow you to see much of the city centre from another perspective. Interestingly, there is a theme park in the middle of Copenhagen. The Tivoli isn’t the cheapest place in the world, but for rollercoaster lovers, taking a ride on one in the middle of a major city may be worth it. There are many things to find out in Copenhagen which this article cannot do justice, such as the Round Tower, which offers stunning views of the city and sea, for yourself.

Canal near the Christiansborg Palace
Canal near the Christiansborg Palace

The Bridge: Going to Sweden for an afternoon

Or a morning. It really doesn’t matter. Go to Copenhagen Central Station and use a ticket machine to buy tickets to Malmo, across the Oresund Strait. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an open return option so you will have to work out how much time you want to spend in Malmo. 4 or 5 hours seems to be about right. The ticket isn’t cheap for a 30 minute train ride (about £16 return or so) but, frankly, where else can you take a train on a bridge between two countries? Notice the lack of chewing gum under the seats as you board the train. The train takes a slightly longer way out on the Danish side, past the airport, but you will emerge out of the tunnel suspended above the Baltic. It’s a fantastic time to admire the view, looking at both cities as you follow the curve of the bridge. TV fans will be able to see the setting of many of the scenes from The Bridge, although the road crossing is above the rail crossing. Eventually, you will pass a pillar painted blue and gold in the middle, at what must be one of the strangest rail border crossings in the world. The Danish Kroner is accepted by many Malmo businesses, as the two currencies are similar in value, but check with the shop/cafe first. They may be able to change some money into Swedish Kronor if needs be. Malmo is based around three squares, Stortorget (The Big Square), Lilla Torg (Little Square) and Gustav Adolfs Torg (Gustav Adolf’s Square) which make up the main shopping area. Shopping isn’t cheap, but this could be a good choice if you want some retail therapy. If not, the area is also good to take in the environment with a drink. The main sight in Malmo is Malmohuset, the ‘Malmo House’ or castle, which has a fascinating museum. It is surrounded by scenic gardens and a windmill, of all things. Malmo is perhaps the ‘Cinderella’ of the Swedish cities, considered by many Swedes to lack the charms that nearby cities like Lund or Gothenborg have, but it is still pleasant city to spend a day in.

Malmohuset
Malmohuset

Eating, Drinking and Speaking

Restaurants in Denmark and Sweden tend to be quite formal affairs and it is unlikely you would find yourself in one, less being willing to pay the heavy price tag. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t sample the food of the region, which is hugely underrated. In Denmark, the national dish, Rød Pølse (red sausage), is a fast food served from hot-dog wagons with liberal amounts of mustard and pickled cucumber with onions. This will be unlikely to cost more than £3, although not a main meal, is an excellent snack and one of the iconic foods of Denmark. A more likely main meal is the Smørrebrød (open sandwiches), which will also be available in Sweden as Smörgås, the famous open-sandwiches. There are a staggering array of different toppings to have to fit all tastes, but this would also be a great time to try some pickled herring out (and it’s nicer than it sounds).

Drinking out isn’t cheap. In a lot of places, you may be lucky to have a large beer for less than £5, but cheaper establishments can be found. Supermarkets, in Denmark at least, tend to be cheaper than the UK though, with a large can of Tuborg or Carlsberg unlikely to cost more than 85p or so. Beer lovers may struggle to find much beer that isn’t lager however.

Although nearly all Danes and Swedes learn English from a young age and speak it very well, there is no better way to win friends and influence people than to get a smattering of the local lingo. The two languages are near-identical in grammar and share much of the same vocabulary, but are quite different in their spoken forms. Also, they have some really cool letters like ‘å’, ‘ö’ and ‘æ’, so why not?

Perhaps not a destination for the summer holiday, but this often overlooked area of the world has much to discover and be surprised by. Pack a coat and Viking helmet.

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Pause Editor 2015-7, History student on Erasmus, maker of low-quality satire. When not writing for Pause, I dabble in Travel and Politics.

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