Saturday, 21 July 2012

SPAIN: SUNSHINE HOLIDAY NEEDN'T COSTA FORTUNE


COSTA DEL PARASOL: Not a cloud on the Malaga coast

We were on the coach from Malaga airport heading for our hotel when the rep dropped the bombshell that it was at the top of a steep road known as Heart Attack Hill. There were gasps and groans from the couples with kids and a few unrepeatables from the lads up the back in their Ireland soccer shirts. We’d all packed our flip-flops, but no one had mentioned anything about bringing crampons as well.
It was my first package holiday — curiosity had finally got the better of me — but less than an hour after stepping off the plane I was beginning to suspect it would be my last. As someone who’s always travelled DIY, I didn’t fancy being declared DOA.
But then the cheeky chappy with the microphone grinned and added: “However, a frequent shuttle bus runs to and from the beach and the forecast is for sunshine all week.”
A big cheer went up. We didn’t know whether to kick or kiss him, but he was right on all three counts. The family-friendly Hotel Spa Benalmadena Palace (www.benalmadenapalace.com) is at the top of a steep hill, there is a regular bus to the beach and for seven days the sun shone from dawn to dusk.
SEARING IS BELIEVING: Street thermometer
and, below, cheap and tasty grilled sardines

Not only that, on the day we arrived the temperature hit 45C (113F. Only slightly hotter were the six succulent sardines I had for lunch with a side salad, bread and a pint of ice-cold lager for €5.40. Sprinkled with crunchy sea salt and grilled over charcoal, they’d been swimming around minding their own business just a few hours before. That’s what you call fresh fish.
Food and drink in the hundreds of restaurants and bars vying for scores of thousands of visitors’ custom in Benalmadena are great value. In the English-owned Wigan Bar on the broad promenade, for example, a hot roast beef and onion baguette costs €3.45 and a pint of San Miguel lager is a gift at €2. Next door in The Potter, €3.50 buys a generous all-day breakfast that will keep you going until dinner and a pint of Strongbow cider is €3.
Both places advertise an extensive, bordering on baffling choice of dishes and there are children’s menus for €3.25, so a filling meal for a family of four can easily be had for around €20. Far from being lucky finds, such bargains are the norm all along the Costa del Sol. The simple fact is that cheap means busy means profit, so everyone’s a winner.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Baffling array of menus
and, below, Hotel Spa Benalmadena Palace

Benalmadena Palace is only 20 minutes by bus from the airport and the same from Fuengirola, where holidaymakers who opt for self-catering can fill the fridge from Dunnes Stores.
The hotel provides nightly entertainment (Welsh singer Laura Elen is brilliant) and has a wealth of facilities including outdoor and indoor pools, paddle tennis, a spa and wellness centre, restaurant and cafe and a huge bar with its own pizzeria. There’s also a small but well-stocked shop run by a charming young woman who does so much sweeping she’d be an asset to any Winter Olympics curling team.
Parents will be glad to know there’s a packed programme of supervised children’s activities that continues into the evening, allowing Mum and Dad to relax knowing their kids are in good hands.
Many of the 182 studios and one-bedroom apartments with sit-out balconies have sea views, but the nearby Benalnatura nudist beach is shielded from sight. Good thing too, as some of the bronzed wrinklies who strut their sagging stuff there look like the Iron Age peat bog bodies on display in Dublin’s National Museum.

BEACH BUMS: Benalnatura nudist beach and,
below, thrill-seekers try their hand at parasailing

Drag yourself away from the pool or the beach and there’s hours of fun on the water as well as in it, with dolphin-spotting and pirate ship cruises that leave from the marina. For daredevils who want a bird’s eye view of the coast — and an unavoidable peek at the nudists — tandem parasailing is a thrill. If it’s birdies you’re after, the challenging championship course at Torrequebrada Golf Club (www.golftorrequebrada.com) is very close.
Tivoli World amusement park (www.tivoli.es) in Arroyo de la Miel has 40 rides — including a 60-metre Free Fall Tower — and live dance and music shows every day from 5pm to 1am and is one of the highlights of a visit to the Costa del Sol.
In nearby Torremolinos, Gerry Keown from Newry and Karin Buckley from Dublin are celebrating 25 years in business at the Bailey Irish Pub (4 Calle Maria Barrabino, up Calle San Miguel with the sea at your back and across the main street). I first met them in 1985 when they ran the nearby Harp Bar which they’d bought two years before and which quickly became a home from home for Irish holidaymakers.
Torremolinos has changed dramatically in 25 years, spreading out from its old municipal boundaries to become twice as big, but The Bailey, which opened in August 1987, hasn’t changed a bit, apart from the addition of flat-screen TVs. Chatterbox Gerry’s the same kind-hearted host he always was, and Karin — well, Karin’s great. Disturbingly, while I’ve visibly aged, Gerry and Karin — now the proud parents of three fine boys — look as fresh-faced as they always did. Grrrr.
BAIL AND HEARTY: Karin and Gerry have run
Torremolinos' Bailey Pub for the past 25 years
Popular excursions from Benalmadena include millionaires’ playground Puerto Banus for celeb-spotting and window shopping, Gibraltar with its colony of Barbary apes, the mountain town of Ronda whose Moorish and Roman bridges span a spectacularly-deep gorge, and Granada, home to the magnificent Alhambra Palace.
You’ll need your passport to enter Gibraltar (www.discovergibraltar.com), but you might have to wait a while at the frontier while planes take off and land as the access road crosses the airport runway. It’s a little though lofty bit of Britain that juts into the Mediterranean from the southernmost tip of the Iberian peninsula from where on a haze-free day you can look across the strait and see the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Tangier is 55 kilometres away by ferry and is among the excursion options, but you spend more time getting there and back than you do on Moroccan soil and return to your hotel exhausted, so I can’t recommend it unless you plan on spending a couple of days there.
Gibraltar, which has an area of just seven square kilometres, is home to 30,000 people. That makes it one of the most densely-populated places in the world, which also makes it a madhouse in high summer when the streets and pubs are full of day-trippers, but if you can put up with the crowds it’s a quaint and quirky experience.
The playful baby and juvenile apes are cute, but some of the adults are cranky and can turn nasty. It’s wise to keep bags and handbags zipped shut and held tight because some of these hairy rock dwellers are skilled thieves, so watch your pockets too.

ROCK 'N' HOLE: Gibraltar Barbary ape and,
below, mountain town Ronda's famed gorge

Ronda is the hometown of legendary torero Pedro Romero (1754-1839) who killed 5,558 bulls in a 27-year career. When he retired from the ring at the age of 45 to teach young bullfighters in Seville, it was without so much as a scratch from his exploits. A fine restaurant bearing his name (www.rpedroromero.com) serves the best rabo de toro (oxtail) in Spain and houses a fascinating collection of more than 1,000 photos, posters, capes, swords, suits of lights and other bullfighting memorabilia.
Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), who kept a room in Ronda’s Hotel Reina Victoria, was so blown away by the local scenery that he wrote in 1908: “I have sought everywhere the city of my dreams, and I have finally found it in Ronda. There is nothing that is more startling in Spain than this wild and mountainous city.”
Orson Welles was a frequent visitor to Ronda (a street is named after him), where he stayed at the ranch of his retired bullfighter friend Antonio Ordoñez. In 1987, two years after his death in California and on what would have been his 72nd birthday, the actor-director’s ashes were lowered into a dry well on the ranch. As his daughter Beatrice wept and a priest prayed, Ordoñez threw a handful of sand from the town’s bullring over the urn and then sealed the well, which sits between two oak trees.
Ernest Hemingway, another bullfighting aficionado, Ronda lover and friend of Ordoñez, also has a street named after him. In his 1940 novel For Whom The Bell Tolls, Hemingway, who covered the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) as a correspondent, writes of a massacre in which republicans murder hundreds of nationalists by throwing them from the top of some cliffs in an Andalucian village. Although he later claimed to have fabricated the incident, it’s widely believed he based it on a 1936 atrocity that occurred at Ronda’s El Tajo gorge.

HEMING'S WAY: Ronda street is named after
author and, below, Granada's Alhambra Palace

I wasn’t happy with my bill in the Varagua tapas bar close to the Arab Bridge in Granada, so I spoke to the manager, who was taken aback.
“You had a big slice of tortilla and some bread with your beer?” he asked.
“Yes.”
“Then the price is correct.”
This guy must think I’m stupid, I thought, and pointed to the total.
“But look here,” I said. “You’ve only charged me €1.80.”
“That’s right,” said the manager. “The beer is €1.80 and the tortilla and bread are free.”
“Really?”
“Si, señor. In Granada, we are loco.”
In Restaurante Meson Gregorio on the other side of the bridge they’re even more loco — a tapa of meatballs, another of Manchego cheese and a beer cost just €3.20.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in Granada, but despite my long absence I should’ve remembered that once you head up into the mountains the prices go down.
One thing I’ll never forget, though, is arriving at the city’s Washington Irving Hotel in 1986 during my first ever visit. I’d reserved a room over the phone and the receptionist had written my name phonetically, so when she spun the register around for me to sign, there I was — Señor Swine.
LOTS MOOR TO SEE: Inside Alhambra Palace
Traveller, author and US diplomat Irving (1783-1859) wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, but it’s for his Tales Of The Alhambra that he’s best-known in Spain. The book, first published in 1832 and still selling in big numbers in many languages, is a collection of historical sketches and short fictional stories that paint a picture of daily life in the Alhambra Palace during the Moorish occupation of Spain.
The hilltop Alhambra, built during the mid-14th century and designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, is one of Spain’s premier tourist attractions whose Islamic architecture, intricate arabesque decorations, fountained courtyards and flower-filled gardens leave visitors awestruck. I’ve never in my life seen a more beautiful man-made structure, and I’d urge every holidaymaker heading for the Costa del Sol to chalk it down as a must-see.

TANTASTIC: The busy beach at Benalmadena
I went to Benalmadena during the recent Euro 2012 football finals and spotted the lads from the back of the airport coach moping over their beers after the Ireland-Spain match. But the gloom of that 4-0 defeat didn’t last long — five minutes after the final whistle they were leading a green-shirted conga line in a rousing rendition of “Viva España” followed by “You’ll Never Beat The Spanish”.
With lager at 2 a pint, they certainly had something to sing about.

GETTING THERE
Thomas Cook Ireland fly direct to the Costa del Sol from Dublin every Saturday.
Seven nights self-catering at the 4-star Benalmadena Palace (www.benalmadenapalace.com) costs from €716 per person sharing departing August 11, or upgrade to all-inclusive from €1,162pps. The same deal departing September 15 costs from €635 self-catering and €905 all-inclusive. Seven nights all-inclusive for a family of four departing August 11 costs from €3,082. Prices include flights, accommodation, transfers, baggage allowance, taxes and charges.
Most travel agents in Benalmadena offer a wide range of day excursions with several pick-up and drop-off points close to hotels. Typical prices are Marbella/Puerto Banus sightseeing €15, Gibraltar shopping €20, Ronda sightseeing €35 and Granada sightseeing €55 including Alhambra admission and English-speaking guide. Tickets bought from hotel receptions are generally dearer.
˜Call Thomas Cook Ireland on 01 514 0328 or visit www.thomascook.ie

Sunday, 15 July 2012

DENMARK: WONDERFUL, FUNDERFUL COPENHAGEN


SPANORAMA: Copenhagen skyline and the
Oresund Bridge linking Denmark and Sweden

The oldest pub in Copenhagen, Hviids Vinstue, is an unbeatable nightspot with an unpronounceable name. The extra bold Gothic type used in the signs on the front of the building is baffling — the H looks like an S and the V looks like a B — so I asked the barman: “What’s this pub called?” When he answered, I thought he was choking and almost grabbed him in the Heimlich manoeuvre.
Hviids Vinstue (www.hviidsvinstue.dk), a stone’s throw from Kongens Nytorv metro station, opened in 1723. The night I was there it closed at 2am, and among the reluctant departees was a young woman who’d fallen off her bike outside. The staff helped her to a table, applied a bag of ice to her injured ankle and she ended up happily sipping Tuborg until a taxi was called to take her and her bike home.
Copenhagen has more than 300 kilometres of dedicated cycle lanes, and one in three people pedal to work, school or college every day. But beware if you so much as poke a toe into a bike lane before the green crossing signal flashes you’ll get a stinker of a look. Heaven forbid you should cause a cyclist to brake abruptly, because in their eyes that’s a heinous crime, up there with being cruel to kittens.

CYCLE DANES: One in three Copenhagers ride
to school or work using dedicated bike lanes
Close to the canalside hotspot of Nyhavn, Hviids Vinstue is one of those rare refuges with no music, no TV and no gaming machines. With its oak-panelled interior, cosy nooks and low-slung lampshades it’s the perfect place to chill out and enjoy peace and quiet, pints and aquavit after a hard day’s sightseeing. If you take a tumble and hurt your ankle, it can chill out too.
The Drop Inn (www.drop-inn.dk) at 34 Kompagnistraede was for many years my No1 Copenhagen pub, but Hviids Vinstue has leapfrogged it into the top spot. Nevertheless, a great night of live jazz, blues and blues rock that goes on until 5am is guaranteed at my former favourite.
Nyhavn is a joy to behold. Once the city’s red light district that was known to sailors the world over, it’s packed with bars and restaurants occupying the colourful 17th and 18th century townhouses that line the canal from Kongens Nytorv to the choppier sea channel.

HAVN A NICE TIME: Sunbathers enjoy Nyhavn 
Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) lived on and off for more than 20 years in top-floor apartments in three of these townhouses numbers 18, 20 and 67 and wrote many of his best-known fairytales while watching the comings and goings below. Andersen, who never tired of sitting for photographers, was a bighead with a big nose, but his most outstanding feature didn’t seem to bother him and he invariably had his picture taken in profile.
His stories have been translated into more than 150 languages, sold countless millions of copies and delighted children down the generations, but he never found happiness. The author of The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea and The Little Mermaid is revered by readers, but the love he tried to express to the objects of his desire was never returned. Young women didn’t take his romantic overtures seriously, and in later life he turned his attentions to young males but with the same results, and he died a sad old man.
FAIRY-TAIL: The Little Mermaid
Three out of four visitors to Copenhagen go to see sculptor Edvard Eriksen’s Little Mermaid, who sits on a rock in the water at Langelinje, a 15-minute stroll from Nyhavn. The bronze figure was a gift to the city from brewer Carl Jacobsen, better known as Mr. Carlsberg, and was unveiled on August 23, 1913. During a visit to the Royal Theatre in 1909 for a performance of the ballet, The Little Mermaid, Jacobsen was so blown away by solo dancer Ellen Price that he asked her to pose for a statue. Price agreed, but drew the line at posing naked, so what you see is the ballerina’s head on Eriksen’s wife’s body.
In Andersen’s fairytale, the mermaid falls for a handsome young prince she saves from drowning and asks a witch to give her legs so she can join him on the land. The witch agrees, but extracts a terrible price — the mermaid’s sweet voice. Despite loving her, the prince is obliged to marry a beautiful princess from a neighbouring kingdom, which spells death for the mermaid. If she drove a knife into the prince’s heart and his blood dripped on her feet she would regain her tail and could return to the sea. But the mermaid can’t bring herself to do it, and throws herself into the waves where she immediately turns into sea foam.
The statue has been a target over the years for vandals who’ve beheaded it and sawn the right arm off, but the original mould has allowed for speedy repairs, and pranksters — or perhaps prudes — have several times painted a bra on it. Those spoilsports at the US National Ocean Service recently had a go too. Responding to public inquiries, they insisted mermaids don’t exist, though I suppose that says more about those who asked than those who answered.

HIGH ANXIETY: Star Flyer, world's tallest carousel
Tivoli Gardens amusement park (www.tivoli.dk), slap-bang in the city centre, is a magnet for visitors, but not everyone who steps through its gates (nearly four million admissions last year) is daring or daft enough to step on board the scariest rides, which you can check out on YouTube.
THE DEMON is a floorless, hardcore roller coaster that reaches 80kph as it zooms through three loops and umpteen twists during 106 seconds of thrills, otherwise known as sheer terror. Verdict: Why, oh why do I let myself get talked into these things? Fear factor: I want my mommy!
STAR FLYER is the world’s tallest carousel. Riders sit in paired chairs on the end of chains and are hoisted, spinning, to a height of 80 metres. Round and round and up and down the pylon you go, pretending you’re loving it while praying the chains won’t snap. Verdict: Offers the best panoramic view of Copenhagen, but only for those who don’t have their eyes squeezed shut. Fear factor: Blind panic.
THE GOLDEN TOWER should be called the White As A Sheet Tower. Sit down, buckle up and, a few seconds later, your lower legs will be dangling in mid-air 63 metres above the ground. Then, without warning, the brakes are released, your backside lifts momentarily out of the seat and you plunge, screaming and fearing for your life, at 77kph. Verdict: What goes up must come dooooooooooooown! Fear factor: I’ve changed my mind, please, please let me off of this.
VERTIGO is evil. Two biplanes on the end of giant arms like clock hands reach speeds of 100kph as they loop the loop (you choose whether to fly backward or forward). When the operator sniggers like Mutley and hits the turbo button, rubbery-faced riders are subjected to a G-force of 5.2. Verdict: Guilty, but insane. Fear factor: Never, ever, EVER again.

PLANE CRAZY: Vertigo
     Tivoli, which opened in August 1843, was the brainchild of quick-thinking Danish army officer Georg Carstensen (1812-1857) who sought the right to develop the 15-acre site it occupies from King Christian VIII. The busy monarch, who was preoccupied with the affairs of state and even more so with the state of his affairs — he fathered 10 illegitimate children — gave Carstensen five minutes to state his case, but the deal was done in five seconds.

“Majesty,” said Georg, “when the people are amusing themselves, they do not bother with politics.”
“Carry on then,” said the king, who was a man of few words.
Carstensen packed his park with exotic buildings, bandstands, a theatre, concert hall, rides, cafes and restaurants and flower gardens of every hue. Lamps and lanterns added more colour at night, music was always in the air and fireworks displays were reflected to full effect in the lake.
It soon became and remains Denmark’s leading visitor attraction and was among the main inspirations for Disneyland in Arnaheim, California. So impressed was Walt Disney by Carstensen’s creation that he insisted his own theme park, which would be 10 times bigger, should emulate Tivoli’s “happy and unbuttoned air of relaxed fun”.

FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY: Tivoli festive fireworks
Tivoli’s open from April to September and for two weeks in the run-up to Hallowe’en, but my favourite time to visit is during the festive season when it’s transformed into a magical, snow-covered landscape with ice sculptures, market stalls and 120,000 Christmas lights. It’s a fabulous, twinkling spectacle and I’ve seen dads moved to tears by the wide-eyed looks of wonder on their little ones’ faces.
Summer must be hellish for the sweltering soldiers on sentry duty at Amalienborg Palace in their buttoned-tight ceremonial tunics and bearskin hats. Completed in 1760 and set around an octagonal courtyard, it’s actually four identical palaces that were the homes of noblemen until 1794 when the royals moved in after Christiansborg Palace burned down.
Every day at 11.30am the Royal Life Guards march through the streets from Rosenborg Castle to Amalienborg and take up their posts. Unlike their stony-faced counterparts in London, the Danish lads smile for photos, but only when Queen Margrethe is out of town. When she’s at home a flag flies above Christian IX’s Palace, her official residence, and the guards go all serious.
TO THE MANOR BORG: Amalienborg
and, below, the Royal Yacht Dannebrog

The Queen, who’s 72, the mother of two sons and a granny eight times over, ascended the throne in 1972 following the death of her father, Frederick IX, and is the first female monarch since Margrethe I who reigned from 1375 to 1412. Hugely popular, she’s a chain-smoking (though not in public) accomplished painter, fashion designer and translator who’s fluent in five languages.
Berthed in the harbour in front of Amalienborg, the Royal Yacht Dannebrog has travelled more than 600,000 kilometres since it entered service in 1932. It’s an impressive vessel on which the Queen and her family tour Denmark in the summer, with visits also to the Danish territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands (in times of national emergency it can be converted to a hospital ship).
Dannebrog seen from close up is one of the highlights of the popular canal and harbour tours (www.canaltours.com) that take in many of the city’s most photographed sights including the Black Diamond extension to the Royal Library, so called for its black granite cladding and irregular angles, and the futuristic Opera House. More energetic visitors might like to join a kayak sightseeing safari (www.kajakole.dk) which is great fun but exhausting if, like me, your arms are more used to picking up pints than paddling.

SEA THE SIGHTS: Take a canal tour and see
the futuristic waterfront Opera House, below

Back on dry land, or rather the bit of it that I regard as hallowed ground, the Carlsberg Brewery Visitors Centre (www.visitcarlsberg.dk) in the Vesterbro district houses the biggest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world — 21,811 of them, from every part of the globe. How anyone can amass so many without sampling the contents is a mystery to me, and one that also baffled many of my fellow pilgrims on the tour.
The man who started the collection, Danish engineer Leif Sonne, took up his unusual hobby in 1968 and kept the bottles at his home in the provincial town of Svendborg until 1993 when, with his floorboards creaking under the weight of 10,376 of them, he donated the lot to Carlsberg. Since then the brewery, Mr. Sonne and beer-loving visitors have continued to add to the collection which keeps getting lager and larger.
Among the star exhibits is a bottle of Jacobsen Vintage No.1 from 2008. Only 600 individually-labelled bottles were produced with a price tag of 2,800 kroner (€270) each, making it the world’s most expensive beer. There’s also a bottle of Guinness, one of a couple of hundred that were filled from a cask found on a beach in Jutland in 1943. No one knows who bottled it, but they went to the bother of printing labels that, curiously, bear an illustration of a sailing ship rather than the famous Guinness harp.
In an admirable gesture of appreciation to Mr. Sonne and to mark his 65th birthday in 2000, Carlsberg brewed a dark lager and named it after him, but there’s no record of his having tried it.
GLASS ACT: Carlsberg Brewery's beer bottle
collection and, below, entrance to Christiania

In the so-called free town of Christiania on the site of a former army camp, dope dealers operate openly on Pusher Street where, not surprisingly, photos are banned — some weeks ago a journalist with a hidden camera was rumbled and roughed up. Visitors who abide by the rules in this self-proclaimed autonomous community of 900 people have nothing to fear, though I nearly crashed my bike when I saw what I thought was the Grim Reaper cycling towards me. I imagine the unfortunate man, who was painfully thin and deathly grey with sunken eyes in a skeletal face, was seriously ill and I shouldn’t have gawped, but his appearance came as a shock.
It was a jarring introduction to this city-within-a-city which is home, on one hand, to an overwhelming majority of law-abiding and hard-working free spirits and, on the other, a small number of work-shy dropouts, druggies and anti-authoritarian wasters. National opinion is divided. Many liberals insist Christiania’s existence reflects the Danes’ trademark tolerance — a shining example of live and let live — while the more conservative say it’s the disastrous and embarrassing result of political dithering and weak policing.

SQUATTERFRONT: Christiania lakeside home
Whatever your view, Christiania (www.christiania.org), which was first occupied by squatters in 1971, is a fascinating place and remains a major tourist attraction. Many of the wooden-built waterfront residences are quite splendid, while the public buildings including a concert hall (where Bob Dylan has played), restaurants, cafes, shops and workshops sport artful graffiti. Away from Pusher Street where the dealers are constantly on edge, the atmosphere is extremely laid-back. No one appears to be in a hurry, though that probably has a lot to do with the no-running rule — running is associated with raids by the Drugs Squad.
Christiania Bikes are a familiar sight on the streets of Copenhagen. These trendy tricycles with a large box between the two front wheels are great for taking the shopping home (the city’s postal service uses 100 of them for mail deliveries), but they’ve been especially embraced by parents who buy child-carrying versions. Built in Christiania and sold throughout Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, they’re also exported to the UK and the US where their environmentally-friendly credentials are a major selling point.

LOAD OF FUN: Load-carrying Christiania trike
Copenhagen’s enjoying a surge in visitor numbers, particularly from Ireland and Britain, thanks in no small part to the popularity of gritty TV cop series The Killing. Although it unflatteringly paints the city as a wet, cold and miserable place with more than its share of killers and corrupt politicians, the fact behind the fiction is altogether different. The Danish capital isn’t exempt from rain and snow, being on the same line of latitude as Glasgow and Moscow, but when the sun shines and everyone heads for the parks and canalside terraces there are few long-weekend destinations to match it.
Whether you go for sightseeing or shopping, the friendly and fun-loving citizens — by far the jolliest of all Scandinavians — will welcome you with Copen arms.
˜For more information on sights, attractions, activities and shopping (non-EU visitors can claim an 18 per cent refund of the 25 per cent sales tax), see www.visitcopenhagen.com.

GETTING THERE
SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Europe’s most punctual airline in 2009, 2010 and 2011, flies twice a day from Dublin to Copenhagen with prices from €85 one way. The airline also operates an extensive timetable from Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and Aberdeen with fares from £84 one way. For travellers from the United States, SAS flies from New York, Chicago and Washington from $995 return. All fares include taxes and charges, free 23-kilo baggage allowance, free online check-in, Eurobonus points, 25 per cent child discount, free newspapers, coffee and tea in economy class (www.flysas.ie).

GETTING AROUND
Free City Bikes (www.bycyklen.dk) are available from 110 locations throughout Copenhagen — insert a 20 kroner coin to release the bike from its stand and retrieve your money when you drop it off at any other location. Driverless Metro trains operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week (airport to city centre in 10 minutes).

HULL OF A PLACE: Splendid tall sailing ships
lining the quayside behind the Admiral Hotel
STAY
The 4-star, 366-room harbourfront Admiral Hotel, 24-28 Toldbodgade (0045 33741414, www.admiralhotel.dk) occupies a former grain warehouse that was built in 1787. It’s a five-minute wander from Nyhavn and the Royal Palace and 10 minutes from The Little Mermaid, but even closer are the fabulous tall ships that line the quay just out the back. Every room is individually designed and most feature chunky wooden beams, so mind your head.

LUNCH
Peder Oxe, 11 Grabrodretorv (0045 33110077, www.pederoxe.dk). If it walks, flies or swims it’s on the menu at this charming restaurant in a renovated townhouse in one of Copenhagen’s oldest and most picturesque squares.
Cafe Granola, 5 Vaernedamsvej (0045 33250080). Serves a great brunch as well as lunch and is always busy, so you might have to wait for a table.
Bodega, 1 Kapelvej (0045 35390707, www.bodega.dk), is a cafe-cum-bar by day, a restaurant at night and a nightclub with DJ when the kitchen closes. If it wasn’t for the fact there are other places to dine and dance, you could happily spend your whole visit here.
Hotdog stands are everywhere, but the best by far is Dop (Den Okologiske Polseman — the organic hotdog man) in the shadow of the impressive Round Tower at 52A Kobmagergade. Try a pork or beef sausage in a sourdough and linseed bun or with roast beets and mashed parsnips, they’re out of this world.

BUNDERFUL: Dop sells the best hotdogs by far
DINNER
Kodbyens Fiskebar, 100 Flaesketorvet (0045 32155656, www.fiskebaren.dk), where the speciality is seafood, is my favourite Copenhagen restaurant. This is where all the cool crowd hang out, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Owner Anders Selmer is a lovely fella and his young, charming staff who speak more than a dozen languages between them clearly love working there. It’s always busy and always a hugely enjoyable experience.
Nose2Tail, 13A Flaesketorvet (0045 33935045, www.nose2tail.dk), is a basement restaurant where waste is a dirty word — as the name suggests, every bit of the animals that appear on the menu is used. Diners sit on benches and share tables with others while tucking into a wide variety of mostly pork dishes from pigs bred and reared by boss man Martin Becker Rasmussen. A big fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingtsall, he subscribes to the British TV chef’s ethos that any animal that ends up on a plate must have enjoyed the highest standards of care.
Relae, 41 Jaegersborggade (0045 36966609, www.restaurant-relae.dk), was last year named Copenhagen’s best new restaurant, and quite right too. Great food in a very relaxing and informal atmosphere.
Nimb Terrasse, Tivoli Gardens (0045 88700001, www.tivoli.dk), is a French-inspired bistro where you can dine inside or out. If the weather permits, grab a table on the terrace and enjoy the sights and sounds of people enjoying Tivoli’s attractions.

KOD SUPPER: The trendy Kodbyens Fiskebar
DRINK
Hviids Vinstue and The Drop Inn as mentioned, plus late night cocktail bar Ruby (10 Nybrogade, www.rby.dk). The Hong Kong Bar (7 Nyhavn) is a dark dive and the regulars can get a bit boisterous, but it’s open 24 hours and has a jukebox with the craziest, most eclectic selection of music. For gay visitors, Oscar Bar & Cafe (77 Radhudspladsen, www.oscarbarcafe.dk) next to City Hall is a favourite.

SAVE MONEY
Buy a Copenhagen Card (www.visitcopenhagen.com) and, as the advertising slogan goes, see more and pay less. Available for 24, 72 or 120 hours, the cards allow free admission to 70 museums and other attractions including Tivoli Gardens (rides cost extra), free and unlimited use of public transport including the airport shuttle train and discounts in many shops and restaurants.