The first surprise for fans of The Killing, the TV series that has become a smash hit around the globe, is that Copenhagen is not in perpetual darkness. The city that always looks so sinister in the BBC’s Danish crime series was actually brilliant in autumn sunshine as we arrived for a short break.
Neither is this city, as far as my partner and I could tell, full of shifty murder suspects and dodgy town hall politicians. Instead, it was smiles and friendliness wherever we went.
With a second series of BBC Four’s surprise hit on our screens, this is a great time to visit Copenhagen. And if you want to immerse yourself in The Killing experience, where better to stay than in a hotel on Radhuspladsen, the square dominated by the City Hall, where Troels Hartmann played out his vicious mayoral election struggle?
Better still, our sixth-floor room at The Square hotel even had a balcony with that view, so familiar to TV viewers, of this rather grim town hall.
Of course, there’s a lot more to Copenhagen than The Killing. It’s a city with enormous charm. Unlike many other European capitals, it was never bombed during the 20th century (it was last bombarded by Nelson in 1807) so it retains much of its fairy-tale feel.
This is fitting as it was the home of Hans Christian Anderson for much of his life, and the architecture has that picture-book quality you somehow expect of a Scandinavian city.
Copenhagen is probably best known for the Tivoli pleasure gardens and its famous Little Mermaid statue. The Tivoli closes for the winter in September, reopening for the Christmas season, but you can see the Little Mermaid all year round, on her remote rock facing the harbour.
The city, of course, has plenty more to keep you entertained. Starting from Radhuspladsen, for example, is Stroget, the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe. This sets the tone as Copenhagen is a great city for walking - if you don’t have a bike, like most of the locals.
Having said that, don’t miss a boat trip round the canals - a reminder that the Danes are also masters of modern design. Waterside sights include the ultra modern Royal Danish Playhouse, their Opera House, and the Black Diamond building, an extraordinary structure that holds every book ever published in Denmark.
The boat trip also calls in at Nyhavn, a cul-de-sac canal built in the 17th century that’s been regenerated from an area of ill repute into a popular waterside district, lined with restaurants in beautiful 18th century houses. A local favourite here - “three types of herring” - is on every menu and well worth trying, washed down by a Danish beer.
The city is full of funky and fashionable new cafes, but Conditori La Glace, a wonderfully old-world cafe and cake shop, has been maintaining sugar levels in the same location off Stroget since 1870. Coffee comes in silver pots and the luxurious hot chocolate arrives in a silver jug.
Denmark recently became the first country in the world to introduce a ‘fat tax’ on foods such as dairy products, in an attempt to curb obesity. Nobody seems to have told La Glace, as our slices of Sachertorte and the hot chocolate were both accompanied by heaps of whipped cream.
A walk up the city’s Rundetarn (round tower) helps to work off some of the calories. Although attached to a church, it was actually built in 1642 as an astronomical observatory. It also housed the university library until the mid-19th century and on the way up, you can visit the privy where Hans Christian Anderson allegedly used to sit and smoke his pipe while studying here.
Unusually, the route to the top is a gently sloping spiral ramp, rather than steps. And if you see marbles rolling down, you could be in luck. This is where Sofie Grabol, who plays The Killing’s detective Sarah Lund, reportedly likes to bring her children for an outing, where she encourages them to let go of their marbles at the top and chase them down the slope!
For all its modern architecture, Copenhagen remains a low-rise city and the views from the top of this 17th century tower are worth the climb. Some of the sights - such as the bridge to Malmo in Sweden and the Parken stadium that’s home to Copenhagen FC - are more recent, but there is still much that would have been familiar to visitors in past centuries.
Copenhagen is easy to reach on the DFDS car ferry to Esbjerg from Harwich. It’s an 18-hour overnight voyage, which is long enough for it to feel like a mini-cruise rather than a Channel crossing.
From Esbjerg in Jutland, Copenhagen is a simple motorway drive - about three hours or so, which takes in the extraordinary Storebaelt (or Great Belt) bridge, linking the island of Funen to Zealand, the country’s largest island, where Copenhagen is situated.
The bridge is more than 11 miles long and the central span is the world’s third longest suspension bridge, at nearly a mile. It’s an extraordinary piece of engineering, but be warned: it’s expensive at about £26 each way - and if you want to get to Copenhagen, there isn’t an alternative.
Key facts - Copenahgen
:: Best for: An out of season getaway.
:: Time to go: Beautiful in the summer - but go in autumn or winter for the full Killing experience.
:: Don’t miss: A frikadeller (dumpling) sandwich from one of the many stalls in the street.
:: Need to know: Everyone speaks English as if it were their native language.
:: Don’t forget: A Sarah Lund-style jumper - it gets pretty chilly.
Nick Jenkins was a guest of DFDS Seaways, which offers a four-night cruise and drive break to Copenhagen from £339pp (two sharing) or from £205pp (four sharing), sailing from Harwich only. The package includes two nights on-board in an en suite cabin, carriage of a standard car and two nights’ B&B in a city centre hotel. Call 0871 882 0885 or visit www.dfds.co.uk.
For details of The Square Hotel, where Nick stayed, visit www.thesquarecopenhagen.com.