When we want a break, those of us who live in the north of Scotland tend to migrate south for holiday sunshine.
Yet a wealth of cultural experience is to be found in the Nordic countries – accessible from Aberdeen airport.
I decided to go on a short fact-finding mission to Copenhagen to find out if there is more to the capital than enigmatic television detectives sporting superlative knitwear. (I am referring of course to The Killing, which has been a big hit for the BBC and is now being followed by another series in the same genre called The Bridge).
Booking into the Square, a chic city-centre hotel, was a good choice. My nine-year-old son and travelling companion, Ruairidh, and I were able to navigate our way around from our comfortable base with the assistance of its helpful staff.
Copenhagen has a pleasing skyline, largely comprising solid stone buildings adorned with the occasional decorative dome or spire.
It was constructed over centuries, utilising the proceeds gleaned from its prime position as a trading nation, and even its modern buildings reflect a cultural concern for quality and aesthetics.
In fact, Denmark’s reputation as a leader in the realms of design is immediately apparent to the newly-arrived visitor.
Of course, such devotion to quality comes at a price. Denmark is not a cheap destination by any means, but with judicious planning and by investing in a Copenhagen card, an enjoyable experience is within the scope of most budgets. The card costs around £50 for three days and entitles you to free transport throughout the city and its outlying areas. It also gets you into around 60 attractions. (Children don’t have to pay for transport and are also given free access to many museums and galleries).
With card in hand, we made the pilgrimage to the wonderful Tivoli Gardens, just round the corner from the Square. Not many people in Scotland know about it, yet this is a superb place for family entertainment.
Established in 1843 and added to over the years, the pleasure garden is an elegant and tasteful version of the theme parks which now proliferate western Europe.
You enter a world of trees, flowers and illuminated water features by virtue of a stone archway, to discover hoards of hidden treasures to delight the heart of anyone who likes to play and have fun.
Among the varied restaurants and buzzing bandstands is a trail of fairground rides ranging from the old-fashioned and tame merry-go-round to truly knuckle-biting opportunities to be propelled way above the city at high speed or upside down.
We invested in tickets, which, for around £22 each, allowed access to all the rides. We overcame periodic nerves and notched up all 26. Some, like the dodgems and rather sedate electrically-powered boats drew us back for second shots.
At around 10 o’clock on our first evening, we reflected on the astonishing fact that we had undertaken a very short flight and 20-minute rail transfer before immediately stumbling on this very special venue which provided some of the best holiday fun we have ever experienced.
I researched thoroughly enough to know that this city has many attractions for grown-ups. It is a great place to find beautiful clothing, ceramics, lighting and jewellery and, on the gastronomic front, new Nordic cuisine is taking the world by storm.
Minimalism and good-quality materials are the hallmarks of all these products. However, young boys are none too enthusiastic about shopping or fine dining, so the challenge was to continue to navigate a child-friendly path through the city.
In a country which, according to UNICEF, boasts some of the happiest children in the world, this is actually a breeze. At the national museum – another short walk away from base – a section dedicated to kids afforded the opportunity to learn by taking an imaginative trip into times past.
Fun and practical involvement took precedence over wordy exposition. Ruairidh dressed up in Viking clothing and clambered into a longship. We fenced with wooden swords and cooked up a pretend feast in the mediaeval kitchen. Without words, he and another young visitor operated a pulley system to elevate plastic bricks on to a wooden platform. They then clambered up the platform’s scaffolding and used the bricks to extend the height of a wall.
Watercourses are central to all major cities and Copenhagen has a network of canals, reminiscent of those in Amsterdam, except smaller.
We walked to Nyhavn for a one-hour boat tour which took us through some key areas of the city and out into the main harbour. Our guide delivered a commentary, rich in historic detail and anecdotes.
We saw the famous statue of the Little Mermaid which was created for the city by Edvard Erichsen in 1913 and learned that she now has a reinforced concrete neck, having been decapitated by nocturnal vandals on two occasions.
It was gloriously sunny that day, so we bought two ice creams from a small canal-side shop which had a sign outside proudly declaring the establishment had been in existence since the 1920s. Two cones of raspberry sorbet set us back by around £7, but we believed the vendor when he told us he sells the finest ice-cream in Denmark. It was quite possibly the best we have ever tasted.
On the whole, food was not a major part of our trip, although we did make the most of the hotel breakfast buffet before setting out each morning. It featured some of the main ingredients, essential for a traditional smørrebrød – or Danish open sandwich. There was rye bread, liver pate, meat, cheese and vegetables. There was also a daily selection of Danish pastries. These are much flakier and less sweet than the ones found at home.
Copenhagen’s art galleries facilitate children in much the same way as the museums. At least that was our experience when we visited Lousiana Gallery of Modern Art in Northern Zealand which occupies a wonderfully restful setting and has extensive sculpture gardens overlooking the sea. Ruairidh was more impressed with the hands-on art rooms where he could set to and make his own creations than he was with the Rodin or Giacometti.
It was good to find somewhere which had things we each appreciated and where the architecture of the gallery – with its strategically placed windows – is a perfect example of how creatively designed buildings are, in fact, walk-in sculptures themselves.
When I venture back to this stately city without a child in tow, I will indulge in a more comprehensive exploration of the cultural delights it has to offer.
However, I have no doubt that some of its Scandinavian charm seeped into Ruairidh’s imagination while he was busy enjoying himself. Hopefully he will grow up to appreciate the value of a society where design principles are governed by a desire for simplicity and durability.
Now that’s a holiday legacy well worth the investment.
Scheduled flights from Aberdeen with SAS cost from £180 return. www.flysas.com/en/uk/
Double rooms at the Square cost from around £98 per night including breakfast. www.thesquare copenhagen.com/
For more information see Visit Denmark. www.visit denmark.com/uk/en