If like me, you’re a person who loves travel and gets excited about new places, there are sometimes opportunities that arise that just cannot be ignored. While on holiday in Austria I found that it’s possible to nip over the border into Slovakia for an afternoon of sightseeing with relative ease. The same goes for a work trip to Latvia that also included a little jaunt into neighbouring Estonia.
Essentially, for the travel-lover, a quick and easy visit to a new place is an appealing one indeed, which is how my recent trip came about.
After having our flights to Poland cancelled, Ryanair very kindly re-arranged our flights AND provided us with a coupon to the value of £80 for the inconvenience. Who would have thought that this amount of credit enabled us to buy return flights from Manchester to Hamburg…FOR TWO PEOPLE! So, ever the cheapskate (once a budget backpacker, always a budget backpacker) we booked our flights to Hamburg, Germany. Visiting Germany has been on my list for quite a few years and, since my paternal grandmother is a fully fledged German immigrant, it’s bizarre really that I’d never made a visit.
Let me be clear at this stage; in no way whatsoever would I claim to have ‘done’ Germany and seen the entire country. It’s a gargantuan nation (love that word, so rarely used in the English language) and deserves a massive trip in its own right! But what Dante and I love to do, is get a little glimpse, a little taste of a place and, if we get a good vibe, go back and properly immerse ourselves. We did that with Indonesia and ended up living there for a year, and after our brief stay in South Africa, we’d go back in a heartbeat!
But I digress, this little adventure was basically a way of us visiting three very different countries over the course of a few days and get a little sneak peek of them, which, let me tell you, was worth every penny.
International relations between Germany, Denmark, and Sweden have been very strong for many years now, which makes travel between them incredibly easy. Not only are there no border fees to pay (I’m looking at YOU Egypt, Costa Rica, and Thailand), but it’s also a seamless and stress-free experience if you’re an EU citizen. (Those from the United States and Middle East need to check your own details on this). The upshot is, with affordable airfares from the UK and moderately priced train and public transport options compared to Britain, it would be a crying shame to not take advantage of these three nations’ alluringly close proximity.
First stop for us was our flight to Hamburg, Germany which, with a flight time of only 1 hour 35 minutes from Manchester airport, it’s barely enough time to have a G&T. Barely. Our plan (and I would recommend the same if you aim to take up this trip too) was to touch down in Hamburg, head straight to Denmark on the first day, spend one night in Denmark. We could then spend the morning wandering followed by an afternoon in the Swedish port city of Malmo, before training it back to Hamburg and staying two nights there including a whole day to explore what the city has to offer. It sounds simple enough and, though it’s not particularly dramatic or exciting writing, it WAS simple enough.
After getting off the plane in Hamburg’s streamlined airport (no working Wi-Fi by the way, just to give you a heads up) we popped on the train directly to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (central station to you and me) which though a full 30 mins in travel time, cost us only E 3.30 each. Once at Hamburg’s imposing and somewhat impressive station, we went along to the ticket office (on the upper floor near McDonald's….
FYI, I use McDonald's like a geographical reference point in everything I write) we quickly found that the queues were massive. Meaning that we would have a very long wait to buy a ticket, by which time, the train tickets to Copenhagen may be sold out. I would advise anyone to do what we did and download the trainline.eu app onto your phone and use their incredibly fast and easy booking system to book the best tickets at the best price – little plug there, hope you enjoyed.
Eventually, the correct train for us came in at E 79 each, one way. Now, this is not cheap I realise, but it’s a 5-hour journey that includes a ferry! That’s right, a ferry, but more on that later.
You can save money by booking more in advance. Tickets are as cheap as only E 35 when booked a couple of days ahead, but, ever the ill-prepared travellers, we left it to the last minute and paid more. It’s worth considering if you have more days to spare, to use the bus or coach network.
The journeys are definitely cheaper but will take longer. All depends on how much time/cash you have.
Anyway, the app is very easy to use, and the conductors on the trains simply scan your phone. As a side note, the train’s destination is actually listed as Kobenhavn. It’s a pretty logical leap that this means Copenhagen, but we definitely fretted for 2-3 minutes over whether this was correct. We did NOT want to end up in some obscure albeit charming provincial town in far-flung Germany.
The train doing the rounds from Hamburg Hauptbahnhof to Copenhagen is very large, very spacious, and very comfortable. Our ticket was standard class, who knows what first class looks like?! They really do put our economy trains to shame.
Now some handy tips about the train journey itself. The carriages all have plug points above the seats and sparklingly clean bathrooms, but not much in the way of snacks and beverages. The journey is only five hours in total, but honestly, half the point of a train journey is the snacks right?!
I highly recommend you to use Hamburg’s train station to stock up on these things. There are loads of shops to buy ready-made sandwiches etc., and THE most delectable selection of French-style pastries are available very cheaply at Franz and Friends on the upper floor, opposite McDonald's (told you so, didn’t I?)
The train journey is five hours in total, but this also includes 45 minutes spent on the ferry making the crossing to the Danish archipelago. This was a first for us for sure. Get this...we stayed on the train, and, at Puttgarden Germany, the train drove onto the ferry hold (do trains drive? Choo choo-ed?), then we had to disembark the train to explore the ferry for the crossing. It’s a pretty short journey but still enough time to look at duty-free things and take pictures on the deck of the ship. The café/shop on the ferry is exorbitantly expensive. A small fizzy drink was priced at E 4 and an uninspiring baguette stuffed with limp leaves was E 9. Thankfully, we’d planned ahead and were not forced to partake in said daylight robbery.
Once docked at shore, we were back on the train which chugged straight back onto the tracks at Rodby (Denmark). It’s worth mentioning here that on our way through to Copenhagen our passports were briefly checked, and on our way back to Hamburg the next day, some customs officials searched through our bags a little bit. Probably looking for contraband, but all they found were Lindt chocolates and chunky knits.
Upon arrival at Copenhagen’s stylish train station which coincidentally, dates from 1911 and is very photogenic, it was not difficult to find our beautiful place to sleep for the night. The Savoy hotel is less than a ten-minute walk from the central train station and is on the main road that runs through the city, the Vesterbrogade.
Billed as a restored Art Noveau boutique, it’s a fabulous option for a short stay in the capital. Denmark may be a small nation compared to others (the population at last count was less than 6 million) but it has a robust economy, and this is reflected in prices across the board. By far the more expensive of the three countries we visited on this trip, Denmark cannot be considered a budget place, but the family-run Savoy hotel is a wonderful mid-range option that actually looks and feels a lot more pricey than it is.
Of course, with any hotels we check in to, the breakfast is always a star element, and the Savoy gave me an opportunity to, yes, enjoy my very first Danish pastry in Denmark. Since I usually make do with strong coffee and protein yoghurt on a normal day, having a Danish breakfast buffet at my disposal was perhaps overindulgent, but hey, we were on holiday! If you can’t stuff yourself silly on buttery carbs on holiday, when CAN you?!?
After leaving our bags for the day with the lovely team at the Savoy, the next leg of our trip involved a little sightseeing. Now, having to squeeze Copenhagen and Malmo into one day is less than ideal, so by all means, plan accordingly and spend a couple of days at the Savoy, you can book here. Alas, our itinerary was a tight one, so a leisurely stroll down the pristine streets of Copenhagen would have to do.
Photo opportunities are plenty here, and with sunny weather comfortably full of strong coffee we popped into the Lego flagship store on Vimmelskaftet 37 – well, it is one of Denmark’s most famous exports. That, Carlsberg and bleak crime dramas.
The train journey from Copenhagen central to Malmo is an incredibly easy one, and takes a mere 49 minutes. Again our passports were checked, but nothing beyond that. The super helpful staff at the station informed us that as we were two adults travelling together, it actually works out cheaper to buy a DUO FAMILY TICKET (which allows two adults and two children) than it is to buy two single adult tickets! Cheers for the tip Lars. (I’m not making that up, his name tag really had Lars on it)
In the port town of Malmo, Sweden, there are a few activities to keep one entertained, amongst them, a trip to the atmospheric Malmo castle dating from the 16th Century, or, for those who enjoy a little modern architecture, the turning torso. This is an iconic twisted and sculptured tower block that makes for good photos on a crisp blue-skied day. Dante and I only really had one plan in mind…escape from the -5 degrees temperature, eat a classic Swedish cake and drink good coffee in a funky independent café.
Thankfully for us, those guys in Scandinavia pretty much invented chic coffee houses, so Malmo, Sweden, is a great place to soak up some Nordic vibes and watch the world go by (while playing on my phone with the free Wi-Fi, obviously…I’m not an animal). Coffee factory on Hamngatan 4 gave us our caffeine fix, and status update opportunity (feeling #blessed) and Patisserie David on Ostergatan 7 gave me the opportunity to try a Swedish Semla. The café itself is beautiful, quaint, and run by a talented pastry chef called, you guessed it, David. Alas, still full from our breakfast at the Savoy, a takeaway treat was all we could manage. I may be a pig, but there are limits even to my gluttony.
At less than E 3 a pop, these delicate handmade treats are not unique to Sweden alone, but at this place in Malmo, are made with precision and love. Essentially, it’s a sweet bun made with enriched dough. Fragrant with cardamom and filled with fluffy almond paste and vanilla scented cream, it’s a delight. Dante described it as a posh doughnut, but he’s a Yorkshireman through and through. They don’t mince their words north of the wall. (Hence the reason we’re not allowed back into Paris)He has a point, for sure, but definitely worth seeking out when in Malmo.
Our journey back to Hamburg was a tad cheaper thanks to being booked a little earlier, but still via trainline.eu on their app. As for the journey, it doesn’t take a genius to discover it was simply the reverse of the route coming. Only slight difference included a box of wine on the duty-free ferry for E10….well, what’s an evening train journey without some low-quality cab sav?
With two nights, but one full day to spend in Hamburg, there are myriad options for accommodation. Of course, hotelscombined can provide all manner of great deals, but after some research a brand new serviced apartment choice presented itself. Adina has serviced apartment hotels all over Europe as well as in Australia and New Zealand. But the new site at Hamburg Speicherstadt is a real beauty. Every inch is brand spanking new and chic to the max.
We’re big fans of all types of hotel rooms from quaint guesthouses in Jordan to swish all-inclusive in Mozambique, but this new trend for apartment-style living with all the benefits of a hotel are a real winner for us…especially when it comes to city breaks. At Adina, all the comforts of a high-end apartment are included, such as comfy sofas, big beds, polished bathrooms and high-tech kitchens (they even have Nespresso machines?!?!)). But with a concierge desk 24/7, amenities like a gym and spa and of course, that most welcome of holiday treats; a massive breakfast buffet to gorge oneself on.
The team at Adina could not have been more helpful, and frankly, the place was so welcoming, we probably won’t hesitate to book with them again. Naturally, you can’t see Hamburg from inside an apartment and, with such a rich history, it’s not difficult to be entertained in Germany’s second largest city behind the capital. Taking photographs of beautiful old buildings while sipping takeaway coffee is something of a hobby of ours, and Hamburg does not disappoint. Connected to the North Sea by the Elbe river (which runs straight through it), the whole city is crossed with hundreds of canals and waterways, which makes for good wandering opportunities.
Apart from the obvious choices of Hamburg’s historical, art and maritime museums, there is also a great deal of off the beaten path exploring to do. The city’s Miniatur Wunderland is a vast model railway with hundreds of countries represented in mini form. Literally, thousands of tiny models are pieced together for a strange and entertaining afternoon of wandering
At the Planten Un Blomen in the north of the city, we escaped from the sub-zero temperatures by enjoying the indoor plant house and tropical gardens housed in a massive greenhouse. In spring and summer, the outdoor gardens are a sight to behold; a perfect afternoon out for the plant lovers among us. A stroll through Hamburg’s seedier neighbourhood , the Reeperbahn, is an entertaining one simply to gaze in awe at the number of strip clubs and ‘live shows’ there are. Hamburg’s red light district is also attached to the nightclub stretch where music venues pump out sounds into the wee hours. Though clubbing until dawn was not on the cards for us this particular time, a trip to the St. Pauli Elbtunnel was. Running underneath the Elbe river, in 1911 it was a crucial way for cars and pedestrians to get quickly from one side to the next, and was, at the time, a technical sensation.
Now, it’s under renovation and is a free-to-enter little jaunt that for those who prefer to spend their city breaks walking rather than relaxing, it’s a cool experience. A massive flight of stairs takes you down to the tunnel, and then, a walk to the other side provides the keen photographer with masses of ‘I’m inside a tunnel’ shots. Gripping and exciting it may not be, but is an interesting and worthwhile activity to do for free, when you’ve spent all your money on train tickets to other countries and delicious pastries. Side note, at the other end of the tunnel (referred to as the Alter Elbtunnel), there is basically nothing apart from a few warehouses and shipping containers; probably best to just walk back the way you came through the tunnel.
With so many options for activities and three countries inhabited by some really welcoming people, it’s hard to see why anyone wouldn’t want to do this trip themselves. Sure, with more time, one could explore a little more and dig a little deeper into the soul of these three unique cities.
But for a brief taster, like an ‘introduction’ to three countries in a short space of time, you could do a lot worse than visit Germany, Denmark, and Sweden over a long weekend. Who knows, maybe you’ll get a great feeling from them and immediately plan to go back, I know I am.
Worth it? - Oh yeah!! :)
This post is written by Alex Harker, you can tell that because it's not just pictures of fancy doughnuts.
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