Copenhagen

The streets of the European Capital of Culture are cool, cosmopolitan and just made for strolling, says Nigel Williamson

The tourists may stop when the Scandinavian summer ends, but Copenhagen's cultural supremacy continues for 11 more weeks. For an autumn break, the current European Capital of Culture is cool in every sense. The city may not have the romance of Paris, the sights of Rome or the elegance of Vienna, but it is intimate, cosmopolitan, full of fine buildings, and made for walking.

The city centre is 20 minutes by bus from the airport, a boon when arriving on a Friday night straight from the office. After that, the only transport necessary until departure is a pair of willing and sturdy legs, for Copenhagen invented both the pedestrian precinct and the cycle lane.

Every one of the traffic-free streets seems to have its own attractions. Setting out to explore the city on Saturday morning, we swiftly abandoned the street map to wander where the fancy took us. After a couple of cafe stops we came to Rundetarnet, a spectacular 17th-century round tower, ascended not by steps but by a winding passageway broad enough for the royal family to drive to its summit. The view from the top, of the spires and tiled roofs of the old city, is the best in Copenhagen.

Back at street level, on one side of the tower sits the rococo fantasy of Trinity Church, on the other the Museum of Erotica. The Danes are immensely proud of having led the world in abolishing pornography laws almost 30 years ago; the museum boasts: "Now it is legal to study the love life of Homo sapiens, an experience you will never forget." There is even an exhibit detailing the sex life of Hans Christian Andersen.

After that we needed a black coffee, or even something a little stronger. The sea air of Copenhagen generates a healthy appetite and we strolled to Nyhavn, the delightful old harbour which still retains the atmosphere of a fishing village. The Danes refer to the place as Hyggelig - "very friendly". On one side of the channel a dozen brightly painted, gabled houses have been transformed into restaurants. Here we lunched on the traditional koldebord of herrings, pickles and cold meats, washed down with generous quantities of Tuborg lager.

Nyhavn is also the starting point for sight-seeing boat tours. An hour- long canal trip passes the Danish parliament at Christiansborg on the island of Slotsholmen, the quaint old seamen's quarter of the inner harbour, and then, inevitably, you are taken out to the main harbour at Langelinie to view the most photographed sight of Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid. The bronze statue is, frankly, a disappointment. The figure is elegant enough but hardly strides the harbour like the Colossus at Rhodes, being no more than a few feet high; she is not even particularly historic, having sat on her lonely rock only since 1913.

Unexpectedly, we found another of Copenhagen's more obvious sights far more enjoyable: the changing of the guard outside the royal palace. So on Sunday morning we made for the broad, Parisian-style square of Amalienborg. Here we saw a spectacular pageant with a marching band, far more elaborate than the affair outside Buckingham Palace.

For our last afternoon we took an excursion to the hippy haven of Christiania, Europe's most famous experiment in alternative lifestyles. This astonishing community of street musicians, dope-smokers and artists was started 25 years ago when squatters took over the former military barracks. Today even the most staid Danes are rather fond of the place. As one observer put it, Christiania has become as much a Danish theme park as Legoland.

How to get there: Maersk Air (0171-333 0066) has a fare of pounds 132 including tax for travel from Gatwick to Copenhagen and back, but this applies only on the morning flight from Monday to Friday. The Brazilian airline, Varig (0171-287 3131), charges pounds 134 on its flights from Heathrow to Copenhagen. Flights on British Airways (0345 222111) cost pounds 171.

Where to stay: Nigel Williamson paid pounds 80 a night for a double room at the Komfort Hotel (00 45 33 12 65 70). Ask the Danish tourist office in London (0171-333 0248) or Copenhagen tourist office (00 45 33 11 13 25) about others.

Who to ask about events: Copenhagen 96 (00 45 33 77 96 33), or at http://info.denet.dk/cph96 on the Internet

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