|With a sigh of contentment, like at the end of a good film, I watched as a female servant closed the drapes on the big picture window of the castle. I was standing outside of Amalienborg Palace, the Copenhagen residence of Denmark’s reigning monarch, Queen Margrethe. Viewing this scene, I realized that, when traveling, sometimes rambling off the beaten path yields the most exciting results.
My friend, Jeanine, and I had gone to Denmark for a three-day trip. Having worked furiously to cram in as much sightseeing as possible, by the third day Jeanine and I had visited all of Copenhagen’s major attractions, and just wanted to relax and enjoy the city at a leisurely pace.
|The daily changing of the guard draws attention from onlookers.
After dinner, walking along the Strøget ― the long pedestrian walk that spans much of Copenhagen ― we spotted a bus stop, for line 26, across the street. Since we had no definite plans for our last few hours, we decided to hop on and let it take us to an unknown adventure.
Bus 26 is just one of many in Copenhagen’s fantastic public transportation system that crisscrosses the city. It is a great way to see Denmark’s capital without having to exhaust one’s legs or wallet. (Get the Copenhagen Card at the airport or rail station; it allows unlimited travel on all bus and rail in Copenhagen.) Hotels in Copenhagen near the transportation lines are prime spots for accommodation in Denmark.
Quickly settling into the last pair of seats, we rolled along the streets, soaking in the colorful houses and shops we passed. Some homes were vibrant yellow, others were pink or green; all buildings were tidy and orderly, in classic Scandinavian style. It was like taking a mini architectural tour of the city, minus an annoying tour guide.
Turning the corner off of the main boulevard, I looked to see which street the bus was now on, and noticed that we were approaching Amalienborg Palace. Without thinking, I turned to Jeanine and said: “Let’s get off and see the palace at night.” At the next stop, in the middle of a quiet lane full of designer stores, we leaped off.
Not a soul was around on the streets adjacent to the palace on that chilly starry Sunday night, when we headed to the queen’s house. As we entered the square, the only people to be seen were the palace guards and two other lone tourists.
|Crown Prince Frederik (heir to the throne) and Crown Princess Mary live in one of four buildings that make up Amalienborg Palace.
Amalienborg Palace, the royal palace, is four historic buildings built around a big square. The queen and her husband live in one building, the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Frederik, and his wife, Crown Princess Mary Elizabeth, live in another. Unlike in England, this palace is very accessible, with no heavily fortified gates. You can almost walk right up and look into a window. There are a few guards around, but security is a lot more relaxed than one would imagine for a royal home.
Ambling across the cobblestone square in the crisp night air, I looked up at the queen’s residence, and immediately noticed that the lights were on inside the palace, and with the curtains drawn, we could see directly into Her Majesty’s home. It was beyond imagination, to see how a current queen lived! Exhaling, I pulled on Jeanine’s arm and pointed: the queen’s dining room, painted in a beautiful light royal blue, shone out to us. A long table or dining hutch in a dark-colored wood ran along one wall.
I dashed to the middle of the square and watched in fascination as various servants appeared to come in and out of the room, carrying dishes and silver trays. It seemed they were cleaning up from dinner, I presumed. I was only 100 feet (30 m) from this room, and subsequently, the queen. I couldn’t believe my stroke of luck — I was watching a scene from Danish royal life. I marveled as a woman came to slightly open the curtains in an adjacent room and close the dinning room curtains. I wondered: Was the queen settling in to watch some television or read in the family room? What was her favorite book?
Suddenly the sound of car tires against the cobblestones reverberated in the square. Hastily turning my head to the opposite corner of the square, I saw a Mercedes Benz enter into the compound where Crown Prince Frederik lived. Another, equally lavish, car followed the first one into giant green doors that were opened by tall men in royal red uniforms that harkened back to the 1800s. The prince seemed to be having a party or get-together. I was elated! Maybe I would get to glimpse the prince himself. With bated breath, Jeanine and I completely forgot about the queen in her humble family room, and instead focused our attention on the glamorous Prince’s party.
We hung around the square, watching as every 15 minutes or so another car went through the fantastical green doors. They varied from super-luxurious Mercedes to beat-up Toyotas, but every time they got within 15 feet (4.5 m) of the building, those magical doors opened and Jeanine and I got to peak inside.
There was nothing too spectacular, though. It looked like the cobblestone drive continued farther. But it wasn’t the extravagance that I was interested in, I was just excited to see how royalty lived when not on their official duties. From here, they just looked like other people, only with many people to serve them.
|A guard secures the perimeter of the castle.
An hour later, the cold started to settle into our bodies and we decided to head back to the bus station. Though I was reluctant to walk away, I marveled in the knowledge that even with all the careful planning, it was a spontaneous act that made this trip’s lasting impression.
If You Go
The Danish Monarchy
Danish Tourist Board
The Copenhagen Card can be purchased at tourist offices throughout Denmark, at the airport, major train stations, hotels and youth hostels. It allows free entry to more than 60 museums and attractions, free transport by train, bus and subway. There are even discounts on many attractions, and on car rental. You can choose between the 24-hour card for DKK$ 199 (US$ 33; children DKK$ 129 or US$ 21.50) and the 72-hour card for DKK$ 429 (US$ 71; children DKK$ 249 or US$ 41.50).