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Copenhagen projects a cool, laid-back lifestyle that belies its 1,000-year history. A perfect blend of innovative architecture and design mixed in perfectly with royal castles and historic buildings. Witness the legacy at Rosenborg Castle, venture into the exuberant neighborhoods of Vesterbro, Nørrebro and the Meatpacking District, sightsee Copenhagen’s artful side on full display at numerous museums. A visit to Copenhagen would not be complete without a stop at famed Tivoli Gardens, where visitors may indulge in gourmet restaurants, concerts and rides all in one. And Strøget, the longest pedestrian shopping street in Northern Europe, offers up a rainbow of avant-garde and traditional boutiques alongside cafe life.
Copenhagen Copenhagen became capital of Denmark in 1167, when Bishop Absalon founded the city. Over the following years herring fishing brought great wealth to Copenhagen and, under the reign of King Christian IV in the 17th century, the city grew to become the important regional capital it remains today. Home to the world’s oldest monarchy, an extremely popular royal family, Copenhagen has a population of 1.9 million and is the largest city in Scandinavia.
Helsinki, Finland's capital, is one of Europe's most interesting and enjoyable cities. Many first-time visitors associate Finland with extreme cold, but the summers—especially in the south—can be magically warm and flooded with light. Even in the depths of winter, daylight is short but present. Although sometimes the skies may be overcast, there are clear, sunny days when the city is illuminated by the sparkle of snow and the dazzling, frozen Baltic Sea.
Visitors can stroll through any local park or square and will probably stumble upon an impressive piece of contemporary sculpture. Helsinki's sparkling nightlife and lively cafe culture add much to its travel appeal. Its terrace cafes are often packed with Finns and visitors alike.
St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg has had three names in less than 100 years, changes that mirror the shifting political winds of Mother Russia. The names of its places and people are a roll call of Russian history of the 19th and 20th centuries: the Winter Palace, the czars, Dostoyevsky, the Catherine Palace, Tchaikovsky, Lenin.
As the former official—some still say cultural—capital, St. Petersburg is the most westernized of Russia's cities. Its grand architecture echoes the great cities of Europe, and there are seemingly endless museums full of staggering quantities of treasure. St. Petersburg sprawls along the banks of the Neva River and was once known as the Venice of the North for the many canals there. For visitors who want to understand what came before, and what is happening now in Russia, St. Petersburg is essential.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is considered one of the best-preserved medieval cities in northern Europe. Its charming Old Town survived the Soviets, as well as the country's earlier occupations by the Danish and Swedish empires (among others). Today, this city 115 mi northwest of Tartu is an important port on the Gulf of Finland and a popular stop for cruise ships.
Tallinn's many occupations over the centuries have resulted in a cultural mix and unique ambiance of this maritime city. Old Town's cobbled streets and 13th-14th century buildings attract thousands of visitors annually who admire the city’s heritage of medieval buildings, the imposing City Hall, the Orthodox Cathedral, Toompea Castle and Oleviste Church. See former guild houses, including the Great Guildhall of the medieval Hanseatic League. Other attractions include impressive Town Hall Square with 15th century Gothic Town Hall, and numerous Gothic churches including Toomekirik. Toompea Castle has fine views over Tallinn.
Stockholm, Sweden, is a city of contrasts. Unspoiled architecture dating back centuries is complemented by the best in modern Scandinavian design. Stockholm's appreciation of its culture and heritage shows in its theaters, concert halls and galleries, which showcase a rich variety of artistic innovations. The seasons provide a sharp distinction, too. Stockholm in summer is green and blue, with its attention on the water. In winter, Stockholm is white and frozen, with a sense of stillness and calm, the afternoon darkness punctuated by candlelit cafes and bars.
The waterways surrounding Stockholm's islands clearly define the city's various quarters. From the bohemian cliff-top cafes of Sodermalm and the 17th-century cobbled streets of Gamla Stan to the luxury boutiques of Ostermalm and the parkland calm of Djurgarden, you're never more than a bridge away from a completely different city experience. There are also hundreds of excellent restaurants, as well as a great selection of trendy boutiques. The maze of narrow, cobbled streets, full of art studios, boutiques, antique shops, nightclubs and bars, is best explored on foot.
Today a thriving holiday resort, Visby on the Baltic island of Gotland has become famous as 'the town of roses and ruins' - a living relic of a medieval heyday when this Hanseatic port vied in riches and fame with the great capitals of mainland Europe. Now its narrow cobbled streets and ruined churches reside behind the two-and-a-half mile 13th century city wall, a haunting monument to a lost glory. Gotland and Oland are part of the Baltic islands off the southeast coast of Sweden. Gotland is a blend of old and new with its natural beauty and cultural heritage. Hoards of coins and other treasures found on the island indicate its importance in maritime trade as far back as the Bronze Age. Gotland was nominally Swedish as early as the 9th century but long remained autonomous. In the Middle Ages Visby was a rich and important member of the Hanseatic League and had many splendid churches and elaborate fortified walls. Gotland was conquered by Denmark in 1361 and returned to Swedish rule in 1645.
Berlin (Warnemunde), Germany
Warnemunde, Germany, is a lovely seaside resort town. Broad, sandy beaches are dotted with fishermen's cottages now converted into shops and restaurants. The picturesque Warnemunde Lighthouse offers a panoramic view of the harbor and is a popular destination for tourists. Pleasantly juxtaposed with the historic lighthouse is the more modern Teepott building, which houses a variety of restaurants.
Warnemünde is also the gateway to Germany's capital. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989 was a conspicuous and symbolic end to the era of the "Iron Curtain". For 45 years, Berlin had existed as a city divided. Today, with the Brandenburg Gate open once more, Berlin thrives with new life, yet it is not quite totally reunited. Like twins who've been separated for many years, it will take awhile to get to know one another again. From the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden leads to the heart of old Berlin with its Prussian palaces and monuments. Venerable Humboldt Universitat nurtured some of Germany's greatest thinkers, including Hegel, Einstein, the Brothers Grimm, and Karl Marx. Wander through Spandau Zitadelle, a medieval fortress surrounded by placid waters, where the 13th-century Juliusturm Tower guards long-dead stories of past glories. For a taste of Berlin's creative side, sample the cafes and clubs of Kreuzberg.
The delightful fishing port of Skagen is Denmark's northernmost town, just 65 mi/100 km northeast of Aalborg, and the town's white, sandy beaches attract many summer visitors. Skagen offers the open-air museum Fortidsminder, which depicts life in an old Danish fishing village, and it's famous for its jazz and folk music festival, held every summer in restaurants and bars that have opened in refurbished fish stores around the harbor.
Sandormen (literally "the sand worm"), a small "train" pulled by a tractor, takes you to Grenen—a spit of land at the very top of Denmark where the North Sea and the Baltic Sea meet—you can see the waves clash as they roll toward the coast from opposite directions. The town also has Denmark's oldest beacon, built around 1570, and Den Tilsandede Kirke, a medieval church tower (the church itself was covered by drifting sand several centuries ago and is currently being excavated). Skagen Museum and Brondum Hotel house good selections of works by Scandinavian artists Kroyer, Krohg, and Michael and Anna Ancher, the "Skagen painters." The Anchers' house has also been turned into a museum.
One of the best features of Oslo, Norway, is its setting. Located at the base of the Oslo Fjord, the city extends up the mountains that surround it on three sides. The city's cultural center is downtown, right on the water. Oslo is easy to navigate and so compact that you can walk almost everywhere.
Oslo was once considered the sleepy cousin of Stockholm and Copenhagen, but it has finally come into its own, with cultural and entertainment possibilities that rival those of cities many times its size. An opera house has opened on reclaimed land in the fjord, and Oslo's Philharmonic Orchestra is world-class. A giant sports stadium was built to replace the original stadium at Bislett, where dozens of speed-skating and track records were set.
For those who love the outdoors, Oslo has more than 1,550 mi of hiking and skiing trails within the city limits, and there's a good view at almost every turn. Don't let the climate scare you: It's not as cold as you might expect. Norway's coast is bathed in warm water thanks to the Gulf Stream. Although winter temperatures can be chilly, summers bring pleasantly warm days, cool evenings and a sun that doesn't set until around 11 pm—giving visitors even more time to spend outdoors.
Cosmopolitan Amsterdam is most famous large numbers of beautiful tree-lined canals bordered by streets with rows of narrow, gabled houses and 17th-century warehouses, making Amsterdam an architectural treasure trove. Amsterdam is much smaller in population (but no less interesting) than many European capitals. As a result, much of the city center can be comfortably explored on foot—or, if you want to look like a true local, by bicycle.
Interesting attractions include the medieval weighhouse, Royal Palace on Dam Square, and New Church. Its most glamorous industry is the diamond trade. Not too far from Amsterdam are the flower centers of Aalsmeer, the picturesque fishing villages of Volendam and Marken, cheese markets at Edam and Gouda, and historic Haarlem, the main center of the bulb-growing industry. Enjoy the city’s sights from a glass-topped sightseeing boat which passes characteristic gabled houses and negotiates picturesque arched bridges. Facing Dam Square, the Royal Palace was built in 1648 and is still officially the royal residence, although the royal family resides in The Hague. The marbled Citizens Hall with inlaid maps of the world is worth seeing. One of Amsterdam’s most visited sites is historic Anne Frank House. Rijksmuseum, the city’s most prestigious museum, houses the largest collection of Dutch paintings in the world. Van Gogh Museum houses a striking collection.