• Allen John Lira

Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, offers a truly magical Christmas experience to locals and visitors alike. The city brims with cheerful lights and sparkling decors, sniffles of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, and a busy traffic of lively Christmas markets during the festive season.



Charming Copenhagen Christmas spots:


TIVOLI GARDENS AMUSEMENT PARK


Christmas or no Christmas, this second oldest amusement park in the world is widely patronised by friends and families seeking thrill rides and adrenaline-themed bonding. The park was founded in 1843 and the only one recorded older than Tivoli is Bakken Park, which is also in Denmark.


Christmas markets in Copenhagen are put up merely few miles away from each other and the undeniable winner in the Danish category is Tivoli Gardens. You can choose from around 27 fun rides or if you’re too sissy, the spectacle of lights would be enough to lure you in. So gorgeous that the park inspired Hans Christian Andersen to write Nightingale. Even Walt Disney chiefs had spent several visits to the park looking for inspirations before opening the now ubiquitous Disneyland.




NYHAVN HARBOUR


Nyhavn, which translates to “new harbour”, has become the face of Copenhagen all over social media. Restaurants, bars, and cafes line the picturesque harbour guarded by wooden ships and yachts offering canal boat cruise. Walking around Nyhavn during Christmas season is like stepping into instagram photos of pastel-coloured 17th and 18th century houses that have undergone Christmas facelift. Hans Christian Andersen lived at door no. 67.




HOTEL D’ANGLETERRE


A stone’s throw away from Nyhavn is a 5-star hotel that traditionally symbolizes the start of Danish Christmas. Once you see the huge Nativity scene and icy ensembles cover the hotel’s façade, you’d know Christmas is knocking at your doorstep. D’ Angleterre is located at Kongens Nytorv (The King’s Square) and next to it lies Strøget, the longest pedestrianized shopping street in Europe.


Each Christmas market across Europe is about mulled wine (basically a hot red wine with a twist) and bratwurst buns… and why not?


So I’d invite you to step inside because this hotel is known exactly for that. However, the mulled wine they offer here isn’t red but white. Also, the Danes call their mulled wine “gløgg”. Don’t miss out on the famous white gløgg that’s best matched with marzipan snowballs. You’re welcome in advance!



FREDERIKSBERG RUNDDEL ICE-SKATING


In the main entrance to Frederiksberg Gardens, people on furry scarves and thick coats gather to skilfully enjoy some ice-skating. It’s another winter tradition in the city and it’s free! Only major rule to keep in mind is to skate counter clockwise to avoid clashes.


Sitting down watching exuberant skaters chasing each other sends a jovial inexplicable feeling down your spine known in Danish as “hygge”.



RESTAURANT KRONBORG


Got yourself starving from all the walking tours? Set your GPS to Restaurant Kronborg for a classic four-course Danish Christmas lunch of fish, meat, cheese, and rice pudding, where a lucky one receives a hidden almond gift inside.



Also…

HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN CHRISTMAS MARKET


The beloved fairytale author is a worldwide writing superstar. Many of his works are brought to life on stage throughout the city during this time of the year. In fact, he is perennially honoured in one of the cosiest Christmas markets not too far off from Copenhagen.


An hour and a half by train is Odense, where Andersen was born and spent his straining childhood before moving to Copenhagen. His old house is paired up with a museum dedicated to his life and works. In Nytorv square, a market is put up to celebrate the season through fairytales where the multitude of Christmas stalls are named after H.C. Andersen’s famous characters. #VisitOdense



Top tourist attractions in Copenhagen all year round:


THE LITTLE MERMAID


Den Lille Havfrue” is Hans Christian Andersen’s muse of all time. The little-larger-than-life-size bronze sculpture of a mermaid on a rock is an iconic symbol of the city. Her youthful rock figure turned 100 years old on 23rd August 2013 even after suffering decapitation twice and an arm removal in the past years. This beauty stands her ground (or “rock” in her case) to modestly greet you when you come to see her.


In huge contrast to Disney’s version, the original Little Mermaid story didn’t get a happy ever after. #VisitLittleMermaid


NY CARLSBERG GLYPTOTEK


Just behind Tivoli Gardens is a free art museum showcasing an impressive sculpture collection by Carl Jacobsen of the Carlsberg Breweries. Sign up for the Carlsberg Brewery tour and learn the history of the world-famous Danish beer.



FREDERIKSKIRKE (FREDERIK’S CHURCH)


A short-walking distance from Nyhavn is a church with an imposing large copper green dome, also commonly known as the Marble Church.


AMALIENBORG PALACE


Walk straight from Frederikskirke to Frederiksgade towards the waterfront and you’ll find the Danish royals’ winter home. A section of the complex is used as museum showcasing the 150-year history of the Danish monarchs. Amalie Garden is also open for visitors who want a feel of royalty while surrounded with dainty flowers and imperial fountains.


At 11:30am, the daily Changing of the Royal Guards take place at the Amalienborg courtyard. The queen is home when a flag is raised above the palace.


CHRISTIANSBORG PALACE


Christianborg Palace is multi-purposely the seat of the Danish Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court. Visitors can climb up the viewing deck in the tallest tower in the city or go below ground to see the preserved 11th-century ruins under it.



Did you know?

Malmo, Sweden is connected by a long bridge from Copenhagen which makes it the easiest daytrip destination. It’s a 45-minute drive across Oresund Bridge or leave Copenhagen by train for 10 euros which takes around half an hour to get to Malmo central. The most interesting part is that Swedish folks from Malmo-side crosses over to Copenhagen to buy alcohol as it’s significantly cheaper in Denmark.


Christmas is the best time to visit Copenhagen. The city’s full mood shifts into grandiose displays of celebratory lights and festive pop-ups making it one of the best world cities to spend Christmas in. Although, the biggest struggle of a tourist during peak of winter is trying to squeeze in as much locations as you could in these really short days - 9am sunrise and 3pm sunset on average.


How about you? What is the most charming Christmas city you’ve been to? ➳

#VisitDenmark #VisitCopenhagen #VisitKobenhavn

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  • Allen John Lira

Feels like you have seen more than enough of Amsterdam on your trip to The Netherlands? Fortunately, a handful of quaint cities are within easy access from the capital. Take a lovely day out of the city and experience laidback Dutch culture.


1. ZAANSE SCHANS

The best location if you want to visit a series of well-preserved 18th and 19th century windmills. This idyllic village is an open air museum but getting inside a windmill doesn’t come free. Enter one of the fully-operational windmills to learn how each structure was specifically used during the Industrial Age to produce oil, dye, spice, paper, chalk, flour, etc. Windmills are symbols of Dutch tradition and used to be seen everywhere. Once upon a time, there’s was more than 10,000 of them dotting the Dutch landscape, but the discoveries of steam and electricity ended their reign. Although, a little over a thousand windmills still remain in place today.



Admission is free for the wooden clog workshop. Inside is an avalanche of coloured wooden shoes in various designs and sizes. Don’t forget the mandatory pic in those massive shoes to know how it feels like to be in someone else’s (pun intended).


How long to get here? 15 minutes by train and a 20-minute walk to the village

#VisitZaanseSchans



2. UTRECHT

Utrecht has the youthful vibrance of a university town and an age of a longstanding medieval city. The medieval canals are well-loved with the presence of an ancient moat reflecting Utrecht’s rich history. The iconic Dom Toren is the tallest belfry in The Netherlands. The best view of the city comes after climbing 465 steps to the top. St. Martin Cathedral sits across Dom Tower in the centre of the town.


The Museum Catharijneconvent – museum of religious art

Museum Speelklok – Antique music boxes, clocks and organs are on display. ‘Speelklok’ is a music-playing grandfather clock.

Spoorweg Museum – a train museum located in an old train station

De Haar Castle – largest and most luxuriously beautiful castle of Holland

Dapp Frietwinkel – The best french fries in the Netherlands is found here!

Oudegracht – city’s most photogenic canal with tons of stores to eat and shop


How long to get here? 40 minutes by train to Utrecht Centraal

#VisitUtrecht



3. GOUDA (How-da)

A dynamic cheese town known for producing Netherland’s most delicious food exports - the world-famous Gouda cheese and stroopwafels. On Thursday mornings from April until end of August, witness cheese trading in De Waag market where giant orange cheese wheels are weighed and sold publicly.


Sint Janskerk Church – longest church in Netherlands with stunning 16th century stained-glass windows. St. Jan Church is Gouda’s claim to fame apart from its cheese. A lovely garden is kept behind the Lazarus gate.

De Goudse Waag – a small cheese museum with average visitor reviews


How long to get here? 55 minutes by train from Amsterdam

#VisitGouda



4. HAARLEM

Dubbed as a “shopping town”, Haarlem is the best place for shopaholics in the whole country. The medieval city of Haarlem is sometimes called “the little Amsterdam” due to River Spaarne that wanders through the city creating life through veins of canals. Mozart once played in St. Bavo Church here.



Windmill de Adriaan – a fully operational windmill but a replica of the original structure that was burnt down. Take the guided tour and see the city from the windmill balcony.

Jugendstil train station – Many fine examples of Art Nouveau metro stations can be found in Paris whilst the Haarlem station is the only one in Netherlands. Art Nouveau is an ornament style of art inspired strongly by nature.

Frans Hals Museum – Frans Hals is a famous painter from the Golden Age. His realistic paintings are loved by many.

Grote Markt – heart of Haarlem, the main square

Grote Kerk – Gothic cathedral


Teylers Museum – a science, art, and natural history museum

River Spaarne – take a boat cruise down the river and see the city


How long to get here? Just a 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal station

#VisitHaarlem



5. ROTTERDAM

The largest port in Europe is found in Rotterdam. In huge contrast to other typical Dutch cities adorned with canals and windmills, the city is the home of Netherland’s modern architecture filled with contemporary skyscrapers, avantgarde houses, and an extremely busy harbour.


Spido Harbour Tour – Get the best views of Rotterdam’s modern shipyards and striking skyline from this cruise in the Maas River that lasts 75 minutes, with SS Rotterdam serving as grand finale of the tour.

SS Rotterdam – As the biggest passenger ship ever built in the Netherlands under Holland America shipping line, it has seen the employment of the finest Dutch craftsmen. Rotterdamers has converted this flagship ocean liner, also known as “The Grand Dame”, into a hotel and museum offering unique nostalgic feels to visitors since 2010.

Maritiem Museum (merged with Havenmuseum) – a nautical museum, in Leuvenhaven waterfront area, reflecting the significant role that Rotterdam plays to the world

Erasmus Bridge or “The Swan” – so iconic that this tallest bridge in Netherlands (800-metre long by 139-metre high suspension bridge connecting north and south Rotterdam) has started becoming the abstract symbol of the modern city.

Markthal – best location to grab some food to fuel your day!

White House or Witte Huis – designed the Art Nouveau-style. The National Heritage house with 10 floors was the first hoogbouw (skyscraper) in Europe.

Don’t miss seeing the famous cube houses! Close to the Witte Huis is a series of 38 cube-shaped houses, an ingenious architectural design by Piet Blom. In 1984, he envisioned a residential forest with each cube being one of the trees. The concept was so captivating to onlookers that one of the houses was eventually turned into a museum (Kijk-Kubus museum).

While on the streets, look out and get instragram-ready for those art walls.


How long to get here? 35-minute train ride from Amsterdam

#VisitRotterdam



6. THE HAGUE / DEN HAAG

“Amsterdam is the capital, but the government is in The Hague”, as the Dutch would say. Also, found here is the Shell headquarters. Did you know that the energy company’s registered name is Royal Dutch Shell?


Mauritshuis Museum – an art museum of Dutch Golden Age paintings, located next to the government centre

Binnenhof – the seat of parliament

International Court of Justice and the Peace Palace – where the gavels of international law are pound

Royal Palace or Paleis Noordeinde – working palace of the King and Queen

Pickled herring – a must try favourite

Madurodam – miniature park version of Holland

Scheveningen – About 10 minutes from Madurodam, you can continue your day in the beach. Visiting in The Hague, you can enjoy sand between your toes, something you can’t when in other cities. Scheveningen beach terraces are crammed during summer. People tend to come for all night beach parties.


How long to get here? Around 40 minutes to get to The Hague

#VisitTheHague


Contrary to common tourist belief, #Netherlands isn’t just all about #Amsterdam.

#VisitNetherlands #VisitHolland

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The Netherlands is famous for its cheese, tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, and liberality – to name a few – but there’s a whole lot more to this country than what’s commonly seen on Instagram. WTVN has listed 15 cool facts to help plan your visit.



1. BIKE CULTURE

Do what the locals do. Every Dutch owns a bike. There’s statistically more bikes than people in Amsterdam. Keep your eyes on those cycle lanes because you’ve got higher chances to be hit by a bike than by a car, same as in other bike cities like Copenhagen.


Why not set off on one spontaneous afternoon, take a stroll along the interlocking #Amsterdam canals and just let your feet lead you wherever? No itinerary at hand. When I did this on my first Amsterdam visit, I eventually discovered more appealing streets with lesser tourists which makes a perfect location for your Instagram photos. Start in Bloemenmarkt, world’s only floating flower market, where dozens of fresh tulips are on sale.


Other common forms of transportation: Trams, Buses and Metro (1 to 7 day passes can be purchased)



2. CLEAN TAP WATER

Tap water in Amsterdam is one of the cleanest in Europe. Maybe that’s the reason why the Dutch are the world’s tallest people (LOL). Best thing to do when attending festivals/events in Amsterdam is to keep in hand a bottle of drinking water and once emptied, refill in any of the available taps. Worry not because it is entirely safe for drinking. You save Mother Earth and a few euros.



3. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS LOCATIONS

Amsterdam city has always been a famous choice as a movie location for film producers but the sensational TFIOS (in 2014) bequeathed the city a more prominent identity in the international movie-scene. Who can ever forget that tear-jerking bench scene by Augustus, Hazel and the portable oxygen tank?


The exact location of the featured bench is ‘Leidsegracht 4’ where Herengracht and Leidsegracht meet. In total, six locations were used for this movie based on John Green’s best-selling book.



4. BEST TIME TO VISIT

Koningsdag/King’s day – The Dutch national holiday is held every 27 April. A million of visitors and locals alike wear orange as they hit the streets to celebrate the world’s biggest birthday party, in honor of their king. On King’s Day Carnival, you must-try Tompouce (a sweet pastry with cream on top) sold by hundreds of street vendors. Plus, boat parties everywhere!


Tulip Festival – Amsterdam is home of the ultimate spring flower - the tulip. Each spring season, from 31 March until end of April, numerous tulips are in gorgeous display all throughout the canal city. See these tulips and the city in full bloom. Participate in the famous Keukenhof Flower Parade or fly with a helicopter over the tulip fields. Interesting Fact: Tulip maybe a popularized branding for Amsterdam but its roots originally came from Turkey.



5. MUSEUMS/ATTRACTIONS

Museum entrance fees range from €15-20 for adults and €9 for students (need to show ID/proof of enrolment).

WTVN Top 10 Museum Picks:

Rijksmuseum

Anne Frank Huis

Van Gogh Museum

Hermitage Amsterdam

Stedelijk Museum

Nemo Science Museum

Heineken Museum

Sex Museum

Museum Our Lord in the Attic

Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum


The city has the highest museum density in the world. I couldn’t think of another city I have visited that can come close to the “variety” that Amsterdam museum list has.



IAmsterdam sign – fight your way through a mob of tourist warriors. Go very early in the morning or very late at night if you want a photo with the sign without annoying photobombers.



6. DAYTRIPS OUTSIDE AMSTERDAM

48 hours is all you’ll need to visit majority of Amsterdam’s attractions. For those who would spend three days or more, the ideal itinerary is to use at least one day to plan a trip outside the city.


Cities accessible from Amsterdam:

Zaanse Schans

Utrecht

Haarlem

Gouda

Rotterdam

The Hague


Countries close to Amsterdam:

Belgium – you can visit Brugges, Ghent, Brussels, or Antwerp

Germany – you can visit Dusseldorf



7. GASTRONOMIC RECOMMENDATION

Gouda (How-da) cheese – popular in Netherlands and worldwide. The younger the cheese, the softer.


Stroopwafel – another delicacy originating from Gouda. Two thin layers of waffle with caramel filling. Perfectly paired with a hot drink. Did you know there’s a proper way to eat it? Place the waffle on top of your mug of hot drink. Leave until soft. Turn over to warm other side. Eat with the caramel syrup dripping. Enjoy.


De Ruijter Chocolate Sprinkles (Hagelslag) – spread butter on bread then put sprinkles on top. Easy.


Rijstaffel – although a popular Dutch dish, it is essentially Indonesian-inspired. The feast was adapted from West Sumatra initially when Indonesia was a Dutch colony. It consists small servings of several tasty dishes. Restaurant Puri Mas in downtown Amsterdam serves authentic Rijstaffel and other Indonesian cuisine.


Omelegg – this country’s first omelettery serves brunch allday

Pancakes Amsterdam – where I had my first Dutch pancake. American pancake is also served.

Foreground: Dutch pancake | Background: American pancake

The Avocado Show – for a greener option, try an all-Avocado restaurant located in Daniël Stalpertstraat 61


Café-Restaurant Stork – a place for seafood lovers on the northern banks; open only starting from 11 am


Amsterdam has dozens of trendy food hubs of all types. Visiting the cosmopolitan city isn’t only a culture trip but also an awesome gastro trip.

8. CANAL CRUISE TOURS

The most comfortable way to explore Amsterdam is from the water. The cruise navigates you through the thriving canal districts of Amsterdam since the Golden Age. The 17th century Canal Belt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which served as defence, water management system, and local transportation.



9. COFFEE SHOPS

Tourists know they are no regular coffee shops. Amsterdammers live an organic life. Around 200 coffee shops spread across the city legally selling joints, space cake, and pot brownies. Muffins and brownies take longer to kick in so you better go slow. Popular advice is not to take more than one. When unsure, always ask for recommendations from waiters because they certainly know what to safely give you. Don’t get too experimental on your own.



10. FAMED RED LIGHT DISTRICT

The De Wallen district used to be a place for docking sailors, thus creating the kind of reputation it has now. While ladies behind red windows is a popular attraction, taking photos of them for touristic purposes is not allowed. Prostitution is a legal profession in Netherlands. These workers have lawful rights and deserve respect. Some argue it’s a revolutionary approach for sex tourism, while some people are still debating its social aptness from the opposing side.


Drop by the popular Rene’s Croissants on your way home. WTVN Reminder: Look after your valuables as it is a bustling area.



11. EASY ACCESS FROM THE UK

Going around the city, I have noticed a good number of travellers from the United Kingdom. Getting to Amsterdam is fairly easy for Brits which constitute a big percentage of visiting tourists. Flights from London (or any major UK airport) takes only a little over an hour and a direct train service to Amsterdam can be taken from London St. Pancras for 3hrs 50mins. Once there, Amsterdam Centraal is roughly an hour away via train or bus from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. WTVN note: Schiphol has one of those airport designs that requires a lot of walking so give yourself ample time to reach the boarding gates.



12. LIVING BELOW SEA LEVEL

A country emerging from the sea. Most parts of the country is either below sea level or reclaimed from sea. 1/3 of the whole country lives below sea level including the area of Schiphol airport. Around 17% has been reclaimed and the Dutch people are still continuing to take back land from the North Sea through efficient dike system.



13. IS IT HOLLAND OR THE NETHERLANDS?

Holland is a region west of the The Netherlands, which is the country. Furthermore, #Holland can be divided into two – North (Noord-Holland) and South (Zuid-Holland). These two names have been used interchangeably in many confusing ways, even by Dutch people.



14. GENEROUS SCHENGEN VISA

Netherlands has been the most generous in granting visa among all of the countries I have applied Schengen visa with. France comes second. Irrelevant of how many Schengen visa you’ve acquired before, these two countries considerably give longer validity compared to others. To give an outlook: 5 people I know (including me) were granted visa by Netherlands for 2-3 years, multiple entry. France typically grants first-timers a 6-month visa validity, and re-appliers with 1-2 years, multiple entry.

15. WORLD’S BEST DJs

Ever since Electronic Dance Music (EDM) grew big worldwide, Dutch DJs mercilessly dominate the top spots in the worldwide Best DJ List year after year. I’ve always thought to myself, “How come The Netherlands seems like a prolific breeding ground for brilliant and hip disc jockeys?”


I’ll share to you two of the main reasons…


First, Dutch were among the pioneers of EDM so they technically got ahead of everyone. While others were only beginning to hear it, Dutch talents were already serving ground-breaking music tastes to the table. Hundred subgenres are buried deep for exploration in the electronic music world and Amsterdam is a proud haven for those less popular beats. Producers see an immense potential on this craft, therefore, millions are invested in campaigns and massive support is given to all their aspiring artists.


Secondly, this small and seemingly innocent country has laidback laws pertaining to recreational drug use. The Dutch capital has a perky nightlife. Hence, drugs and rave parties make a hugely lucrative business altogether. In fact, the Netherlands is globally known in the underground synthetic drug economy as top producer and manufacturer of excellent-quality MDMA.


Dutch DJs who frequent the top charts:

Martin Garrix

Tiesto

Hardwell

Armin van Buuren

Afrojack

Nicky Romero

Don Diablo


Many thanks to The Netherlands for honing the world’s best DJs! ➳

#VisitNetherlands #VisitHolland #VisitAmsterdam

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