Flew into Copenhagen (30K United miles, nonstop from IAD on SAS, which was safe/comfortable though surprised had to pay for beer/wine with dinner, and not cheap). Arrived early side, so we took a 30 minute train (machines accept US credit card w/o PIN) across the border to Malmo, Sweden (mostly to check off the country). We left our bags in locker (accepts card) at beautiful train station and walked around the downtown area. Was Sunday morning so it was dead, but strolled around a few squares (Stortorget and Lila Torg) and had a great hotel breakfast at Skandic Kramer (almost no cafes were open).
After a few hours, we took the train 45 minutes back to Copenhagen (another great train station), and walked to our solid hotel, Comfort Hotel Vesterbro (if you can get a good deal with breakfast, I’d recommend it). We walked around the center area (Stroget) checking out sights from the outside. We had dinner about half block off Stroget in Restaurant Tight (recommended). Drinks-wise, we later went to the tremendous world-famous Mikkeller brewpub near our hotel and found a great speakeasy called Curfew. It was Sunday so many spots were closed and things were chill. The next day, we went to the Rosenborg Castle, which had a nice interior, cool moat, and beautiful crown jewels in the cellar; next Nyhavn harbor area and took the Nettobådene boat tour (about an hour, not that pricey) which gave us a great overview of the city on the water. We had lunch at the food court on the top floor of the Illum department store, which is pretty deluxe but not any more expensive than rest of town. Later, we walked over to the meatpacking district and had a fantastic seafood dinner (new Nordic style) at Kødbyens Fiskebar, beers at the nearby WarPigs Brewpub (a collaboration with Mikkeller and the acclaimed Indiana brewery Two Floyds), and a fun couple hours with some locals at Freddys Bar (very old-school spot) back in Vestbro. The next day we checked out the National Museum of Denmark which had a great Viking-era artifacts though wasn’t fan of the layout. Food, drink, and taxis in Copenhagen is expensive as advertised. Entrees at mid range spots are around $30, craft beer pints $10-11, basic cocktails $13, fancy cocktails $20. A cab to go 1 mile $15. Still, includes tax + tip so not terrible and worth it (Carlsburg beers at grocery/convenience stores were a couple euros, very cheap). Card is accepted everywhere so we actually took zero Danish kroner out of the ATM while we were there.
After two days, we took a train to Hamburg, sorta. There’s no bridge for the most direct path (yet), so our train literally drove onto the bottom level of a massive ferry boat, we got out for a 45 minute cruise across the North Sea (ferry had two restaurants and huge store), and then got back on the train for the rest of our nearly 5 hour ride to Hamburg. Was only about 30 euros booked way in advance. Hamburg was mostly about spending family time (my half brother in family lives in the suburbs), but we checked out a few worthwhile sights. Highlight was the Minatur Wunderland, a couple floors filled with the most detailed miniature train (trucks, planes, boats, as well) displays of US, Hamburg, Scandinavia, an full airport, the Alps, and Italy you’ll ever see. It was packed with people and kids and is a bit overwhelming but one of the more unique things I’ve seen. We walked around the Speicherstadt/HafenCity warehouse district and saw the stunning Elbphilharmonie concert hall. Dinner was at a touristy Gasthaus Heimathafen with traditional German food. The next day we walked down and up the Treppenviertel staircase neighborhood in Blankenese suburb, and took a ferry on the wide Elbe river back downtown (viewing the massive container ships and port upclose). Explored the area around the City Hall (fairly untouristy and elegant). Whole city had a Scandinavian feel. Dinner was at a great Lebanese restaurant off the train line (Hala) with a great prix fixe menu. Note, in Germany credit card has less acceptance than in the US, so need to get Euros.
We spent the last few days of our trip in Berlin (fast train about 2 hours away). The S-bahn/U-bahn trains are fast and cheap in Berlin. We stayed at the Hotel Alexander Plaza, which was kind of weird in its service, but clean, cheap and amazingly located. Berlin is great, the inner area is more beautiful than people say (the more hipster areas are a bit grittier). We explored Checkpoint Charlie (touristy but probably should still go), impressive Gendarmenmarkt square, Unter den Linden boulevard, Brandenburg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and took the elevator to the dome of the Reichstag Building (highly recommended for overview of Germany government, and views around town; must book in advance and bring your passport if you’re not German). Dinner was at Indian Village in Alexanderplatz. We were randomly in Berlin during the Festival of Lights which was cool, illuminating church exteriors, other buildings, including a very-Euro light/music show of the Berliner Fernsehturm tower. For late night, we took the tram to the hipster/yuppie Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. Very vibrant untouristy. Café Krüger was a solid bar. Unfortunately, Berlin bars are ridiculously smokey, particularly in cold weather when doors/windows are closed (read that 1/3 of Berlin adults smoke) which really marred the experience (had to shower when we got home). Recommend doing some homework to find smoke-free spots if you don’t smoke/sensitive. The next day we explored the Hackescher Markt area (nice stalls on Saturdays), the cool courtyards next to each other (Hackescher Hof and very different spot next door), took a 45 minute Spree boat tour, which was relaxing (particularly with wait service for beer), and checked out a couple great museums (Pergamonmuseum-many areas under construction but the Ishtar Gate reconstruction is incredible; the Neues Museum has the world famous Queen Nefertiti bust which is so impressive in person). Alexanderplatz hosted a massive Oktoberfest celebration (though you’ll learn that really only celebrated in south in Bavaria) which was fun; we also found a smoke-free spot Luzia in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg
neighborhood and another spot off the water (Ankerklause).
Our last day we went to the Berlin Wall Memorial, which has a visitor’s center and a cross-section of the original wall-everything is very sobering and unbelieveable that this was just 30 years ago.
Capped off our sightseeing at Martin-Gropius-Bau, which is a museum that only showcases one-off exhibitions. Dinner was underneath the Fernsehturm tower where had one of the best burgers I’ve had-momotaro tavern. We took at 25 euro Uber to the airport the next morning (though cheap fast buses are also available) and flew home (via Frankfurt, Lufthansa and United, 30k miles again).