Shamrock Rovers' Champions League clash with FC Copenhagen gives Ed Leahy a great excuse to visit the historic Danish capital.

The sight of free food being served on the flight made me fight the urge to sleep as the attendants edged closer.

Gone are the days when a complimentary breakfast and coffee would compensate for the unholy hour that you would need to rise at for the traipse to the airport for a red-eye departure.

The flight was a charter with the Faroe Islands’ finest, Atlantic Airlines, on the short hop from Dublin to Copenhagen for an appointment – not especially with the Little Mermaid – but with Danish champions, FC Copenhagen.

The food arrived in the form of a breakfast roll of sorts. However, the said sandwich was lacking any swine-esque aromas so a quick quiz alerted me to the fact that it was a roast beef and smoked salmon selection.

A smile and a nod and the flight attendant was away up the 96-seater leaving me to contemplate both question and contents. Surely it was an either/or choice.

Surely not, as I opened up the roll only to be greeted by a waft of Faroe fish with a large but slim smoked salmon slice smothering what must have been the roast beef below.

Needless to say, I was still hungry on arrival into Copenhagen, as a connecting train whisked me into the city centre just minutes after touching down.

The decision to travel was very last minute, and as the small print was never scrutinised, accommodation for the two-day visit had yet to be found.

Internet apps were showing hotels in the vicinity but getting all the way through the booking on the not-so-smart phone was proving a problem.

But Copenhagen was listening and duly pointed the way to a nearby tourist office where hotel rooms could be booked on the spot. There was, of course, a small finder’s fee but well worth the few extra Kroner as the confirmation slip slid across the counter.

The tourist office doubled as a converted coffee house with a range of pastries and cakes that would have had old Mr Kipling licking his lips.

A slab of cinnamon-flavoured roll, topped with sweet almonds and icing, was washed down with an oversized and overpriced coffee before finding the hotel and setting out to discover the city.

Bicycles appear to be the primary mode of transportCopenhagen prides itself on being green and this is immediately noticeable with bicycles appearing to be the primary mode of transport in the compact capital of Denmark.

The chosen walking tour, which covered the city’s main attractions, was estimated to take approximately two hours but with the sun shining and the pace already pedestrian, I had calculated that it would take some time longer with several watering holes dotted along the route.

First through Strøget, the city’s main shopping area and the world’s longest pedestrian street, before stopping off at an excellent outdoor photography exhibition, Wild Wonders of Europe.

Wandering through the city is a joy, as old and new architecture mixes seamlessly, allowing you to stumble upon something impressive around almost every corner.

Europe's oldest functioning observatoryThe Round Tower, dating back to the 17th century, is one such gem and serves as the oldest functioning observatory in Europe where stargazers have enjoyed the facilities since 1642.

The observatory offers great views of Copenhagen as it is encircled by an outdoor platform, reached by following the spiral walk, which is around 209 metres to the top, although the tower is only 36 metres tall.

The slanted houses of NyhavnNyhavn, the old port area of the city, is bustling both day and night as the beautiful old slanted houses have been renovated, now housing classy restaurants and bars. Number 9, Nyhavn, is the oldest house in the area dating back to 1681, while Hans Christian Andersen used to live at number 20.

The great rococo architecture of Amalienborg PalaceThe Royal residence, Amalienborg Palace, is located close to Nyhavn and is considered one of the greatest works of Danish Rococo architecture. Dating back to the 1700s, the palace is made up of four identical buildings spread around the octagonal courtyard.

Enjoying the ramble down to the water, a crowd ahead signalled the end of the walking tour and the arrival at The Little Mermaid.

The statue was sitting about two yards in from the water’s edge and was almost dwarfed by the young kids who had braved the submerged stepping stones to join the mermaid on her perch.

The statue is far from the most impressive visual in Copenhagen but it is a national symbol linked to two of the city’s most famous sons, fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen and Carlsberg founder Carl Jacobsen, who commissioned the sculpture as a gift to the city of Copenhagen.

The stroll back into the town centre ventured through the impressive Kastellet Park, which is one of the best preserved fortifications throughout Europe, and on to marvel at the magnificent Rosenborg Castle, which houses some of Denmark’s greatest cultural treasures, including the Crown Jewels and the Danish Crown Regalia.

Rosenborg dates back to the early 17th century and its stylish exteriors are just as impressive as its contents.

The castle looked particularly pretty from afar as I dandered through the adjacent King’s Garden with the early evening sky and setting sun accentuating the copper green roof atop the redbrick and sandstone construction.

Another way to see the city is by boarding the CityCirkel sightseeing bus, which departs every seven minutes and can also get through some of the narrow streets where other buses cannot go. Alternatively, you can take a one-hour canal tour to see the city from a different perspective.

Another quality breakfast of coffee and a plate of Danish pastries, or snegls as they call them in Copenhagen, set me up for the march out of the city to another of the capital’s top attractions, the Carlsberg factory.

One of the capital's top attractions, the Carlsberg factoryThe tour of the old brewery takes you around every aspect of the beer-making process and wisely allows tourists to move at their own pace, depending on the levels of enthusiasm expressed.

I couldn’t help thinking of the Guinness factory in Dublin as fascinating old videos showed the coopers at work, making barrels of all sizes and singing in unison upon completion.

The tour finishes in the bar where a choice between two free beers, Carlsberg or Tuborg, can be made, making the perfect accompaniment for the lunchtime burgers that were being served in the courtyard barbecue.

Stomach full, the stroll back into town seemed a lot shorter, with just enough time to pop into the Tivoli Gardens, where aquariums, pantomime theatres, restaurants and cafés take a back seat to the 26 fairground rides ranging from the ordinary to the outrageous and locals and tourists alike threaten to spill the contents of their stomachs in public.

And so to the 38,000 capacity Parken Stadium to sample my first taste of Champions League football on foreign soil as home favourites FC Copenhagen hosted Irish champions Shamrock Rovers.

Over 300 fans had travelled from Ireland and elsewhere to support the Hoops, taking on a side that had reached the last 16 of the 2010 competition, only losing narrowly to Chelsea.

Hooped hearts sank after five minutes as the home side took the lead but the predicted deluge never arrived as Shamrock Rovers grew in confidence and were unlucky not to get something from the game, coming close to scoring on several occasions.

But Hans Christian Andersen was not penning this particular script, so no fairytale ending for the Dublin side, instead the thoughts of what Faroe fare was awaiting on the charter flight home.

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Ed Leahy

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