My summer holidays this year started in Copenhagen which is the coolest place amongst the Nordic cities. Not only is the city beautifully set surrounded by water with cobblestone streets made up of colorful town houses, there are also countless modern design studios, industrial designed bars and shops, and gourmet restaurants serving Nordic Cuisine, the most famous being Noma. All this combined with the hygge (pronounced “hue-gah”), the Danish laidback contentment of life’s simple pleasures, make Copenhagen one of the happiest and greatest cities in the world. We stayed at the centrally located Hotel Skt. Petri which is walking distance from all the major sights in town.
Stroget Shopping Street is a pedestrian only shopping street in central Copenhagen. It is one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe at 1.1 km long.
Stroget consists of numerous fashionable shops, restaurants, and cafes along the way. One of the most famous stores here is Illums Bolighus, a well known Danish interior design and furniture emporium.
Copenhagen was originally a Viking fishing village founded in the 10th century and only became the capital of Denmark in the early 15th century. Nyhavn, a 17th century waterfront lined with brightly colored townhouses, is probably one of the most photographed places in Copenhagen and in Denmark. These old townhouses are built with wood and bricks and the oldest house dates back to 1681. Many tourists come here to enjoy the restaurants and cafes facing the harbor as well as going for one of the many canal boat tours. We went with a company called Stromma in their open top boats. The hour long boat ride along the canals is a very good introduction to Copenhagen.
Copenhagen has been referred to as “the City of Spires” as it has a horizontal skyline only broken by the towers and spires of churches and castles. There are two places in town for good panoramic views. One being the Round Tower and the other being the Church of our Savior.
Round Tower was built as an astronomical observatory in the 17th century. It is well known for its equestrian spiral ramp leading to the top of the tower.
Instead of stairs, there is a ramp that turns 7.5 times around the core of the tower before reaching the top.
There is a chapel that can be accessed from the Round Tower. The tower also once housed the entire library of the university so the ramps made it much easier for horse drawn carriages to bring the books up.
Walk all the way to the top to reach the outdoor platform.
The outdoor platform encircling the top of the Round Tower offers a magnificent view of old Copenhagen.
Church of our Savior near Freetown Christiania has a spiral staircase wrapping around the outside of the tower. You can go up for some panoramic views of Copenhagen albeit a bit nerve wrecking when looking down and having two-way traffic on these narrow steps.
Christianshavn is a man-made island with charming colorful houses. Other than the Church of Our Savior, it also has an alternative community called Free State of Christiania which is a hippy enclave in complete contrast to the gabled houses along the canal. Freetown Christiania is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood in Copenhagen. It is a mix of homemade houses, workshops, art galleries, music venues, small cafes and food stalls. There are also many stalls selling marijuana and its related products which is illegal in Copenhagen.
Located on the islet of Slotshomen across from Christianshavn, is Christianborg Palace. It is home to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Danish Parliament, and the Supreme Court of Denmark. It is the only building in the world that houses all three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) under the same roof. In addition, parts of the palace are still used by the royal family for various state functions and events such as the Throne Room where Danish monarchs are proclaimed and The Tower and Oval Throne Rooms where foreign ambassadors are received by the Queen. There are tours available for the lavish reception rooms of the palace as well as the stables and castle ruins.
Nearby is the Old Stock Exchange which is one of the oldest buildings in Copenhagen. Legend has it that the dragon-tailed spire protects the building. It has, in fact, many times been spared from damage when even the Christiansborg Palace has been burnt down.
One of the most distinctive districts in the city is Frederiksstaden with the Amalienborg Palace and Marble Church, as well as 18th century Rococo style houses. Frederik’s Church or more popularly known as The Marble Church is an Evangelical Lutheran church built in the rococo style. It is probably inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and has the largest church dome in Scandinavia with a span of 31 meters. Pop in and take a look on the way to Amalienborg Palace.
Straight ahead from Marble Church is Amalienborg Palace where the Danish royal family lives. It is made up of four identical buidlings around an octagonal courtyard with an equestrian statue of King Frederick V in the middle. These four palaces were originally built for four noble families, but after Christiansborg Palace burned in 1794, the royal family bought Amalienborg and moved in. The most expensively built of the four palaces is Christian VII’s Palace, also known as Moltke’s Palace. It’s lavish interiors have been used to accommodate and entertain prominent guests.
Not far is the renaissance Rosenborg Castle built in the 1600s. It is situated in Kongens Have (King’s Garden) or Rosenborg Castle Garden. Among the main attractions of Rosenborg Castle is the Long hall with the coronation throne and the throne of the Queen with the three silver lions standing guard. There are 12 tapestries depicting the King’s victories in the Scanian War (1675-1679). This is also the home to the Danish Crown Jewels. The rooms here take you on a journey in time to see how the king’s lived and ruled back in the day. The castle is fairly easy to visit on your own and make sure you get to spend some time in the beautiful gardens.
Another famous landmark in Copenhagen is the Little Mermaid bronze sculpture by Edvard Eriksen. It is based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen unveiled in 1913. It sits on a rock by the waterfront and has become an iconic statue that symbolises the city and is often defaced by political activists. It has been decapitated more than once and had paint poured on it several times, the latest being in May 2017 with the message “Denmark defend the whales of the Faroe Islands” written on the ground in front of the statue covered in red paint.
Not far from the Little Mermaid statue is the Kastellet, one of the best preserved star shaped fortresses in Northern Europe. The Citadel is still an active military area but mainly serves as a public park and historic site nowadays. It was originally built to protect Copenhagen from the seaside by King Christian IV in 1626. It was rebuilt and extended in the 1660s to become the Citadel we see today.
There is so much to see in Copenhagen and I was unfortunately unable to see them all. There are many more museums, churches, and design shops I would have loved to visit. Right before I left, I was able to stop by Grundtvig’s Church. It is a rare example of expressionist church architecture in Copenhagen and is one of my favorites because of its unusual appearance.
Love the art-deco minimalist look.
Copenhagen is definitely my favorite Scandinavian city! It really has everything from history and architecture to cool design and furniture shops and gourmet restaurants. I will definitely be back!
Next post on the Castles of North Zealand north of Copenhagen. Stay tuned!
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