Our Travel Diary : Copenhagen
Updated: Mar 7, 2022
When to go: Although Copenhagen can be a year-round destination, spring or summer are two of the best times to visit the city. In spring, between March and May there are less tourists, accommodations costs are low, but the weather is still nice and sunny during most days. The summer months of June to August can be considered as the peak season, and therefore the city attracts large number of tourists, thereby increasing the costs of accommodation.
Getting there: Copenhagen is a major European hub connected with the rest of the world with direct or one stop flights. We took a direct British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Copenhagen Airport. The airport is well connected to the city centre through trains and buses. The train runs from terminal 3 and takes around 15 minutes to reach Copenhagen Central Station.
Staying Comfortable: Weather in spring and summer is quite comfortable and light clothing suitable. Remember to carry sun blocker, shades and hats, as the sun can become quite relentless during the day.
Be mindful of cyclists on road: Copenhagen is one of the world's top cycling cities with a large number of cyclists on the roads. Roads in Copenhagen have clearly demarcated cycle lanes and pedestrians are not allowed to walk on these. The average cycling speed can be anywhere between 10-16km/h.
Copenhagen Card: Buying a Copenhagen Card (www.copenhagencard.com) gives you free admissions to over 80 attractions as well as free public transportation in the whole capital region.
Arrival at our friends home in Copenhagen suburb of Hellerup, just in time for hearty home cooked lunch!
Rosenborg Castle: Holding 400 years of royal history, this castle was built by the famous Danish king Christian IV during his youth in the early 17th century. What started as a small summer palace ended up being one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in the next 28 years of its development. Christian IV had good knowledge of architecture and took personal interest in many building works including the creation of Rosenborg Castle. Rosenborg was Christian IV’s favourite residence, so much so that on his deathbed at Frederiksborg he asked he be transported to Rosenborg in order to spend his last days at his much-loved castle and breathed his last in his bed chamber at Rosenborg. Rosenborg continued to be used as a royal residence until around early 18th century, when Christian IV’s great-grandchild Frederik IV decided to move to newer summer residences. He converted the castle as a place for royal collections which explains the amazing collection and well-preserved interiors. Rosenborg was thereafter only used as a royal residence on a couple of occasions only, once following the fire at Christiansborg and then during the English attack on Copenhagen.
Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen
The castle is spread across 4 floors and there are over 35 rooms to explore. In addition to Christian IV’s magnificent collection of parade arms, it houses King’s costumes, heirlooms, precious artefact, glass and porcelain as well as captured art collections of the dukes of Holstein. Some of the prominent rooms are Christian VI’s Room, Frederik IV’s Hall, Frederik V’s Cabinet and Frederik V’s Cabinet. In Christian VI’s Room the walls are decorated with tapestries depicting scenes from the life of Alexander the Great. Frederik IV’s Hall which was originally used as Christian IV’s Audience Chamber and later modified and converted into the chamber for Frederik IV’s sister. It houses a 18th century rock crystal chandelier which was a gift from the famous Austrian Empress Maria Theresa – the only female ruler of the House of Habsburg.
Frederik IV’s Hall from Rosenborg Castle
In the early 19th century the Royal collections were opened to the public and plans were drawn up to exhibit the castle showcasing the Royal generations chronologically starting from Christian IV to the present day. In Denmark, the royal collection is now passed on from king to king. It is the same with the Danish Crown Jewels – it started when Christian VI’s queen specified in her will that her jewellery should always be “with the crown” and Frederik VIII’s queen defined which jewels were Crown Jewels. There are four sets of jewellery called Crown Jewels at Rosenborg and these can only be used by the Queen and only within the country’s borders. These have been recently used in the Crown couple weddings in 2004 and 2015.
The Round Tower (Observatory Rundetaarn):
The impressive Round Tower is one of Denmark’s best-known and most visited buildings. It was built by King Christian IV, who is well known for his love and knowledge of architecture and design. He created the tower to allow astronomers from the University of Copenhagen to gaze from a height far above the city’s light and smoke. It has been the centre of Danish astronomy for hundreds of years. He constructed the round walls in the royal colours (yellow and red) and also sketched the famous golden rebus on the front of the tower himself. The tower consists of the Trinity Church, the University Library which is above the Church and an Observatory at the top.
The Spiral Ramp of Observatory Rundetaarn (Round Tower)
The Spiral Ramp is the key design feature in the Round Tower and runs from the entrance to the stairs leading to the top of the tower. It is the only way to the top and winds about 7 times around the tower’s hollow core. Halfway up and on the floor above the Trinity Church is the Library Hall, which originally accommodated the University of Copenhagen’s book collection, but which was later moved. One floor above the Library Hall is the Bell Loft which was used for ringing church’s bells and other things like drying medicinal herbs.
The Round Tower’s planetarium is situated towards the upper end of the Spiral Ramp. The top presents panoramic 360-degree view all the way to Sweden on clear days! At the top of the Round Tower is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. The tower is 34.5 m tall has suffered fire damages in its lifetime.
The colourful buildings of Megstraede
Megstraede: One of the oldest streets of Copenhagen old town, Megstraede is famous for its colourful buildings and perhaps the most photographed street of Copenhagen. Scandinavian countries have a long history of painting buildings in bright colours and Copenhagen is no exception to that. As the colour changes from one building to the next, the view from one end of the street often gives the feeling of looking at a rainbow! There is not much to do other than walking down the quiet street while enjoying the colourful view and capturing some stunning Instagram worthy shots!
Nyhavn: We wrapped up our day one in Copenhagen at Nyhavn just before sunset and enjoyed the colourful surroundings, the music and banter of the harbour while sipping cold beer and enjoying the company of good friends while soaking in the lively atmosphere of Nyhavn.
The brightly coloured buildings of Nyhavn
The place is full of life with restaurants, cafés and live music. The brightly coloured buildings and the harbour with boats and yachts are so iconic that this is most photographed place of Copenhagen and sitting here you actually can feel the vibe of ‘Copenhagen’- well some of it.
Nyhavn was constructed by King Christian V in the 17th century to connect Kongens Nytorv to the harbour. The canal was dug by Swedish prisoners of war and buzzed with sailors, writers, and ladies of pleasure. The northern side of Nyhavn is lined by brightly coloured 17th and 18th century townhouses – the famous Danish fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen lived here at No. 67, No. 20 and No 18. The southern side of Nyhavn is lined by luxurious mansions and Charlottenborg Palace at the corner of Kongens Nytorv. Nyhavn is the place from where one can take Copenhagen canal tours.
Christiansborg Palace: Located on the island of Slotsholmen (the Castle Island) in the middle of Copenhagen, Christiansborg Palace is the very place where Copenhagen was founded by bishop from the town of Roskilde named Absalon in the 12th century and has an 800 year-long history as Denmark’s centre of power. The castle built during the time of Absolan was extended and destroyed in fire several times throughout history before the present building of the Christiansborg Palace was completed in 1928.
Today the Danish parliament, the Supreme Court of Denmark and the office of the Danish Prime Minister as well as Queen all operate from the palace premises making it one of its kind in the world!
As parts of the palace is still used by the Royal family for various events it can only be visited when not in use. Guided tours are also available. The main attractions are the Royal Reception Rooms with the Great Hall and the Queen's tapestries, the Royal Stables, the Royal Kitchen, Christiansborg Palace Chapel and the Ruins under the palace.
View of Copenhagen old town from the top of Christiansborg Palace tower
Unfortunately, during our visit to Copenhagen, the palace was closed for a royal event. Therefore, the only place within the palace we were able to visit was the Palace tower. This free attraction is 106 meter in height and is the tallest tower in Copenhagen and offers a stunning bird’s-eye view of the old town of Copenhagen.
Inside Thovaldsens Museum
Thovaldsens Museum: Established in 1848, the Thovaldsens Museum is the oldest museum of Copenhagen that exhibits the lifetime work of the famous Danish sculptor artist – Bertel Thorvaldsen. Located just next to Christiansborg Palace, Thovaldsens Museum also exhibits many drawings, sketches and sculptures by Thorvaldsen and his personal collection of paintings and other artefacts from various places in Europe and Egypt. The sculptures mostly represent Roman gods and famous historical personalities. The overall architecture is also full of grandeur! Free audio guides are available.
Lunch at The Bridge Street Kitchen near Nyhavn: Bridge Street Kitchen market is one of the newest street markets which was opened in 2018 since the closure of the Paper island street food market. This small yet vibrant street food market is located stone’s throw from Nyhavn and offers a good range of local and international food. For more details on the Bridge Street Kitchen and other street food market of Copenhagen please refer to our blog on street food culture of Copenhagen here.
Freetown Christiania: The Freetown Christian is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in Copenhagen. Established in 1971 by a small group of Hippies who started living inside an abandoned military base, Christiania has now grown into a community of around 1000 members living within the boundaries of this neighbourhood. It has its own set of laws, flag and a unique way of life. This makes Freetown Christiania a country within a country and therefore falls outside the laws of Denmark. It almost feels like a big ongoing social experiment. You cannot miss the colourful, hippy vibe so prevalent everywhere.
Colourful graffiti of Christiania
The feeling of an independent state is so strong that at the entrance of the Christiania there is a banner with the writing ‘You are exiting the EU’. People living in Christiania lead the life by a set of principles like equality, fairness, no taxes, zero violence and peace. Somewhat controversial and smoking marijuana is part of the culture in Christiania, though against the law, and allegedly hash dealers and organised criminal groups control certain parts of the Freetown Christiania, specially the Pusher street which is also known as the green light district of Copenhagen. Though the Police have some kind of ‘tolerance’ to locals selling and consuming weed, as a tourist this may get you in trouble with the law.
Streets and shops of Christiania
While visiting Christiania people are expected to follow a set of rules which are written at the gate. Some of the significant rules include ‘No Running’ as according to the culture of Christiania running means running away symbolizes wrong-doing. Another rule is no photography – specially at Pusher Street. But we were not aware of this and took pictures in Christiania but were not stopped or had to deal with anything unpleasant from the locals. We did see the police come and patrol the place and it went quite uneventfully.
To some extent we felt that Christiania represents a very unique side of the Danish culture – the experimental nature and tolerance as well as appreciation for something that doesn’t fit into the normal framework of society.
Tivoli Garden: Denmark is home to the world’s first and second oldest amusements parks! Bakken being the first which opened in 1583 and Tivoli Garden’s which opened 260 years later in 1843. It was the brainchild of Georg Carstensen who was inspired by the parks and the gardens he had visited abroad. He was subsequently granted permission by the King Christian VIII to open Tivoli Gardens. Carstensen was only 31 at the time.
Nimb hotel of Tivoli Gardens
Among the first visitors to the park was also the famous Danish fairy-tale writer, Hans Christian Andersen, who was inspired to write the fairy tale the Nightingale after visiting Tivoli. Within 3 years of its opening season tickets were also introduced! The Danes never stop to amaze the world!
Carstensen who was the only director of Tivoli for five years was subsequently fired for breach of contract. He left Denmark, but upon his return created Alhambra in Frederiksberg, in competition with Tivoli but died of pneumonia before its opening at the age of 44.
The Tivoli Gardens was also not spared during the Nazi occupation of Denmark and suffered extensive damage and to be closed for restoration. Another interesting trivia is that Walt Disney visited Tivoli several times before opening Disneyland in 1955.
With its beautifully landscaped gardens and green spaces, quaint ponds with bridges, cafes and ice-cream shops, restaurants, historic structures and theatres, Tivoli is much more than just an amusement park. It hosts pantomimes, concerts, open air movies, dances, and more recently rock music concerts. It has a part vintage and part fairy-tale type feel and is magical in the evenings when hundreds of light add drama to this beautiful place, the restaurants start buzzing with people and you still hear the excited voices from the rides. No wonder it still attracts people from all ages, as it has beautifully evolved over the years adding Christmas, Halloween and other events on its calendar.
Colourful parade of Tivoli Gardens
During our visit (May 2018) we were greeted with an extremely colourful and vibrant parade celebrating Tivoli’s 175th anniversary! Always good to get a nice surprise!
Roskilde: There is much more to Roskilde than its rock music festivals! Roskilde is the oldest city in Denmark and is situated west of Copenhagen on the Danish island of Zealand. It was the capital of Denmark from 11th century until 1443. It is named after King Hroar (Ro) Hraerek Halfdansson of the 6th century and the sacred springs (kilde).
Pieces from an original Viking ship in Viking Ship Museum
Roskilde’s Viking Ship Museum:
The city also has a rich history that dates to the Vikings and it is now believed that the Viking age began in Denmark. The seafaring people were superb shipbuilders and sailors who undertook long and dangerous sea voyages covering Nothern Europe, North America and Middle East. Vikings were known more as raiders than traders but in order to be both they mastered the craftsmanship of boats and if you are fascinated by the story of Vikings, then Roskilde’s Viking Ship Museum is a must see! It displays a good collection of Viking relics from the 11th-century, including 1,000-year-old longboats and five original Viking vessels. The museum is made up of two main sections – the Viking Ship Hall which displays exhumed vessels and the Boatyard, where archaeological work takes place.
A key site in Roskilde, the Roskilde cathedral, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is admired for its unique architecture – fusion of Romanesque and the Gothic and is one of the earliest examples of Gothic architecture in Northern Europe and took 100 years to complete. It is a working cathedral and is also the royal mausoleum where almost 40 Danish kings and queens are buried including the Viking king Harold Gormsson ‘Bluetooth’ and his son, Sweyn Forkbeard conqueror of England- making it a record holder in terms of royal church burials. And if you haven’t guessed it, the ‘Bluetooth’ technology is named after King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson whose dead tooth, was a dark bluish grey color, and earned him the nickname ‘Bluetooth’. In 1996 Jim Kardach from Intel suggested Bluetooth as a temporary code name. Kardach was quoted as saying, “King Harald Bluetooth…was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.”
Amalienborg Palace: Another place to be considered for a visit in Roskilde is the Amalienborg Palace where the Danish Royal family still resides. People come to witness the changing of the Royal Guards at noon. The Royal Guards called Den Kongelige Livgarde march to the Amalienborg Palace from their barracks by Rosenborg Castle.
Statue of Frederick V outside of Amalienborg Palace
Amalienborg Palace is made up of four identical buildings -
Christian VII’s Palace or Moltke's Palace, used as guest residence
Frederik VIII’s Palace or Brockdorff’s Palace, home of the Crown Prince family
Christian IX’s Palace or Schack’s Palace, home of the Queen
Christian VIII’s Palace or Levetzau' Palace, used as guest palace for Prince Joachim and Princess Benedikte and houses the Amalienborg Museum.
Little Mermaid: This is perhaps one of the most iconic sculptures of Denmark – its celebrated name often standing in conflict with its small stature! Like the Manneken Pis in Brussels, it looks surprisingly small compared to its reputation, but each of these small yet priceless works of art have stories behind them!
The statue of Little Mermaid
The little mermaid was commissioned by Jacob Carlson of the famous Carlsberg brewery. He had a keen interest in art and culture and engaged in the restoration of various churches and buildings He also opened the art museum Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in 1897, one of the highly regarded Danish art museums. He was captivated by the ballet ‘The Little Mermaid’, based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy-tale featuring Danish ballerina and actress Ellen Price at the Royal Danish Theatre. He went on to commission sculptor Edvard Eriksen to create a statue of the Little Mermaid. Price modelled for the statue but refused to pose nude and therefore her likeness was only used for the head of the statue. But for the body Eriksen’s wife posed as a model. The bronze statue was unveiled on 23 August 1913- a gift to Copenhagen by Jacobsen and went on to symbolize the city itself. It is hard to believe that this little beauty has been vandalized time and again, losing her head, arm, and even being covered in paint. But thankfully she has been restored time and again and still sits on the rock waiting for her beloved prince…
A boat trip around Copenhagen canals: We took the classic one hour guided canal tour departing from Nyhavn. The tour is guided in both Danish and English, but other language options like German, Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish are also available. You can depart from Nyhavn or Gammel Strand. (the trip is free with Copenhagen Card, but only with departure from Gammel Strand).
View of Copenhagen from the canal boat trip
You get to see the Copenhagen Opera House, Amalienborg Palace, Christiansborg Palace, the Black Diamond Library, and the Little Mermaid. There is almost something magical about being on a boat and being told about all the interesting trivia while the wind blows on your face and warmth of the sun makes you happy inside. And it is good to know that Canal Tours Copenhagen have environmentally friendly boats.
Frederiksborg Castle: Set in picturesque surroundings on three small islets in the Castle Lake in Hillerod, the Frederiksborg Castle is a stunning example of marvellous architecture and landscaped gardens. It was built by King Christian IV in the early 17th century to showcase his power and status as a monarch. No wonder that this is the largest Renaissance complex in the Nordic region. Christian IV demolished the Hillerodsholm Manor to start the construction of the castle. While the castle was being built Christian IV resided in a huge, Italian-style pleasure palace on the other side of the lake. Once built, the Frederiksborg Castle was used as a royal residence for the next one hundred years.
Entrance to Frederiksborg Castle
In the early 18th century, the pleasure palace was demolished to make way for the spectacular Baroque garden. By the end of the 18th century, it stopped being a royal residence and instead became the home for the royal collection of portraits. However, in the mid-19th century King Frederik VII married and moved in with Countess Danner. Like most new couples they embarked on a mission to ‘renovate’ and make it more contemporary. They installed several fireplaces which were to later become the source of the devastating fire that burnt down large parts of the interiors leaving only the outer walls. The Chapel and the Audience Chamber remained unscathed. A nationwide campaign was launched to raise funds for the restoration of the castle. As the Royal Family decided that they would no longer use the Castle as a residence, J. C. Jacobsen of Carlsberg brewery proposed a museum of national history at the Castle. He offered to fund the reconstruction and cover the Museum’s further expenses. It was inaugurated in 1878 and has been an independent department of the Carlsberg Foundation.
The Castle Chapel of Frederiksborg Castle
The Castle Chapel which survived the fire retains the decorative beauty of King Christian IV’s era. The altarpiece is beautifully decorated in silver and gold. Kings of Denmark have continued to be anointed in the Castle Chapel. Here the Order of the Elephant was bestowed on President Nelson Mandela in 1996.
The garden of Frederiksborg Castle
The Castle Gardens feature the very symmetrical and perfectly manicured Baroque Gardens that also contain royal monograms of the four monarchs designed from hedges. In contract to the crisp and controlled Baroque Gardens is the more wild and English Romantic Gardens with small lakes.
Torvehallerne: This iconic ‘twin glass and steel halls’ food market was designed by architect Hans Peter Hagens on the cobblestones of Israels Plads, a large square in the city center. Hans Peter was aware of the drug dealing previously in the area and came up with the idea of a food market to inject some city life back into the plaza. He drew inspiration from Mezquita, the great mosque and cathedral in Córdoba, Spain.
One of the many stall of Torvehallerne
Torvehallerne is located in the heart of the city, just outside Norreport Station, It was opened in 2011 and has around 80 shops and restaurants that sell everything from fresh fish, meat, cheese, delis, fast food, chocolates, wine, beer, bakeries artisanal honey, Dead Sea salts, French olive oil and other delicious stuff!. You also find some of the best flowers, fruits and vegetables in the area between the two halls at Toverhallerne. It has a wonderful modern feel and is open all year round with seating inside as well as outside.
For more details on Torvehallerne and other street food market of Copenhagen please refer to our blog on street food culture of Copenhagen here.
Dragor Havn: A bus ride from the city brings you to this lovely charming fishing with old and beautifully maintained coloured thatched roof houses and boats and yachts on the harbour. The early settlers were invited by the King to grow vegetables for the court. Herring fishing also is an important part of the history of Dragor – dating back 600 years with origins in the Middle Ages. Both salted and smoked herring were very important food for the Catholic population.
The harbour of Dragor
It is amazing to take a leisurely walk along the narrow streets, eating ice cream or just sitting down with a cup of coffee to admire this quaint little village. Elisabeth K571 (WW2 ship) that transported 700 Jews safely to Sweden is docked here
The Marble Church: The Marble Church (officially called Frederik's Church) with its magnificent copper green dome stands tall in the beautiful area of Frederiksstaden along with the Amalienborg castle and The Opera. The iconic dome was inspired by St Peter's in Rome and is the largest church dome in Scandinavia.
Front view of the Marble Church
The Marble Church is story of halted progress as it took around 145 years from laying the foundation stone to its completion! The church was ordered by Frederik V in the 18th century and drawn up by architect Nicolai Eigtved who died 5 years later. He was succeeded by the French architect Nicholas-Henri Jardin who redesigned it to be much more elaborate and grander. Spirally costs and the death of the king brought the works to a halt. Later Jardin returned to France and was replaced by Danish architect Caspar Harsdorff (Jardin’s student). But he died soon after and the site remained in ruins for 70 years. In the 19th century the finance minister sold the site to Denmark’s wealthiest financier Tietgen and after another 15 years the church was finally opened to the public August 1894. Today the church is a very popular place for weddings and buzzes with excited couples on Fridays and Saturdays.
Stroget: In the early 60’s when human and automobile traffic started to swell up the narrow lanes and streets, the council decided to take action and established a car free pedestrian zone from the Town Hall Square to Kongens Nytorv (The Kings New Square) in the eastern part of the town called “Stroget” having a total length of almost 3.2 km thereby making it the longest and oldest pedestrian street in the world.
The view of Stroget from Cafe Norden
There are a wide variety of restaurants, outdoor cafes, gift shops, art galleries, theatres etc. As we got tired with the walking, we decided to sit and relax at Café Norden which is centrally located in the inner city and overlooks Storkespringvandet and Højbroplads making it an ideal place to enjoy a meal or a cup of coffee after a shopping expedition. It has plenty of seats on both the floors plus outside seating. Considering its location and nice interiors the food isn’t cheap but well worth the overall experience.
Street food at Reffen: Located in Refshaleoen, Reffen is ‘shipyard’ food market of Copenhagen which opened in 2018 after the closure of Paper island street-food market. Refshaleoen is Copenhagen’s industrial harbour area and home to old shipyards, warehouses and docks.
The street food market of Reffen
Located by the waterfront the path leading to Reffen goes through the old warehouse area filled with old shipping containers which for a moment makes you think if you are completely lost! However, you keep walking your way through the old shipping containers and Reffen magically appears near waterfront where the path ends. Spread over an area of 10,000 square metres, around 50 food stalls build from old shipping containers serve food from around the world- everything from Greek gyro, falafel wrap, classic burgers, pizzas, Jamaican jerk, Indian curries, Nepalese momos (dumplings) and Danish delicacy – roasted pork sandwich. At one side of the food market there is a covered seating area which can be a relief during the midday sun in summer.
For more details on Reffen and other street food market of Copenhagen please refer to our blog on street food culture of Copenhagen here.
The oldest confectionary of Denmark – Conditori La Glace
Conditori La Glace: Being the café lovers that we are, a trip to Copenhangen would have been incomplete without a visit to Conditori La Glace, Founded in 1870, it is the oldest and probably the best confectionary in Denmark and a tradition in itself, It is an experience with its beautiful rooms and mouth-watering bites! La Glace lived up to its expectations.
Return flight to London in the evening