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Copenhagen

Copenhagen is Denmark’s largest city, with a population of around 1.2 million. Founded in 1167 by Bishop Absalon, who built a fortress on the island of Slotsholmen, the town grew quickly, prospering from trade in the Baltic. In 1461, it was declared the capital of Denmark. During the reign of Christian IV (1588–1648), the city was endowed with many fine Renaissance buildings, some of which still stand today, including the splendid Rosenborg Slot and Børsen. As a change from sightseeing, visitors can head for the lively, cosmopolitan shopping area of Strøget, Europe’s longest pedestrian street, or simply relax in one of the many restaurants and cafés of bustling Nyhavn, with its charming, gabled townhouses.

POINTS OF INTEREST

TIVOLI GARDENS

One of Copenhagen’s most famous tourist attractions, the Tivoli Gardens opened in 1843. This highly popular entertainment park combines all the fun of fairground rides with fountains and fireworks, concerts and ballets, top-quality restaurants, and fast-food outlets. Based on the 18th-century ornamental gardens popular in Europe at the time, Tivoli features Chinese-style pagodas and Moorish pavilions, as well as modern additions, such as the Hanging Gardens. Among the many fairground rides are a traditional roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, a “freefall” tower, and the 80 m (262 ft) Star Flyer, which provides views over Copenhagen. There are also amusement arcades, shooting galleries, and children’s rides. The gardens are at their most enthralling after dusk when thousands of tiny lights illuminate the park. At night, open-air theaters host all forms of entertainment, from big bands to Friday night rock concerts, and during the summer season, performances of the unique Danish pantomime. A good time to visit Tivoli is between late November and Christmas when the gardens are transformed into a bustling Christmas fair. You can sample traditional Danish seasonal fare, buy many specialty Christmas gifts, try the toboggan run, and generally get acquainted with Danish Christmas traditions.

NY CARLSBERG GLYPTOTEK

Copenhagen’s most elegant art gallery was opened in 1897 by Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of the Carlsberg Brewery, to give more people the chance to see classical art. Housed in a magnificent Neoclassical building, the Glyptotek is best known for its exquisite antiquities, in particular its collections of Etruscan and Roman art. The main building’s collections are completed with Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and French sculpture and works from the “Golden Age” of Danish painting (1800–1850). A modern wing, designed by acclaimed Danish architect Henning Larsen, contains Impressionist paintings by Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Gauguin, and works by David and Bonnard.

RÅDHUSET

At the edge of the Indre By (city center), in the middle of a wide-open square, is the Baroque style Rådhuset or City Hall, built in the early 1900s. A statue of Copenhagen’s 11th-century founder, Bishop Absalon, sits above the entrance. Climb the 300-step staircase to the top of the bell tower for a view of the city. On the way, check out the First World Clock, a super-accurate timepiece with a 570,000-year calendar designed by Jens Olsen. It took 27 years to design and was completed in 1955.

NATIONAL MUSEUM

Like so many of Denmark’s museums, the National Museum contains beautifully presented exhibits. The extensive ethnographic and antiquities collections detail Danish history from prehistoric to modern times and include some fascinating exhibits of Viking life. Many of the items on display come from the Danish isles, such as items of jewelry, bones, and even several bodies found preserved in peat bogs, as well as imposing rune stones with inscriptions dating from around AD 1000. There is also a children’s museum and a host of educational activities, all housed in the restored 18th-century royal residence. Close by, and part of the museum is a Danish home with authentic interiors from the 1890s, complete with decorated panels and elaborately carved furniture.

CHRISTIANSBORG PALACE

Situated on the island of Slotsholmen, the Christiansborg Palace has been the seat of the Danish Parliament since 1918 and also houses the Royal Reception Rooms, the Queen’s Library, the Supreme Court, and the Prime Minister’s Office. Built on the site of a fortress constructed in 1167 by Copenhagen’s founder, Bishop Absalon, the palace has twice burnt down and been rebuilt, then altered and extended. Much of this work was carried out during the 18th century under Christian VI, whose elaborate visions were realized both in the architecture and in the lavish interiors. The current palace dates mostly from the early 20th century, and it is possible to visit the Royal Reception Rooms, the Harness Room, the Stables and Coach House, and some ruins from the original fortress. Above the riding stables is the Royal Court Theater, built by Christian VI in 1767. Now a museum, much of it has been restored to its original 18th-century appearance. Exhibits illustrate the history of Danish theater up to the present day. The auditorium, with its plush, red furnishings, and small, gold side boxes, houses a wealth of memorabilia – including costumes, old theater programs, wigs, and even old make-up boxes and a reconstructed dressing room. The whole theater is dominated, however, by the grand royal box, built for King Frederik VII in 1852. Situated at the back of the auditorium, it seems almost to upstage the stage itself. Unusually, the king’s wife, the former ballet dancer Louise Rasmussen, had a private box to the right of the royal box, where she sat if she was alone. Along the north side of the palace, the Thorvaldsen’s Museum houses the work of the country’s most celebrated sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770–1844). After completing his education in Denmark, Thorvaldsen lived for nearly 40 years in Rome, where he gained a worldwide reputation. As well as his own impressive Neoclassical sculptures, the museum houses his collection of antiquities and 19th-century Danish art. There is also a detailed account of his life.

BØRSEN

Built in 1619–40 by King Christian IV, Denmark’s old stock exchange is an architectural masterpiece. The building combines tiny windows, steep roofs, and decorative gables, and is topped by a spire representing four intertwined dragon’s tails. Originally a marketplace, it became a commodities and stock exchange in the 19th century. Today, the building is used as offices, since the modern stock exchange has long since moved to Strøget. It is not open to the public.

STRØGET

Running between Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) and Kongens Nytorv (King’s New Square), Strøget (pronounced “Stroll”) is Europe’s longest pedestrian street. Located at the center of a large traffic-free zone in the heart of the city, Strøget consists of five streets – Frederiksberggade, Nygade, Vimmelskaftet, Amagertorv, and Østergade. The area is home to several exclusive stores, including top international designers Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Other stores sell the best in Danish porcelain, modern design, glass, and furnishings – all areas in which Denmark has a world-class reputation. The best selection can be found in the Royal Copenhagen shopping mall, facing Amagertorv, which includes Royal Copenhagen, Georg Jensen, and Illums Bolighus. There are also many bustling cafés and restaurants, street performers, and musicians, making it a lively place for walking or for relaxing with a coffee. The area is extremely popular with locals and visitors, particularly on a Saturday, but it is still possible to enjoy the atmosphere and admire the many surviving 18th-century buildings.

NYHAVN

A narrow canal flanked by a wide promenade, Nyhavn (New Harbor) was originally built 300 years ago to attract trade. It leads up to Kongens Nytorv (King’s New Square). For much of its history, the district was far from inviting, being mainly frequented by sailors, but after the 1970s, the area was transformed. The harbor is lined on either side with brightly painted townhouses, a number of which date from the 18th century. Author Hans Christian Andersen lived in three of them (numbers 18, 20, and 67). Shops, restaurants, and bars have replaced all but one of the tattoo parlors that used to be here. The attractive buildings, as well as the dozens of old wooden sailing ships moored on the water, make Nyhavn a lively and picturesque place to spend an hour or two enjoying a meal or a beer, at least in the summer months. It is also a good starting point for seeing the city, as some boat tours of the canals leave from here.

AMALIENBORG

The Amalienborg (Amalia’s Castle) consists of four identical Rococo buildings arranged symmetrically around a large cobbled square with an imposing equestrian statue of Frederik V in the middle. Changing of the guard takes place every day at noon outside the palace of the present queen, Margrethe II. The buildings have housed the Danish royal family since 1874. Only one of them, Christian VIII’s Palace, is currently open to the public. It houses the Amalienborg museum – the museum of the Danish monarchy. It is home to part of the Royal Collection, the bulk of which is housed at Rosenborg Slot, and some of the official and private rooms are open to the public. The highlights are the study of King Christian IX (1818–1906) and the drawing-room of his wife, Queen Louise, which are filled with family presents, photographs, and the occasional Fabergé treasure. There are two attractive but contrasting views from the square. On the harborside is Amaliehaven (Amalia’s Garden), dating from 1983 and with a fountain in its center; in the opposite direction is Marmorkirken, a white marble church officially known as Frederikskirken, which has one of Europe’s largest domes, inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome. Its construction was begun in 1749 with expensive Norwegian marble but was not completed until 150 years later (with less expensive Danish limestone) owing to the huge costs incurred. Inside, the church is decorated with many frescoes and statues.

LITTLE MERMAID

The subject of many Danish postcards, the Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue) has become the emblem of Copenhagen and is much visited by tourists. Sitting on a stone by the promenade at Langelinie, and looking out over the Øresund, she is difficult to spot from the road and smaller than her pictures would have you believe. Sculpted by Edvard Erichsen and first unveiled in 1913, this bronze statue was inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen character, who left the sea after falling in love with a prince. The mermaid has suffered over the years at the hands of mischievous pranksters, even losing her head and an arm. Happily, she is currently in possession of all her “parts.”

DANISH JEWISH MUSEUM

The Danish Jewish Museum, located on the Slotsholmen museum island, was designed by Daniel Libeskind, who was also the architect for the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Little remains of the original 17th-century Royal Boat House. Libeskind’s ultra-modern architecture leads visitors down maze-like corridors that form the Hebrew letters of the word Mitzvah, meaning “good deed”. Included here are personal stories from the lives of Jews in Denmark spanning 400 years, including those who were smuggled over to Sweden from Denmark during World War II.

STATENS MUSEUM FOR KUNST

The extensive Statens Museum for Kunst (State Art Museum) holds Danish and European art from the 14th century to the present. Among its many artworks are paintings by Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, El Greco, Picasso, and Matisse. Danish artists are particularly well represented in the new modern art wing. There is also a vast collection of prints and drawings.

ROSENBORG SLOT

Originally built by Christian IV as a summer residence in 1606–7, the Rosenborg Slot was inspired by the Renaissance architecture of the Netherlands. The “builder king” continued to add to it over the next 30 years until the castle looked much as it does today – a playful version of a fortress. The interiors are particularly well preserved and its sumptuous chambers, halls, and ballrooms are full of objects including amber chandeliers, lifesize silver lions, tapestries, thrones, portraits, and gilded chairs. Two of the 24 rooms open to the public are stacked from floor to ceiling with porcelain and glass. The Porcelain Cabinet includes examples from the famous Flora Danica dinner service made for 100 guests, created by the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain factory between 1790 and 1803. The colorful Glass Cabinet houses nearly 1,000 examples of old Venetian glass as well as glass from the Netherlands, Bohemia, England, and most of the German glassworks.

CHRISTIANIA

Originally set up in 1971 on the site of a former military barracks, this “free town” is an enclave of an alternative lifestyle: colorful, anarchic, and self-governing. However, since 2004, there has been no open selling of drugs due to government pressure. Attractions include shops (one being the famous Christiania Bikes), a gallery, cafés, a restaurant, and a concert Modern art wing of the Statens Museum for Kunst venue, as well as a lake.