COPENHAGEN, DENMARK (KØBENHAVN): Copenhagen is a consistently beautiful city everywhere you go. It seemed all the little things at every direction I looked were saying, “click me, click me”. Copenhagen is the largest city in Oresund region and the capital of the first and OLDEST KINGDOM of the world. The city is well-blended with fairy tale figures, statue of old kings, and interesting contemporary sculptures all over. You will see really old style buildings standing right beside ultra-modern brave and sexy architectures.
What make the city even more fun to visit are the friendly and helpful Danes. They speak very good English, as well as some German. The city is very spread out and therefore, be ready to walk a lot. Best thing is to focus on one area and spend a day or 2 just on that. The city has lots and lots and LOTS of places to explore and things to do, which can easily keep its guests busy for months.
TIME OF TRAVEL: Copenhagen was our 3rd stop during our road trip during end of July 2012. Our first stop was Hamburg, Germany, then Billund Legoland in Denmark. It was about 3 hour drive from Billund. Weather was great, around 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer in Copenhagen is usually very pleasant during day and may be a bit chilly during night, that’s why most of the hotels (if not all) here don’t have AC.
OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Radisson Blu in Copenhagen, which was about 15-20 minutes of walk from the town hall or Christiansborg Palace and about the same time to go to Nyhavn. The location is ok if you are willing to walk a lot. The hotel didn’t have free breakfast but did have free Wi-Fi and a paid parking garage (garage is free in July).
WHAT TO EAT & BUY IN COPENHAGEN: Cheese or fruit Danish in Denmark is definitely better than any other place. Also, we came to know that WORLD’S BEST restaurant NoMa (Nordic Mad, Mad means Food in Danish) is not too far from Nyhavn in Copenhagen. The ingredients used in this place are ONLY from Denmark or up north from the Nordic area…not from anywhere else in the world. The restaurant was awarded as the best restaurant in the world 3 years in a row and they get 15,000 requests per day to get reservation. You have to make reservation there about a year ago and if you are lucky you may get a table to eat there after a year.
For souvenirs, Danish sweaters, Viking items (like ships, hats), bear mugs, statue of Little Mermaid are always something memorable to take back from Copenhagen. Also, if you have kids, Legos are something original of Denmark to give them as gifts.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We had about 2 ½ days in Copenhagen. It’s not enough if you want to go to every castle of the town or go to every museum. There are so many things to do and places to see that you can spend weeks enjoying every little bit that city has to offer to its visitors. But we covered quite well within those couple days even with 2 kids.
1) RADHAUSPLADSEN & TOWN HALL: Radhauspladsen is a huge square that houses city’s Town Hall. Square has many old buildings lined up by the sides. It’s a great place to chill, do people watching and listen to live music played by local talents. There are couple statues here including a dragon attacking a bull and another one is 2 men on top of a pole looking for their way. The square has many fast food restaurants like KFC, Burger King, and McDonald’s along with many carts selling hot dogs. Frederiksbergsade from the square is a pedestrian zone packed with many fashion designer stores, restaurants, and souvenir stores.
Copenhagen’s Town Hall is a nice example of classical architecture. Unlike many other town halls, this impressive town hall allows public to roam around inside the building without any guided tours or fees. The main lobby is very large with high glass ceiling. Make sure to go upstairs to 2nd and 3rd floor to check out the hallways, beautiful designs on wall and stairs.
2) PALACES OF COPENHAGEN: There are about few palaces in Copenhagen; we visited 3 of them, excluding Charlottenburg and Frederiksberg palace.
a. CHRISTIANSBORG: This once used to be the official residence of Danish Royal Family. Presently, it is used as the Danish Parliament and Supreme Court. The palace is today situated at the site where Bishop Absalon built a castle in 1167. The present palace was finished in 1928. At 106 meters high, the tower of Christiansborg Palace is the highest in Copenhagen. During the following 900 years several castles and palaces have been replacing one another. Some of them were demolished and others burned down, but new buildings were always erected again symbolizing the power of the Danish Kingdom.
The Reception Hall consists of several important rooms of the castle, like the Throne Room, Great Hall, Dining Hall, Alexander Hall, and others. Each room is decorated with luxurious and elegant look. The beauty of the old furniture, tapestries, chandelier, art/paintings, decorative doors, lamps, vases, candle-holders, marble fire-place is beyond any expressions. These rooms are no less magnificent than the ones of Versailles Palace of France.
Ruins from previous palaces, about 900 years old, are preserved in one area of this palace. This is a large section underneath one of the present buildings of castle. It briefly tells you the timeline of the early castles built on this spot. You can discover the dark passages and cellars, and read about the story of Copenhagen’s founding and the site’s development from the 12th century. These ruins are a witness to the history of the palace as the center of political events and power struggles for more than 900 years.
The Royal Stables at Christiansborg Palace are the home of the horses and carriages that are used by the Royal Family for official events and festive occasions. When the stables were built in 1745, 250 horses stood among the marble pillars. Today the stables have 14 – 16 horses.
The whole tour of the castle probably took us about couple hours, may be 2 – 2 ½ hours. The Royal Stable, ruins from early Copenhagen, and Reception Hall are all self-guided. The Danish Parliament can only be accessed by guided tour. The castle is open from 10 – 5 pm (Royal Stable is open till 4 pm) and charges 110 DKK per adults (kids under 7 are free). We had no problem going around the castle with a stroller.
b. AMELIABORG: The palace is very beautifully situated by a big canal. The 4 buildings of this whole palace were built somewhere in the 18th century. The palace is not open to publics since, this is the OFFICIAL RESIDENCE of Danish Royal Family. There are some museums that are accessible by the tourists. You can see uniformed Royal Guards walking in front of each buildings and see change of Guards every day at noon and 2 pm.
c. ROSENBORG PALACE: This is another beautiful palace of Danish Royal Family. This Dutch Renaissance style castle was built and designed by King Christian IV in 1606 – 1634 as a summer castle. The next three generations of kings lived here, until King Frederik IV erected Frederiksberg Castle in 1710 when it became a sort of storehouse. The royal collections of the kings, who had lived there, Christian IV to Frederic IV, were well-preserved and eventually were opened to the public in 1838. It thus became the FIRST MUSEUM of contemporary culture in Europe.
The rooms of this castle are small but very sophisticatedly adorned with very old furniture (beautiful hand-made wardrobes, chairs, and tables), decorative mirrors, large paintings, dazzling chandeliers, high ceilings, pretty floors, hand-weaved tapestries, Victorian porcelain, and many more unique items. Basement and Treasury display objects made of ivory and amber, arms and barrels of Rosenborg-wine, Christian III’s Sword of State from 1551, and crown of few kings and queens of Denmark from 1500s, crown jewels, scepter, orb, the Order of the Elephant, and the Order of the Danish flag.
The palace is open from 10am – 5pm. The ticket to the Royal Treasury and to the castle is 80 DKK per adult and free for kids below 17. You have to pay another 20 DKK if you want to take pictures inside the palace. The combine ticket for Ameliaborg Palace and Rosenborg Palace is 110 DKK. We had to put away our purses and baggage in a locker. The palace is very close to The Round Tower and Church of Our Lady. It took us about 2-3 hours to visit all the rooms and treasury, and then spend some time in the garden.
3) RUNDETAARN (ROUND TOWER): One of the best-known and most popular structures in Denmark, the Round Tower has been a distinctive feature of Copenhagen skyline since 1642. At the top of the tower you’ll find Europe’s oldest functioning observatory tower, which was originally built for the university by Christian IV. The tower rises 114 feet (34.8 meters) above street level and you can spot most of the city’s famous buildings from here. The path to the viewing platform is via the unique spiral walkway, which is 686 feet (209 meters) long and corkscrews 7 ½ times around the hollow core of the tower. As you are ascending the tower first you will see Trinititus Kirken (Trinity Church) that was built for the students but still an active place for the worshippers. Then at halfway up the Round Tower is the 900 sq. m. stunningly beautiful Library Hall with exhibitions, shops and café. This once housed the whole university’s book collection (about 10,000 books), but when the collection became too large, the library closed in 1861. After that the library moved with the main building of University of Copenhagen, opposite of Church of Our Lady (on Fiolstræde). Now the Library Room in Round Tower hosts changing exhibitions and other cultural events all year round.
Round Tower is within walking distance from Town Hall, may be 10-15 minutes. It is open from 10am – 8pm every day. Ticket to enter is 25 Danish kroner for adults, 5 kroner for 5 – 15 years, and free for kids below 5.
4) CHURCHES OF COPENHAGEN:
a. MARBLE CHURCH: Also known as Frederiks Kirke, has one of the largest dome, with a span of 31 meters, in northern Europe. Exterior of the church is beautifully adorned with 4 large pillars and many statues. Inside is small and simply with not overly decorated altar. But the fascinating part of it is that the walls and the pillars are made with marble.
The dome of Marble Church can be climbed up to the top deck only by a guided tour. There are only 2 tours available every day, at 1 pm & at 3 pm. Ticket is 25 Danish kroner for adults, 10 kroner for kids 5 – 15, and free for kids below 5. Visitors have to climb 250 stairs to get a breathtaking view over the city. You can see almost all the main attractions of Copenhagen including towers of all the churches and Town Hall, Ameliaborg Palace right in front, canals, Oresund Bridge, and finally, Sweden on the other side of the bridge.
b. CHURCH OF OUR LADY (VOR FRUE KIRKE): Also known as Copenhagen’s Cathedral, this national cathedral is situated in Vor Frue Plads and next to the main building of the University of Copenhagen. This church has been built four times on the same place since 1209. The cathedral had been associated with the Royal Family for a long time where their ceremonial events such as crowning and weddings took place. The tower is 60 meters high and houses 4 church bells weighing over 4 tons and are the largest bell in Denmark. The smallest bell in the tower is the oldest bell in the country, dating from 1490. The façade of this cathedral is built is neoclassical style with 4 columns supporting the prestigious pediment from mid-19th century. There are 2 statues of Moses and King David on the 2 sides of these columns.
Inside the cathedral is simple but very elegantly adorned with everything white…pillars, walls, ceilings, dome, and sculptures of 12 apostles of Jesus on both sides. The statue of Christ and the beautiful baptismal font in a form of an angel holding a large scallop shell at the altar are made with Italian marble.
c. CHURCH OF OUR SAVIOR: The exterior of this church has to be the one of the most uniquely designed ones in Copenhagen (if not the most beautiful) with beautiful spiral tower that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. The church is designed in Dutch Baroque style. Visitors can climb its 83 meters high tower. There are 400 stairs to go all the way to the top. But that is too much for you, climb 250 steps to the platform and you will still get a wonderful 360 degree view over the city.
This is located in Island of Christianshavn. The church is open from 10am – 3.30pm every day, and the tower is open Mon – Sat: 10am – 7pm and Sun & Holidays: 10:30am – 7pm. The fee to climb the tower is 35 DKK for adults and 10 DKK for kids.
5) CHURCHILL PARK, LITTLE MERMAID & ST. ALBAN’S ANGELICAN CHURCH: Churchill Park is one of the loveliest parks in the city. It is right by the Langelinie water front and a nice place to walk around its small gardens or to have picnic. One of the largest monuments in Copenhagen, Gefion Fountain, is located in one side of this park. The sculpture was built in 1864 – 1937 that features a group of strong oxen’s pulling the plough of legendary Norse goddess Gefion. Then there is another statue “Angel of Liberty” somewhere not-so-visible area by the tourists.
But the most famous and the most photographed statues in Copenhagen is a fairy tale figure “The Little Mermaid” in Churchill Park by Langelinie waterfront. This is the Mannekin-Pis of Brussels, or Eiffel Tower of Paris or Colosseum of Rome. You can’t return home from Copenhagen without seeing this mermaid sitting on a big stone and looking out over the water. She has been sitting there since August of 1913 being the icon of Copenhagen.
St. Alban’s Church, or as the locals calls it the English Church, is located in Churchill Park very close to Citadel and right beside Gefion Fountain. This is a 125 years old church with Victorian style stained-glass windows. Although we couldn’t go inside (think it closes around 4 pm), the outer look is very impressively decorated in traditional English style with Gothic Revival look, also known as Lancet Gothic.
6) NYHAVEN & BOAT TOUR: This has to be the most colorful and the liveliest place of Copenhagen (and my most favorite place). You will see the buildings by the canal painted with all the colors of rainbow…such a wonderful way to sooth your eyes with. The streets on both sides of the canal are teemed with cafes and pedestrians. Enjoy the crowd, restaurants, canals, boats, sunset, and everything else about it. This is absolutely the hottest spot for young and adults, locals and tourists. Look for a blue building in between a yellow and a maroon building, written 1681…this is the oldest building in Nyhavn.
This is also the place where you can get boat tours around the canals. The tour takes you to many important sites, like Black Diamond (Part of Royal Library), Ameliaborg Palace, Christiansborg Palace, Stock Exchange buildings, Little Mermaid, Royal Theatre, and many other places which I can’t remember right now J. Here are 2 options of boat tours offered by 2 separate services, we took the 1st one:
7) CITADEL (KASTELLET): This is one of North Europe’s finest and best preserved fortifications. Presently the fortification is used as a modern military establishment and the buildings are mainly used for paper works. This is a nice and quiet place to take a little stroll, a good place to go jogging too. It is very close to Churchill Park, St. Absalon’s Angelical Church, and Little Mermaid. There is a church, a monument for all the Danes that says “One Moment, One Place, One Person” in Danish, and an eternal flame inside the territory of this citadel.
8) TRIP TO LEGOLAND, BILLUND: Billund is about 2 ½ hour drive from Copenhagen and is the ultimate place of Legos. If you haven’t been in LEGOLAND before, this is an awesome place to take your kids to. We spent a whole day there, but you can easily spend couple days exploring all the things made of Legos and going on all the cool rides.
9) TRIP TO MALMO, SWEDEN: Malmo is beautiful city of Sweden and only less than an hour drive from Copenhagen. It makes a perfect day trip. Just a FYI, you have to cross Oresund Bridge to go to Malmo from Copenhagen, where you have to pay about $50 or 310 DKK when crossing the bridge via private car. Please check out my Malmo page to see all the things you can do here.
10) TRIP TO LUND, SWEDEN: Lund is another small Swedish town, only 20 – 25 minute drive from Malmo. This is a typical university town and out of all the chaos of its nearby city Malmo. There are not too many things to see or do here, other than just enjoying the beautiful city. This is another great getaway while in Copenhagen or Malmo.