As Copenhagen begins its countdown to the magical, musical extravaganza that is Eurovision this weekend, I take a look at the Danish capital and its must-see sights on any short break itinerary to the city.
As a capital city, Copenhagen enjoys more than your average number of claims to fames. It’s a city with an envied reputation across the globe for its gastronomy, from Michelin-starred fine-dining establishments to the more modest yet perennial local favourite, the simple hotdog. Copenhagen also prides itself on its green credentials with expansive verdant spaces and pedestrianized areas giving the city a feeling of calm, clean serenity. Whilst being renowned for standing at the forefront of cutting-edge design, Copenhagen also exudes a tranquil air of traditionalism, particularly amongst the pretty harbourside buildings of Nyhavn and Gammel Strand. And, Eurovision aside, Copenhagen is currently enjoying somewhat of a revival in its cool status thanks to its status as the backdrop to many a Nordic crime thriller including The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge.
So where to go? What to see? Rather than awarding douze points, here’s my top highlights for the Danish capital…
The quintessential picture-postcard backdrop to a million photographs of Copenhagen, Nyhavn (meaning New Harbour) retains a refreshingly authentic maritime character, dating back to the 18th century when the neighbourhood and canal in particular was developed to increase business to the city centre. Unsurprisingly a popular haunt for sailors, Nyhavn also attracted a wealth of writers including Hans Christian Andersen who lived for most of his life in the area (in particular at numbers 18, 20 and 67). Today Nyhavn boasts restaurants, bars, antique stores and boutiques, perfect for a harbourside meander or sitting at a quayside café, beer or coffee in hand.
The Little Mermaid
Symbol of Copenhagen and yet surprisingly small in stature, the bronze statue of The Little Mermaid pays homage to Hans Christian Andersen’s legendary heroine of the sea. Situated down by the harbour at Langelinje Pier, the story goes that sailors of yesteryear were traditionally drawn to the harbourside by the sound of the mermaids’ mellifluous and hypnotic tones. Like the Mannekin-Pis in Brussels, it may be rather miniscule for such a renowned city landmark, yet it remains an ever-popular crowd puller.
Home to royalty since 1784, Amalienborg Palace remains to this day the official winter palace to the Queen of Denmark. Comprising four identical rococo buildings, each housing a different generation of the Danish monarchy, the palace surrounds a central courtyard in which a daily changing of the guard takes place when the family is in residence. You’ll also find here a stunning equestrian statue of King Frederik V. Across from the royal residences, occupying the Christian VIII palace is the Amalianborg Museum, containing a vast collection of royal treasures dating back to the mid-1800s in addition to a number of private chambers of former monarchs.
Set in the heart of the city, Tivoli is perhaps Copenhagen’s most famous and popular attraction and an absolute must if you’re visiting the Danish capital with children in tow. This is an amusement park and so much more, consisting of thrilling rollercoasters (there are 256 rides in all), arcades, open-air stages, theatres and restaurants galore, all set amidst beautiful floral, lakeside gardens. Tivoli takes on a particularly magical air as evening falls, illuminated by fireworks and fairy lights as theatrical performances and live concerts bring the gardens to life. You’ll also find the city’s Christmas market here in December.
Carlsberg Museum and Visitors Centre
Given the success of its memorable marketing campaign, it’s fair to say that many a visitor to Copenhagen will want to visit the home of “probably the best lager in the world”. Situated next to the famous Carlsberg Brewery, the Carlsberg Visitor Centre takes you on a journey through the history of and processes involved in the art of beer brewing with, of course, a chance to sample arguably Denmark’s most famous export at the end of the visit in the centre’s in-house bar.
Northern Europe’s largest aquarium, the Blue Planet opened in 2013 amidst much fanfare, not least for its stunning architectural design. Constructed in the shape of a whirlpool and comprising a series of curved wings designed to mimic the shapes generated by swirling water, the Blue Planet’s façade is clad in shimmering aluminium shingles, giving the appearance of fish scales. Another great attraction for kids, the Blue Planet contains some seven million litres of water spread amidst 53 aquariums and displays including the Ocean Tank containing hammerhead sharks, moray eels and rays, the Coral Reef and Amazonas, home to piranhas and anacondas as well as butterflies and birds.
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
Occupying a prime position next to Tivoli in a neoclassical building donated to the city by the heir to the Carlsberg Brewery (hence the name), the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is one of Copenhagen’s most important museums. Home to over 10,000 works of art, you’ll find works by Pissarro, Degas, Monet, Sisley, Rodin, and Gauguin, not to mention an extensive collection of Egyptian and Greek artefacts, Roman portraits and the best collection of Etruscan art outside Italy.