History, Facts and Places to visit in Copenhagen, Denmark
Brief History of Copenhagen
Evidence suggests Copenhagen existed as a settlement more than 6,000 years ago, the first written record dating back to 1043 AC. From 1000-1300 Copenhagen was known as a Viking region and an important outpost where Vikings set sail on voyages throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Copenhagen was commonly referred to as “Havn” meaning harbour. Over the next two centuries, Copenhagen transformed from a small fishing village into a bustling town. In 1343 King Valdemar declared Copenhagen the capital of Denmark. The history of Copenhagen’s monarchy is quite substantive, as the current monarch Queen Margrethe II can trace her ancestry back to the age of the Vikings. This makes Denmark the world’s oldest kingdom.
Interesting History Facts about Copenhagen
- In 1416 Copenhagen became the capital of Denmark, Norway and Sweden – the three countries which formed the Kalmar Union
- Copenhagen has burned down 3 times over an 80 year period: Between 1728 and 1807 Copenhagen went up in flames 3 times, destroying the majority of Copenhagen’s historical buildings, architecture and history. Although Copenhagen is the well-designed city it is today because it went up in flames. For example, post Copenhagen’s 1728 fire, one of the largest pedestrian shopping streets – Strøget, was constructed. One of Copenhagen’s main city squares – Kultorvet was also a product of post fire reconstruction. Copenhagen’s 1795 fire also coincided with the Danish Golden Age and emergence of neo-classical architecture – such as Gammeltorv square.
- The University of Copenhagen was founded in 1479. It is the oldest university and research institution in Denmark.
- Hans Christian Andersen – H.C. Andersen is a famous Danish Author known for his fairytales. H.C. Andersen has written over 168 fairy tales, some of the most popular including, “The Little Mermaid” and “The Princess and the Pea”.
- Tivoli Amusement Park built in 1843 and served as the inspiration for Disneyland!
Interesting Copenhagen Facts – Present
- Copenhagen is often considered one of the most bike friendly cities in the world. During rush hour in Copenhagen, bike lanes are as crowded as traffic lanes.
- Copenhagen is one of the most eco-friendly cities in the world. The city has plans to be carbon neutral by 2025.
- The water in Copenhagen harbour is so clean you can swim in it!
- Copenhagen is home to one of the best restaurants in the world – Noma. Anthony Bourdain visited Noma in his TV series “Parts Unknown”. Head chef Reneé Redzep founded Noma while inspiring locally sourced and seasonal nordic cuisine. My friend Adrianna and I saw the outside of Noma at the very least. You need to make a reservation well in advance … and of course save up a pretty penny!
- This might seem strange but cemeteries often double as park spaces. I have had lunch in Assistens cemetery. No, its not as creepy as it sounds.
Places to Visit
This is Copenhagen’s downtown area and city centre. Here you will find cool shops, boutiques, cafés and colourful buildings. Strøget is Copenhagen’s longest pedestrian only shopping street, and this leads all the way down to Kongens Nytorv and Nyhavn.
This is the home of the Danish Royal family! I did not tour the inside of the palace, but I would recommend walking around the grounds and seeing the changing of the Royal Guard. This happens at noon daily.
Also known as “The Marble Church” and for its rococo architecture, Frederik’s Church’s copper dome may be easily spotted west of Amaelianborg palace.
The University of Copenhagen – City Campus Building
If you are in downtown Copenhagen it doesn’t hurt to stop by UCPH’s city campus building. Here’s an interesting fact – the University of Copenhagen’s city campus building was actually the old municipal hospital of Copenhagen.
The Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK) – National Art Gallery of Denmark
There are many museums around Copenhagen but I was particularly fond of this one. I actually decided to buy an annual SMK student pass because it is just down the street from the University of Copenhagen’s city campus, where I had my classes. This was a super cool spot for a lunch break!
Nyhavn, meaning “New Harbour” is the most popular destination for some of the most iconic photos of Copenhagen. This harbour area is historically known as the city’s red light district. During the day its a great place to hang out and have a drink or lunch by the canal. As a tourist, you may even take a canal boat tour leaving from Nyhavn to explore Copenhagen’s harbour area. Adrianna and I took a boat tour when she came to visit in June 2019. I would recommend it!
This was one of my favourite areas to walk through… especially when the sun was out! Christianhavn is lined with canals, beautiful houseboats and cafés.
Climb the Tower at “The Church of Our Saviour”
I climbed this tower on my last full day in Copenhagen before heading home and I must say, it was awesome! The staircases are narrow, there are certainly a lot of stairs (around 400 steps)… but the views are incredible! The spire of this church opened in 1752, and it is one of the most famous churches in Denmark.
Copenhagen’s circle bridge spans the southern area of Christianshavn canal. It is a very uniquely designed architectural landmark in Copenhagen.
Freetown Christiana is an anarchist community located within the Christianshavn area. Tucked away behind canopies of trees and greenery, Christiana is known for being home to hippies, outcasts and a destination for circulation of drugs such as marijuana without police interference. I would recommend visiting Christiana because it is an extremely unique experience. A tip: watch out for where you take photos… you don’t want to rub anyone the wrong way.
The Copenhagen lakes are three rectangular lakes west of the city centre. Here you will find many people strolling, running and cycling. On a sunny and warm day, its nice to have a picnic by the Lakes. Adrianna and I did this when she came to visit!
Kastellet – “The Citadel”
This is one of the most well preserved fortresses in Northern Europe. It’s distinct and sharp pentagon shape makes it easy to spot on a map. Construction of the fortress began in the 17th century under the reign of Christian IV.
The Little Mermaid Statue
It is iconic, and the statue is inspired by H.C. Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” fairytale. Stop by while walking through Kastellet, or you may be able to see the statue while taking a boat tour of the harbour area. The statue is usually busy with tourists, but I was actually lucky enough to get a clear photo.
This neighbourhood is north of Copenhagen city centre. It’s known for being trendy and having cool cafés. I would highly recommend walking down (or cycling down) nørrebrogade to get a sense of this area. While I was on exchange in Copenhagen I was lucky enough to live a two minute bike ride away from this main stretch.
While in Nørrebro you should stop by Superkilen park. Check out my previous blog post about Superkilen to find out more!
Located in Nørrebro, this cemetery is where notable Danish individuals are buried such as H.C. Andersen. It also doubles as a large and beautiful greenspace in the Nørrebro district.
Islands Brygge Harbour Baths
If you are visiting Copenhagen during the summer months (which would be ideal, of course) visit the Islands Brygge Harbour Baths for a swim. It is refreshing and a lot of fun. Then you can go home and tell everyone you went swimming in the harbour… or the North Sea technically.
There are a few things missing from this list. Where do you eat and drink in Copenhagen? My next post will feature some of my favourite food stops and cafés!
Check out Adrianna’s visit to Copenhagen here!