First-timers guide to Copenhagen – Top 10 Historical Sights

 Denmark is a peculiar but very interesting country. Back in 2007 I made the decision to start my university degree there and it made me stay for almost 4 years. During all that time, studying on the peninsula of Jutland, I did not have a chance to visit the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen. I admit I am quite ashamed of that now but the truth is, the transportation in Denmark, even within its borders, is very expensive. Together with everything else.

Visiting now, almost 10 years after, brought back memories. Denmark is beautiful and way ahead of the curve in many ways. With its alienated location surrounded by the North Sea, this country has always been self sufficient. Danes have developed a great sense of creativity and innovative thinking, what is visible on their substantial contribution to the field of alternative energy, technology, as well as construction and architecture. The sleek innovative design and beautiful architecture have followed me through out the whole trip in Copenhagen.

Design by the lake

My journey started on an early Saturday morning. We boarded a plane in Berlin and within brief 50min we were already landing in Copenhagen airport. It is a little crazy that it becomes cheaper to fly into Copenhagen from another country than taking the intercity train from the Danish peninsula to the capital city.

The breathtaking design and architecture already shocked me at the Airport itself. Although its layout may not be the clearest to get around, at least you feel like being in a posh shopping mall with numerous chic stores and cute cafes. After finding my way out the airport shopping area, I got my 24-hour city pass (costs 80 DDK which is approximately 10,50 EUR) and hopped on a metro that took me directly to the city centre in 15min. I really think that this is one of the closest and better connected airport to the city centre I have ever been to!

Although I did not sleep much, I was ready to start exploring the city to its fullest!

Exploring the city for a weekend

The best way to get around Copenhagen is on a bike!

The city has created elevated bike path all over, which sometimes takes you to very beautiful, random spots! There are many bike rentals as well as bike city tours which you can book ahead of time. We didn’t test any as we were lucky enough to have our host sharing his city bike membership with us. Who would have thought that the city bikes are each equipped with an electric motor and a tablet! Check them out:

electric bikes CopenhagenBiking in Copenhagen

The top 10 historical sites in Copenhagen

The Star Fortress of Copenhagen

Our very first destination was Kastellet, a beautiful fortress by the harbour in the shape of a star. The outer grassy ramparts hide picturesque cobblestone alleys and colourful buildings dating back to the 16th century. What used to be a prison and a German WWII residency is now used as a military base for the Danish Royal Army.

Star Fortress Copenhagen

It looks absolutely wonderful from outside as well as on the inside. I am not lying when I say that this was one of the loveliest spots that we visited in Copenhagen! If it didn’t start raining and eventually snowing, I would have taken more time to admire this well preserved fortress.

Entry to the Forestress

Fortress Interior

The Infamous Little Mermaid

Cliche, but at the same time a must see attraction. I had the same feeling as I had by the statue of Manneken pis in Brussels = you only need to see it once in your life. It is true that the weather was not in our favour at this point of time so it may have influenced my opinion. Either way, although the sculpture is not so impressive it has a nice story to tell. You can explore more about its history here.

By the time we were leaving the mermaid scene, the sky turned black. I have never experience such an abrupt weather change. A nice sunny morning turned into rainy and soon snowy afternoon. Luckily the weather did not persist and we only needed to find a refuge once. And such a nice one! On the way towards the city centre and Tivoli park, we came across the Andersen Bakery, therefore the time to have some tasty danish pastry had come at last! Absolutely no one should leave Copenhagen without tasting one of the amazing chocolate-cinnamon snails!

Tivoli

Tivoli Entrance

Although the weather didn’t allow us to visit the famous Tivoli Gardens during our weekend in Copenhagen, it is definitely worth a stop. It is the worlds’ second oldest operating amusement park which still welcomes thousands of visitors on yearly basis. I must admit, I love amusement parks, mainly the old wooden rollercoasters, and tivoli is exactly known for one. Its so called Rutschebanen is the third oldest wooden rollercoaster in the world! We are not done with the world wide records yet, hold on!

If you are not much into rollercoasters you might want to try the Star Flyer – one of the worlds’ highest carousel! My head is spinning just writing about it!

Copenhagen City Centre

With the weather being a little lousy we decided to take a sneak peak into the city centre. Denmark is famous for being a bit pricey therefore shopping was not on our to do list. As any capitol city, the main streets are quite commercial. All the main brands are lined up for you to walk right in and come out with bags of clothes or cosmetics. What is particularly nice in Scandinavian countries is the multitude of design shops. Even some of the favourite European brands seem to have a more chic swing to it. What I mostly took a liking of was a LEGO store with many lego statues, build up towns and excited kids in it!

Copenhagen City Center

Rosenborg Castle

The castle is beautiful. It was built in the 17th century by Christian IV and is until the present time guarding the royal art treasures and the royal jewellery. The entry to the castle is free for kids and adolescents up to the age of 17. Otherwise the price is as high as €15 per person. Although it might be an exciting experience for some, seeing the display of royal jewellery, we decided to skip it on our first weekend in Copenhagen. Instead we headed towards an attraction closer to our age group, the “free town” of Christiania.

Rosenborg Castle

Christianshavn

Painted walls

Statues at Christianshavn

 

This small district of Copenhagen is a rebellious and free-spirited one. Its citizens follow their own set of rules, outside of the danish laws. The locals live a very liberal lifestyle, where the air scented by the smoking joints becomes a part of the “healthy” diet. I was set up in the early 80s by a bunch of squatters overtaking an old military base, creating this vibrant and very alternative area which has lasted until the present time. The streets are a display of outdoor sculptures and the old warehouses are covered with murals. It’s an eccentric experience that you must try!

 

I have a heard a lot about this place before coming here myself. It has has gone through many changes since it’s unconventional upbringing. In the past days, people have been wondering whether Christiania will last. It does, but it is no longer as free. Although you can still purchase and smoke pot, while complying within the “local” law, the dealers do make sure that you don’t get a chance to take a good look at them. Many of them run around with baklavas on all day long. Police raids happen more than they use to, it seems. Do not get discouraged though, it is a lovely place full of interesting architecture and art.

Nyhavn

Nyhavn or the “New Port” is probably one of the most famous areas of Copenhagen. It seems to be the ultimate feature picture for everything Copenhagen related online 🙂 Old wooden boats and fancy restaurants are lining up by the canal and happy tourists are taking selfies on the bridges. This district of Copenhagen is picturesque but very touristy. During the sunny days it’s easily to recognise the locals from the tourists: The locals drink their own beer sitting by the port quays while the tourists fall into the trap of many overpriced restaurants and cafes along the canal. Either way, it provides a sanctuary for a slow coffee break or snack with a tremendous view, in case the weather isn’t collaborating with you.

The canals and colourful builldings

Rambling along the canals

Copenhagen is intertwined by water. It is beautiful and romantic, just a little chilly. It was however very important transport system back in the days and now the old industrial parts have been reinvented to cater to the new kids in town. On top of that, the water is crystal clear. Although the water of the North Sea is icy cold most of the year, you can take a swim at almost any harbour in the city, that clean and safe the water is! Back in April, when rain and snow interchanged during my trip, it was not part of my itinerary!

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During a sunny day, one of the ways you can experience the life on the Copenhagen canals is by taking a cruise. This is also an ideal transport if you want to have a quick look at all the major city landmarks, such as the Little Mermaid or the famous Black Diamond. There are several companies you can choose from, but you can find a nice overview of the cruise tours here.

Black Diamond and its galleries

Wandering along the canals by Nyhavn will bring you to couple of massive constructions. I myself immediately thought that I was staring at the famous Danish library extension, Black Diamond, while it was the Danish Royal Playhouse. It is just as stunning a building as the library, with a nice patio often used for summer events.

Further down the canal, heading back towards the main Royal island is the stunning Black Diamond. This large shiny structure is home to numerous cultural events, concerts, galleries or business conferences. To me, Black Diamond feels a little cold and industrial but to many it’s an architectural masterpiece. Judge for yourself..

Diamond Tunnels

In front of the diamond

The Old City Island

Slotsholmen, or the so-called Island of Power is officially the centre of Copenhagen. This is where you will find all the stunning Royal and Governmental institutions. It is a beautiful promenade of baroque design, dominated by the Christiansborg Palace, now serving as the seat of Danish Parliament.
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After the first visit in Copenhagen, I absolutely fell in love with it. As it often goes, weekend was hardly enough to explore all the unique corners of the city. It provides a great historical, cultural and nowadays also culinary getaway in Europe.

Find out more on good, cheap eats in Copenhagen in my next post:

Copenhagen – Eating on a Budget

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