A canal tour or a stroll along the waterfront is an excellent opportunity to discover historical gems and interesting places to see in Copenhagen. Captivating castles built by influential Danish kings, in particular the famous and ‘productive’ Christian IV, as well as charming, traditional gardens and cobblestoned, historic squares, are all part of the Danish heritage.
Afterwards, continue into the city to explore some of the enticing, authentic neighbourhoods, which will set you a few centuries back in time, or reveal creative structures and modern design. Within a few metres you will be able to dive into Copenhagen culture and history, spot cutting-edge, contemporary architecture, and gain insight into the Danes’ lifestyle in the cosy streets seething with people and ambience.
Ascot Hotel (mid-range) set in a charming 19th-century building near Tivoli and the Central Station. The hotel offers a breakfast buffet and has free gym access.
Copenhagen Island Hotel (top) this modern, stylish hotel is located on an artificial island in central Copenhagen near Fisketorvet and is only one train stop from Tivoli and Copenhagen Central Station.
Visit the enticing Tivoli Gardens abounding with flowers, history and atmosphere. It is the world’s second-oldest still existing amusement park, after Dyrehavsbakken located north of Copenhagen.
Tivoli was established on the grounds of a military base outside the city ramparts. It was laid out as an innovative amusement park right in the centre of Copenhagen.
Among the first visitors was Hans Christian Andersen who found inspiration here to write the fairy tale The Nightingale. The Tivoli Boys Guard dates all back to 1844, where Carstensen introduced this innovation to the public for the first time.
Also Walt Disney sought inspiration in Tivoli for his own amusement park in California.
The present open-air Pantomime Theatre, the Chinese Peacock Theatre, was constructed in 1874 and replaced the previous theatre built of wood and canvas. The peacock curtain folds to each side like a fan, and originally it required 13 men to open and close the curtain! Today, it is the oldest structure in the Tivoli Gardens. Its architect was the Dane Vilhelm Dahlerup, who was by the way also one of the main architects of the Copenhagen Royal Theatre, likewise inaugurated in 1874. Often accompanied by music, the pantomime is a theatrical genre where the actors use mute gestures to perform.
Copenhagen 3 days
The Little Mermaid statue & story
Stay at the Carlsberg elephants
The composer and music director Hans Lumbye wrote abundant pieces of music for Tivoli, among other works the well-known Champagne Galop, which is still being played today.
The original Tivoli concept and many of the beloved traditions in the remarkable gardens, full of charm and atmosphere, have survived until today. So have the iconic characters Pierrot, Harlequin and Columbine playing at the Pantomime Theatre, as well as the Roller Coaster from 1914, one of the world’s oldest, wooden roller coasters!
The current main entrance is from 1890, whereas the Apollo Theatre and the restaurant Wivel, later Wivex, have not been preserved. Instead, you will today be able to enjoy the oriental Nimb palace and restaurant, the Brdr. Price restaurant, or eat fresh shrimps, smørrebrød and other Danish lunch menus at Grøften, one of the oldest restaurants in Tivoli, dating back to 1874. At the same time as holding on to the traditional image, Tivoli also keeps up with the times, and the beautiful amusement park continuously renews its attractions and presents new approaches to retain its attractiveness.
On Saturdays, at midnight, a formidable firework takes place right above the Tivoli Lake and the attractions. You will also be able to experience a sound and light show across the lake. Each year, since 1994, Christmas in Tivoli has been a recurring event. Tivoli is today a national treasure with historic buildings, unique traditions and a wonderful fairy-tale atmosphere.
Christiania, or Fristaden Christiania, has drawn much attention worldwide during the last decades. It is a ‘freetown’ in Copenhagen, situated in the borough of Christianshavn, just off the idyllic city canals.
Initially, in 1971, the fence to an old military base was broken down by a group of people in the neighbourhood, who wanted to use the area as a playground. However, it did not stop here.
The intentional community was now established by this brigade of young squatters, led by Jacob Ludvigsen, who turned the military complex and surrounding bastions into an alternative ‘village’ within the Danish capital, an autonomous society with a liberated lifestyle beyond the reach of Danish law.
Soon the settlers had established a self-governing community with everything needed to survive. The hippies and anarchists built their own primitive houses and made use of existing buildings, such that they got their own electricity plant, a bath-house, an athletics building, theatre halls and much more. It became a flourishing success for the residents with all kinds of creative activities in line with the hippie ideologies.
Over the years this social experiment managed to exist in more or less harmony with the conventional Copenhagen – despite the fact that drugs were freely sold here in ‘Pusher Street’, and that the traditional norms and customary laws were not enforced here.
The experiment went on for some decades, while it continuously was subject to political debate in the established society. Cannabis trade was tolerated in Christiania by the Danish authorities until 2004, when an end was put to it. Since 2010, Danish law is again enforced in Christiania, and the cannabis trade is now forbidden. In 2011 the Christiania Foundation purchased the Christiania land from the state at a very reasonable price, which meant that the squatters now, after 40 years, eventually became landowners of ‘their’ properties. However, the government doesn’t any longer allow new constructions here.
The hippie community still thrives in Christiania, making it an attractive spot both to local ‘Christianites’ and visitors. You can visit and have lunch in one of the restaurants, attend a concert, study street art, galleries or unusual museums, or simply chill out together with the residents and other tourists.
Walk at Kastellet, the Copenhagen’s citadel, also named the Citadel of Frederikshavn, ‘King Frederik III’s harbour’. It is a well-preserved fortress from the 17th century, with a surrounding moat, which has a long and fascinating history !
To protect the harbour Kastellet was constructed as a pentagon with bastions at its five corners. Originally, it was part of the ring of bastioned ramparts encircling the city. Today, only the circular stretch of rampart at Christianshavn still remains from the old ring.
The remarkable citadel was initiated in 1626 under the reign of King Christian IV with the construction of St Anne’s Redoubt, or in Danish Sankt Annæ Skanse. For the architectural work and engineering design a Dutch engineer, Johan Semp, was employed. Later, it was remodelled and improved by another Dutch engineer, Henrik Rüse, after the Swedish siege of Copenhagen (1658–1660).
Also during the British bombardment of Copenhagen, the Battle of Copenhagen (1807), Kastellet was used for the defence of the city.
You will enter the old fortress through one of the two gates, the King’s Gate or the Norway Gate, both dating back to 1663. Inside it contains guard houses, store houses, as well as a complex of six barracks with dormitories each having two triple bunks, which could perfectly house the garrison of 1,800 men.
Over the years also the Commander’s house, a granary, an arsenal, gunpowder stores, a windmill, a church and a prison were all added to the original complex. The prison was constructed with small windows turning to the church, such that the prisoners would be able to follow the church service!
At some point in time a railway was actually built right through the east side of the citadel to facilitate transportation of goods to the quays and dock buildings of the Free Port! However, the railway closed down in 1985, and there is no longer any sign of it. Only reminiscence from those times is the ornate ironwork bridge from the Gefion Fountain to Langelinie which would allow people to cross the rail tracks to go to see the Little Mermaid on the other side.
Walk up the spiral ramp of the Round Tower.
One of the iconic buildings in the Copenhagen cityscape is the Round Tower, Rundetårn, from 1642, built by the renowned Danish King Christian IV as an astronomical observatory, and believed to be designed by the Flemish-Danish architect Hans van Steenwinckel the Younger.
Denmark was at the time known for the striking astronomical results that Tycho Brahe had achieved. Therefore, after Tycho Brahe’s death, the king intended with the construction of this new observatory, as a replacement for the former observatory Stjerneborg from 1584 on the island Ven, to continue this path of astronomical research.
Despite the devastating Great Fire of 1728 where the Trinitatis Complex was severely damaged, it was successfully rebuilt and continued operation. Notably, the Round Tower observatory in Købmagergade is still today being used by both amateurs and Copenhagen visitors.
Moreover, surrounding the observatory, you will find an outdoor platform, located 34.8 m above street level, where you can observe the city from above. Here you will be able to study and experience an amazing aerial view of Copenhagen’s architectural highlights.
The Round Tower is also connected to the Trinitatis Church, which used to be a university chapel. Moreover, the tower and the Trinitatis Complex features a library, which was established as the Copenhagen University Library. Obviously, the location was convenient for research purposes since it was within easy reach from the university, and also from the Regensen dormitories just opposite. Today, a library hall above the church still exists and is being used for both concerts and exhibitions.
On the literal side, the Round Tower is also referred to in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale ‘The Tinder Box’, where the largest of the three dogs is described as having eyes as large as the Round Tower.
Visit the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg – by some visitors also ‘known’ from the Danish popular TV-series Borgen. It is possible to go on a free guided tour here or attend a sitting in the Chamber.
Christiansborg is the former royal palace, which now houses the Danish Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Danish Prime Minister’s Office. It is located on the islet Slotsholmen together with the Old Stock Exchange, the Royal Library and Royal Library Gardens.
Although today mainly used for political and governmental purposes, the palace still serves a few purposes related to the Danish monarchy and its functions. It is used for gala banquets and public audiences. Visiting foreign ambassadors are received here by the Queen, and it is also from the balcony of Christiansborg that the Danish monarchs traditionally are proclaimed.
At Christiansborg also the Royal Stables can be found – which over the years have housed the kings’ horses and carriages. In the past there was a significant number of horses being stabled here in central Copenhagen. According to some sources it reached 270 in 1789!
The present palace construction, mainly designed in a Neo-baroque style, goes back to 1928, but other great palace buildings have stood here on the same location for centuries, actually since 1167! At that time the very first palace was erected by Archbishop Absalon, who wanted a castle on the small islet, Slotsholmen, outside Copenhagen Harbour.
In the centuries to come the castle was attacked and demolished several times, and other castles followed on Slotsholmen. Copenhagen Castle was built in the 1400s, and from the 15th century it became the residence of the Danish Kings.
King Erik VII of Pomerania built a prison, the notorious Blue Tower with a bluish roof, here. King Christian IV’s daughter, Leonora Christina, sadly ended up as a prisoner in the Blue Tower for 22 years! During the imprisonment she wrote the famous book ‘Jammers Minde’.
In the period 1731-1745, King Christian VI built the first Christiansborg Palace in a baroque style, and later King Christian VII built the second Christiansborg Palace adopting the lines of neoclassicism. Eventually, in 1906, the architect Thorvald Jørgensen was commissioned to design the current Christiansborg Palace.
Several parts of Christiansborg are open to the public. The Royal Reception Rooms are sumptuously adorned with furniture and magnificent arts works by prominent Danish artists such as A. Abildgaard, C. W. Eckersberg, L. Tuxen, J. Skovgaard and B. Nørgaard, who has created an elaborate tapestry series depicting 1000 years of Danish history! It was a gift from the Danish business community for Queen Margrethe’s 50th birthday in 1990. In addition to the Reception Rooms you can explore the Royal Stables, Royal Kitchen, the Palace Chapel, as well as the ruins under the palace for a fee. Moreover, if you fancy a sublime view of the Copenhagen cityscape, you may ascend the tower of Christiansborg! There is even free admission for this!
Take a stroll at Kongens Nytorv, the iconic old square in Copenhagen, which in the past – a few centuries ago – was the King’s New Square!
More precisely, Kongens Nytorv dates from the 17th century and was paved with cobblestones in 1670 under King Christian V. The beautiful square, which is still today the heart of Copenhagen city, is flanked by impressive buildings on all five sides:
The Charlottenborg Palace built by Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve in the 1670s. Today it is used by both the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, the institution for contemporary art, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, and the Royal Art Library.
The Royal Theatre was built in 1748 as the king’s theatre, although with public access. It was designed by the architect Nicolai Eigtved, who also stood behind Amalienborg Palace. The Royal Theatre features a world-famous ballet school, established in 1771. Both the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and the fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen fell in love with the national theatre in Copenhagen. Over the years the Royal Theatre has undergone transformations, and today it comprises the Old Stage at Kongens Nytorv, the Opera House and the Royal Danish Playhouse, also centrally located in Copenhagen.
The Hotel d’Angleterre: Its history dates back to 1755, when a royal servant, Jean Marchal, together with his fiancée established a restaurant here, The Strong Man’s Garden. Throughout the years it both changed name, burned down and overcame other difficulties – but the hotel and restaurant still survived at Kongens Nytorv. The famous Danish composer H. C. Lumbye gave his debut concert here, and since then the hotel was for many years known as the city’s flourishing concert location.
Magasin du Nord: In 1870 a shop opened at Kongens Nytorv in the old Hotel du Nord, which had been home to Hans Christian Andersen from 1838 until 1847. The shop was named after the hotel as Magasin du Nord in 1879.
Kongens Nytorv is also surrounded by other impressive buildings such as the French Embassy and baroque Thott Mansion, built for the naval officer Niels Juel in the 1680s.
In the centre of Kongens Nytorv, inside an elliptical shaped garden, you will notice the equestrian statue of Christian V, erected in 1688. It is actually the oldest royal sculpture in Copenhagen! For a long time it has been part of the Danish student graduation tradition to arrive here from near and far during the festivities and perform a chain dance around the horse statue with fellow students.
Watch the changing of the guard at Amalienborg Palace.
Amalienborg is the home of the Danish royal family. Four identical classical palace façades flank the octagonal courtyard, Amalienborg Slotsplads. In the centre of the square you will immediately spot the equestrian statue of Amalienborg’s founder, King Frederik V.
Several palaces have stood here. The first palace was called Sophie Amalienborg and was erected 1669-1673 under Frederik III, named after his wife Queen Sophie Amalie. The second Amalienborg was built by Frederik IV. It was a summerhouse comprising a central pavilion, the orangeries, a French-style garden, as well as military drill grounds.
The four identical mansions or palaces of Amalienborg, surrounding the central plaza, were initially intended to make up homes for noble people, and they stood ready in 1760. The four mansions are: Christian VII’s Palace ( Moltke’s Palace), Christian VIII’s Palace ( Levetzau’s Palace), Frederik VIII’s Palace (Brockdorff’s Palace) and Christian IX’s Palace (Schack’s Palace).
A visit to Amalienborg Palace should also include watching the changing of the guard. The castle is guarded by the Royal Life Guards, Den Kongelige Livgarde. They march from Rosenborg Castle at 11.30 am through the streets of Copenhagen in order to perform the changing of the guard at Amalienborg half an hour later.
Between the waterfront and Amalienborg Palace, you will find the garden Amaliehaven from 1983. It was a gift from A. P. Møller to all Copenhagen citizens, designed by the Belgian architect Jean Delogne. It is still today a popular place with its beautiful marble sculptures and refreshing fountain. On the other side of the waterfront you will catch sight of the Opera House which lies on a straight line with Amaliehaven, Amalienborg Slotsplads and Frederik’s Church.
Frederik’s Church is also known as the Marble Church and is a magnificent church in Copenhagen with a copper green dome, also planned as a part of Frederiksstaden. Anyway, the project failed and therefore the current Marble Church is only from 1894. It is a most impressive marble construction with lavish decorations – and of considerable size (it can actually contain the Round Tower!).
Behold the Crown Jewels at Rosenborg Castle and have a picnic in the surrounding park, Kongens Have!
During the productive reign of King Christian IV the Renaissance pleasure palace, Rosenborg, was built. It is today considered one of the enterprising king’s main constructions in Copenhagen. From 1606 to 1633 he erected the impressive castle in several steps, including laying out a delightful park and kitchen garden. The architectural assistance for the comprehensive project was provided by the architects Bertel Lange and Hans van Steenwinckel.
The palace existed as a royal residence until 1710, when his successor Frederik IV turned it into the home of royal collections. It has now become a place where significant royal art treasures are kept, including items from Christiansborg after the fire ravaged there in 1794.
One of the collections, you will experience at Rosenborg today, is the collection of the outstanding Crown Jewels. Their history goes back to Christian VI’s queen, Sophie Magdalene, who dedicated her jewellery to ‘the Crown’ – this being the beginning of the collection. Later, Frederik VIII’s queen, Lovisa, specified which jewels could be considered Crown Jewels, now adding some of her own!
Rosenborg Castle opened to the public in 1838, and it is today an enticing place to visit including the public garden, Kongens Have (the King’s Garden). The lawns here are awfully popular in summer with the Copenhagen citizens!
One of the outstanding museums in Copenhagen is Glyptoteket, or Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a remarkable antique sculpture museum initiated by Carl Jacobsen (1842–1914). He was the son of the founder of the Carlsberg Breweries in Valby, which were named after him (‘Carl’s Mountain’ or ‘Carl’s Berg’ in German after Valby Bakke or Valby Hill). Also being an art lover with a special focus on sculptures, he contributed with his personal collection to Glyptoteket, becoming a patron of the museum. Over the years the museum collections have expanded, and Glyptoteket has been extended with great pieces of art, both within sculptures and paintings.
With time a need to expand the museum arose, and the museum was moved to a new location near the Copenhagen City Hall. The new building was designed by Hack Kampmann, while Vilhelm Dahlerup designed an enticing winter garden with a mix of plants and sculptures. In 1906 Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek stood ready for inauguration.
The collection of paintings contains French impressionists, Post-impressionists in addition to Danish Golden Age pieces by Eckersberg, Købke and Lundbye. Artists include prominent painters such as Renoir, David, Monet, Degas, Cézanne, van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec.
A large number of marble and terra cotta statues, reliefs, pottery artifacts and mummies can be found here. Predominantly, displayed sculptures originate from the ancient cultures in Egypt, Rome and Greece, although also modern sculptors, such as Auguste Rodin, are represented.
Would you like to find inspiration for more days in Copenhagen? Then take a look at 10 Popular Top Sights in Copenhagen
Read next: Why Visit the Tivoli Gardens
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