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Copenhagen

3 days itineraries to discover the Danish Capital

Story by Fabien Bazanegue February 13th, 2018

Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, is known worldwide for its Little Mermaid. If the photographic interest of this icon is relatively limited (or non-existent) the Danish capital has many other assets in its pocket. It is above all a city where life is good and that makes it is very pleasant to discover it during the time of an extended weekend.

Halfway between Stockholm and Amsterdam, Copenhagen impresses its two "neighbors". At the same time Scandinavian, with its very colorful houses and low buildings, and batave with its multitude of canals which cross the city. It is not for nothing that it is nicknamed "Little Amsterdam".

On the paved quays, one discovers beautiful mansions and old houses of shipowners and, on the other side of the grand canal, the breathtaking architecture of the Royal Library (Black Diamond).

Finally, Copenhagen is also a bit of a capital of gastronomy since one can find there the best restaurant in the world (Noma). Danish cuisine is a very simple but inventive cuisine, always turned to organic and local products. Beautiful to see and good to eat!

Day #1 - Feeling the city mood

Copenhagen first seduced me by its calm. What is surprising first is the lack of cars in the Danish capital. How many times have I been able to cross a major avenue or boulevard without any vehicles around ?!? The explanation is relatively simple. The Danes being very focused on ecology, are strongly favoring soft modes of transportation. As a counterpart, cars are insanely taxed and owning one becomes a real luxury. As a result, bicycles abound and bike lanes are extremely well developed.

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I advise you to start your discovery of the city by one of its most lively streets: Strøget. This pedestrian shopping street, and therefore very animated, will allow you to take the pulse of the Danish capital.

If you're a fan of deco, do not miss "Illums Bolighus", the temple of Scandinavian Design.

Pay attention to schedules! Indeed, many shops and stores close relatively early (3-4pm!). Even on Saturdays!

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Only two steps away from Illums Bolighus, take some height and reach the top floor of Illum (entrance from right on the Storkespringvandet square) and access to the terrace overlooking the square. You will then have a breathtaking view of Strøget street.

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Then, on your way to Strøget heading southwest (towards Caritasbrønden), after passing the Church of the Holy Spirit (Helligaandskirken), do not miss on your right one of the many covered passages of Copenhagen: The Jorcks Passage.

Jorcks Passage was designed in 1895 by Vilhelm Dahlerup. The iconic building complex was built for retail on the ground floor and offices on the upper floors and it still serves the same purposes today.

In 2014 DesignGroup Architects designed the magnificent glass roof that now covers the courtyard. The detailing and materials match the rich decoration and the wealth of details in the courtyard. The glass cover protects the beautiful original mosaic floor and still allows the urban space to be open and in connection directly with the surrounding pedestrian streets.

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GOURMET BREAK

Then get back to the pedestrian street and turn right into Skoubogade. In this street there is, says one, the best pastry of the capital: Konditori La Glace.

It is a Danish confectionery founded in 1870, known for their Marzipan Ring Cakes, layer cakes, and other goodies. They have beautiful old-fashioned rooms, and make cakes for special occasions as well. Sit in the cafe and enjoy their rich, creamy Hot Chocolate and a slice of one of their famous cakes.

The cakes are beautiful and the queue in front of the shop is proportional to its reputation.

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Gray Brothers Square (Gråbrødretorv)

Walk up this small street until you reach the end and turn right to the University of Copenhagen in Fiolstræde. You will discover at the corner of the street and the esplanade the magnificent red brick building that houses the library of the University. In the early afternoon, the ocher walls take beautiful light.

If you have the chance to enter, there are some nice shots to do inside. Being a university, the building is closed on weekends and holidays.

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The next stop will take you to Gråbrødretorv (the Gray Brothers Square), the most picturesque square in Copenhagen.

This large cobbled square, dominated by a large plane tree, will seduce you with its lovely colorful buildings typical of Copenhagen. It is a popular venue for small outdoor concerts, particularly during the Copenhagen Jazz Festival.

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Then get back to Strøget by Niels Hemmingsens Gade and head to Kongens Nytorv.

Numerous official buildings surround this square, including the Royal Theater, the Charlottenborg Palace (today the headquarters of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts), the French Embassy, the Hotel d'Angleterre and the department store Magasin Du Nord.

On the square, this funny kiosk, almost like a rocket ready to take off, attracted my photographer's eye.

Nyhavn

Now place to the masterpiece of this first itinerary: Nyhavn, the iconic and picturesque port of Copenhagen.

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Unless you can be there very early in the morning, it will be difficult to avoid the crowd on the North Wharf. Nevertheless, since the most beautiful facades are on this side I recommend you to cross the canal and get to the opposite bank.

You will wonder then how some of the huge sailing boats could get at the end of the port with their 10 to 20 meters high masts? The bridge is simply a drawbridge! It opens only very rarely, the old rigs are there more for the scenery than to go out at sea. And it's finally good for our greatest photographic pleasure.

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The long exposure gives a fluffy look to the water and highlights the movement of the clouds in the sky.

From Nyhavn, I encourage you to do the boat tour.

Even if the photographic interest is not really here it will allow you to have a rather general overview of the principal points of interest of the city which you will be able to join later by foot or by bicycle. No great photographic interest because this tour is a bit rushed and unless you have anticipated your shots, it is difficult to catch the right angle (the boat is moving almost permanently).

There are two companies operating directly from Nyhavn. There is also a third company that has departures from the Frederiksholm Canal (at the Thorvaldsen Museum).

The tour lasts about an hour and allows you to discover the Opera, the Little Mermaid, The Stock Exchange, Marble Church, The Black Diamond, etc ...

Departures are every 20 minutes (or so).

The three companies offer almost an identical tour. The only difference being a pass through the Holmen Canal for two of the three.

Tip: buy a boat tour ticket plus an entrance to Tivoli Park (I'll talk about it a little further) and get 10% discount on the boat tour.

Boat tours
Blue Eyes Building
Frederiks Kirke
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DAY #2 GETTING SOME HEIGHT

Copenhagen offers numerous height perspective to overlook the city. During this second day, I invite you to discover some of them.

Let's start with Rundetaarn, the round tower

Rundetaarn

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The Round Tower was built as part of the Holy Trinity and was designed to accommodate three things: The observatory at the top of the tower, the university library on the upper floor of the Church and of course the church.

Completed in 1642, it is without doubt one of the most iconic buildings in Copenhagen or even all of Denmark.

Every day, at exactly 11:38, the Danish National Guard, on its way to the Changing of the Guard at the Palace of Amalienborg, passes in front of its doors. But that's not the only reason to go there.

About 35 meters high, the biggest feature of the tower is its spiral corridor that leads to its summit in 7 and a half turns and 209 meters long. This is the only way to go at the top of the tower. It also serves the church and the library.

A niche in the wall, near the top, provides access to the central cavity of the tower where a glass plate prevents falls. Visitors can stand and watch the base of the tower, 25 meters below, under their feet. This cavity marks the kilometer zero point in Denmark, established in the 1760s.

At the top of the tower is a small planetarium. This is the oldest observatory in Europe still in operation.

Address: Købmagergade 52A, 1150 København K

Entrance fee: 25 DKK, 5 DKK for kids (5-15 yo).

Opening: everyday 10am - 8pm (6pm From Sep 21st till May 20th).

Phone: +45 33 73 03 73

post@rundetaarn.dk

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View on Copenhagen from the top of Rundetaarn

ROSENBORG SLOT

Let's take a stroll through Kongens Have Park, the oldest and most visited public garden in Copenhagen. It is easily reached from Rundetaarn via Landemærket which will take you there directly.

The Danes love to walk, play, run or picnic there and breathe the fresh air of Copenhagen.

The garden also hosts the Rosenborg Castle (Rosenborg Slot), a Renaissance-style castle. It was built in 1606 as a second home for the summer stays of King Christian IV and is an example of its many architectural projects. It was built in the Dutch Renaissance style, typical of Danish buildings during this period, and was extended several times, eventually evolving to its current state in 1624.

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Rather than getting too close, keep your distance. There is indeed a multitude of possibilities to integrate the castle into a composition that will also give pride to its surroundings.

Then join the National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst) which entry is free. It's simply the largest art museum in Denmark! Fans will find many international Danish works from the last 7 centuries.

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The place is somehow rather photogenic and gives some good opportunities to make interesting shots.

Nyboder

After this cultural stop, let's take the direction of Nyboder.

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This is a really unusual area of Copenhagen that is definitely worth a visit. It owes its singularity to the succession of alleyways all alike lined with small, colorful houses of a typical Danish yellow. Again, it is a work of King Christian IV the Builder. Built between 1638 and 1645, this district was intended to accommodate the sailors of the Royal Fleet. The district is now occupied by the retired crew of the Royal Navy.

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FREDERIK KIRKE

No Far from there, down to the south, is Frederik Kirke (Marble church), one of the most impressive churches in the city. It is simply the largest dome in Scandinavia (31m in diameter).

Probably, inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

There is a magnificent view from the top of the dome. Visits are at 1 pm and 3 pm every day during the summer months and at the same hours on weekends the rest of the year.

Address: Frederiksgade 4, 1265 København

Entrance fee: 35 DKK, 20DKK for kids

Phone :+45 33 15 01 44

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Amalienborg Palace

From Frederik Kirke, take the avenue facing the church down to the Amalienborg Palace, the winter residence of the Royal family.

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The main square is not devoid of photographic interest, with on one side a view giving a beautiful perspective on the dome of Frederiks Kirke and on the other, a beautiful view of the ultra modern Copenhagen Opera.

If you plan your visit in order to be there just before noon you will have the chance to attend the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard, performed daily by the guards of the Royal Family.

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Continue towards the Palace gardens towards the water's edge for a breathtaking view of the Copenhagen Opera House

The ultra modern Copenhagen Opera

Continuing northward along the water.

If you're lucky you will be able to see the yacht of the Royal family along the waterfront. You will notice the two small waiting pavilions. One for the royal family, the other for their guests. We do not mix apples and oranges!

Once arrived at the entrance of the citadel of Kastellet, an old fortification used to monitor the entrance to the Baltic Sea, notice the small church of St Alban and the beautiful fountain of Gefion (Gefionspringvandet)

Saint Alban Church
Gefionspringvandet (Fountain of Gefion)

The Little Mermaid

Continue towards the iconic little mermaid where you will certainly live a great moment of solitude as a photographer. Very difficult, indeed, to succeed an interesting shot of this small statue, especially because the background has really nothing extraordinary.

So unless you are there at sunset and have a nice light, try to incorporate another element into your composition. Here I waited for the passage of a boat that brings a little movement to this very static scene. The sky, with its few gaps of blue sky also enhances the final image.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, the statue depicts a mermaid who has fallen in love with a prince but must wait three hundred years before becoming human.

It's the best I could do for a mid-day shot.

KASTELLET

We continue the walk bypassing the citadel to reach the north entrance.

A pretty wooden footbridge spans the "moat" to get you to Kastellet through the Gatehouse building.

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Kastellet (meaning Citadel in Danish), a military barracks concealed and protected behind a moat and a star-shaped earth mound, was first established as a Garrison by King Christian IV in 1626 to protect Copenhagen from the Seaside. It is one of the best preserved citadels in Europe and Kastekllet is a masterpiece of military architecture.

You can enter over one of two bridges over the moat which surrounds the pentagram shaped outer walls. Once inside, the most striking thing about it is just how attractive the multicolored buildings are as they sit along the various traditional cobbled walkways.

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Kastelskirken
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Vindmøllen i Kastellet

Other notable buildings are the gatehouses at each end, the military housing known as ‘rows’, the storehouses which had everything you’d need to feed 1800 men if the fort were under siege and the windmill which is up the hill behind the church and helped the fort to be self sufficient.

Admission to Kastellet fort is free and the gates are opened to the public from 6am to 10pm daily.

Back to Nyhavn

It is time to leave the fortress and return to Nyhavn.

You can take the opportunity to do some new images if the light is different or if incredible things happen.

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Day#3

Christiansborg Slot

The day starts at Christiansborg Palace (Christiansborg Slot), where you will get to the top of its tower to have a 360 ° view of the Danish capital.

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You will be surprised by the sculpture adorning the esplanade facing it. It features a polar bear impaled on a huge curved brooch, denouncing the misdeeds of global warming.

Go inside and catch the next elevator (enjoy, it's free!! ) that will get you to the top of the tower.

Once there, large openings on the four facades will offer you a breathtaking view towards the 4 cardinal points.

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Børsen

Christianshavn

You cannot leave Copenhagen without having discovered Christianshavn district. It is located on an island of the same name.

The district is known for the importance of its fortifications, for its church, the Church of Our Savior (Vor Frelsers Kirke) and more particularly for the presence of the squat of Christiania.

The Church of Our Savior is a baroque church famous for its helix spire with an external winding staircase that can be climbed to the top, offering extensive views over central Copenhagen. It is also known for its carillon, which is the largest in northern Europe and plays melodies every hour from 8 am to midnight.

Christiania has been self-proclaimed "free city of Christiania", functioning as a self-governing intentional community, founded in September 1971 on the grounds of the barracks of Bådsmandsstræde by a group of squatters, unemployed and hippies. This district is a rare historical libertarian experience still active in Northern Europe.

Unfortunately, it is strongly advised not to take any photos at Christiania (although it is a highly photogenic). There are giant strikethrough camera paintings on the wall everywhere. So no photos here...

Vor Frelsers Kirke (Churh of Our Savior)
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Black Diamond

On the way back to Central Copenhagen, make a stop at the Royal Library with the contrasty architecture its modern waterfront extension: Black Diamond. Its quasi-official nickname is a reference to its polished black granite cladding and irregular angles.

The Royal Library is Denmark's national library and one of the largest libraries in Scandinavia.

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Central Station

On your way to Tivoli, make a detour by the Central Station and enter its majestic hallway. Look up and admire the magnificent architecture of its wooden arches roof.

The building is designed in the same style as Copenhagen’s Town Hall as they were built during the same period.

Travelers often meet people at a large clock at the Hovedbanen Mall, much like people meet at the great clock at New York's Grand Central Station.

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AxEL Towers

Going out of Central Station, you can not miss the stunning architecture of the Golden Axel Towers on Axeltorv Square.

Axel Towers, Axeltorv Square
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Tivoli

If you still have some energy after this last day, I highly recommend a detour by Tivoli Park. It is an amusement park located in the heart of the city. At nightfall, it lights up with thousands of lanterns making the place extremely photogenic.

The entrance to this park is not free as most amusement parks. What is more surprising is is that you will have to pay again for each attraction (1, 2 or 3 chips - 200 DKK the chip). The note can quickly climb if you are a fan of carousels.

Nevertheless, if there is only one carousel to do is the one of the flying chairs! You know these carousels with seats suspended in the air by chains. The particularity of Tivoli's one is that it rises to some 30-50m of altitude allowing you to feel like Peter Pan for a few minutes. It will be hard for you to take snapshots at the top for safety reasons (you leave your bag and empty your pocket into safety boxes before boarding), but nothing will stop you from taking your smartphone out of your pocket once there however (at your own risk!). Beware of clumsiness, the fall would be fatal.

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Address: Vesterbrogade 3, 1630 København V

Opening: Sun-Thu: 11 am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11am-12am

Entrance fee: Mon-Thu: 100 DKK, Fri-Sun: 110 DKK (Daily and season passes available)

Phone:+45 33 15 10 01

www.tivoli.dk

A BIT OF GASTRONOMY

As evoked earlier, Copenhagen is a city where one eats divinely well. Whether gastronomic or a little snack on the go, it's always done with natural products, organic and often local.

Although the chances of getting a table at Noma these days are about as likely as getting invited to the Queen's Palace for dinner, this should not deter you from exploring the wealth of restaurants and food shops that Copenhagen has to offer.

Here are two dishes you absolutely need to taste while in Copenhagen.

Smørrebrød

What initially was a Danish farmers’ lunch is now Denmark’s traditional dish, a local favorite delicacy, and served in high-end restaurants. The open-face sandwich consists of a slice of rye bread, fish or meat, vegetables, and sauce on top. Almost every restaurant in Copenhagen serves a variety of Danes’ beloved meal throughout the day.

Salmon

Another fish that is frequently found in Copenhagen’s restaurants’ menus is salmon. Though cooked in various ways, Danes usually prefer to add a slice of cold-smoked salmon on the top of a slice of rye bread. I still remember my smoked salmon salad I ate at my first lunch in Copenhagen. The best salmon ever !


Smørrebrød, the Danes’ beloved meal
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Copenhagen itineraries summary

Footnote: All photos taken with a Canon 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4 L and EF 16-35mm f/2.8 lenses. Some shots were also done with an iPhone 6S.
Copenhagen, Denmark