Sunday, April 1, 2007

Frommer's Guide to Copenhagen (Denmark)


Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, got its name from the word køben-havn, which means "merchants' harbor." It grew in size and importance because of its position on the Øresund (the Sound), the body of water between Denmark and Sweden, guarding the entrance to the Baltic.

From its humble beginnings, Copenhagen has become the largest city in Scandinavia, home to 1.5 million people. It's the seat of one of the oldest kingdoms in the world.

Over the centuries Copenhagen has suffered more than its share of invasions and disasters. In the 17th century, the Swedes repeatedly besieged it, and in the 18th century, it endured the plague and two devastating fires. The British attacked twice during the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s. In 1940, the Nazis invaded Denmark and held the city until 1945, when the British army moved in again, this time as liberators.

Copenhagen is a city with much charm, as reflected in its canals, narrow streets, and old houses. Its most famous resident was Hans Christian Andersen, whose memory lives on. Another of Copenhagen's world-renowned inhabitants was Søren Kierkegaard, who used to take long morning strolls in the city, planning his next addition to the collection of essays that eventually earned him the title "father of existentialism."

In 2000, the Øresund Bridge was officially opened, linking Sweden and Denmark physically for the first time. Today there's a 16km (9.9-mile) car and train link between Zealand (the eastern part of Denmark) and Skån, the southern part of Sweden. If you'd like to tie in a visit with Copenhagen with the château country of Sweden, just drive across the bridge.

Copenhagen still retains some of the characteristics of a village. If you forget the suburbs, you can cover most of the central belt on foot. It's almost as if the city was designed for strolling, as reflected by its Strøget, the longest and oldest pedestrians-only street in Europe.

Through the city by boat

A possibility to see as much of the city within a short timeframe, is to get on one of the canal tours. Quite a few of the sights and attractions in Copenhagen can be experienced from the seaside, and while the canal boats sail through the canals you get a chance to rest your tired feet and at the same time enjoy the attractions of Copenhagen.

The tours take approximately one hour and the Little Mermaid, The Parliament, The Opera House, The Royal Palace: Amalienborg etc. are some of the attractions the guided boats pass on the tour. The boats leave from the very picturesque Nyhavn. The canal area is very popular and packed with restaurants and cafés.

Copenhagen by foot

If you would rather experience the authentic atmosphere of the city a tour by foot is a great way to breathe in the atmosphere. From the town hall you should either go right or left from Strøget (the main pedestrian street); this is where the more interesting streets are situated.

To the right off Strøget is a street called Strædet, which consists of Kompagnistræde, Læderstræde etc. and to the left streets like Larsbjørnsstræde, Studiestræde, Sankt Peders Stræde etc. are part of an area referred to as the Latin Quarter. These streets have many quaint and ancient buildings that are several 100 years old and you will find many interesting shops; everything from Danish Design shops to small second hand clothing stores.

Frommer's Favorite Copenhagen Experiences

Sitting at an Outdoor Cafe -- Because of Copenhagen's long gray winters, sitting at an outdoor cafe in the summer and drinking beer or eating is always a favorite pastime. The best spot is at Nyhavn (New Harbor), beginning at Kongens Nytorv. Enjoy ice cream while admiring the tall rigged ships with bowsprits moored in the canal.

Going to Tivoli -- This is the quintessential summer adventure in Copenhagen, a tradition since 1843. It's an amusement park with a difference -- even the merry-go-rounds are special, using a fleet of Viking ships instead of the usual horses.

Strolling Strøget -- In Danish, the word strøget means "to stroll" -- and that's exactly what all born-to-shop addicts do along this nearly 1.2km ( 3/4-mile) stretch, from Rådhuspladsen to Kongens Nytorv.

Walking Tour 1: The Old City

Start: Rådhuspladsen. Finish: Tivoli Gardens.

Time: 1 1/2 hours.

Best Times: Any sunny day.

Worst Times: Rush hours (Mon-Fri 7:30-9am and 5-6:30pm).

Start in the center of Copenhagen at:

1. Rådhuspladsen (Town Hall Square)

Pay a visit to the bronze statue of Hans Christian Andersen, the spinner of fairy tales, which stands near a boulevard bearing his name. Also on this square is a statue of two lur horn players that has stood here since 1914.

Bypassing the lur horn players, walk east along Vester Voldgade onto a narrow street on your left:

2. Lavendelstræde

Many houses along here date from the late 18th century. At Lavendelstræde 1, Mozart's widow (Constanze) lived with her second husband, Georg Nikolaus Nissen, a Danish diplomat, from 1812 to 1820.

The little street quickly becomes:

3. Slutterigade

Courthouses rise on both sides of this short street, joined by elevated walkways. Built between 1805 and 1815, this was Copenhagen's fourth town hall, now the city's major law courts. The main courthouse entrance is on Nytorv.

Slutterigade will lead to:

4. Nytorv

In this famous square, you can admire fine 19th-century houses. Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) lived in a house adjacent to the courthouse.

Cross Nytorv, and veer slightly west (to your left) until you reach Nygade, part of the:

5. Strøget

At this point, this traffic-free shopping street has a different name. (It actually began at Rådhuspladsen and was called Frederiksberggade.) The major shopping street of Scandinavia, Strøget is a stroller's and a shopper's delight, following a 1.2km ( 3/4-mile) trail through the heart of Copenhagen.

Nygade is one of the five streets that compose Strøget. Head northeast along this street, which becomes winding and narrow Vimmelskaftet, then turns into Amagertorv. Along Amagertorv, on your left, you'll come across the:

6. Helligåndskirken (Church of the Holy Ghost)

Complete with an abbey, Helligåndshuset is the oldest church in Copenhagen, founded at the beginning of the 15th century. Partially destroyed in 1728, it was reconstructed in 1880 in a neoclassical style. Some of the buildings on this street date from 1616. The sales rooms of the Royal Porcelain Factory are at Amagertorv 6.

Next you'll come to Østergade, the last portion of Strøget. You'll see Illum's department store on your left. Østergade leads to the square:

7. Kongens Nytorv

Surrounding Copenhagen's largest square, with an equestrian statue of Christian IV in the center, are many interesting buildings. The statue is a bronze replica of a 1688 sculpture.

At Kongens Nytorv, head right until you come to Laksegade. Then go south along this street until you reach the intersection with Nikolajgade. Turn right. This street will lead to the:

8. Nikolaj Church

The building dates from 1530 and was the scene of the thundering sermons of Hans Tausen, a father of the Danish Reformation.

Take a Break

A mellow spot for a pick-me-up, either a refreshing cool drink or an open-faced sandwich, the Cafeen Nikolaj, Nikolaj Plads 12 (tel. 33-11-63-13), attracts both older shoppers and young people. You can sit and linger over a cup of coffee, and no one is likely to hurry you. You can visit anytime in the afternoon, perhaps making it your luncheon stopover.

After viewing the church, head left down Fortunstræde to your next stop, a square off Gammel Strand:

9. Højbro Plads

You'll have a good view of Christiansborg Palace and Thorvaldsens Museum on Slotsholmen. On Højbro Plads is an equestrian statue honoring Bishop Absalon, who founded Copenhagen in 1167. Several handsome buildings line the square.

Continue west along:

10. Gammel Strand

From this waterfront promenade -- the name means "old shore" -- the former edge of Copenhagen, you'll have a good view across to Christiansborg Palace. A number of interesting old buildings line this street, and at the end you'll come upon the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, occupying a former government pawnbroking establishment, dating from 1730.

To the right of this building, walk up:

11. Snaregade

This old-fashioned provincial street is typical of the old city. Walk until you reach Knabrostræde. Both streets boast structures built just after the great fire of 1795. Where the streets intersect, you'll see the Church of Our Lady.

Make your way back to Snaregade, and turn right to one of Copenhagen's best-preserved streets:

12. Magstræde

Proceed along to Rådhusstræde. Just before you reach Rådhusstræde, notice the two buildings facing that street. These are the oldest structures in the city, dating from the 16th century.

Walk across Vandkunsten, a square at the end of Magstræde, then turn right down Gasegade, which doesn't go very far before you turn left along Farvergade. At this street's intersection with Vester Voldgade, you'll see the Vartov Church. Continue west until you reach Rådhuspladsen. Across the square, you'll see the:

13. Tivoli Gardens

You'll find the entrance at Vesterbrogade 3. Attracting some 4.5 million visitors every summer, this amusement park has 25 different entertainment choices and attractions and just as many restaurants and beer gardens.

Walking Tour #2: Kongens Nytorv to Langelinie

Start: Kongens Nytorv. Finish: Den Lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid).

Time: 1 1/2 hours.

Best Time: Any sunny day.

Worst Times: Rush hours (weekdays 7:30-9am and 5-6:30pm).

Although Nyhavn, once a boisterous sailors' quarter, has quieted down, it's still a charming part of old Copenhagen, with its 1673 canal and 18th-century houses.

Begin at:

1. Kongens Nytorv

The "King's New Market" dates from 1680. It contains Magasin, the biggest department store in the capital, plus an equestrian statue of Christian IV.

On the northeast side of the square is:

2. Thott's Mansion

Completed in 1685 for a Danish naval hero and restored in 1760, it now houses the French Embassy. Between Bredgade and Store Strandstræde, a little street angling to the right near Nyhavn, is Kanneworff House, a beautifully preserved private home that dates from 1782. On the west side of the square, at no. 34, is the Hotel d'Angleterre. Also here is an old anchor memorializing the Danish seamen who died in World War II.

On the southeast side of the square is:

3. The Royal Theater

Founded in 1748, the theater presents ballet, opera, and plays. Statues of famous Danish dramatists are out front. The present theater, constructed in 1874, has a neo-Renaissance style.

With your back to the Hotel d'Angleterre, walk toward the water along:

4. Nyhavn

Once filled with maritime businesses and seamen's bars and lodgings, Nyhavn is now "restaurant row." First, walk along its north (left) side. In the summer, cafe tables border the canal, giving it a festive atmosphere. At the port end of the canal, you can see the Naval Dockyards, and Christianshavn across the harbor. High-speed craft come and go all day, connecting Copenhagen with Malmö, Sweden.

On the quieter (south) side of the canal, you can see:

5. Charlottenborg Palace

The style of the building, now the Danish Academy of Fine Arts, is pure baroque. The name comes from Queen Charlotte Amalie, who moved there in 1700. Beautiful old homes, antiques shops, and more restaurants line the southern bank. Nyhavn was the home of Hans Christian Andersen at various times. He lived at no. 20, where he wrote his first fairy tales, in 1835, and at no. 67 from 1845 to 1864. He spent the last 2 years of his life at no. 18, where he died in 1875.

Walk back to the harbor end of Nyhavn and turn left onto Kvæsthusgade, which will take you to:

6. Skt. Annæ Plads

Ferries depart for Oslo from this square. Many consulates, two hotels, and fine old buildings open onto it.

Walk inland along the plads and turn right onto Amaliegade, which leads under a colonnade into cobblestoned Amalienborg Plads, site of:

7. Amalienborg Palace

In the square's center is a statue of Frederik V. When the queen is in residence, the changing of the guard takes place here daily at noon. The palace is the official residence of the queen and her French prince, but sections of it are open to visitors. Four identical mansion-like palaces flank the square. The queen lives in the right wing, next to the colonnade.

Between the square and the harbor are the gardens of:

8. Amaliehavn

Among the most beautiful in Copenhagen, these gardens were laid out by Jean Delogne, who made lavish use of Danish granite and French limestone. The bronze pillars around the fountain were the work of Arnaldo Pomodoro, an Italian sculptor.

After viewing the waterfront gardens, walk away from the water, crossing Amalienborg Plads and emerging onto Frederiksgade. Continue along this street until you reach:

9. Frederikskirke

This church is often called the Marmorkirken or "marble church." Construction began in 1740, but had to stop in 1770 because of the costs. The church wasn't completed until 1894 -- using Danish marble instead of more expensive Norwegian marble. The church was modeled on and intended to rival St. Peter's in Rome; indeed, it ended up with one of the largest church domes in Europe. Supported on a dozen towering piers, the dome has a diameter of 32m (105 ft.).

Facing the church, turn right and head north along Bredgade, passing at no. 22 the:

10. Medicinsk-Historisk Museet (Medical History Museum)

The collection is gruesome, with fetuses, dissected heads, and the like.

Take a Break

Before you approach The Little Mermaid, consider tea and a snack at Café Lumskebugten, Esplanaden 21 (tel. 33-15-60-29;). Dating from 1854, this cafe offers a cold plate served throughout the afternoon. There are five specialties: beef tartare, fish cakes with mustard sauce, marinated salmon, baked cod, and shrimp.

Bredgade ends at Esplanaden, which opens onto Churchillparken, a green belt bordering the water. Turn right and walk along Esplanaden until you come to Churchillparken and the:

11. Frihedsmuseet

The Danish Resistance museum commemorates the struggle against the Nazis from 1940 to 1945.

After leaving the museum, walk toward the water along Langelinie, where signs point the way to:

12. The Little Mermaid

Perched on rocks just off the harbor bank, Den Lille Havfrue, the most photographed statue in Scandinavia, dates from 1913. The bronze figure, by Edvard Eriksen, was modeled after the figure of prima ballerina Ellen Price. In time, this much-attacked and abused statue became the symbol of Copenhagen.

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