Copenhagen was originally a fishing village with a flourishing herring trade, along with its castle, Absalon, built on Slotsholmen. After two devastating fires in the 1700s little remains of the original city, but what was left intact has been well-preserved and maintained. Unlike most capital cities around the world, Copenhagen has opted to keep its city planning at a low level – literally. New buildings very rarely reach dizzying levels and this makes for a refreshingly old-fashioned city, ideal for exploring on foot or by canal boat, and where Renaissance towers still afford the best views.
A canal tour of Copenhagen offers the chance to view the city from a different perspective. — Photo courtesy of Cees van Roeden
The Builder King
Start your tour at the Round Tower. This unique piece of 17th-century architecture was built upon the orders of King Christian IV, as part of a trinity that also includes the neighboring university and Trinitatis Kirke. The Round Tower (Rundetaarn) still functions as an observatory and is the source of much local folklore, including an account of how Peter the Great traversed the tower’s unique spiralling walkway on horseback, followed by his wife in a horse-drawn carriage. Christian IV was dubbed “the Builder King” for his visionary commissions, which also include Rosenborg Palace and the old stock exchange, Børsen. Laborers were brought from Holland to complete the work, who then settled on Amager and in Christianshavn.
An essential port of call for anyone interested in Copenhagen’s history, Slotsholmen is actually a small island, connected by no less than nine bridges. While nobody lives in this small area, it offers a dense concentration of museums, detailing everything from theater to Jewish culture. It’s also the site of the original castle, the ruins of which lie beneath the modern-day Christiansborg Palace. After renovation, a visitor-friendly exhibition now exists, meaning that a visit to Christiansborg entails walking through no less than four incarnations of Danish rule.
The next major building phase in Copenhagen’s history came in the middle of the 18th-century, when Frederiksstaden was built on the orders of King Frederik 5. Its ordered, parallel streets are in contrast to the winding lanes of the Indre By. Frederiksstaden’s major sights are The Marble Church (Frederikskirken) and Amalienborg Slotsplads, residence of the Danish Royal Family.
The Royal Danish Armories is one of many museums on Slotsholmen. — Photo courtesy of Jane Graham
The Town Museum
Københavns Museum is generally only referenced in guidebooks for its Søren Kierkegaard room, but since extensive digging on the new Metro Cing Ring started to unearth some fascinating archaeological finds, Copenhagen’s town museum has been given the task of coordinating the archaeological work connected with this. The most interesting finds are now on exhibit in the museum on Vesterbrogade, west of the central station.
A canal tour will not only help you gain an idea of Copenhagen as a harbor city, it’s also a great way to see some of the other parts of the city you might not have time to reach on foot, including the Little Mermaid, Holmens Kirke and lovely Christianshavn, with its landmark church Vor Frelsers Kirke, known for its gilded, twisting spire.
To speak with a Copenhagen travel agent specialist, for free, click here.