Although we were going to Copenhagen mainly to visit Tivoli Gardens, we still had a long list of other things we wanted to see and do while we were there, so we woke up on our first day in Copenhagen ready to hit the ground running. The weather, on the other hand, had a completely different idea. Rain, below freezing temps, and surprisingly powerful wind was what we had to look forward to all day long. We made the best of it, though. We saw everything we wanted to see; we just didn’t linger at each place as long as we normally would have. The look on Lexie’s face in one of the photos below tells it all. We learned our lesson, and the next day wore an extra layer, but for our first day, we endured one very freaking cold walking tour of Copenhagen.
The Little Mermaid
We started the day off at one of the most beloved symbols of Copenhagen – The Little Mermaid. This statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous mermaid has been resting on the shore of Copenhagen’s harbor since 1913, and is visited by no less than three million people every day. That only sounds like an exaggeration on paper (computer screen?). When you’re there, it feels like exactly that. We arrived just as a tour bus did and then more people continued to arrive even after that and I felt as if we’d never get a chance to photograph her without legions of people blocking the way with a steady stream of selfie shots. Still, visiting The Little Mermaid on your first visit to Copenhagen is sort of like a right of passage. It just has to be done.
Almost right next to The Little Mermaid is Kastellet Park, a public park and historic fortress constructed by King Christian IV. It was a welcome relief to walk around in here where far less people are jockeying for the best spots for their photos. In fact, there weren’t many people here at all except for runners making laps around the lake and just a handful of other tourists. My favorite parts of this park were the paths lined with bird feeders where scores of birds, far prettier than the pigeons we’re used to in London, were eating their breakfast. I used to hate birds, but in my old age, I’ve actually become quite fond of them. No bird-watching trips on the horizon just yet, though.
Within Kastellet, or at least very close to it, is the Gefion Fountain by St. Alban’s Church. This fountain is the largest monument in Copenhagen and, I suppose when it’s not negative degrees outside and the water is actually flowing, it’s also a wishing well. At the top, Norse goddess, Gefjun, guides a chariot pulled by oxen, and beneath her, spread out over multiple levels, human and animal forms deliver water into the fountain. Even in its current state of drought when we visited, it’s a pretty magnificent thing to see.
A bit further in distance than the previous sights had been from each other, our next stop was Amalienborg Palace. This palace is the winter home of the Danish royal family, and is made up of four palaces surrounding a courtyard in front of Frederick’s Church (the building with the green dome that you can see from all over the city). We arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard, which goes on for what feels like forever because they change in like six or so different places. For a fee, visitors can go inside the Amalienborg Museum and the Royal Chambers, but as we didn’t stop in for a visit, I can’t tell you whether it’s worth going inside or not!
Our next stop was Nyhavn, where the previous night we had watched 200 brightly lit kayaks enter the canal for a Saint Lucia Day celebration. What was beautiful at night is even prettier in the daytime. I love this little stretch of waterfront with its colorful houses and old boats just oozing with nautical character. Like Hans Christian Andersen, this is where I’d want to live if I were a Copenhagen resident (and a gazillionaire). Besides the many ancient wooden ships docked here, there’s also the Memorial Anchor to see, honoring the Danish Naval officers and sailors who died during WWII. The anchor is from the Frigate Fyn, and I had no idea that anchors were that big, even on warships. Pretty cool.
After Nyhavn, we walked over to Christiansborg Palace. (There are a surprising number of palaces and castles in Copenhagen, considering its small size!) Christiansborg Palace is a pretty important place. Besides being used by the Danish royal family from time to time, it’s also the only building in the world that houses all three of the country’s branches of government in the same place – Danish Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Prime Minister all take care of business here. This was also the only one of the three palaces we saw that we decided to come back to so we could check out the inside. If you’ve got the time, at least stop in to go to the top of the tower. It’s free, and the views are amazing!
Across from Christiansborg Palace is the Børsen, the old stock exchange building built by Christian IV. (You will hear his name nearly everywhere of historical value in Copenhagen. Only name we heard as often was Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg Brewery fame.) Anyway, one of the things this building is famous for is the steeple on top, formed by the tails of four dragons twisting together. Legend has it that under the protection of these dragons, the Børsen will never burn, which sounds like hogswash until you learn that Christiansborg, across the street, has burned many times, as well as other neighboring buildings, but what hasn’t? That’s right, the Børsen.
While you’re in the area, you might as well take a stroll down Strøget, (almost) the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe. Many of the roads leading off of Strøget are also major shopping streets, so if you’re the materialistic type (I kid!) you could easily spend all day here, at least until the stores started declining your card. The shops are a mixture of high end international brands like Louis Vuitton and Burberry with the occasional budget clothing store thrown in for good measure. It’s not really my cup of tea, but it did look awfully pretty during the holidays!
After we gladly removed ourselves from the holiday shopping crowds, we wandered over to the Rundetårn (Round Tower), another of Christian IV’s creations. (I told you this guy gets around.) Attached to the Trinitatis Church (originally a university chapel), the Rundetårn was added to the complex for the purpose of having an astronomical observatory for scholars to use. Today, for a small fee, visitors can climb the spiral ramp on the inside and enjoy the view from the top and, on certain days of the week, use the observatory for a little late-night stargazing.
And finally, our last stop on our walking tour of Copenhagen – Rosenborg Castle. The Rosenborg was another of Christian IV’s projects, ultimately for use as his summer home. I believe there is a museum inside the castle now, but since we max out at one castle/palace per trip, we didn’t go inside. Christian IV also designed the adjoining castle gardens, known as The King’s Garden, which were beautiful even in the dead of winter. Besides the lovely flower garden growing next to the castle, the King’s Garden also encompasses a 30-acre green space surrounding the castle. While not quite as pretty as Kastellet Park, in my opinion, this one does win the award for oldest in Copenhagen which is pretty cool.
By the time we finished our walking tour of Copenhagen, the day was pretty much over (seeing as the sun sets at 3pm in December). Thankfully, our hotel was only steps from Rosenborg Park. I have never been so eager to get back to a hotel before. My body was aching, not because of the distance – this walk was only a little over 4 miles (7 km) – but because I’d been bracing myself against the cold wind for almost five hours. After we finished at the park, we went straight back to the hotel and proceeded to spend the rest of the evening watching show after show on TLC while we ate Thai takeout in bed. Ha! This day absolutely wore me out, but I was so proud of us for sticking it out and seeing more of Copenhagen than just the usual Little Mermaid and Nyhavn duo – it was definitely worth it!
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