World Facts Index > Denmark > Copenhagen

All roads, trains, and bicycle paths of Denmark lead to the heart of the Capital. The Inner City is the unrivalled commercial and cultural centre of the entire country; and, if Slotsholmen is included, also the political. Always buzzing with activity and crammed with people, only Sundays reveal the city completely empty as very few people actually live here. This is a picturesque area with many buildings dating back to the early 18th century. The street web dates back to the Middle Ages, which somehow explains the many seemingly irrational twists and turns.

Going all the way through the old city centre is the pedestrian high street Strøget. From the rumble of Rådhuspladsen (Town Hall Square) to the neatness of Kongens Nytorv, it gradually becomes more sophisticated (and expensive) as the stores take names like Gucci and Prada and Gianni Versace. Købmagergade, also a pedestrian street, is fast becoming main-stream fashion street, with the likes of Esprit, Diesel and Benetton opening major outlets along several local brands. It also sees several excellent food stores farther up towards Nørreport. The area around Kronprinsensgade has the best of local fashion designers, Bruuns Bazaar and Munthe-plus-Simonsen being among the most distinguished. Klosterstræde follows up on the position only a tad more 'street'. By Amagertorv is exclusive design-store Illums Bolighus and the flagship-stores of famous Royal Copenhagen porcelain and Georg Jensen silverware. Taking up almost an entire block by the corner of Købmagergade and Strøget is upscale department store Illum. Magasin du Nord on Kongens Nytorv is another gargantuan department store with an excellent food section.

Sights and seats
Amagertorv, geographically at the dead centre of town usually features singing and dancing by the somewhat bizarre statue in the middle which can be enjoyed, or booed, from outdoor tables at cafes Europa and Norden. Strædet is a more quiet and peaceful pedestrian street parallel to Strøget and features many interesting browsing opportunities and cute cafes. Fiolstræde has Vor Frue Kirke (Church of Our Lady) with statues by sculptor Thorvaldsen, and the old Copenhagen University HQ with a small department of the Royal Library open to the public. Kongens Nytorv features the Royal Theatre (ballet, opera, and plays), the famous hotel D'Angleterre, and the exhibition place for modern art Charlottenborg. Behind Kongens Nytorv is Nikolaj, a church turned exhibition place for international and Danish contemporary art. Restaurants are everywhere, especially densely cluttered on and around the idyllic town square of Gråbrødretorv.

Cornered by Vor Frue Plads and Rådhuspladsen, the name translates into 'A Stream of Piss' - a reference to the area's by-gone status as one of the last bastions of inner city slum. Today, Studiestræde is all about male fashion, with In Circus spearheading the more daring and experimental scene and Samsøe&Samsøe leading the no-nonsense Copenhagen trademark style. Floss and Sabines are both excellent cafes on Larsbjørnsstræde, and Baden Baden is probably the best record store in Copenhagen for new sounds.

I will leave it to someone else to elaborate on the fact that the monstrous Christiansborg, the seat of the Danish parliament, is standing on wooden pillars constantly threatening to rot and break. Slotsholmen is the very core of a very centralistic Danish state. The semi-artificial island holds not just the parliament, but also everything from the Supreme Court to the royal horses, the Offices of the Prime Minister, The Danish Stock Exchange, Slotskirken, the Museum of Arms, Thorvaldsens museum, the Royal Court Theatre with the adjoining Theatre Museum, the royal brewery of Christian IV, as well the Royal Library including its recent addition, The Black Diamond, arguably the most astonishing new piece of architecture north of Bilbao.

Looking like a supremely idyllic little piece of Amsterdam, Christianshavn is actually built on garbage dumped between Copenhagen and Amager. History aside, a Canal Cruise is recommended to take you sliding by the beautiful old houses watching Copenhageners prepare for the sea or just living it easy on the deck of some home-made house-boat.

Emphasizing the Amsterdam-feel of Christianshavn is Christiania, a squatted free town unlike anything you have ever seen (at least not this far from Kingston), where all possible sorts of things are sold in the open and anarchy reins, more or less controlled by self-appointed authorities.

Holmen was closed off to the public until a couple of years ago when film students and architects bordered the then naval base and turned the area into an unique colony for the arts. Thorsen delivers a spectacular sunset over the City and has recently been honored as cafe of the year 1999 by weekly paper Nat&Dag.

Really not the place to go unless, of course, you are looking for a fight.

The brand new hip spot with trendy galleries opening left and right. At the moment, though, Islands Brygge is still in the making; one wrong turn and you will be walking for hours on end without setting eyes on a human being. Instead, look for galleries Nikolaj Wallner, Tommy Lund, Recent Works, Nils Stærk and Hallo! - all on Njalsgade.

The old whore of the Copenhagen boroughs. Gentrification always had a hard time here as the erotic shops, prostitutes, and junkies refused to leave despite the city's on-going attempts to clean the area and shine up the buildings. Idstedgade still stands as the very idea of human decay gloriously juxtaposed with big hotels and an ever increasing number of students and artists. Superclub Vega is the center of night life, cafes Høegs and Bang&Jensen where tout le Vesterbro-monde meet.

A city in its own right, Frederiksberg is surrounded by Copenhagen on all sides, still maintaining its formal independence. Indeed, Frederiksberg is not like Copenhagen at all. Turning from lively and buzzing Vesterbrogade into Frederiksberg Alle sees the lights go dim, the buildings tall and gloomy, and even the abundance of theatres on this street does not make it anything like Broadway, but rather like clearing the Champs Elysée of people and fingering a block-out. There is a certain Parisian oddness to Frederiksberg which many people find charming. It is mainly residential belonging to a mostly conservative, well-to-do, and above 40 crowd. It does have many quality restaurants, wineries, tailors and so on. Deeper into the city, Frederiksberg Have reveals itself as a most beautiful park; with a Zoo in it.

To the rest of the country, Nørrebro equals street riots, but despite the annual reversals into war-zone, Nørrebro remains one of the most colourful and ethnically diverse areas of Copenhagen (and entirely safe, mostly). A stroll up Nørrebrogade is a sight-seeing tour in itself, as is Assistens Kirkegård, one of the city's oldest cemeteries boasting a star-studded line-up with Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard up front. It now also functions as a park with the inhabitants freely taking their picnic among gravestones of old. Sankt Hans Torv features cafes Sebastopol, Funke and Pussy Galore. Elmegade has excellent fashion stores like Storm, and unusual gallery Starving Artistz. Blågårdsgade hides one bargain gem after another, like Garage. Clubs like Rust, Stengade 30, and Propaganda, and late-night bars like Barcelona and Props make for a bright night out.

Stretching along the Lakes on the City-side, Nørrevold looks like the outer burroughs but is strictly its own. Stroll down intellectual hangout Nansensgade for great alternative shopping opportunities with an intimate ambience. Do not miss the bathroom decoration at Bankeråt. Stay out of Ørstedsparken at night unless you know.

From the jolly beer-swingers in Nyhavn to the sanctuary of Kongens Have, Frederiksstaden is Stadtviertel Royale, laid out in a regular grid with the royal castle Amalienborg in the centre and Marmorkirken towering above the lawyers, antique stores and galleries of Bredgade and Store Kongensgade. Kunst-Industrimuseet shows various exhibitions of modern design and design history. Rosenborg Castle is a former kingly country house now open to the public.

Small yellow row-houses originally laid out by Christian IV in the 17th Century and until recently inhabited solely by the navy.

Historic defence-guard, still maintaining its army presence. Open to the public.

Where you can personally greet no less celebrity but the Little Mermaid. North of the marina a new upscale residential area is being built and shops and restaurants are opening all over the waterfront.

The largest of the Copenhagen boroughs, Østerbro is bigger than most Danish cities, still a rather dull experience. The broad streets cut like canyons through endless uniform tenement buildings of red brick. Exceptions to this are Øster Farimagsgade, Nordre Frihavnsgade and Østerbrogade all offering shops and leben to the many inhabitants. Østerbro is also home to the national stadium, Parken; and the largest park in the city,Fælledparken; as well as most embassies. Kartoffelrækkerne (literally 'the potato rows") by Øster Farimagsgade have given name to a Danish phrase describing a certain political mentality as these former humble working class houses now are sold at soaring prices to a mostly very leftish establishment of professors, artists, public administrators and so on.

Going all the way from Østerbro to ye olde Elsinore, Strandvejen spells money, tennis courts, and long drinks by the marinas. A cap ride extra ordinaire will lead you past the estates and villas every Danish entrepreneur and jewellery-rattling housewife dreams of possessing. Dyrehaven with its tame deer, controlled wildlife and exclusive restaurants is the favourite outing of all Copenhageners at any time of the year.

History of Copenhagen

In 1167 Absalon founded a castle at the place where Christiansborg lies today, not far from where the statue of Absalon can be seen even today. Ever since, Copenhagen after Copenhagen have succeeded each other in the city landscape, in which we - the people of Copenhagen - live. New Copenhageners have replaced the dead ones - over and over again. At the same time the space of the city has continued to grow in time with the increase in population.

Originally Copenhagen was the property of the church. In 1416 the city finally was assigned to the king. During the 1500s Copenhagen became the most important city in Denmark. Copenhagen was built around the Church of Our Lady, the area where the University of Copenhagen was founded in 1476.

It was only after the Absolute Monarchy, which lasted from 1600 until 1661 that Copenhagen fisrt became the centre of the kingdom. The army, the navy and most of the administration moved to Copenhagen. Through the centuries, when they talked about Copenhagen, they meant the city that was located inside the ramparts. The ramparts were situated where we now have the streets Gothersgade and Østre- and Nørrevoldgade. You can see what is left of the ramparts and moats in Tivoli, in Ørstedsparken and in Østre Anlæg. Outside the ramparts you found 'the countryside'. Here the cattle grazed on large areas of grass.

During the 16th and 17th centuries the traffic of ships and boats through Øresund increased. The collection of duty for sailing through Øresund became the basis of the increased prosperity of Copenhagen. As a consequence, a lot of prestigious building activity took place in the reign of Christian IV. Wonderful buildings like Børsen, Rosenborg, Rundetårn, and housing districts like Christianshavn and Nyboder came into existence. All this we pass by even today, when we walk through the city.

From 1658 till 1660 the Swedes besieged the capital of Denmark. This was a siege that very easily could have meant the end of Copenhagen. But a humiliating peace was made with the Swedish king, which among other things meant the concession of the island of Bornholm to Sweden, and Copenhagen was saved. The defeat before Sweden had the result that Vestvolden (the western rampart) and later the fortress, Kastellet, were constructed.

Disaster after disaster have through the centuries over and over again transformed Copenhagen. 1711-1712 The Black Death ravaged and 22,000 of the city's 60,000 inhabitants died. In 1728 a fire broke out and a big part of the city was in ruins. In 1795 yet another fire ravaged Copenhagen. But new buildings replaced the old burnt-down ones. In 1749 Frederiksstaden came into existence with Amalienborg and The Marble Church. Not until after 1794 can we speak of the classic Copenhagen - the city we live in today.

Copenhagen seriously entered world history when the country, as an ally to Napoleon, fought against England. The famous battle against the English on Reden took place in 1801. Even if the Danes lost that battle, seafaring heroes like Peder Willemoes were immortalised on that occasion. The English bombarded Copenhagen in 1807. After the bombardments were over, buildings like Our Lady`s Church (as we know it today) and Thorvaldsens Museum were built.

Around 1850 the ramparts finally lost their military importance. Shortly afterwards the industrial development exploded. People were moving from the countryside into the big city in large numbers. In 1852 the city inside the ramparts had become so overpopulated that it was necessary to start building houses outside the ramparts, even outside Søerne, The Lakes. Vesterbro and Nørrebro were built. And later the more exclusive Østerbro was created. Frihavnen was opened in 1894.

The year 1900 ushered in new and different times. Cars and electric streetcars made their entry into the streets of Copenhagen. In 1928 the traffic had already become so intense that the first traffic lights were put up. The building of The Town Hall (1905) and Hovedbanegården, The Grand Central Station (1911), meant that the centre of the city moved westward.

The First World War (1914-1918), the 1920s and 1930s - with mass unemployment and social unrest - left their marks on Copenhagen. And so did most of the Second World War and the German occupation of Denmark in 1940-1945. It became a traumatic period in the history of Copenhagen.

In the 1960s and 1970s many plans were laid out for Copenhagen. Fortunately most of these plans came to nothing. One of these grand plans was the construction of Søringen - a highway running around The Lakes.

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