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Copenhagen and North Zealand

Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark. It has a municipal population of just under 600,000 people and in total, just over 2 million people live within it's metropolitan area. It lies primarily on the eastern coast of the island of Zealand, with an additional smaller part on the island of Amager. Copenhagen is separated from the Swedish city of Malmö by the strait of Øresund; since July 2000, the two cities have been connected by road and rail via the magnificent Øresund Bridge. The photos on this webpage are taken from a visit to Copenhagen, and this also included day trips from the capital to see the northern part of the island of Zealand. This area is known for having three magnificent royal castles, as well as resorts, sandy beaches, lakes and forests.


About one third of Denmark's population lives in the greater Copenhagen area. Originally a Viking fishing village, the first traces of the city date back as far as around 1000 AD. Copenhagen was not really founded until 1167, when Bishop Absalon built a fortress at the existing fishing hamlet. The geographic location was strategically important with a narrow stretch of water and this soon made the city grow. By the 15th century, it had become the largest city and capital of the country and dominated the Nordic area both commercially and culturally. Several notable buildings were constructed under the rule of Christian IV (1588-1648), including the Stock Exchange Round Tower and Rosenborg Castle. The city's history, was not without disasters. In 1728 a great fire destroyed hundreds of buildings, including the city hall, the university and five churches. Many of them were rebuilt. However, in 1794 another large fire broke out in the city and amongst other buildings, it affected the former royal palace Christiansborg. The following year, about a quarter of the city suffered heavy damage when around 950 houses burnt down. In 1801 and 1807, many more old houses disappeared due to bombardments by the English. From the 1850's onwards, the city grew beyond the original ramparts as new working class areas sprung up. Although Copenhagen suffered several episodes of destruction throughout its history, today the city still has some 700 or so listed buildings. Many of these are located by the old ramparts around the government building Christiansborg and in Christianshavn, so for the visitor, there are plenty of historic sites to see whilst wandering around the older parts of the city.

The Little Mermaid [shown further up] is a world-famous bronze statue by Edvard Eriksen. It sits on a rock by the waterside at the Langelinie promenade at the entrance to Copenhagen. The statue measures 1.25m tall and weighs 175kg. It was made in 1913 as a memory of the fairy-tale The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Ever since it was created, it has been a major tourist attraction and unfortunately also in recent decades, it has been a target of vandals and defaced by political activists.

The photo above shows the City Hall Square (Radhuspladsen). Throughout the it's history, this has been the centre of the city. The road network radiates outwards from here, north, west and south, and a stone post marks the 0km mark from where distances to other localities are measured. The square is of national importance and has been the site of gatherings both for special occasions and for demonstrations. The largest gatherings which have happened here include in May 1945, when Denmark was liberated and in 1992, when the national football team won the European championship. The City Hall (on the right hand side of the photo) is one of the largest buildings in the centre and the current building, designed by architect Martin Nyrop, dates from 1903 with many a predecessor having been destroyed by fire. The city Hall was built in a combination of older Danish and north Italian renaissance styles. It's main hall has an area of approximately 1500m² and is host to a range of functions including wedding receptions and official engagements. It is possible for visitors to climb the 110m high tower to view a stunning panoramic view of the city's red roofs. Near the main entrance of City Hall is the World Clock. Designed by Jens Olsen, it has 13 synchronised works, showing the current time in various places across the world, as well as a number of astronomical times. From the square runs Strøget, the main pedestrianised shopping street. It stretches for 2km and runs down to another public square [photo below], Kongens Nytorv (King's Square).

Stretching from Kongens Nytorv to the harbour front just south of the Royal Playhouse is Nyhavn ('New Harbour') and this is shown in the photo above. Nyhavn is a 17th century waterfront and canal district. A common sight on picture postcards and travel brochures, it is lined by brightly coloured 17th and early 18th century townhouses, built with wood, bricks, and plaster, and the canal is home to a selection of many historical wooden ships. Nyhavn was constructed from 1670-1673, by King Christian V. It was dug by Swedish prisoners of war from the Dano-Swedish War (1658–1660) as a gateway from the sea to the old inner city at Kongens Nytorv. In the days of old, the area was notorious as a place for sailors to go drinking, and for prostitution. In more modern times, as part of a revamp, the quayside was pedestrianised (in 1980). Along the northern, sunnier side, the harbour is today lined with bars, cafes and restaurants which attract locals and visitors, alike. As well as eating and drinking, there are a number of things to see and do whilst in this popular district. Canal tours run from here and attractions in this part of the city include the townhouses at No. 9 (the oldest, dating from 1681) and No. 67 (Where Hans Christian Andersen lived between 1845 and 1864), the numerous mansions lining the canal, Charlottenborg Palace (at the corner of Kongens Nytorv), the Nyhavn Veteran Ship and Museum Harbour (occupying the inner section of Nyhavn) and the great Memorial Anchor at the end of the harbour (a commemorative memorial for officers and sailors who died during World War II).

The photo above shows a view from the Round Tower (Rundetaarn or Rundetårn). This 17th-century tower was one of the many constructions in the city under the rule of Christian IV (1588-1648). It was built as an astronomical observatory for the Trinitatis academic complex and may be ascended not via steps, but by a 7½-turn spiral equestrian ramp. It provides an ideal location today for visitors to get a panoramic view of the city and is also not only a historic monument, but serves as a public astronomical observatory. Located above the tower's adjacent Trinitatis Church is the Library Hall and this is accessed along the tower's ramp. Today, the hall is used as an active cultural venue with exhibitions, as well as concerts taking place here and so, it is quite possible whilst taking a walk up the tower for the views, the visitor may find themselves taking a side trip to look inside the hall, depending on what particular event is taking place there at the time.

Tivoli, above, is an amusement park and not only one of Copenhagen's greatest tourist attractions, but most famous. The original gardens here date back to 1843, when they were founded by Georg Carstensen. Since that time, the gardens have changed their appearance on many occasions. The main entrance building and the Pantomime Theatre date from 1874, making them the oldest buildings here and only the lake, which dates back to the original ramparts surrounding the city, is a relic from the beginnings. The gardens are a festive and cultural venue for locals and visitors alike and contain restaurants, amusements and entertainment for people of all ages. Events that take place here include concerts, plays and circus performances. The carefully landscaped grounds and fountains are lit up in the evening and also frequently, the night in the gardens ends with a spectacular fireworks display.

Another place of interest in Copenhagen is the free town of "Christiania", considered by many to be a Micronation, but to the Danish Government, a "Social Experiment". Christiania is in the middle of Copenhagen's Christianshavn neighbourhood. It's history has been eventful, with various battles, victories and defeats. The site was originally a military barracks, which was closed down in 1970, after 135 years in operation. The barracks comprised some 170 buildings of varying sizes. There were no plans for the future of the site and in 1971, a group of young people broke down the perimeter fence and decided to occupy it. They were shortly followed by an influx of people from all cross sections of society who decided to opt for an alternative lifestyle here, based on community and freedom. there were various attempts by the authorities to clear or demolish the site, but in 1973, the Danish Parliament, agreed on recognising this new free town as a 'social experiment'. In 1989, it was then further agreed by the parliament to make Christiania permanent. A visit here is an interesting one (although if you are an extremely unfortunate victim of crime, the Danish Police won't assist, as they do not enter the site). Various painted façades camouflage the old military buildings and the bohemian residents number some 1000 or so. With no leader and decisions made with communal meetings, there are some basic laws here. These include no cars, no guns, no stealing and no hard drugs. However, as far as the latter is concerned, the softer variety is certainly part of the culture here. The main market street is Pusher Street. Although on my visit, soft drugs appeared to be quite openly for sale along the various stalls, apparently business is now carried out in a much more discreet fashion. A popular place for artists and music lovers, Christiania has also played host to several famous live performances, including gigs by Bob Dylan and Blur. For further reading, Christiania is mentioned in Lonely Planet's Micronations guidebook, Atlas of Improbable Places by Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield and An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist by Nick Middleton, amongst other books. The reader may wonder why the photo above is a bit random. In Christiania, the locals do not like photographs being taken, particularly around Pusher Street, so my advice is don't bother - not worth the hassle.

Frederiksborg Castle

Heading out of the city, as mentioned earlier, the northern part of the island of Zealand is known for having three magnificent royal castles. The first of these mentioned on this webpage is Frederiksborg Castle, or 'Frederiksborg Slot' [Photo, above]. This renaissance castle is located in the centre of North Zealand in the town of Hillerød. It's history dates back to the time of Frederik II, who took over the manor of Hillerødsholm in 1560 from Herluf Trolle. Shortly afterwards, the building of a new castle began, some of which can still be seen. By 1602, his son Christian IV had begun the erection of the castle which is seen today. The old manor of Hillerødsholm was demolished the year before and with income from the Øresund Duty, the magnificent castle was constructed and inaugurated in 1625. The castle was heavily damaged during the Swedish occupation(1658-1660) and the Swedish queen Hedvig Eleonora who occupied it took many of the furnishings to Drottningholm Castle in Sweden. The next Danish King, Frederik III restored the castle although some of the valuable furniture he recreated there was sold on by future kings due to financial hardship. The next dark day in the castle's history occurred in December 1859, when King Frederik VII asked to have a fire started in a broken fireplace. This resulted in the entire castle being set alight with no water to put it out due to the lake being frozen over. The event was regarded as one of a great national loss and such was the public feeling, a national collection was initiated, which also received contributions from Iceland and Holstein. J.C. Jacobsen, the founder of the Carlsberg brewery put up a large sum of money and thanks to everyone's assistance, the castle was inaugurated once again in 1878. The castle became a national historical museum, opening to the public in 1885. the interior of the castle today houses a gallery with both collections which were saved during the fire, alongside other works which have been collected from all over Denmark or painted by the nation's prominent artists. A large collection of carefully chosen furniture for each of the great rooms is also on show, as are the spectacular gardens.

Fredensborg Palace

8km northeast of Frederiksborg Castle lies another of the three famous castles of North Zealand, Fredensborg Palace (above). Fredensborg, with it's whitewashed walls is the youngest of the three and was inaugurated in 1722 on Frederik IV's birthday. The name of the palace is a tribute to the peace which followed the Great Nordic War in 1720. Frederik IV built the palace in the Italian renaissance style, drawing inspiration from his travels. The palace was mainly used as a summer residence, although after the fire at Frederiksborg in 1859, it's role became more important and it was subsequently used by Christian IX for a period. The palace played host to European Royalty who came here for holidays in it's beautiful setting. It is still in use by the Danish Royal Family today as a summer residence, although in July, it is open to visitors. The lavish interiors to be seen here include a variety of baroque and rococo styles with paintings on the walls and ceilings. The palace gardens come highly recommended, with paths radiating outwards from the palace in the shape of a half star and which once formed the setting for the hunting paths in the surrounding forest. The gardens, abundant with a rich variety of plants run down to a lake (Esrum Sø). A marble garden with sculptures was landscaped here according to the French style. Furthermore, the gardens include an octagonal lake (Pagodesøen), which contains an island upon which an aviary was built to house tropical birds and also a sculpture park (Normandsdalen) which has 69 figures of Norwegian fishermen and peasants.

Kronborg Castle

The third royal castle in North Zealand is Kronborg Castle (shown in the photos above). It is located at the northern entrance to Øresund in close proximity to the city centre of Elsinore (Helsingør). The towering castle lies only 4km from the Swedish coast and was therefore of great importance for the collection of the Øresund Toll until 1857. Prior to the introduction of the toll, an earlier castle stood here (Krogen Castle). Under Frederik II Krogen Castle was completely rebuilt. The present Kronborg Castle was inaugurated in 1585, having been completely paid for by money raised from the toll. However (and there seems to be a running theme in Danish History here), in 1629, during the confinement of the wife of Christian IV, Kirsten Munk, a fire broke out. Only a few parts of the castle and the chapel escaped the fire; work on rebuilding the castle was completed though, just eight years later. In 1658, during the Dano-Swedish War, the castle was ransacked somewhat with a host of treasures being taken, including the great fountain and Frederik II 's beautiful canopy. Repair work was carried out again but over the years lost it's role as a royal residence. During the years 1758-1922, Kronborg Castle's sole use was as a military barracks. It was neglected in terms of maintenance work, until museum officials stepped in to help with conserving what is the largest renaissance castle of Northern Europe.

Elsinore and Kronborg Castle may well be known to many across the world due to it being one of the settings for William Shakespeare's tragedy, Hamlet. It is on the bastions of Kronborg castle that Prince Hamlet meets his father 's ghost. A portrait of The Bard (above) can be seen on the walls of the castle, which today is a museum. Inside, it takes on the characteristics of a royal residence, with a Queen's and a King's Chamber each containing highly decorative ceiling paintings, door frames and marble fireplaces. Being a large castle, the banqueting hall is correspondingly the largest in Europe, with a length of 62m. Deep down in the underground passages of the castle’s casemates, visitors can see (a stone) Holger Danske. Holger Danske is a national hero and has been sleeping for hundreds of years, since his great feats in the battles against Muslims and heathens in the dark Middle Ages.. According to an old legend, he will wake up the day Denmark is threatened by enemies. Only then, will he open his eyes, stand up and raise his sword. Also at Kronborg is a separate section which contains The Commercial and Maritime museum. The museum charters the history of Danish trade and shipping through the ages.


Although I do not have any photographs, one more place I went to visit on a short train journey out of Copenhagen was the city of Roskilde. Many will have heard of it for it's annual music festival. The purpose of my visit was to visit one of the city's main attractions, the Viking Ship Museum. The focal point of the museum's collection is the remains of five well-preserved11th-century Viking ships which were excavated from the fjord 20km (12 mi) north of the city in the late 1960's. The ships were deliberately sunk in the 11th century to block a narrow navigation channel in order to protect Roskilde from seaborne assault. Roskilde at the time was the capital city of Denmark.

Of course, there are many more places to see and things to do in and around Copenhagen that are not featured on this webpage - a couple that spring to mind are Rungstedlund (the Karen Blixen Museum) on the Øresund coast just north of Copenhagen, where the author of famous works such as Out of Africa lived for most of her life and in Copenhagen itself, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, which is a world-renowned art museum (primarily sculpture). And so, perhaps for the reader interested, a good starting point might be the official Visit Copenhagen website, which can be found on the link Here.

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