We stayed in an interesting campsite in Charlottenlund fort, about 5.5 miles north of the city. I couldn’t really find much by way of background other than it was built as part of the fortifications for Copenhagen. It was a lovely spot and an easy 25 min cycle into the city. I only remembered to take a picture the evening of our last day, but it gives you an idea of our salubrious surroundings!
Our first activity was to go on a ‘free’ 3 hour walking tour to give us a bit of background to the city. You usually pick up some interesting tidbits on these things, I’ll share the ones I can remember!
We learned that Copenhagen is the most bike friendly city in Europe, roll over Amsterdam!! Around a third of residents regularly cycle to work, including 63% of congressmen/women. We certainly found our cycle journey to the city centre very easy, cycling has priority over cars everywhere. With more bikes than cars, the city traffic was very light compared to every other city we have visited with the exception of Freiburg in Germany. Copenhagen cyclists are nicknamed Viking Bikers and the way they whizz by, you had better get out of the way!!
We learned that Old Copenhagen was restricted in size for centuries, crammed into just 4 square kilometres. For protection no citizen could live outside the city walls. The result was a dirty, smelly, disease infested and extremely cramped city right up until the early 19th century. Denmark is also a very windy country, and the old city burned down on many occasions, flames fanned by the wind. Not quite the city we see today. So it is quite rare to see really old buildings.
Here’s a statue of the man responsible for the building restriction, Absalon was a Danish Archbishop and a politician. In this photo he’s dressed for battle. He had enormous power as advisor to the King. References to him kept popping up when talking about Copenhagen’s early history.
We learned a little more why Danes are amongst the happiest in the world. It has a great welfare system paid for by high taxes to be sure, but creates enough wealth which is redistributed. There are generous childcare payments and every 18 year old can get the equivalent of $450 a month for 6 years for their education. It means that most children can leave home and become independent early on and can get a good job after they finish college or university. The minimum wage is around €17-18 an hour and the average salary around €55,000 a year.
Of course there are still social problems, you will always get people who fall outside ‘the system’ but it seems the Danish Government helps and supports rather than punishes. So, for example, there are comprehensive drug support teams operating in the city and there is more often than not, places for the homeless to sleep. It makes for one of the safest countries in the world.
We walked along Vesterbrogade in the district of Vesterbro which is the red light district and known for drug gangs but you wouldn’t have known it. Along side the worst areas are children’s playgrounds which were clean and full of kids playing.
The gap between the very rich and very poor is one of the smallest in the world. Income tax is high which serves to equalise incomes. We were told that the highest earners earn roughly 3 times more than the lowest paid. Hmmmm. Can’t say that’s true in the U.K….
Many Danes do voluntary work for their communities, they generally have a strong family and friend support network. There is a good minimum wage and salaries are reasonable. I certainly have not yet seen or have spoken to any Danish person who was not happy to help, explain nicely, smile and generally be open and friendly. All in perfect English…..
So what did we see?
Our walking tour kicked off at City Hall but was not part of it. We had arrived a little early and as it was open, we stepped inside…..
We were very pleasantly surprised at how beautiful it was and how anyone could simply walk in and look around.
So on our tour we checked out the oldest recorded street in Copenhagen which used to back onto the original Viking harbour.
The old harbour now forms Frederiksholms Kanal. The canal was created when an artificial island was built. I can’t exactly remember when or why, possibly to create more space for buildings within the cramped city. The space to the left of the canal picture formed the harbour side of the buildings to the right of the street picture.
Christiansborg Palace is now the seat of the Danish Parliament. We learned that the newest Government is led by the Social Democrat leader and is a coalition government.
You can go up the Tower, and I would have done on this occasion for the views of the city are supposed to be fantastic. Luckily for me the lift was broken so the Tower was shut.
We also saw the Copenhagen stock exchange. Built in the 17th century it is probably best known for its spire made up of the twisted tails of four dragons.
We stopped by St Nicholas Church to admire the Tower as it had been used as a fire look out. They could see which way the flames would go based on the wind direction and what streets had already caught fire. Funnily enough it also got burned down in the Great Fire of 1728 and has not been used as a Church since its reconstruction.
No visit to Copenhagen would be complete without walking along Nyhavn, one of the most iconic scenes of the city. The canal was built between 1670-3, that’s in only 3 years, dug out by hand by Swedish prisoners of war. It was a working port and as such was more known for its beer, sailors and prostitution. In the 1960’s it was ‘cleared’ in a week, which heralded the upmarket image we know today.
We gathered from our guide that relations between the Danes and Swedes were somewhat strained in history. One Swedish attack took place with the Swedish army marching over the frozen Baltic to attack Copenhagen. They won. The British also got a mention when we attacked the country because it wanted to remain neutral in the Napoleonic wars.
Here’s part of the Danish changing of the Guard ceremony in the Amalienborg palace complex.
The Royal family is a constitutional monarchy as in Britain, and it has the longest continuing line in the world from the early 8th century to the present day. They are very down to earth, the children of the Royal Family attend ordinary public schools, and the adult members of the family are often seen shopping, dining, or riding their bicycles in public.
This picture is taken looking down Frederikshavn axis and the Amelienborg palace complex with our backs to the opera house which was very ugly! Apparently the Opera house building was financed by A P Møller of Mærsk fame which gave him the final say in the design. His attention to detail was legendary, to the frustration of the architect so we were told.
On our second day, we did another ‘Alternative’ 3 hour walking tour where we visited Vesterbro which is an upcoming area of the city, and Christianshavn.
I didn’t take too many pictures in Vesterbro as the theme was the more seedy side of the city and to be fair, drug dealers and prostitutes aren’t too happy to have their picture taken (obviously). I’ve already mentioned about how the city, and the country handle these problems so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say, Vesterbro has had a ‘naughty’ reputation for quite some time….
Here’s some good street art from the area
The Christianshavn district is well known for its hip café culture and canals lined with houseboats. The area was founded in the 17th Century on a number of small artificial islands, the style inspired by Dutch cities…
The Church of our saviour is known for its external staircase around the spire. I’m told the views from the top are amazing, but you know me…..
The district is also home to Freetown Christiania, a hippy commune formed originally from a squat in the abandoned military barracks. Between 800-1000 people live there and the ethos is about self governance with everyone involved in decision making. The community has its own set of rules, independent of the Danish government. The rules forbid stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests, hard drugs and biker’s colours.. As you can imagine, the community has had a lot of problems.
We wandered around for a bit, it looked a lot like Camden market, selling clothes, upcycled stuff etc. The usual tat if I’m honest. They have problems with Capitalism but seem happy to make money out of the tourists. 🤔
The picture with the coloured lanterns marks the cannabis market where you can buy from a range of dealers. Whilst cannabis is openly bought and consumed there, it is illegal and the Police do occasionally raid the area. You are not allowed to take pictures there for some reason!!🤣🤣
We were very lucky with the weather on our two days in the city so we’re able to thoroughly enjoy walking around the botanical gardens in the brilliant sunshine……
We haven’t eaten out in Copenhagen as food is really expensive. Well, we have had coffees (£3 each, croissants (£3.20 each) and a couple of days of that, and you soon eat into your budget. A lunch menu with two courses start at £30 each…. Remember we’re not on holiday!!
So when we visited the covered marketplace, we enjoyed the views, looked but didn’t touch!
We did break down and have a hot dog which we were given to understand are really good and a snip at £3.20 (cheap and nasty) to mid range £6.60 (not cheap, a bit tastier). Luckily for us we can make our own meals 😁
At the other end of the price spectrum … the best food we ate was actually free. Whilst killing time waiting for our tour to start we stumbled upon the local Sikh community running a “Turban Day” event – where they educate folks on the fact that not all turban wearers are Muslims. Sikhs are well known for providing free food (the Golden Temple in Amritsar provides 75,000 free meals PER DAY) and the Copenhagen Sikhs did this tradition proud.
The Copenhagen Sikhs arrived in the late 60s / early 70s when a bunch of educated young men decided to take a road trip to Europe to see what it was like – some of them stayed!
We had two days in the city and enjoyed our stay, we were tired at the end! We liked Copenhagen, it felt open and friendly, no mean feat in a capital city. We loved cycling around, it was so easy. We were put off by how expensive it was. Would we come back again? Unlikely, unless we win the lottery…..