copenhagen // day 1

I wake rather early to prepare for a busy day. First, I head out to the Botanical Gardens, a walk that takes me around forty minutes. On my way I pass by some great street art and interesting statues, and also cross over the Søerne river. Unfortunately, barely any flowers are in bloom, and few, if any, trees have leaves on them. (Note how I’m perpetually disappointed by every botanical garden I visit, yet persist in giving them a chance. I mean, isn’t it reasonable to expect some greenery mid-April?)
Upon exiting the Botanical Gardens I stumble upon the nearby King’s Gardens, which I imagine must be very pleasant later on in the year, but for now is equally as bare as the previous gardens.

The Rundetaarn opens at 10am, so I have a few minutes to spare before I can visit it. I notice Trinity Church, adjacent to Rundetaarn, is already welcoming visitors, so I pop inside for a quick look. If you have two minutes to spare, it’s definitely worth it. The tall, white ceilings feature delicate golden ornaments, giving Trinity Church an airy, delicate and unpretentious vibe. (Going through my photos, I realize the church’s ceilings actually have the same design as those of the Rundetaarn, albeit much grander.)
Rundetaarn is, without question, one of my favorite visits in Copenhagen. For only 25 DKK, it’s an experience I’ll never forget (part of that probably has to do with the fact I’d been eyeing it on Pinterest for ages). The tower is unique in that it has no stairs (unless you count the tiny staircase at the very top – but that takes away from the magic!). For all I know, I could keep climbing Rundetaarn to the sky: my eyes just never tire from the purity of its architecture. The view from the top isn’t breathtaking, but it’s still nice. On my way down I stop by a wonderful exhibit – Natural State of Mind – which features works made using natural elements.
(My tour guide later mentions there is an annual bike race to the top of Rundetaarn. The record is an unbelievable 1 minute and 48 seconds!)

At 11am I head to the Town Hall, right by the H.C. Andersen Statue, to meet my group for the free Sandeman Walking Tour. For the following two hours, our sweet and knowledgeable guide Nina takes us through a good part of Copenhagen, telling us about the city and Denmark’s history and culture along the way. I’ve grown quite fond of walking tours, because even though they’re a very touristy thing to do, they allow me to get a good overview and deeper understanding of a place – especially if conducted by locals.
Nina teaches us many things, but I won’t bore you with a poorly-explained and perhaps erroneous account of everything I learn. Instead, I’ll take you through a few of the highlights:

  • We stop by the house of J.C. Jacobsen, the founder of the famous Carlsberg brewery.
  • We also stroll through a quaint and colorful street called Magstraede (historically known as ‘shit street’). Anyhow, because it was spared from Copenhagen’s two great fires, it contains some of the oldest buildings in the city, most of which are protected.
  • Here’s something I would never have noticed if I hadn’t taken the tour: The Merman with Seven Sons. Located in the Slotsholm Canal, this underwater statue illustrates a classic Danish folktale that actually inspired Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. According to the story, a young woman named Agnete is seduced by a merman, takes his hand in marriage and goes to live with him under the sea. One day, she hears church bells ringing and decides to return to land for a day, promising to return to her husband and sons. However, she comes to realize how much she misses home, and never returns to sea.
  • We take a quick break by Copenhagen’s famous HappyWall, an interactive public art installation created by Thomas Dambo. The concept is rather ingenious: “Happy Wall is an analog interactive pixel sculpture. The wall consists of nearly 2000 wooden boards that can be flipped to change color. Everybody who wants can in this way create patterns, animals, words or statements - only limit is your imagination”.
  • Nyhavn looks a lot like a canal street in Amsterdam, with its quaint buildings and outdoor cafés. We learn the canal is flanked by two distinct sides, which are determined by the way they are hit by the sun. Andersen’s House, for instance, was located on the shadow side – less desirable and thus much cheaper than its sunny counterpart. Today, however, though all the restaurants are concentrated on the sunny side, both are very expensive places!
  • After turning onto the waterfront, we get a good view of the contemporary masterpiece that is the Copenhagen Opera House.
  • We arrive at Amalienborg Palace, the winter home of the Danish Royal Family. The palace consists in four identical buildings, centered around an octogonal courtyard. Unlike Buckingham Palace, Amalienborg is completely open to the public (except for its interiors, of course). As such, there are no gates keeping the people separate from their rulers, which reinforces the notion that the royals are close to their subjects. The Royal Guards, however, are just as stoic (apparently they freak out if you touch the walls – so don’t do that).
  • The tour ends at Frederiks kirke, also known as the Marble Church. Indeed, its exterior is made of 100% marble. It’s free to go inside and marvel at the dome ceiling – and very much worth it.

Next on my itinerary is the Designmuseum. I’m addicted to all things design – be it furniture, objects, clothes, digital or print – so you can’t imagine how eager I am to visit this aesthetic mecca. The Copenhagen Designmuseum has a fantastic collection of mid-century modern furniture, especially chairs. I also particularly enjoy its retrospective exhibit of design for children; my favorite three pieces are a minimalist high chair, a cozy onesie and a cocoon-like crib suspended from the ceiling.

On the way to Kastelet, I pass by Nyboder, a cool grouping of yellow barracks built by Christian IV to accommodate the families of the growing Royal Danish Navy. Kastellet itself is also an interesting site. Constructed in the shape of a pentagram, it is one of the best-preserved fortifications in Europe. One can actually wander between (though not penetrate) the military buildings, and there is also a war memorial monument to see.
But for tourists like me, Kastellet is just a means to an end, as it leads the way to Copenhagen’s iconic attraction: the Little Mermaid. I find this rather unfortunate, because there is much more to Copenhagen than this little statue. It’s more of a tourist trap, if anything I guess cities are forced to use a single symbol to brand themselves – Paris uses the Eiffel Tower and New York the Statue of Liberty – but I can’t think of a city whose symbol is actually my favorite (or the local folks’ favorite) to visit. Anyway, if you’re in Copenhagen, just go see the Little Mermaid. Then you can say you did it.
The Little Mermaid statue appears tiny in comparison to its neighboring Gefion Fountain and St.Alban’s Anglican Church, also on the Langelinie (the name of the pier, promenade and park along the river). This promenade leads me to the beautiful Black Diamond Library. It was designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen and completed in 1999 as an extension of the Copenhagen Library. Unfortunately it’s Good Friday, so I can’t go inside (but if you can, do it! It looks stunning).

My long day ends with a walk on the islet of Slotsholmen. I first take a look at the imposing Christiansborg Palace, which is the seat of the Danish parliament and house of Denmark’s three supreme powers: executive, legislative and judicial. Just next door I find Bibliotekshaven, a peaceful garden between the Palace and the Jewish Museum. Great place to sit on a bench and enjoy a sandwich when the weather is nice.