April 8, 2020

Copenhagen, Denmark

And Malmo & Lund in Sweden
Jun 2010

Copenhagen has been rated as the best city to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet.

The city is located at the Eastern end of Denmark, on the Zealand island just 7 km away from the South Western edge of Sweden!  The city is 606 square km in area with 800,000 population.  The metropolitan area has 2.5 million people.

A ninth century poem has an interesting story about how Zealand (the island on which Copenhagen is located) was created.  A Norse Goddess, Gefion, wanted some land.  The King told her she can have all the land that she can plow in one night.  The goddess converted her four sons into oxen and plowed out of earth as much soil as she can in one night and threw the soil into Danish sea.  Overnight, an island (where the soil was thrown in) and a lake (where the soil was plowed out) were created.  And folks think that the modern day Zealand island in Denmark and Lake Old Sigtuna in Sweden, having a similar shape and size is no coincidence.

This story is celebrated in the Gefion Fountain monument, built for Copenhagen by its second most famous commercial enterprise: Carlsberg brewery.  (Most famous?  Lego).

Gefion Fountain:  Celebrating the Norse myth about creation of Zealand in Denmark where Copenhagen is located

Copenhagen had human settlement as early as in stone age (that ended in 8700 BC); was set up as a town in 1020 AD; and became the capital of Kalmar Union (a union of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway due to marriages in the Royal families than due to Scandinavian co-operation) in 1368.  After the dissolution of the union, it remained as the capital of Denmark ever since.

The city took multiple beatings: a plague, a fire, Horatio Nelson, Sweden, and Adolf Hitler.  Remember the story of Vice Admiral Nelson keeping the telescope on his blind eye to not see the signal from his boss to cease fire?  That was to complete the destruction of Copenhagen.  And the city was rebuilt again and again.

Radhuspladsen, the City Hall Square is the public square at the center of Copenhagen.  The square is a popular venue for a variety of public events, both celebrations and protests!

Radhuspladsen, the public square next to City Hall

Copenhagen City Hall at Radhuspladsen Public Square

Copenhagen has a 1.1 km long pedestrians only street, "Stroget", with shops on either side.  The street connects City Hall Square with another large public square: "Kongens Nytorv".

We walked the entire stretch one evening and our daughter introduced us to warm pancakes coated with chocolate paste.  We had to stand in queue to get it and eat it while on our legs.  Stroget is a "must do" experience in Copenhagen.

Stroget, longest pedestrian street in the world

Tivoli, an amusement park, is a major attraction in the city.  The second oldest amusement park in the world (the oldest, Bakken, too is in Copenhagen); opened in 1843.  Our guide was proud that Walt Disney spent considerable time in Tivoli with a note pad and pen to draw inspiration for Disneyland.

What can you do in Tivoli?  Rides, boating, games, music, dances, theater, gardens, aquarium, and fireworks.  Quite an inspiration indeed!

Tivoli Entrance

Tivoli: Inside

Tivoli has a "life size" copy of the star attraction of Copenhagen:  Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid.  (Andersen lived in Copenhagen).  The original, normally located near Copenhagen harbor, was lent to China at the time of our visit.  We had to make do with the copy.

On occasions, a public icon could be quite underwhelming in reality than what you imagined it to be. Little Mermaid is one.  (Manneken Pis in Brussels is one).  Very beautiful, but too small.

Copy of Little Mermaid in Tivoli.  Original was lent to China at the time of our visit

Tivoli, in keeping with the rest of Copenhagen, has an exquisite choice of restaurants.  Our lunch in Tivoli was an unanticipated pleasure of Nordic cuisine.

In Copenhagen, do not be surprised if the lady behind you in a queue at a cafe is the Crown princess of Denmark.  Or the lady getting into the escalator ahead of you in a shopping mall is the reigning monarch Queen Margrethe II.  Denmark is a society where the PM rides a bicycle to office; and not for show!

However, Royal palaces are, as elsewhere, quite impressive.  The Amelienborg Palace, by the sea, in Copenhagen is quite large, with four facades around an octagonal courtyard; and St Frederick Church behind the palace complex.

Amelienborg Palace (where the Royals live) and St Frederick Church with its green dome

Change of Guard (every noon) at Amelienborg Palace

Study of King Christian IX (ruled 1863-1906) as he left it.  He is great grandfather of current monarch.

Christiansborg Palace, was rebuilt as a palace (on the grounds of an old castle) in XIX century.  It is currently the seat of Danish Supreme Court, Danish Parliament, and the office of Denmark's Prime Minister - a rare instance of all three branches of a government sharing the same building.

Christiansborg Palace:  Supreme Court, Parliament, and PM Office

The Rosenborg Castle was built in early XVII century by Christian IV, one of the popular monarchs of Denmark who built several impressive buildings during his reign.  The castle was used as a Royal residence for about a hundred years and now serves as a museum housing Royal collections including the crown jewels.

Rosenborg Castle housing Royal collections in a museum

Danish crown in Royal collections in Rosenborg castle

The Church of our Saviour has the best view in Copenhagen.  The dark spire is wrapped by a spiralling stair case with golden handrails taking visitors to the top.  Four hundred steps.  The last one hundred and fifty are outside the tower.  We are told that the view of Copenhagen is spectacular but we gave the view (with reluctance) and the steps (with glee) a pass!

Church of Our Saviour.  400 steps to the top for a spectacular view.

The Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center that looks like a church was actually a church built in early XIII century.  The church was destroyed by fire in 1795 and rebuilt in early XX century as an arts center.  The spire is retained to preserve the skyline.  In the Nikolaj Place, next to the center, stands an equestrian statue of Bishop Absalon.  The bishop was an adviser to the King who ruled the region in second half of XII century and built the kernel that grew to Copenhagen out of lands given to him by the King.  In other words, the founder of modern Copenhagen.

St Nikolaj Spire, and the equestrian statue of Bishop Absalon, the founder of Copenhagen

The Royal Danish Opera House in Copenhagen is one of the most modern opera houses in the world, built at a cost of US$ 500 million.  It can house 1,700 people.

View of Royal Danish Opera House from Amelienborg Palace

Nyhavn is one of the most famous streets in all of Denmark.  The waterfront area next to a XVII century canal is lined with colourful houses on the "sunny" side (and the other side is, therefore, called the "shady" side)!  Hans Christian Andersen lived in one of the colourful houses on the sunny side.

The canal itself was built by King Christian V using Swedish prisoners of war.  The canal was a working port for three centuries and the area a favourite for visiting sailors and their entertainers.  These days the area is cleaned up and is a major/safe tourist attraction.


Near the canal one can see "Mindeankeret" (the Great Memorial Anchor) erected in memory of the 1,700 navy servicemen who gave up their lives during WW2.

Mindeankeret, the great memorial anchor

A one hour tour of the canal provides a waterside perspective of Copenhagen.

Canal tour:  St Nikolaj

Canal Tour

Canal Tour:  View of Amelienborg Palace from boat

Canal Tour:  View of Black Diamond Library (so named because of odd surfaces and black color)

Canal Tour:  Boat houses, a nice way to avoid city's property taxes

The Fredericksborg Castle, a half hour westward drive from Copenhagen, is one of the most scenic ones in Denmark.  King Christian IV built the current castle out of land inherited from his father.  The castle and the palace within are quite impressive.

Frederiksborg Castle

Frederiksborg Castle

Frederiksborg Castle Chapel

Frederiksborg Castle: Gardens

The Fredensborg Castle on the eastern shores of Lake Esrum is the spring and autumn residence of the Royal family.

Fredensborg Castle

The towns of Malmo and Lund in Sweden are so close to Copenhagen (separated by 7 km of water spanned by the Oresund bridge) that they are considered as suburbs of Greater Copenhagen!

Oresund Bridge that spans Denmark and Sweden

We did a day trip to Malmo and Lund in Sweden across the bridge, drove north to Helsingborg in Sweden, crossed the straits again to its twin city, Helsingor in Denmark,  visited the famous Kronberg castle and drove south to Copenhagen!

Malmo is the third largest city in Sweden.

Malmo:  Stortoget Public Square and Malmo City Hall

Malmo: Stortoget Public Square and Statue of King Gustaav X of Sweden

Malmo: Stortoget Public Square

Malmo: Turning Torso Tower.  190 m high.  Turns 90 deg from base to top

Lund is about 20 minutes drive from Malmo.  Lund is a university town.  Lund University is one of the top 100 in the world; set up in 1666, 350+ years old; and has 48,000 students enrolled in a latitude of courses.

Lund Cathedral

Lund University

Lund Castle

Lund Main Street (took us 20 minutes to walk the entire stretch)

We reached Helsingor in Denmark (crossing over from Helsingborg in Sweden) late afternoon.

Helsingor in Denmark

The next three hours were spent touring the Kronborg Castle.  The castle, made famous by William Shakespeare (Remember Macbeth's "To be or not to be"?  That happened in Kronborg) was built in 1574; is minimal in its decor; and has underground dungeons that were scary!

Kronborg Castle

There is a statue for Hogar the Dane in the basement of the castle.  Hogar is believed to be a Frankish knight who escorted his lord's widow and children and surrendered to Charlemagne.

Kronborg Castle:  Hogar's statue

Kronborg Castle:  Denmark's foreign policy for Sweden!

In the past Denmark and Sweden were part of one kingdom under Kalmar Union, and warring neighbours during other times.

However, modern day Denmark and Sweden are States focused on economic growth through co-operation and pursuing the Scandinavian approach to managing society (awesome support to private enterprise; but stiff taxation to provide a cradle to grave protection to people; in other words laissez faire market based capitalism in managing economy and a caring social transfer from the rich to everyone for a high quality life).

No wonder,  Copenhagen is rated as the city with the most number of happy people in the world!

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