On our first full day stay in Copenhagen, we decided that we needed to try other forms of investigating the many fabulous sites of this city rather than just using the old-fashioned method of walking. Today we would use both bicycles and a canal boat. We were lucky that our hotel had a wide range of bicycles available for hire. Our destination was the other side of the Castle Isle (Slotsholmen) and so it quickly became obvious to us as we rode along the main canal that our bicycles were a god-send for cutting out the long walks between destinations. Of course it was lucky that we were already regular bike riders at home so joining the throng of bike riders along the canal bike path wasn’t as dangerous as it could have been. Copenhagen is a bike-city so the locals know that biking anywhere is always quicker and cheaper than going by car; however they are not very forgiving of tourists that don’t know the rules and protocols of the bike paths and road crossings. These thoroughfares are for getting from A to B, not gawking at the interesting sights around them.

Our destination was the section of the canal on the other side of Slotsholmen, and after locking up our bikes, we bought a ticket and boarded the canal boat that was just about ready to go. The map to the left is a rough outline of our canal tour with the red arrows being the outward direction of our trip and the black dashes the return back to the original dock.

Doing the canal tour makes it very clear how the development of the city of Copenhagen was affected by the wars that northern Europe experienced from the 17th century onwards. Just by looking at the map to the left above, it is clear that the islands that run along the edge of the main canal here and make up the area of Christianshavn are man-made. On their seaward side, there are a series of bastions designed to repel canon fire as well as two parallel moats that separate Christianshavn from the island of Amager. It was built by Christian IV in the late 17th century to fortify this merchant town and protect the harbour. It was extended over time and the island of Holmen was created (1682-92) to provide a base for the navy. These artificial islands are no longer relevant in the protection of Copenhagen so they are now valued real estate for the locals as well as large areas of recreational space. Our canal tour concentrated on showing us this historic area of Copenhagen. Of course the first part of our tour took us down the Fredriksholms Kanal with beautiful views on both side of the boat.

Entering the main canal we turned left and enjoyed the sights on both side of the canal. On the right hand side as we travelled we noticed two amazing buildings next to each other, separated by a small canal as well as 140 years of architectural history. The huge blue-glass building titled ‘BLOX’ unsurprisingly houses the Danish Architecture Centre and the huge old red-brick building next door is a former 1882 warehouse that is also a facility of the Architecture Centre.

On our travels through various major cities on the way to Copenhagen, we realised that Scandinavians loved their opera. We also got the impression that there was some form of competition going on between these cities as to who could have the largest and most spectacular Opera House. All the ones we had seen so far were built on the city’s waterfront and Copenhagen was no exception. The Copenhagen Opera House was not far down from BLOX on the right hand side of the canal as we travelled. It was finished in 2005 on a section of Holmen Island and is estimated to have cost the equivalent of around 370 million US dollars.

Just past the Opera House we took a right-hand turn into a canal which took us in amongst the artificial islands that were developed in the late 18th century to assist building fortifications to defend the city of Copenhagen and its harbour from European states to the south.

This enabled us to have a look at the expensive houses and large apartment buildings that marked this area of the inner city on Christianshavn. The map to the right shows a small section of the canal area we turned into, the canal located just behind the remnants of the fortification’s bastions built over two centuries ago. Our guide described the black/brown, red-tiled sheds in the image to the right below as being originally built as part of the defence of Copenhagen harbour from the British naval assault in 1807. They were originally called gunboat sheds (32 in number originally) and were used against the British Navy…basically they stored a large rowboat with one canon in it. These boatsheds were used by the Navy until 1964. After falling into disrepair they were sold on in 1998 and today are trendy office space for new businesses needing a small footprint near the centre of Copenhagen.

We headed back out of this canal and found ourselves turning right at the Opera House. The island on which the Opera House sits is an artificial island which was built in the late 17th century as part of the development of the seaward defences of Copenhagen. The country’s fleet was housed closer to the city-centre at that time but it was decided that it needed to be moved down towards the harbour entrance. One of the methods used to create the island was by the sinking of older ships loaded with mud and trash from the city’s streets. The new home, Holmen, for the country’s shipyards was based on mud and trash! Ship construction continued here over the next two centuries but was moved further south after 1918. Our canal boat took us further along Holmen until we reached what is left of the ship-yards at the mouth of the harbour. In the image below can be seen a green-roofed tower with infrastructure on top that was designed for the lifting of masts onto the old wooden ships (1751). Its special design is no longer required with modern ships.

The image above taken from the canal boat shows that Holmen still retains a functioning shipyard but on our arrival here, our guide decided that it was time to tell the passengers one of his favourite stories about the island. It concerned a business that believed Bungee Jumping from the top of modern crane would go well on Holmen. He told us that when commercial Bungee Jumping was ready to start here, the owners of the business were concerned that they might not get the customers necessary to be profitable. As a result they publicised the opening day by announcing they would give a free jump to anybody who turned up naked, ready to leap. Our guide then pronounced that this company had not understood the nature of Copenhagen Danes…they liked nothing better than free stuff and getting naked!

As a result of the publicity, half of the brave nudists/naturalists in town turned up, keen to take advantage of the free naked jump. Apparently there were so many unashamedly naked types excited by the idea of  bare-body jumping from great heights with an audience, by mid-morning the owners of the business were forced to close down since they were making no money. We saw no naked Bungee Jumpers that morning. However I was a little concerned by the story so I fact-checked it on One entry read, “Bungee jump @ Halvandet, Holmen, København…Bungee jumping crane @ Halvandet. Jump naked and jump for free.” I also noticed on this site that the city of Prague had borrowed the ‘naked’ idea and were running ‘naked tours of their city…but not for free!

Our canal tour boat continued around Holmen and a view of the Central Guardhouse came into view; it was built in the late 18th century. Visitors are allowed to visit this island but they are not meant to arrive before the one cannon blast that announces the official ‘dawn’…whenever it is 8am, local time!

From Holmen our canal boat turned around and we began heading back along the west side of the canal. Our first stop was on the opposite bank from Holmen, at the Little Mermaid Statue. The statue, in various states of completeness, has been sitting here since 1913. Its sculptor based his work on the 1837 fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Yet again the name of the beer brewer Carlsberg comes up in this story of a Copenhagen icon; it was commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of Carlsberg. He asked the sculptor to base the image on a Copenhagen ballerina. The dancer agreed to model for the piece but not to do so naked; the sculpture has her face, but the sculptor’s wife had to step in and pose for the body. The statue has been a target since the 1960s by political and social activists as well as straightforward vandals. The head for example has been cut off and not returned as well as being cut off again but returned to the police. These are just some of the many indignities cast the little mermaid’s way in her never ending search for a human soul.

After stopping briefly to compete with land-based tourists for photos of the Little Mermaid, we continued along the canal and admired the impressive canal-side buildings. Many of these we would have a closer look at when we rode our bikes down this way after our canal cruise

Our last destination before we returned to the starting place of our tour was to turn left again into the canal just after the Opera House and make our way down the full length of Christianshavn’s Kanal. Our target this time was the Vor Freisers Kirke (Church of Our Saviour), a church famous for its fabulous external winding spiral staircase that can be climbed to the top of the church tower. Many people visit the church to climb the spire and get the great views over the Copenhagen district. The church was started in 1682 but not finished until 1695. The spire was not added until 1752. There is an urban legend that the last architect threw himself off the tower when he finally noticed that the spiral turns the wrong way (anti-clockwise) on the tower. There is no truth to the myth.

While we travelling down the canal, our guide was explaining that there was only a second or two’s chance of getting a photo of the church as we glided by as the boat was not allowed to stop or slow down. Once we had passed, our guide asked us to check the photo on the camera and if we had a picture of a tree, be happy that it is the most photographed tree in Copenhagen. I am not going to claim the contemporary photo on the left below as mine. The photo on the right below is of Vor Freisers Kirke from some time in the 1890s.

From the area of Christianshavn, we motored back to Frederiksholms Kanal to make our way to our original starting point. The image below is of the most notable bridge across this canal that leads to the Christiansborg riding grounds.  It was the old main entrance to the first Christiansborg Palace that was burned down in 1794 so this bridge is one of the surviving features of the old castle.

One of the perennial Health and Safety issues that our guide had to keep reminding those on board about was to ensure we remained seated as our boat went under the bridges over the canals. Clearly past passengers in their excitement to get good photos had failed to notice the approaching bridge and so got a significant whack on the head by the unforgiving bridges. I hadn’t noticed any bridge casualties on our very interesting and entertaining tour.

I felt the need to take the photo below as we rode our bikes down the street beside the canal as we headed out to go and get personal with the sites on the canal that we had passed but not stopped at. It’s of course the front of the current Christiansborg Palace in all its splendour.


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