We left Gothenburg in Sweden on the 1st September 2022 by train, our destination Copenhagen in Denmark. Over the last 10 years in Australia, we have become big fans of ‘Nordic Noir’ television so I was wondering whether any of the places we would visit in Copenhagen would be recognisable from these shows. For example, for fans of ‘Borgen’, we realised when we were visiting the streets around the Christiansborg Palace that we had stumbled upon by accident the setting for much of the political drama in that show. (Our trip also clarified that ‘Borgen’ wasn’t actually set in Bergen, the second largest city in Norway!) On this train trip to Copenhagen we began anticipating the excitement of travelling over the amazing bridge that was the centrepiece of our number one Nordic Noir show, “The Bridge” from 2011 introduced us to our favourite fictional detective with Aspergers Syndrome, Saga Noren. In the series, a corpse was discovered on the Oresund Bridge on the border line between Malmo in Sweden with Copenhagen. Our train journey would take us over this amazing bridge and there aren’t many bridges in the world that finish in the middle of a major shipping channel before plunging down into a tunnel under the sea
I have mentioned earlier in these blogs about our problematic train arrivals at major Scandinavian cities. In some ways our arrival at the main station in Copenhagen was the worst of our trip. The usual attempts to find the direction of our hotel on Google maps was only vaguely successful, catching a taxi seemed too daunting so we were left to drag our bags down Bernstoffsgade as we headed towards the main canal where we hoped we would find our hotel. Unfortunately, there was so much heavy vehicle traffic combined with a disappearing footpath that loss of life seemed almost inevitable on this walk. The map on the left below shows our trail. The photo on the right below was taken just outside the railway station of what appeared to be an artificial mountain with a gaping hole in its side. We eventually realised that we were outside the grounds of a ‘theme park’. Such was our ignorance that we didn’t realise that the Central train station was opposite Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest theme park in the world. In one online list of the top 15 best things to see in Copenhagen, this place was at the top of the list. It’s opening line read, “Such is this theme park’s fame that some people come to Copenhagen just to visit Tivoli Gardens.” We discovered on our next walk around Copenhagen that the views of Tivoli Gardens from the other side of this theme park were far more attractive than our first impressions.
We were staying at Copenhagen Island Hotel that was built on a platform that sat over the edge of Gasvaerkshavnen, the canal that separates much of Copenhagen from Amager Island. We were very grateful to arrive here and found the hotel met all our expectations over the next two days. Being on the canal, its position made it very easy to find our way back home, no matter how far we walked, rode our bikes or travelled by ferry.
It didn’t take us long to recover from our harrowing walk to our hotel and we were ready to start checking out Copenhagen by using the canal as our main guide. It was around 4.30pm when we headed out which meant we had at least 3-4 hours of sunlight before we would have to walk home in the fading light. The first major area of interest we arrived at along the canal was the Kalvebod Bridge area, the waterfront here having been redeveloped in the late 1990s. The diagram on the right is from a helpful tourist sign here showing the edge of the canal and a wooden boardwalk we were able to walk along called the Kalvebod Wave. This boardwalk had cafes and areas designed for the locals who wanted to relax, read a book or have a swim in the canal.
Continuing on from Kalvebod Quay, we came to our first main bridge over the canal, Langebro Bridge, which leads to Copenhagen airport along Amager Boulevard. We would become familiar with this bridge, travelling under it by ferry as well as walking and bike riding across it over the next two days.
On the map to the left, the red arrows show the direction of our walk on this first afternoon of our time in Copenhagen. This is a city whose canals are often just as important as its roads and bridges and it was the first canal on the left that flowed from the main canal that was to be our the first corner we turned. The number of highlighted yellow letters on the map here show that we were immediately heading in the direction of so many of the significant buildings and other important sites in Copenhagen. (We didn’t know that at the time!) We also didn’t realise that we had come across a significant island in the history of the development of the city of Copenhagen called Slotsholmen, (“The Castle Isle”). Just up the canal from where we turned left, we would come across Christiansborg Palace but the island itself had been the site of a number of palaces over the centuries.
However the first building that caught our eye as we turned along Fredriksholms Kanal was called Christian IV’s Brewhouse, dating from 1608. However its original purpose when built was as a corner bastion of a fortification built by Christian IV. We would come along this canal on the next day and our ferry commentator made some disparaging, if amusing, comments about Christian IV’s provision of ale to his troops (due to the poor quality of the city’s water) resulting in some loss of their military effectiveness.
It quickly became obvious that this area of Copenhagen around Slotsholmen was going to be rich with buildings that were important in the history of the city. Further down the canal we came across on the left, one side of the National Museum of Denmark. I didn’t get a chance to visit this museum but one of our group took the opportunity late the next day to visit it and said it was well worth a slow visit.
There were various bridges crossing the canal but the most significant one was the Marble bridge that crossed the canal at the gate to the Riding Ground in front of the Christiansborg Palace. To the left of the palace (#3) were the Royal reception rooms and the building on the right of the palace is the Danish Parliament. The title of another favourite Nordic Noir TV show that we have watched is called ‘Borgen’ which translated means “The Castle”; much of the plot of this show is situated in the Danish Parliament building. The image below was taken looking through the gates of the Riding Ground at the back of these famous Danish buildings.
The image to the right was taken from the western end of Fredriksholms Kanal showing Christian IV’s Brewhouse in the distance on the left. In the middle distance is the Marble Bridge crossing to the back entrance of Christiansborg Palace. Tightly packed along the right side of the canal are all the speed boats belonging to the locals who must have paid for the most expensive boat berths in Copenhagen.
Turning right at the end of the canal, we entered Vindebrogade and found ourselves inspecting a very impressive fountain in front of Thorvaldsens Museum. Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) was a ‘neo-classical’ sculptor who lived and worked in Rome for much of his life. He is buried in the inner courtyard of this museum. The museum holds a collection of marble and bronze statues as well as drawings and paintings.
Walking on from the Thorvaldsens Museum, we came to the corner of Borsgade, the street that marked the other side of Christiansborg Palace and ran along beside the canal that was the boundary of Slotsholmen on the northern side. The photo below was taken looking down past the equestrian statue of Christian IX of Denmark (1818-1906) on to the Borsen, a 17th century stock exchange with its distinctive spire. The spire was designed as the tails of four dragons intertwined.
However we caught sight of a large square over the other side of Vindebrogade, that looked like it was our sort of place; an open air area where we could sit and have a beer as well as watching the passing parade. The square was called Hojbo Plads. It was laid out after the Copenhagen fire of 1795 to replace a large dense area of city buildings that had been burnt down. It became a necessary fire-break against the future, regular city fires. The main standout feature of the square was the equestrian statue of Absalon, the warrior/bishop (1128-1201) who has been traditionally credited as the founder of Copenhagen. With more time in Copenhagen, I would have loved to visit the ruin of Absalon’s Castle which was built on Slotsholmen on the site of Copenhagen Castle and Christiansborg Castle. It survived 200 years before it was plundered by Denmark’s enemies, including the army of the Hanseatic League. The remnants of Absalon’s Castle were discovered under Christiansborg Castle in 1907.
Halfway through my beer, I decided I needed to wander down to the other end of Hojbo Plads and investigate what appeared to be a very impressive fountain. It was called the Stork Fountain and I was correct in my assumption that it was a very beautiful piece. Constructed in 1894 as a gift to the crown prince of the time, it features three storks about to take flight. For some reason, a tradition has developed here of newly graduated mid-wives dancing around the fountain.