The Only Map You’ll Ever Need in Copenhagen

The blue shows the various canals, the red is the city center (Latin Quarter) and the black buildings are (clockwise from top) the royal palace, the new opera house, and the Black Diamond.

On my third day in Copenhagen one of the architecture professors held up this picture to my orientation group and told us that it was the only map of Copenhagen we’d ever need. Now, I’m all for simplicity in design, but based on the amount of time I spent this week getting turned around, lost, or just downright having no idea where I was, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. To give you guys a little perspective, this is a little more like what my map looked like during my first few days exploring the city:

Please don’t try to study this map closely, it will only give you a headache (trust me, I’ve struggled enough for the both of us). It’s just to give you a frame of reference. Read on, and I’ll take you through the highlights!

On my third day here as part of our orientation program we had to go on an “urban scavenger hunt” with a small group of our classmates. Basically, this meant walking around to some of the main tourist sites in the city. Normally, I don’t really like stuff like that, but this was really set up well because we had to explore and find the places ourselves, but then there was someone from DIS waiting for us there to explain the significance of what we were looking at. I really ended up getting a lot out of it.

An oh-so-Copenhagen biker riding down Strøget.

We started off by walking all the way up Strøget, one of the main pedestrian streets in Copenhagen. Very simply, a pedestrian street is one that cars are not allowed on.  Copenhagen has several and so far they are one of my favorite things about the city. Despite the lack of cars however, they do tend to get pretty packed during the day and you are still likely to get run over by a bicycle.

Our walk took us through the King’s Square and then down Nyhaven, the most picturesque canal street in Copenhagen (I don’t have my own picture yet, but just google image search Copenhagen and it’s pretty much all you see pictures of). It is a beautiful street by the water lined with brightly colored row houses and packed with people walking, drinking, or sitting at outdoor cafes enjoying their day.

We continued to walk by the water until we came to the Amalie Garden across the canal from the new Opera House.

The Amalie Garden with the Opera House in the background.

A straight walk through the garden and we arrived at the royal palace. Really, it’s not what you would expect from a palace. It is a very modest square surrounded by four buildings, one for Queen Margarethe and each of her sons. Now I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Danish politics (although I expect to learn some since an election was just announced that will be in three weeks), but I do know that the relationship between the royal family and the citizens of Copenhagen is more relaxed than that between, say, the US president and the American people. For example, their homes are much less heavily guarded and they even fly a flag to let people know when they are home. The video below will give you an idea of what the family is like and how their “palace” is perhaps a little different than what you’d expect:

After learning a little bit about the royal family we hopped on the harborbus to head down to Parliament and the Black Diamond. The harborbus is a ferry that operates as part of the public transportation system and it was so cool to ride. The Black Diamond is the newly renovated portion of the Royal Library that is simply beautiful.

Boarding the harborbus!

The Black Diamond

Christiansborg Slot and Folketinget (Parliament)

The Spire

Finally, we hopped on a metro to zip over to Christianshaven, where we saw Vor Frelsers Kirk (Our Saviors Church). The church has one of the most beautiful spires I’ve ever seen. You can walk to the top, but we didn’t have time that day. I will definitely be returning. Inside, we got an interesting history lesson related to the religious and political underpinnings of the architecture of the church. I won’t bore you with it now, but I may later. Finally, we had the pleasure of getting to hear the organist practice on the beautiful, wooden, wall-sized organ. (Sorry about the guy talking in the background, but if you listen carefully you can pick up a bit of Danish history while you look at the incredible chapel.)


Finally, we stopped by the grocery store and headed back to DIS to enjoy a group lunch of Danish Smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches).

The next day after a more relaxing morning, my friends and I decided to hit a few big-ticket items we’d missed the day before. First, we headed back to Christianshaven to visit the commune of Christiania. Christiania is the “green light district” of Copenhagen (aka where they sell drugs) and has actually been a separate municipality since 1971. As soon as you walk into this place it really is like you’re in another world. At the entrance, visitors see a sign with only three rules: have fun, no running (it only creates problems), and no pictures. Even though Christiania is outside of the ruling of Copenhagen, it is still illegal to sell hash (or other harder drugs) in Denmark, so the Christianiaites have to take such precautions to avoid getting caught. However, I’m still not sure how they don’t get caught; there are carts with tons of pot just lying out in the open, and everybody seems to know this place exists (I’ve been here three days and already heard about it). In any case, interesting place. Unfortunately, I have no pictures (see rule #3).

The long route to the little mermaid statue

Finally, my friends and I took the metro up to Kastellet to see the famous little mermaid statue. We accidentally ended up taking the long route around to the statue, but got to walk through these beautiful wooded trails by the water because of it. The statue itself was small and there were way to many tourists, but the whole trip was worth it for those surrounding trails.

The Little Mermaid

So, after two long days, insane amounts of walking (and really toned legs), a few metro rides, and a harborbus ride, I think I have seen the majority of the well known Copenhagen spots. That’s not to say I’m done with the city! But now that I have my bearings a little better and have seen the obvious sites, it’s time to start to explore the next level of Copenhagen.

And with that, tourist Erin is signing out for now and expatriate Erin is ready to roll!


3 thoughts on “The Only Map You’ll Ever Need in Copenhagen

  1. What a great way to get familiar with a new city. I’ve done that in a few and it know it helps you gain a more complete sense of place. The rest of your time there should allow you to fill in the blank spaces on your map. The most interesting is yet to come. Enjoy!

  2. Wow, you just gave me my first tour of Copenhagen. This makes me want to go there even more. I’m glad you’re enjoying Denmark so far! And I really liked the video with kronprins Fredrik, very cool! I would guess that the reason the Danish people like their monarchs more than the Americans like their president is because the Danish royalties don’t have any real political power, they’re just “harmless symbols.” Keep up this great blogging! I’m reading while listening to Irene blasting outside…

  3. Thanks so much for this, I can now really picture the city. I’m actually heading there tomorrow so this is really helpful! Can’t wait to see everything!

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