To me, the best way to see is a city is not by bus or cab or half-hour subway rides — it’s on a walking tour. That’s why I love Copenhagen: besides being one of the world’s most beautiful places, it’s a world-class city for walking.
Downtown Copenhagen is full of interesting things see, and most of them can easily be reached in a pretty easy walk. In fact, the city centre itself is a lively Stroll: that’s the way you pronounce the Stroget, a pedestrian mall that runs right through the downtown, starting at city hall. And that’s a good place to start a walking tour of Copenhagen,
The Stroget is a quaint yet crazy melange of bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, street performers, food stalls and fanciful statuary, punctuated by medieval squares where you can sit and have a Carlsberg (Copenhagen’s home brew). There’s so much life packed into these few blocks that once you enter, it’s hard to leave.
But there’s a lot more than the Stroget to see, and it’s possible to take in the best of Copenhagen’s treasures (literally, as you’ll see) in a half-day or so if you plan your route carefully. Here’s my walking tour of Copenhagen.
Near one end of the Stroget are Copenhagen’s City Hall and Tivoli Gardens, the original “happiest place on earth” and the model for most of the theme and amusement parks that came after it, including Disneyland.
While Tivoli does have some beautiful gardens, it also has a variety of other things to amuse you, including live shows in an outdoor venue, an aquarium, lots of places to eat, including some fancy sit-down restaurants, and lots of fun rides.
You can start your tour here and make your way to the Stroget, or just pay your admission and spend the day at Tivoli. In that case, your walking tour can wait for another day.
Another plan is to start your walking tour of Copenhagen at Rosenborg Castle, near the Stroget on Gothersgade (ask anyone). This is a classic 17th century castle, and it’s right in the middle of town. Built by King Christian IV as a summer home, it’s full of art and artifacts, and looks just like the castles in the Disney movies.
Once inside, you see what all the fuss is about: these people lived like kings! To prove it, upstairs is the throne room, where you can see the coronation throne, guarded by two silver lions and adorned with narwhal tusks from Denmark’s North Sea outposts.
The crown jewels
But that’s not all: hidden beneath the castle in underground chambers are Denmark’s crown jewels, which are open for viewing. All that glitters really is gold down there, and usually studded with jewels. The highlight is the king and queen’s coronation crowns, pictured here.
Plan your visit in late morning, and when you see some soldiers marching through the grounds wearing busbies, follow them. They’re headed for the Amalienborg Palace, about 10 minutes away, for the changing of the guard at noon. You can join the rabble of tourists who trail them through the streets — it’s kind of comical.
Once there, you can watch the formal ceremony in the palace’s great square (below). Some days you can also tour the palace itself, where the royal family spends some of its time. Or you can check out the Marble Church just across the road, where you can climb to the top of the copper dome, the biggest in northern Europe — if you’re brave enough to tackle the long climb.
Kastelets and the Little Mermaid
No? Then head through the Amalienborg Square, through the lovely gardens to the waterfront, turn left, and head toward Kastelets, an ancient fort near the entrance to the city. There’s not much there other than some military buildings, but turn the corner and you’re in the presence of greatness — at least, a tiny piece of it.
This is the home of the Little Mermaid, one of the many tributes to Hans Christian Andersen scattered through Copenhagen. The statue is only a few feet high, but she’s visited every year by about a million tourists who throng around her and take all sorts of liberties trying to get a photo op. At least most of them don’t saw her head off, as vandals did back in 1998.
That’s the end of our walking tour of Copenhagen, and there’s still lots of time to wander back downtown for another Carlsberg. Or, if you’re artsy, you can stop at the nearby Danish Design Museum and improve your mind. Personally, I’d go for the Carlsberg.
If you want to see more of beautiful downtown Copenhagen, check out my photo-video: Copenhagen in 30 seconds. It’s here.