DENMARK  |  Copenhagen, Denmark Travel Guide
Sunday, May 24, 2020
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Kongens Nytorv

Kongens Nytorv

Strøget ends at the dramatic Kongens Nytorv. The name translates as “the king’s new square,” although it can be said to be new only in comparison to Denmark’s very long history. It was laid out some 300 years ago, and the aim was to form a link between the old and new parts of Copenhagen. Dominating the central green area, known as Prinsen, is a powerful equestrian statue of Christian V, which was erected in 1688. It consists of four figures seated submissively under his horse. These days the square is undergoing extensive renovations, and a station for the new Metro line is being constructed adjacent to the Magasin department store. Kongens Nytorv is Copenhagen’s largest square. It has no less than 12 streets radiating from it, as well as a number of stately buildings surrounding it, including the Danish Royal Theater.

Looking around the square, you’ll notice a number of other fine buildings. Undoubtedly, the impressive façade of the five-star Hotel d’Angleterre, Copenhagen’s – and Denmark’s – finest, stands out; Thott’s Mansion (Thotts Palæ) in the northeast corner, built for the naval hero Admiral Niels Juel and now serving as the French Embassy, is not to be overlooked either. Also interesting is a quaint triangular building, the beautifully preserved 1782 Kanneworffs Hus, standing between Store Strandstræde and Bredgade. The house, fronting the south side of Nyhavn and adjacent to Kongens Nytorv, is said to be the most important work of pure baroque architecture remaining in Denmark today. It was erected between 1672 and 1683 by Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve, an illegitimate son of King Frederik III, and subsequently named Charlottenborg when Queen Charlotte Amalie came to reside here in 1700. This red brick Dutch baroque house, designed by native architect Evert Janssen, has had a great impact on architectural style in Denmark; many country mansions of that era were modeled in its style. Since 1754 the house has served as the seat of the Royal Danish Academy of Art.

The Canal

In the late 17th century, around 1671, King Frederik III wanted to extend marine commerce into the center of the city. A canal was dug perpendicular to the harbor and stretching all the way to Kongens Nytorv. Merchants were encouraged to build their houses, offices and warehouses along the banks of the Nyhavn, which literally means “new harbor.” These plans succeeded beyond all expectations; soon, vessels from all over the world arrived, carrying not only their merchandise but also hungry, thirsty and often rambunctious sailors. Not surprisingly, many of the houses along the new harbor were transformed into bars and restaurants to meet their more urgent needs. This state of affairs continued until very recently, when the maritime trade ceased. These days (especially on the north side of the canal, now mostly a pedestrian precinct), many of the magnificent multi-colored 17th- and early 18th-century houses contain an eclectic mix of antiques and specialty stores, along with restaurants and bars. Many of these establishments are crammed with tables, and several have an outside bar serving the overflow of customers. On pleasant summer evenings and weekends there can be thousands of people who are only too happy to eat, drink and socialize along the sidewalk and quayside.

The houses are not the sole attraction, however. Enhancing the ambiance is a motley collection of sailing vessels, almost all flying a Dannebrog, bobbing in the water from one end of the quay to the other. In fact, it has become a summer tradition for old sailing ships, often meticulously restored, to set their sails and head for a berth at Nyhavn.

Arriving at the city end of the canal you are greeted by steps leading down to the water; nearby is a sizeable old anchor that proudly and symbolically memorializes the 1,600 Danish sailors killed in World War II. From here, it is fun to stroll down the busy north side, simply enjoying the activity and bustle. Note the coat of arms over number 67; upon further investigation you will learn that Hans Christian Andersen lived here between 1845 and 1864. Prior to that he lived at number 20, and during his final years, 1873-1875, his residence was at number 18; both of those houses are on the more sedate Charlottenborg (south) side of the canal.

At the foot of Nyhavn, by the harbor, you will see hydrofoil vessels moored, waiting to depart on the 45-minute trip to Malmö, Sweden. From here you can also enjoy fine views out over the inner harbor to Christianshavn, where the unusual spiral steeple of Vor Frelsers Kirke dominates. Follow Kvæsthusgade to Skt. Annæ Plads, a fine boulevard lined with consulates and distinguished old offices, and then follow the quayside past the ferry dock. This is for the huge DFDS ferry that crosses to and from Oslo, a 16-hour trip with vessels departing both cities daily at 5 pm; the smaller ferry that travels to the Danish island of Bornholm docks on the harbor itself.

This area has been improved in recent years. The long waterside promenade passes a warehouse that has been tastefully converted into the Admiral Hotel. Beyond the hotel you arrive at the long, narrow rectangular Amaliehavn Gardens, which were designed by the Belgian landscape architect Jean Delogne using French limestone and Danish granite. The bronze pillars that surround the fountain were designed by the Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro. Immediately behind the gardens are the palaces of the Amalienborg complex (see Royal Copenhagen, page 39), one of which is the home of Queen Margrethe II. Beyond the palace is the unmistakable dome of the Marble Church. Continuing along on the promenade you pass the very unusual Royal Cast Collection, before making a left turn onto the Esplanaden. Here, you might want to stop at the unusual Lumskebugten Café, an absolutely charming restaurant and bar that has the distinction of being keeper of the Royal Barge.

The Esplanade leads to Churchill Park (Churchillparken) and the entrance to Langelinie, a promenade that runs along the harbor, as well as the Museum of the Danish Resistance (Frihedsmuseet) and the British Victorian Gothic St. Albans Church (see Churches, page 76). You’ll want to explore those, and to admire the park’s impressive and formidable Gefion Fountain. Copenhagen has numerous fountains, but this is undoubtedly the most spectacular in the city. Commissioned by the Carlsberg Foundation, sculptor Anders Bundgaard’s depiction of the Nordic goddess Gefion was unveiled in 1908. Legend has it she turned her four sons into oxen and used them to plow the island of Zealand out of Sweden. Langelinie is certainly a pleasant place to stroll, and a pavilion of the same name provides a good place to take refreshments. There is also a series of statues along Langelinie, including likenesses of Marie, Princess of Denmark, and Frederick IX, King of Denmark from 1947 to 1972. None, though, is as famous as the one statue that has become the symbol of the city.

The Little Mermaid

A few hundred meters south of the quay is Den Lille Havfrue, high on the “must see” list for all visitors to Copenhagen. You will find, however, that the clever angles employed in most promotional photographs make it appear, deceptively, much larger and more strategically situated than it really is. This may cause some disappointment. Nonetheless, its history is interesting, if far from idyllic.

In 1909, the brewer Carl Jacobsen, so prominent in the life of Copenhagen, attended a ballet named The Little Mermaid, which was based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name. In this tragic story, a sea-girl exchanged her voice for human legs in order to gain the love of an earthly prince, but had to watch mutely as he jilted her for a real princess. In desperation, she threw herself into the sea, turning into foam.

Being suitably impressed by the story, Jacobsen commissioned Edvard Eriksen to create a sculpture of a mermaid – which he did, using his wife as the model. The resulting bronze statue was unveiled on August 23rd, 1913. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to retain the cast, which has been used for restoration on several occasions. Sadly, acts of vandalism have seen the original decapitated twice and her arm amputated once. Not much respect, then, for fairy tales in the late 20th century!

The Citadel

Follow Langelinie around to the left. You’ll see a large marina to the right; take the steps down to a small wooden bridge on the left. This leads over a moat to a fortification known as the Citadel (Kastellet). This fort, which was a cornerstone of Christian IV’s defenses of Copenhagen, was built between 1662 and 1725. It is still in use by the army; as a result, the church, prison, and main guardhouse have resisted the assaults of time. These days it is a much more peaceful enclave than its history would suggest. The walkways, which overlook the moat, are popular with joggers and walkers, and inside there are long, red brick, slate-roofed buildings; a parade ground; a distinguished yellow-painted house dating from 1725; and something unexpected – a windmill from the mid-19th century.

Exit the Kastellet through a double archway onto a pathway. This runs over the moat and past a pond, both decorously occupied by swans and coots, and then cuts diagonally away across Churchill Park; in springtime, this park is covered with beds of glorious yellow daffodils. From here, it is worth the effort to stroll along the elegant Bredgade, where you will pass the Museum of Decorative Art (Kunstindustrimuseet). Make a point to stop here at The Café and relax in the Grønnegården (see Museums, page 69). There are three distinctive churches in this area – Marble Church (Marmorkirken), Saint Ansgars Church (Sankt Ansgars Kirke) and the Alexander Nevsky Kirke; they are all worth a visit before heading back to Kongens Nytorv. Those with any energy left will want to stroll back to Rådhuspladsen by way of the ever-delightful Strøget, others may choose just to hop on a bus (number 6 is one along that route).

Last updated July 4, 2011
Posted in   Denmark  |  Copenhagen
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