Among Copenhagen’s many claims to fame is the world’s longest pedestrian-only shopping street. It is called, but not officially named, Strøget, and it is not a single street but rather a convergence of four separate boulevards. Beginning near Rådhuspladsen they are Frederiksberggade, Nygade Vimmelskaftet, Amergertorv and Østergade.
The entrance to Frederiksberggade, just across from Rådhuspladsen, is not exactly inviting; after all, the presence of a Burger King and a 7-Eleven, with a McDonalds just a little farther on, isn’t particularly exciting. But press on and things will improve.
Note the site currently occupied by the Club Absalon. Although the fact is not widely known or readily apparent, the basement of this club is reportedly the spot where Bishop Absalon built St. Clemens Church in 1160. That structure was, however, demolished in the early 16th century.
At the point where Frederiksberggade becomes Nygade Vimmelskaffet, Strøget opens into two squares. To the left is Gammeltorv, a popular place for small market stalls and home to the Caritas Fountain – the city’s oldest, dating from 1610. Should you happen to visit here on April 16th, the monarch’s official birthday, don’t be surprised to see golden apples (imitation ones, of course) dancing atop the fountain’s water jets – an interesting local tradition which dates from the golden wedding anniversary of King Christian IX and Queen Louise in 1892.
The square to the right, Nytorv, is dominated by the old Town Hall, a very impressive, colonnaded building that now houses the Law Courts. This, the quieter of the two squares, offers an opportunity to partake of some refreshment at one of its street cafés and enjoy watching passers by.
From here, follow Nygade Vimmelskaftet to where it becomes Amergertorv; leaving Strøget, make a left turn into Klosterstræde, which will eventually lead you into the charming Gråbrødretorv (Grey Friars’ Square). This is a picturesque square that has a large plane tree and fountain surrounded by brightly painted 18th-century houses. Prior to the Reformation it was the site of a Franciscan monastery; cafés and restaurants have proliferated here in recent years. One of the best, at number 21, is actually named after the square.
Between early June and early September, any night from Tuesday to Saturday, return to Grey Friars’ Square at 9 pm to join the Night Watchman on his evening rounds. These walks last one hour; no booking is necessary, but donations are expected at the end.
Just a few minutes walk away is the Round Tower, one of Copenhagen’s most popular attractions. To get there, take a left on Niels Hemmingsens Gade, a right on Skindergade, and a jog to the left on Købmagergade.
Retrace your steps along Købmagergade, away from the Round Tower to the left, and enjoy the ambiance of this wide pedestrian shopping street. Along the way you will pass Ole Jensen Aps delicatessen at number 32 (see Shop Till You Drop, page 98) and the Museum Erotica at number 24 (see page 70), both on the left-hand side, before continuing across Strøget into Højbro Plads. In the 19th century this plaza, a cross between a square and a street, was used as a fruit and flower market. Although boasting nothing of real architectural note, this is still worth a visit. The spire of St. Nicholas Church towers to the left, and an outdoor café sits almost directly underneath a powerful green copper equestrian statue of the warrior-priest Bishop Absalon, clad in chain mail and wielding an axe. Here, too, you get a first glance of both the canal and the imposing towers of the Christiansborg Palace, situated on the small island of Slotsholmen, on the opposite bank across the Højbro Bridge. Its attractions are described in Royal Copenhagen (see page 35).
Undoubtedly, your attention will be drawn across the canal to a copper-roofed building to the left of the palace. This is the Stock Exchange (Børsen). In 1619, Christian IV, ever influenced by the Dutch architecture of his day, commissioned two Dutch brothers to design a highly ornamented home for the exchange. It is graced by a famous spire composed of four intertwining dragon’s tails; these are topped by three crowns symbolizing the friendship of the three Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden (Finland is not considered to be part of Scandinavia). These days, the building hosts special events, while the financial movers and shakers ply their trade in their new headquarters on Strøget.
From the Rådhuspladsen, follow Strøget past the point where Nygade Vimmelskaftet becomes Amergertorv. The first place of note is the Church of the Holy Ghost (Helligåndskirke). The area outside its low metal fence is popular with street performers and chess players. There are also some fruit and vegetable stalls and other vendors, making a beguiling combination for this most cosmopolitan of streets. Just beyond Helligåndskirke, Strøget opens out yet again. Until the middle of the 19th century this open place – Amagertorv – was a market square where the farmers and peasants of Amager sold their products. These days it is still a gathering place, but now it’s a social one. People love to meet around the central Stork Fountain (Storkespringvandet) and sit at the outside tables of the surrounding bars and cafés, while being entertained by street performers. On the left-hand side of Amagertorv Square is a magnificent assortment of Dutch baroque façades. Several belong to the Royal Copenhagen group of stores, and others to Illum, a department store. Undoubtedly, the most beautiful is that belonging to Royal Copenhagen Porcelain at number 6.
The last street comprising Strøget is Østergade, and you will be certain to identify world famous brand names in the shop windows. Everyone is encouraged to check out the window of Halberstadts.
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