Situated on the eastern shores of the island of Zealand and the island of Amager, Copenhagen (København, or Merchant’s Harbour) is Denmark’s economic, political and social capital. With a metropolitan population of 1.9 million, the city is the country’s economic hub and home to international firms such as Maersk (shipping), Novo Nordisk (pharma), Lundbeck (pharma) and Novozymes (biotech).
Founded in 1167, the city was largely destroyed in 1807 by the British as a result of Denmark’s support of Napoleon. This relationship vastly improved over subsequent years and, during World War II, Britain provided extensive support to the Danish resistance movement and was rewarded in turn with vital intelligence.
Today, Copenhagen is internationally-recognized as an environmentally-friendly city and, together with its Scandinavian counterparts, has one of the highest quality of life indexes in the world. Although similar in size to Stockholm and Oslo (2 million and 1.4 million, respectively), Copenhagen is considered the more cosmopolitan and liberal of the three and serves as the region’s primary transportation gateway thanks to its more central location.
Geographically, Copenhagen is divided into several distinct districts, or kommunes, each with its own vibe. While I will elaborate on certain districts in subsequent posts, I thought I would provide a brief description of the primary kommunes in an attempt to give readers a feel for the city.
Copenhagen K (Indre Bye/Centrum): The city’s downtown, Copenhagen K is bustling with activity all hours of the day. Notable sites are Nyhavn, a picturesque canal swarming with tourists and locals alike, and the Strøget, the longest pedestrianized shopping street in Europe. To the south lies the island of Slotsholmen, the historic heart of the city and home to Christiansborg Palace, the Danish Parliament building. To the north-east lies Amalienborg Palace, the winter residence of the Danish Royal family, and Rosenborg Slot, home of the Danish Crown Jewels.
Christianshavn: Immediately opposite downtown lies the island of Amager and the picturesque canal district of Christianshavn, an upscale residential neighbourhood of converted warehouses. However, it is best known as the home of the alternative community of Christiania and the exclusive restaurant, NOMA. The first is an avant-garde community with a tolerance for soft drugs and free living while the latter has become the most celebrated restaurant in the world behind Spain’s El Buli following its win of the prestigious San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2010.
Østebro: My home for the next two months, Østebro is an upscale residential district to the north-west of downtown. Home to many of the city’s embassies, it is perhaps best known for its statue of The Little Mermaid and the Kastellet, a military base located in the heart of the city. To the west lies Fælledparken, Copenhagen’s answer to Central Park, and a hub of activity during the summer months.
Nørrebro: Hip, young, edgy; Nørrebro is home to a large immigrant population and cheap eateries. Separated from downtown by a charming chain of “lakes”, the heart of the district lies along bustling Nørrebrogade and Assistens Cemetery, resting place of famous Danes such as author Hans Christian Anderson and physicist Neils Bohr. During good weather, “The Lakes” (Søerne) are thronged with walkers and joggers out to get some exercise and enjoy the fresh air.
Frederiksberg: Home to old money, Frederiksberg is the last stop on the ascent up the Danish socioeconomic ladder. Independent from Copenhagen, the district is home to exclusive shops and the royal park Frederiksberg Havn, as well as the Copenhagen Zoo.
Vestebro: With a touch of slease, Vestebro is an up-and-coming district with just enough red lights left to remain true to its roots. The jumping off spot for most tourists, the district is home to the central train station as well as Tivoli, the city’s world-famous amusement park.