Copenhagen, which can trace its history back more than a thousand years, has acquired a rich and layered culture that begs to be explored. There are a number of scenic spots that deserve mention in any conversation about the city’s culture, but the one that deserves first mention is Tivoli Gardens. The second oldest operating amusement park in the world, Tivoli Gardens dates its history all the way back to the summer of 1843. Since its founding, Tivoli Gardens has been a center of entertainment not just for Denmark but for all of Scandinavia. It has also become something of a cultural juggernaut, housing not just the park itself but also a classical concert hall, pantomime theater, and summertime live music series that draws in some of the biggest names in pop music. Your trip to Copenhagen wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t walk through the gates of Tivoli Gardens and explore the park itself.
Since Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest operating amusement park in the world, you may be wondering where to find the oldest operating amusement park in the world. Luckily, Denmark still has you covered. Just north of Copenhagen, only twenty minutes away by metro, is Bakken—full name Dyrehavesbakken—which was founded in 1583 and thus predates Tivoli Gardens by about two and a half centuries. Don’t expect the pomp and circumstance here—Bakken has free entry and is much more focused on the classic no-frills amusement park experience. Think of a state fair, but without the competitions for largest vegetable. One of the defining features of the park is Rutschebanen, an iconic wooden roller coaster from 1932.
Now that we’ve covered the cultural fixture that is the Danish amusement park, it’s time to focus on one of Copenhagen’s most photogenic neighborhoods that happens to be a cultural destination in its own right: Nyhavn. This canal-side stretch of restaurants and cafés is possibly found on almost every brochure, tourist guide, and postcard even remotely related to the city.
Though Nyhavn looks like it could be among the older destinations in Copenhagen, it’s actually only been since the mid-20th century that the neighborhood has been thought of as a microcosm for the city as a whole. Prior to that, Nyhavn had been a hub for ships coming to Copenhagen, and as a result flooded not just with sailors but also with alcohol and prostitution. In short, Nyhavn became Copenhagen’s red light district. Eventually, city officials invited historic ships to dock along the canal and focused on making the entire area friendly to pedestrians. The result is that the underbelly of the city has moved elsewhere, and beautiful businesses moved in. The place is often flooded with tourists exploring the city and getting a feel for harbor side life, but it remains wonderful reminder of Copenhagen’s rich history and culture with maritime trade and fishing as well as its ability to constantly strive to reinvent and improve its image. On a shortlist of places to visit, Nyhavn is a must-see in Copenhagen.
Right across from Nyhavn, on the opposite end of the old center of the city, is a very different reminder of the city’s rich culture. Rosenborg Castle, a former royal Sumer residence and dramatic reminder of the wealth of the Danish Crown. Originally built in the early 17th century by King Christian IV, the castle is home to the intricate throne of Denmark—part if which was once claimed to be carved from unicorn horn, but it turns out it was carved from narwhal. Three silver lion statues guard the throne—historically from the enemies of the kingdom, but nowadays from enemies of the tourism industry—and are a relatively tame depiction of the royal family’s willingness to spend on lavish statuary and iconography. More dramatic examples include a side room which has its walls are covered floor-to-ceiling with exceedingly expensive Venetian glass, an astonishing porcelain collection, and of course a treasury stocked with products of precious metal and gold. Included in this treasury are the crown jewels of Denmark and numerous bottles of Rosenborg wine—a centuries old wine still served by the Queen of Denmark at New Years dinner.