Right by the sea, it is unsurprising that Copenhagen is a strategic location for canals used for water access into the city by ships, tradesmen and the naval army base. While less famous than its Dutch counterpart in Amsterdam, it mirrors it in activity, colourfulness and vibrancy. The canal, though not a major port today, still houses the naval army and plays home to many boats and yachts of its residences. As the canal stretches from Nyhavn (just off the coast of Øresund – the strait that separates Malmö, Sweden from Denmark) to Gammel Strand where Christiansborg lies, it shows off some of the best landmarks Copenhagen has to offer.
During his trip to Holland, King Christian V fell in love with the architecture and construct of the Dutch canals. Enamoured by its beauty, he replicated and built Christianhavn from the ground up just south of Copenhagen central. Unfortunately for the king who felt so inspired by the Dutch, his citizens did not feel the same; Christianhavn was too far from the centre of Copenhagen (it really isn’t I can attest to that! We walked from Christiansborg to the edge of Christianhavn and it takes approximately 15-20 minutes but I can understand the disillusionment when city life happened right outside your doorway.) So in his creativity and unprecedented ruling, Christian V decreed that whoever moved to Christianhavn would be tax exempted for 12 years. Needless to say, Christianhavn flourished and to this day is a lively, vibrant neighbourhood of Copenhagen. (Though no one did tell us what they were taxed after…)
The most famous part (or recognizable/most touristy) of the canal is Nyhavn. This colourful portion of the canal housed many affluent citizens, the most famous being Hans Christian Anderson who lived in No. 47 Nyhavn. For the better part of 18 years he lived there creating beautiful fairy-tale stories that we (especially the people of Disney) all know and love today. What makes Nyhavn great (besides the overpriced food…) are the houses with its colourful facade overlooking the canal. Each house has a story and different personality, some of the oldest having bee there since the 17th century. Nyhavn is also clean with blue water (unlike other canals) which makes it a pleasant area to stroll down.
Across Nyhavn is the lesser known Papirøen (or Paper Island) which is home to many art galleries, cheap street eats and a colourful marketplace. It was named as Paper Island as it was previously the storage location for paper for the Danish Press.
The canals of Copenhagen are primarily used now as access ways to homes, the naval base, ferry docks as well as channels for many tour boats to show off Copenhagen. Lyris and I hopped on (quite literally!) a Canal Tour boat and was whisked off to see the different corners of Copenhagen which would otherwise take us hours to get to (we did the tour in 1 hour.) The tour is a great introduction to the city of Copenhagen, the highlighted landmarks of Copenhagen gave us some ideas as to what to explore on our remaining days in the city. The boat tour is extremely relaxing and informative- I was extremely excited to see the Royal Opera House and the Royal Playhouse which lie across the canal from each other and of architectural marvel, super modern for housing some of e most traditional art forms. Simply breathtaking.
Seeing Copenhagen from the water provided a different appreciation for the city and elevated the relaxed atmosphere. It was calm and clean and getting to see all the colourful houses pass by created a beautiful Sunday afternoon. A canal tour of Copenhagen is a must do for everyone new to the city. We even got to see the “most disappointing attraction” in the world up close – The Little Mermaid. Dubbed as such for the fact that it is just a statue. Though I’m not sure what people were expecting….maybe they wanted her to break out in song to “Part of Your World.” I’m not sure. (Sidebar: We do have A Little Mermaid situated nicely in Stanley Park in Vancouver and if you have seen her I definitely forgoing to see her deliberately in Copenhagen.) All-in-all I continued to be enchanted by Copenhagen and could not wait to hit land again and continue our adventures through this charming city.