February 10 – 13, 2017
Before my trip I did some quick google searches on the top photo spots in Copenhagen. The result was dishearteningly uninspiring. Seriously — the Little Mermaid? I still brought my tripod along, figuring at the very least I would need it for a typical sunset shot in Nyhavn.
After touching down at the central train station, a merely 10 minutes away from Kastrup airport, I soon understand why the online photography lists are so lackluster. Copenhagen might be one of the hottest destinations in Europe, but it is also one of Western Europe’s less photogenic capitals and a far cry from Stockholm and its vastly underrated Gamla stan. Much of the medieval centre was wiped out by devastating fires in 1728 and 1795. Outside of the small historic core in and around Frederiksstaden much of the city is comprised of characterless residential buildings.
A saving grace happened a few days before my arrival in the form of a severe snowstorm, freezing over much of the city’s waterways and rivers and adding a much needed dimension to the otherwise mundane cityscape. The temperature remained solidly below -4°C throughout my stay, and no matter which way I turned something was frozen, be it ponds, lakes or even rivers.
After chasing deer, getting lost in Christiania and eating around town, I used the preciously little amount of time left on taking photos. Getting around Copenhagen is easy with the the efficient bus network — bus departs in ten-minute interval and it never takes more than half an hour to travel to any point within the city centre. Or grab a bike and cycle around perhaps the world’s most cyclist-friendly city; the locals completely disregard the icy condition but I wasn’t willing to brave the harsh wind chill.
I didn’t follow any particular list or route — some spots are well-known tourist attractions while I discovered the rest by chance. Most are aesthetically benefited by the wintry condition. The below list is in descending order with the best at last.
Everyone comes to this once-gritty neighbourhood of nondescript residential complexes for food and secondhand shopping. Admittedly not particularly pleasing to the eyes, there are some interesting murals to be found on some of the side streets.
I personally find the National Romantic style City Hall to be an eye sore. If you want to photograph a red brick and green tile landmark, try instead the Dutch Renaissance style Børsen, a stock exchange built in 1625 and one of Copenhagen’s oldest standing building. Børsen, reputedly protected by its dragon-tail spire, has so far been spared from the city’s many devastating fires. Today it serves as an event hall.
Christian IV was one of the few Danish monarchs to have established any lasting legacy, much of it due to his building sprees that transformed Copenhagen before the great fire in 1728. One of his surviving project, the former summer residence Rosenborg Castle, has been a public museum of 16th to 19th century royal artifacts since 1838.
After lunch at Schønnemann I made a slight detour to Rosenborg, figuring I would take a few snaps before continuing to Torvehallerne. I was pleasantly surprised to find the moat to be completely frozen and presented a deep blue contrast to the castle’s red bricks.
The Danish equivalent to the Buckingham Palace, Amalienborg was completed in 1760 as the residence of four separate noble families until 1794 when Christiansborg Palace was burnt down. Subsequently the royal family purchased Amalienborg and it has been the royal residence since.
Two slight challenges on photographing this sight — the guards are very strict on prohibiting anyone to venture near the palace and it was a little difficult to find a focal point at this spread-out complex. I ended up setting my tripod next to the statue of Frederick V facing Frederik’s Church. After twenty-minute of shooting I got a few satisfactory shots, including the above one with the black tiles in the foreground and a light trail to add some movement to the scene.
Copenhagen Opera House
Copenhagen isn’t only about old buildings. In recent years several high-profile projects were commissioned, including the Black Diamond, the Royal Danish Playhouse, the Kissing Bridge and the Copenhagen Opera House. The last of which was completed in 2004 and was one of the most expensive opera house ever built, with construction costs over US$500 million.
Located on the island Dokøen across the shore from Amalienborg, the opera house and the nearby smokestacks provide a modern alternative to the Danish capital’s many castles.
Of all the potential photographic spots I have visited in Copenhagen, Jægersborg Dyrehave is most benefited by the blanket of snow. An otherwise ordinary park, the subzero temperature turns it into a winter wonderland. It is no Lapland, but Dyrehave is a good bet to experience the vast whiteness of Nordic winter within the confine of the Danish capital.
Seeing deer is a crapshoot and any closeup shot demands more time and preparation than available to the typical traveller.
While its fame has attracted many visitors, Christiania is mostly a residential area. Photographing any local is obviously a no-go and Pusher Street, the only strip of commerce, is strictly photography-forbidden.
Most of the tourists stay near Pusher Street and it is really easy to get away and wander around the area without anyone else in sight. This hippie enclave offers plenty of easy shooting opportunities with eye-catching murals and bizarre buildings, but without any interaction with locals the resulting pictures resemble those of an open-air museum. Still, this is Copenhagen’s most unique destination and deserves half a day.
Nyhavn (New Port) is a 17th-century waterfront, canal and entertainment district with many historical wooden boats. Constructed by Swedish prisoners of war under the reign of King Christian V between 1670 and 1673, this former red light district was the gateway from the sea to the inner city. It has long lost its functions in harbouring boats and entertaining sailors; nowadays its colourful townhouses serve as Copenhagen’s most recognizable landmark.
Probably the most touristy part of town outside of Tivoli, this is still the spot to be if you only have one chance of shooting sunset in town.
Walking from Nørrebro to Nørreport I came across three mostly-frozen rectangular lakes. Known collectively as Søerne (Lakes in Danish), these lakes are Sankt Jørgens Sø, Peblinge Sø and Sortedams Sø. A dam was first built in the early Middle Ages in creating Peblinge Sø to provide for watermills. In the 16th century during the Siege of Copenhagen the other two lakes were created to improve the fortifications of the city. The lakes at various times served as reservoirs until 1959.
The frozen lakes provided a mirror-like surface. I took a few snaps but I wasn’t satisfied with the poor light on that late afternoon.
I came back the next evening with my tripod. The sky was clear and the moon was ideally positioned right above Søtorvet, a late 19th-century Neo-Renaissance residential complex. The bright moonlight lit up the lake’s icy surface like a torch.
While I was shooting there was a drunk man playing sax to an empty sidewalk in the bitter cold — I took that as a token of congratulation on discovering where I believe is the most photogenic spot in Copenhagen.