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By Rick Millikan (For Travel Writers’ Tales)

Denmark’s compact capital is perfect for exploring afoot. Strolling from our hotel past the bustling train station, we soon arrive in Copenhagen’s historic center. Bronze dragons line lofty City Hall’s terrace. A golden statue above its main entry represents Bishop Absalon, the city’s 12th century founder.

Denmark’s beloved writer of children’s tales ‘sits’ on the sidewalk below. A bronze-cast Hans Christian Anderson gazes approvingly toward today’s cyclists whizzing along his namesake Boulevard and Tivoli Gardens, the world’s second oldest amusement park.

4. Anderson & Tivoli exemplify Danes love of imagination

In the age-old shopping district, we encounter Round Tower. King Christian IV built this observatory as part of Copenhagen’s medieval University. A stone bust of Tycho Brahe recalls his nightly planet study.

2. Copenhagen’s 17th Century Palace, Rosenburg Castle overflows with regal artifacts.

Nearby, lies Denmark’s oldest royal garden and Rosenborg Castle. Topped with step-gable roofs and lofty green-topped towers, its Dutch Renaissance architecture invites investigation. Two 17th century bronze lions flank the entrance. A storyboard explains that Christian IV created this fairytale castle, where his descendants resided for another hundred years.

Rooms exhibit royal artifacts spanning the late 16th to 19th century, including etched glassware, clocks, crockery, royal portraits and Danish landscapes. The small indoor yellow-tiled bathroom reveals their ‘modern’ comfort.

On the top floor, the grand reception area features a collection of silver chairs; three silver lions frisk in front of two ornate, gilded thrones. A Danish Coat of Arms embellishes the stucco ceiling. “Long Hall’s wall tapestries depict Denmark's victories against Sweden during the Scania wars,” a docent explains. “Those side reliefs illustrate Frederik IV's decrees, most notably the serfs liberation.”

Outside, we sniff around the rose garden where a larger than life statue of dowager Queen Caroline Amalie dwells. Continuing through the main garden and into surrounding neighborhoods, we eventually arrive at Kastellet, an old fort now one of many city parks. Decorative canons still point seaward.

A large memorial honours dockworkers near the busy waterfront. Just beyond, famed Little Mermaid perches on a rock. Perhaps paying homage to Anderson’s most beloved tale, crowds gather, many snapping photos. Further along rises Gefion Fountain, a marble extravaganza. Here, Goddess Gefion encourages her four transfigured sons, depicted as oxen, to rip off a piece of Sweden. This mythical act produces Zealand, Denmark’s main island.

3. Copenhagen's Gefion Fountain mythically portrays Denmark’s creation

Ahead, dockside buildings reflect Maersk’s longstanding contributions to Denmark. One has windows displaying model vessels of this shipping company. Nearby, Michelangelo’s David fronts redbrick West India Warehouse. Once enclosing slaves, it now celebrates the human body. Inside, the royal cast collection of over 2,000 naked plaster statues and reliefs exhibit worldly artwork from antiquity to the Renaissance.

5. Amalienborg Palaces surround an equestrian statue of Frederik V, its builder.

From waterside Amalie Garden, we veer upward past a magnificent fountain to Amalienborg Castle, where four identical neo-classical palaces border an octagonal courtyard. Here, an equestrian statue honors Frederik V, who developed this 18th century castle. He also developed the surrounding district and its iconic domed Marble Church, long serving Danish Lutherans.

Ambling again along the waterfront, we admire the modernistic Opera House, bestowed by Maersk’s owner and Black Diamond, the Royal Danish Library’s extension sparkling with polished black granite.

Heritage buildings line Nyhavn Canal. This charming neighbourhood contains Hans Christian Anderson’s former apartment. At Anderson Pub, we quaff Carlsberg ales munch ham sandwiches and talk about Danes’ comprehensive welfare, free University courses and no-cost health care. While paying the bill, I ask, “What makes Denmark’s the happiest place on Earth?” Our waitress laughs. “Definitely the Carlsberg!”

Energized, we cross a canal bridge, pass through some eclectic architecture and behold Holmens Church, a Dutch Renaissance treasure. Across the next canal stands baroque Christiansborg Palace, home of the Danish Parliament, Prime Minister’s office and Danish Supreme Court. A statue of Frederik VII celebrates his role in establishing today’s constitutional monarchy.

1. Copenhagen's Borsen & Parliament reflect Danes fanciful architecture.

Beside this repurposed palace stretches fanciful redbrick Børsen, which sports eleven step-gabled dormers. Three dragon tails entwine a lofty spire rising from its tarnished green roof. We read that it was Denmark’s trading center in 1619, then served centuries later as Stock Exchange.

Behind the palace, a 400-year-old brew house now houses white statuary gathered mostly from royal gardens and palaces. So the Lapidarium presents the haunting encounter of three hundred ghostly Danes from bygone eras. Minutes later, we enter the sun-lit atrium of Glyptotek Museum. A pink granite hippo greets us at the start of a saunter among Europe’s finest artwork. A mosaic depicts an early brewery hinting at its benefactor, Carlsberg’s owner.

Our 11-kilometer loop around Copenhagen encompasses castles, parks, heritage buildings and public art. This cityscape reveals Danes’ proud history and their love of imagination, education, enterprise, community spirit…and good beer.


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PHOTOS by Rick and Chris Millikan

1. Copenhagen's Borsen & Parliament reflect Danes fanciful architecture.

2. Copenhagen’s 17th Century Palace, Rosenburg Castle overflows with regal artifacts.

3. Copenhagen's Gefion Fountain mythically portrays Denmark’s creation.

4. Anderson & Tivoli exemplify Danes love of imagination.

5. Amalienborg Palaces surround an equestrian statue of Frederik V, its builder.

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