On this recent trip to Europe, Copenhagen was the destination I knew the least about but was most excited to see. After only spending three days there, it was easy to say that visiting Copenhagen was my favorite part of this trip.
Why Copenhagen? What better way to share what makes visiting Copenhagen worthwhile than with some little-known, fun facts?
The Danish “Hygge”
The Danish celebrate a value that they refer to as “hygge”, an embracing of the good things in life, like relaxation and enjoyment. The days shouldn’t be crammed with business. You do just feel more laid back walking through the cobblestone streets.
It survived not one but TWO major fires
In addition to such contagiously good vibes, Copenhagen also offers some incredible history to explore. It’s very impressive how much you can see that dates years back, especially considering the two huge fires that engulfed the city in 1728 and again in 1795. It’s such a shame that you can’t see all the medieval architecture that once stood tall, but you can see it’s influence still prevalent.
Greenland used to own Denmark
When you find yourself in the city center, you’ll spot two polar bears on the town hall. Why polar bears, you ask? To represent Greenland, the once-owner of Denmark (and also Sweden, Norway, and even parts of England).
Its origin as the capital of Denmark comes from its location as the “gateway to Europe”
Denmark is comprised of three areas: a mainland called Udland, and two islands, Funen and Zealand. Udland is connected with the rest of Europe. Billund is the name of the city in the center and is owned by the richest family in Denmark who created the LEGOLAND Billund Resort in Denmark. The CEO is the 55th richest man on the planet!
In the west coast, all you’ll find is glorious countryside. There are 7,000 kilometers of coast in Denmark! Aarhus, the second biggest city in Denmark, is also on the mainland and won the “European Capital of Culture” title this year.
The most renown fact about Funen, one of the two islands, is that Hans Christian Andersen reigns from the area. In case you’re wondering who that is, he’s the author of the Ugly Duckling and the Little Mermaid.
Copenhagen is located on the other of the two islands, Zealand. Copenhagen used to be a very small fishermen’s village. The name of the city, pronounced “Coo-pen-houn” in Danish, means “merchants harbor”. It became the capital of Denmark thanks to the waterway between Denmark and Sweden, which became known as the “gateway to Europe”. The king at the time decided that everyone who was sailing through had to pay money to Copenhagen. The city is also the first to have a university in Scandinavia.
Easter beer (“ol”) is strongest Danish beer of the year
No joke! You have J.C. Jacobsen to thank for it. Born in 1811, Jacobsen grew up to revolutionize beer in Denmark. The water was so dirty, so it was the norm for everyone to drink beer, even children!
He was determined to learn to control the brewing process to make beer a better drink for everyone to enjoy. After spending time in Germany, he learned the process of brewing. You can visit a museum telling this backstory in much more depth outside of Copenhagen in a city called Bellevue. You can also take part in the Carlsburg Experience in Copenhagen, which is the beer her founded!
Magstraede is the street the Danish started building buildings of brick after the fires’ devastation
This is the oldest street of Copenhagen. The buildings you see standing today were built in the 1800s. Before the two huge fires, houses and buildings were made of wood. You can imagine how difficult it was for fireman on horse carriages to put out enormous flames, so that’s when brick became the preference for Danish architecture in Copenhagen.
There used to be a coastline in Copenhagen
Gammel Stræde, an area of Copenhagen, translates to “old beach”, which 900 years ago it was. There is a man-made “Royal island” in the city where you’ll find Christianborg, a gorgeous palace, which was the home of all Danish kings. It was burnt in the second fire and again in late 1800’s, which actually left the royal family homeless. They then moved into Fredericksburg, where the royal families still live. Fredericksburg is a must-see when visiting Copenhagen.
The royal family participates in everyday, societal life
Though they live in this fancy neighborhood in Fredericksburg, the royal family members can be seen riding their bike around the city, hiking, and driving around just like anybody else. Their children even go to public school! They are loved by locals due to their humble attitude.
Something unknown about the Danish royal family to most is that Queen Margaret loves the Lord of the Rings so much so that she translated the movies from English to Danish!
There’s an interesting history and modern perception of religion
You’ll see this big horse statue near the city center, that’s Bishop Epsilon. In Catholic medieval times, religion and violence went hand in hand. He was a violent figure that traveled to a northern German island with a huge army to kill enemies. The people he didn’t kill, he baptized and they became Catholics. Felicidades.
Today, 80% of Danes don’t affiliate with religion and less than 5% go to church. Many churches are used for other purposes and are being sold, which I can’t say I had heard of before!
You can travel to the 70’s in Christiania
Copenhagen split into two areas, as the main canal goes through the city. One side was built in 1600 to serve as a military fort.
In the 1960’s, hippies and young people went and took the military fort and created Christiania, a free and equal community. There has never been a king, and there are no societal rules. Politicians weren’t happy very happy about this motion at the time, but the people who founded this unique community wanted to stay and firmly believed in their mission.
Politicians agreed to let them stay and pronounced Christiania a “social experiment”, and would shut it down after three years. Christiania has been there over 40 years now.
Today, it’s considered a mini state with only 300 residents. There’s a flat hierarchial structure, no leader, but everyone has a say in their decisions which works for them. They have their own schools, recycling system, and waste system. Ironically, it is a very political place, and they have been sued by the government multiple times since they go against the norm, such as not paying taxes on their land.
Visiting Christiania was very interesting and I recommend it to those visiting Copenhagen. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photos there so I can’t preview what it’s like.
The Danish played a pivotal role in WWII involving a Nazi invasion in Copenhagen
On April 9, 1940, Copenhagen was invaded by the Nazis. The Danish quickly surrendered to Nazis after their attack – it was only a two-hour attack. They then made a policy of collaboration with Nazis for a couple of years. The Nazis wanted to show the world they could collaborate with other countries, while Danish interest was to protect the population and Jews. Their two rules were no death penalty, that no one was being killed, only put in jail. The second rule the Danish would not budget on was for the Jewish population to be allowed to stay in Denmark and didn’t have to wear the Jewish star. Things were quiet for first couple of years during the war thanks to these two reinforcements.
However, in 1943, the Nazi grip tightened. Violence increased and the Nazis started to take Jews to Nazi camps. The Danish king announced that the Nazis were officially an enemy and that the collaboration was over. Copenhagen especially fought for the Jews, trying to hide families and help them escape to Sweden.
Danish politicians tried to reach the Swedish king, who allowed the endangered Danish into Sweden. Danish fishermen helped smuggle Danish and Jews into Sweden, with the biggest effort being sailing 8,000 Jews into Sweden in 3 nights. 90% of the Jewish population in Copenhagen were saved.
Copenhagen is known as the happiest city in the world
Denmark has strong sense of community, and are the second happiest people in the world (Norway is number one, with lots of oil money).
This is partially attributed to the taxes – more money you make, more you pay in Denmark. Students pay the lowest which is 38%. 60% tax is the highest. The Danish are given a lot back for this high tax, including free healthcare and even education. Students are paid to go to school at the equivalent pf 700 euros per month! There is a lot of freedom, equality and safety.
If you want to learn more about things to do when visiting Copenhagen, check out Travel Now’s post on how to do Copenhagen in four days!