Copenhagen began as a humble Viking fishing village in the 10th century, with rapid growth and prosperity during the time of the Kalmar Union leading to its adoption as capital city of Denmark around 1416. Today, it is an internationally-recognised metropolis, being award the title World Capital of Architecture for 2023. Situated on the western end of the Øresund Bridge, the famous connection between Denmark and Sweden, and the landmark that inspired the Nordic television series Broen (The Bridge), this is a vibrant, bustling and colourful city that is waiting to be explored. From canals and churches to palaces and mermaids, there’s no shortage of amazing photo spots to discover in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen Photo Spots: Palaces
Copenhagen is a city full of palaces and castles, each unique and worth a visit, which isn’t really a surprise considering Denmark is one of the oldest monarchies in the world. If you’re pressed for time, going in to all of them for the full interior tours may not be possible, but the exteriors of each are still beautiful and make for great photo spots when you’re in Copenhagen.
Danish: Christiansborg Slot. Closed on Mondays during the low season (October to March)
Christiansborg is a really interesting place because it’s the only building in the world that houses all three branches of a country’s government – in this case, the Prime Minister, the Parliament and the Supreme Court. It originally was the home of the Royal Family, but they moved to nearby Amalienborg after a huge fire gutted the palace in 1794. The current palace dates from rebuilding works in the early 20th century after a second fire in 1884. There are several different areas that can be visited, including the Royal Reception Rooms, The Royal Kitchen, the Royal Stables and the ruins beneath the palace, including 12th century castle walls and the infamous Blue Tower, which held political prisoners, including a Danish princess.
Its interior is opulent and laden with gold, but the exterior is just as impressive to stroll past as you explore the central area of Copenhagen.
Closed on Mondays except for a few periods during the year. See the official website for details.
The official residence of the Danish Royal Family, Amalienborg is made up of four similar-looking palaces around a central octagonal courtyard. When the Royal Family moved in after the fire in Christiansborg Castle in 1794, it was only supposed to be a temporary move, but over two centuries later, they’re still there! Most of the palace buildings are not accessible by the public, but you can visit the Amalienborg Museum for a look into the personal lives of these progressive royals.
The best view of the palace complex is actually from the water, when the gap between the palaces lines up with nearby Frederik’s Church and its beautiful copper dome. Flags above the residences signal if the King or Queen are at home as you pass by.
Danish: Rosenborg Slot. Closed on Mondays all year round.
Originally built as a country summerhouse for Danish royalty, Rosenborg Castle is one of the best photo spots in Copenhagen because of its multiple attractions: the Dutch Renaissance architecture, surrounded by the King’s Gardens (Kongens Have), the stunning Knight’s Hall complete with thrones and life-sized silver lions, and the Danish Crown Jewels in the Treasury in the basement of the castle.
The castle has a few strange and interesting items and rooms inside, include a joke chair that wet the trousers of anyone who sat in it, a room covered entirely in mirrors similar to those in Versailles (possibly designed to allow seeing up women’s skirts), and next door to the mirror room is where at least one randy king kept his erotica collection (not that anything is on display!).
Both the interiors and exterior of Rosenborg are amazing for photography, making this 400 year-old castle one of the best photo spots in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen Photo Spots: Architecture
While the name translate to New Harbour, this area is over 350 years old. Likely the most well-known and most-photographed view in Copenhagen, the rows of colourful houses next to the canal are always busy with visitors taking in the sights at this popular photo spot. The canal is always lined with boats, many of which are historical wooden ships, adding to the harbour feeling of this beautiful place.
Located right in the centre of the city, Nyhavn is often the first place visitors come to. If you’re in Copenhagen in December, there’s a Christmas market along the eastern side of the canal. This eastern side is also the more popular one to photograph as it has more boats in the shot and gets the better daylight. But if you are in the area in the afternoon or evening, the softer light around golden hour can make photos of the western houses really beautiful too.
Do not miss this photo spot when you’re in Copenhagen!
Known for its distinctive spire made up of the intertwined tails of four dragons, this is the Copenhagen Stock Exchange Building. Very close to Christiansborg Palace, you will pass by this beautiful building on a canal tour, or if you’re walking south to the Christianshavn area. Local legend says that the dragons kept the building safe from fire, because it’s the only building in the area that has never burned down.
Dating from the 17th century, Børsen is a historically-protected building and an incredible example of Dutch Renaissance architecture.
Danish: Botanisk have. Admission to the gardens is free, the Palm House has an entry fee.
When I visited Copenhagen, it was December, freezing cold, with a dusting of snow on the ground. Not exactly an ideal time for visiting a garden! Walking through the gardens, there wasn’t much variety in colour, but I could tell it would be spectacular during the rest of the year. The main reason to visit the Botanical Gardens (which are over 150 years old) during the winter is to see the Palm House, a huge and stunning glass house overlooking the rest of the gardens.
Getting out of the cold for a while is a great reason to visit, but apart from that, this really is one of the best photo spots in Copenhagen. There are multiple rooms housing different types of plants, but the most beautiful is the large, central dome area of the huge greenhouse. In here there are ancient palms reaching towards the glass ceiling, and, best of all, two cast-iron spiral stairs leading to an upper walkway. I simply loved it here.
Copenhagen Opera House
Unlike most of the city, the Copenhagen Opera House is very young and modern, and was only completed in 2004. It is also one of the most expensive Opera Houses in the world, costing approximately $370 million! Located on the island of Holmen, across from Amalienborg, the Opera House make a unique shape on the horizon with its huge, flat roof. This roof has actually been the site of the Red Bull Diving Competition on multiple occasions. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to dive from the top of the Opera House into the canal below (which, as any Copenhagen resident will tell you proudly, is one of the cleanest canal systems in the world).
If you don’t want to make the trek over to the Opera House to see the building up close, then you will see it from the water on a Canal Tour.
Sitting on multiple small islands, and interspersed between several canals, Christianshavn is full of pretty, coloured houses. You can either walk the streets or view the beautiful buildings from the water during a Canal Tour. For much of the 20th century, it was a working class neighbourhood, but it underwent a bit of a bohemian revolution in the 1970s and is now one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in Copenhagen.
Because of all the canals, it’s no wonder there are so many boats and yachts lining the streets next to the beautiful buildings. This neighbourhood really is where the true nautical feeling of Copenhagen can be found.
Copenhagen Photo Spots: History
Located to the north-east of the city centre, this 17th-century citadel is one of the best-preserved fortresses in Northern Europe. Though it is still an active military area, these days it serves more as a public park and historic attraction. A changing of the guards ceremony happens every day at noon in the centre of the pentagonal citadel.
St. Alban’s Church
The English Church, as it’s commonly known, dates to 1885, and looks beautiful right next to the Kastellet and the large Gefion Fountain. Built in the English style for a growing English population, the church stands proud and tall. The best photo spot from which to capture the church is on Kastellet Bridge, the water rippling between them (or ice if, like me, you visit in winter).
The Little Mermaid
Danish: Den lille Havfrue
Though the statue dedicated to Hans Christian Andersen’s famous mermaid is definitely worth visiting, it’s important not to let yourself get too hyped about it beforehand. The statue is small, there will likely be a crowd of selfie-takers around it, and the area across the water is industrial and not the prettiest. But with that said, the walk from the city centre north to the statue is lovely, and the Little Mermaid is such a quintessential part of the fabric of Copenhagen, it would be a shame to miss it.
The Little Mermaid is also a stop on the Canal Tours, but she will be facing away from the boats, so it’s better to see her from land.
Danish: Fristaden Christiania
Military base, commune, micronation – Christiana has had a strange and colourful history, which perfectly matches its current strange and colourful vibe. Full of street art, galleries, graffiti, crafts, and yes, drugs, stepping into Christiana feels like stepping into a completely different world to the rest of Copenhagen.
Originally an abandoned military base, the area was taken over by squatters and hippies in 1971. Initially the government turned a blind eye to the activities (often illegal) that happened in Christiana, but over the years, the social issues grew to a point that local residents decided to take matters into their own hands. Biker gangs were forced out by police, gang insignias were banned by locals, and in 1989 the Danish Parliament officially legalised Freetown Christiana. Now it is a haven for creativity and alternative lifestyles.
The only place in Christiana that can’t be considered a photo spot is Pusher Street, famous for the open selling of cannabis, which is found nowhere else in Copenhagen. It’s a bit of a strange experience to turn a corner and suddenly have a dozen people (many wearing face coverings) standing by stalls hand-painted with the names of various types of weed, calling out to you, offering their wares. Not to mention the signs painted on nearby walls forbidding the taking of any photos.
Copenhagen Photo Spots: Squares
King’s New Square
Danish: Kongens Nytorv
The largest square in Copenhagen, this 350 year-old public area was laid out in order to move the centre of the city away from a very muddy market area nearby. It is located at the eastern end of Strøget, the popular pedestrian street that is lined with high-end luxury boutiques and mass-produced souvenir shops.
King Christian V laid out the square, and there’s a large equestrian state of the royal at its centre. Multiple beautiful buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries surround the square, including the Royal Danish Theater, the Charlottenborg Palace from 1671 (now the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts), the Thott Palace (now the French Embassy), the Hotel D’Angleterre and the Magasin du Nord department store, making this one of the best photo spots in Copenhagen. There is also a 100 year-old kiosk and telephone stand in the square, which today hosts a small cafe and outdoor seating area.
Not particularly famous or on any tourist maps, this square is one of those places I found by accident by wandering the quieter streets around the city centre. The buildings are colourful like Nyhavn, but far, far less crowded. There are a few restaurants and boutiques, but it certainly has a more lived-in, less tourist-haven feel to it. If you’re looking for a photo spot in Copenhagen that is quiet enough to spend a bit more time shooting, this is the place. And it’s conveniently located close to Strøget.
Copenhagen Photo Spots: Aerial Views
Church of Our Saviour
Danish: Vor Frelsers Kirke. Open 9am – 8pm every day. Closed in extreme weather.
One of the most famous churches in Denmark, Church of Our Saviour offers what is no doubt the best view in the city. Famous for its external spiral staircase, the 400-step climb isn’t for the faint of heart. But trust me, it’s worth it. At 90m high, the view over the rooftops and spires of the city is pretty incredible. And the external staircase is such a unique experience, the view only getting better and better as you near the top. For me, this is one of the best photo spots in Copenhagen.
Sometimes the interior of the church is closed for private concerts, but the spire is always still open during these times.
Danish: Rundetaarn. Open every day 10am to 6pm, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 10am to 9pm
Built in the 17th century as an astronomical observatory, the Round Tower is north of the main city centre. Its internal spiral ramp is similar to that of the Giralda Tower in Seville, making it less taxing to climb than the Church of Our Saviour. However, the views from Church of Our Saviour are, in my opinion, much better. But the Round Tower itself is cool to see and worth checking out.
The best way to see the city and save money on entry fees is to get a Copenhagen Card, which covers more than eighty attractions around the city as well as public transport within the entire Danish Capital Region for the duration of the card. Cards are available for 24 to 120 hours, so it’s the perfect choice for a weekend trip. Purchase your card at www.copenhagencard.com and download your pass onto the handy mobile app, which makes it so easy to quickly show at sights and on transport.
Copenhagen photo spots included in the Copenhagen Card:
- Botanical Gardens Palm House
- Church of Our Saviour
- Round Tower
- Canal Tour
Thank you to Wonderful Copenhagen for gifting me a Copenhagen Card for the duration of my visit. All opinions are my own!
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