Split by lakes and surrounded by sea, an upbeat waterside vibe permeates Copenhagen (København), one of Europe’s most user-friendly capitals. It’s a welcoming, compact city with a centre largely given over to pedestrians (and cyclists) with an emphasis on café culture and top-notch museums by day, and a cracking live music, bar and club scene by night. Festivals like Distortion (June) and the Jazz Festival (July) show the city off at its coolest and most inventive.
Until the twelfth century, when Bishop Absalon built a castle on Christiansborg’s present site, there was little more than a tiny fishing settlement to be found here. Trade and prosperity flourished with the introduction of the Sound Toll on vessels in the Øresund, and the city became the Baltic’s principal harbour, earning the name København (“merchants’ harbour”). By 1443 it had become the Danish capital. A century later, Christian IV created Rosenborg Castle, Rundetårn and the districts of Nyboder and Christianshavn, and in 1669 Frederik III graced the city with its first royal palace, Amalienborg.
The historic core of the city is Slotsholmen originally the site of the twelfth-century castle and now home to the huge Christiansborg complex. Just over the Slotsholmen Kanal to the north is the medieval maze of Indre By (“inner city”), while to the south the island of Christianshavn is dotted with cutting-edge architecture as well as the alternative enclave of Christiania. Northeast of Indre By are the royal quarters of Kongens Have and Frederiksstaden, while to the west the expansive Rådhuspladsen leads via Tivoli Gardens to Central Station and the hotspots of Vesterbro and Nørrebro.