Nyhavn – Exploring and photographing Copenhagen’s prettiest canal

A little like the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and Big Ben do for Paris, New York and London, when you say ‘Copenhagen’ to anyone – whether they’ve been here or not – a picture of Nyhavn jumps into their minds.

Nyhavn – said ‘Noo-hown’ – deserves to be the poster place for the city. It’s unequivocally pretty, its higgledy piggledy houses hugging each other tightly in a spectrum of chalky hues – from blush pink to Nyboder yellow, through jade greens and inky blues – and its canal is filled with the gentle clanking of its old wooden fishing boats and trawlers, including a beautiful old lightship (the on-water equivalent of a lighthouse) across from the houses.

This is, quite naturally, a major tourist thoroughfare, but somehow that doesn’t diminish its special beauty. Wander the cobbled side where the houses stand, now chock-full of atmospheric tourist restaurants all the way to the harbour front and Skuespilhuset (the Royal Danish Playhouse), before heading back to the little bridge across the canal. Photos from here are always good, whether taken up the canal or the other way, heading out to sea.

When you’ve explored that side, amble across the bridge to the other, where you can photograph wider-angle images of the houses. Here, there’s quite a nice souvenir shop, a safe-bet pizza place (see our Nyhavn eats post); and the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, a Dutch-inspired baroque palace that has, since 1883, been a unique and incredibly beautiful exhibition building for showing progressive modern art.

The canal is stunning at any time of day and in any weather. It becomes burnished and twinkly at twilight and at Christmas, when it’s hung with real fir garlands and lit hearts, it’s especially hyggeligt.

The history of Nyhavn

Nyhavn was brought to life by Christian V, who created it as a gateway from Kongens Nytorv to the harbour. It was constructed as a place for the world’s ships to dock while in Copenhagen and because of this, it became a playground for sailors and prostitutes.

The oldest building here dates back to 1681 and is number nine – it looks the same today as it did then – and the other buildings are all 17th- or 18th-century. During its lifetime, Nyhavn has been home to many of Denmark’s artists, poets and writers and the most famous of all, Hans Christian Andersen, lived for twenty years at number 67, and for two years at number 18.

The giant anchor at the Kongens Nytorv end, where the Stromma canal tours begin, commemorates the 1,700 Danish navy officers and sailors who died fighting in World War II.

For ideas of where to eat in Nyhavn – both with kids and without – and where to play nearby, see our post here.


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