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Castle Island (Slotsholmen) Walking Tour (Self Guided), Copenhagen

Step onto the island of Slotsholmen, the birthplace of Copenhagen in the 12th century, dominated by the royal palace complex. Also known as the "Island of Power", it has been recognized as the center of Denmark's government since the Middle Ages. Nowadays, it's a great area to get away from the crowds and take photos of the area's splendid public buildings. Christiansborg Palace, Thorvaldsens Museum, the Old Stock Exchange and the Royal Library, along with several other sites, are all on this compact island, which makes it a mandatory destination. A visit to Slotsholmen could take up almost an entire day, as there is plenty to see, so take this self-guided tour to explore on your own pace.
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Castle Island (Slotsholmen) Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Castle Island (Slotsholmen) Walking Tour
Guide Location: Denmark » Copenhagen (See other walking tours in Copenhagen)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 Km or 1 Miles
Author: EmmaS
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Christiansborg Palace
  • Old Stock Exchange
  • Royal Library (Kongelige Bibliotek)
  • Danish War Museum (Krigsmuseet)
  • Black Diamond (Royal Library)
  • Christian IV's Brewhouse / Kongernes Lapidarium
  • Marble Bridge (Marmorbro)
  • Thorvaldsens Museum
1
Christiansborg Palace

1) Christiansborg Palace (must see)

The seat of Danish government today, housing all its three wings – Parliament, Supreme Court, and Prime Minister's office, this site is considered the birthplace of Copenhagen, as it comprises the ruins of the city's original 12th-century fortress (now literally under visitors' feet). Dating from 1928, the current palace is the sixth building to stand on the spot in 800 years, after a series of fires and reconstructions. Despite its relative recency, the majesty here is excellent, with all of the furniture, tapestries and exhibits in excellent condition. Paper slippers are put on to protect the beautiful parquet floors.

If you have the Copenhagen Card for tourists, admission to the royal reception rooms (as well as the nearby stables, kitchen, and underground ruins) is free. Highlights of the experience include the Queen's china collection; her ornate ceremonial library; and the Great Hall, which today is adorned with tapestries chronicling Denmark's history. The detail in the hand paintings that cover every square inch of some of the rooms is simply amazing.

If you don't have the Copenhagen Card (or don't want to pay to get in), it is still possible to walk around the courtyard and go up the tower (Copenhagen's tallest), where a nice observation area looks over the city on all sides. There's even a small elevator that takes groups of 8ish at a time to the top, so definitely do this, if nothing else.

Why You Should Visit:
The library is the stuff of dreams, and one could easily spend an hour looking at the modern tapestries.

Tip:
Always look out for the free English hour-long tours included in your ticket (they are at 3pm each day but also at different times in the weekends: 12pm/2pm), unless you'd rather wander the rooms on your own, reading the descriptions.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–5pm (June); Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm (July–March)
2
Old Stock Exchange

2) Old Stock Exchange

Constructed by one of Copenhagen's greatest builders and architects, King Christian IV, the Old Stock Exchange stands as a testimony to the city's wealth, having been specially built to impress foreign as well as Danish merchants arriving from the sea. Like many others in the 17th century, the eye-catching red-brick structure was inspired by the Dutch Renaissance; its low facade, stretching out along the water side, reads "For the profitable use of buyer and seller."

The spire is definitely interesting to see up close (or zoomed in), with four intertwined dragon tails that are topped by three crowns, symbolizing aspirations to rule a united Scandinavian empire (Denmark, Sweden and Norway), or at least be its commercial capital. According to legend, the spire also guards against enemy attacks and fires – and true enough, the Old Stock Exchange has many times been spared from damage, even as neighboring buildings have burnt to the ground.

Beyond lies the island of Christianshavn – Copenhagen's "Little Amsterdam" district, with its own distinct spire.

Tip:
For a nice overview picture, just take the elevator in the Christiansborg Palace, on the other side of the road! The inside is only accessible during Culture Night held every year in October, though be warned that queues can get quite long.
3
Royal Library (Kongelige Bibliotek)

3) Royal Library (Kongelige Bibliotek)

One of the most impressive of its kind in Nordic countries, the Royal Library in Copenhagen boasts countless historical treasures collected meticulously from the 17th century – including the first ever Danish book, printed in 1482. Generous donations through ages have helped sustain this institution, which became a part of the University Library in 1989.

If the day is nice, the library's "hidden garden" is definitely worth finding. Plenty of areas to walk or lie down in the grass, plus a small pond with a path around it and flowers blooming in the summer make it among the nicest outdoor places in the heart of Copenhagen. Seldom crowded, too, but you will find people reading on the benches and might even meet an elected politician.

Tip:
Entrance is through the library's modern extension – the adjoining Black Diamond. From there you can take an escalator up which takes you towards the old section, worth visiting just to admire the interior. Public tours of the Black Diamond are offered every Saturday at 3pm for a fee. The on-site café is good, with seating outside on sunny days (there is also a nice restaurant, "Søren K"), and you can buy something special in the small shop.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am–7pm; Sat: 9am–7pm
4
Danish War Museum (Krigsmuseet)

4) Danish War Museum (Krigsmuseet)

Another one of Danish king, Christian IV's constructions, the old Arsenal – a former storehouse of hand weapons and canons – now houses the Danish War Museum. As such, it is of the very few buildings in Denmark used for the specific purpose it was originally built for, showcasing outstandingly well-preserved old armory alongside more modern exhibits, such as an interesting replica of a NATO station in Afghanistan, set as a full-scale diorama that you can walk through.

The building itself is interesting, commemorating the way in which Renaissance was centralized in Copenhagen, thus extending royal power. The extent of influence held by the armed forces on the capital is evident with the models of the 18th-century citadel and of the king's Arsenal Hall, which, at 156 meters, holds the distinction as the biggest arched Renaissance hall in Europe. There, you will find hundreds of the oldest and more recent Danish canons on display.

In other sections, visitors can go through the sequence of edged weapons and small arms development through the last 500 years. An amazing selection of modern and antique items – including exquisite handguns, war trophy firearms and beautiful princely, ornamental weapons – are on display in the Renaissance Hall. Among other attractions, don't miss the impressive 19th-century collection of military accessories such as banners, uniforms, armor, and saddler.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–5pm (June); Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm (July-May)
5
Black Diamond (Royal Library)

5) Black Diamond (Royal Library)

If you have a penchant for books or modern architecture, the Black Diamond should be high up your list. A waterfront extension to the Royal Danish Library's old building, this iconic structure gets its (nick)name from its irregular-angled construction and polished black granite cladding – so polished, in fact, that you can actually see the blue sky and clouds reflected. The middle third of the front is a window that tends to gleam like a jewel after dark.

If the exterior is impressive, the interior is even more so. Anyone can go in and should. On the ground floor is a café and an upscale restaurant (the "Søren K.", for Søren Kierkegaard). You will also find a bookstore with some interesting works in English. Don't confine yourself to the ground floor, however. First look up at the atrium, and then take the escalator ramp up to the next level. After that, elevators or stairs are necessary. It's worth a trip to the top just to take photos of the atrium area and out the huge windows on the canal. Other things of interest include a rooftop terrace, exhibition spaces, a 600-seat auditorium/concert hall, and two museums – one displaying photography and another one cartoon art.

Tip:
After your visit, grab a coffee (or not) and sit out on one of the chairs on the waterfront, enjoying the goings on in the canal.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am–8pm; Sat: 9am–7pm
6
Christian IV's Brewhouse / Kongernes Lapidarium

6) Christian IV's Brewhouse / Kongernes Lapidarium

With its general reddish appearance and its location by the waterfront, this attractive building, dating from 1608, acted as a brewery before being turned into a museum. Even before that, it served military purposes as a corner bastion – part of King Christian IV's fortification of the city – until much larger fortifications were built in nearby Christianshavn.

Mostly open to the public in the summertime, the remarkable museum on site contains a great collection of large, but now fragile, sculptures that once graced Danish palaces and royal grounds (thus the name – Lapidarium of Kings). The downstairs portion has hundreds of these packed together in tight quarters, almost as if you're entering a historic function hall for a sold-out evening gala only to realize that everyone present is really an inanimate sculpture! You will marvel at the workmanship and sheer grandeur of historic figures, Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, everyday people, and mounted horsemen. All in all, a very interesting place, especially for those whose knowledge of sculptures is scarce.
7
Marble Bridge (Marmorbro)

7) Marble Bridge (Marmorbro)

Of the four bridges spanning Frederiksholms Kanal, the most notable is Marble Bridge which provides access to Christiansborg's riding grounds. The old main entrance and one of few surviving features of the first Christiansborg Palace which burned in 1794, this rococo-style bridge was paved with Norwegian marble, hence the name.

The pavilions were every bit as magnificent as the bridge. They were covered with sandstone from Saxony, and sculptor Johan Christof Petzoldt richly decorated the concave roofs with the royal couple's back-to-back monograms and four figures on each roof symbolising the royal couple's positive traits. All works were finished in 1744.

Seen from the shaded banks of the canal, the restored bridge, with its elegant arches, is one of Copenhagen's most attractive sights. For amusement, watch the tourist boats, which barely fit between its pillars, trying to make the corner.
8
Thorvaldsens Museum

8) Thorvaldsens Museum

The Thorvaldsen Museum is a single-artist museum in Copenhagen, dedicated to the art of Danish neoclassicistic sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770–1844), who lived and worked in Rome for most of his life. The museum is located on the small island of Slotsholmen in central Copenhagen next to Christiansborg Palace. Designed by Michael Gottlieb Bindesbøll, the building was constructed from 1838–48.

The building is strongly inspired by antique Greek architecture and built around an inner courtyard where the artist is buried. The courtyard is notable for being painted in Egyptian motifs: tall date palms; lions and crocodile prowl among exotic birds and plants. The Egyptian influence on the exterior is more chaste. Here, enormous doors in severe trapezoidal style define the architect's intentions to pay homage at once to Attic Greek, Pompeian and Egyptian style. It is noteworthy for its unique use of colors both inside and outside. Every room in the museum has a unique ceiling decoration in the grotesque style. The outside is adorned with a frieze depicting Thorvaldsen's homecoming from Rome in 1838, made by Jørgen Sonne.

The museum displays a comprehensive collection of the artist's works in marble as well as plaster, including the original plaster models used in the making of cast bronze and marble statues and reliefs, which are now on display in museums, churches, and at other locations around the world. The museum also features paintings, Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiques, drawings, and prints that Thorvaldsen collected during his lifetime, as well as a wide array of personal belongings that he used in his work and everyday life.

Why You Should Visit:
To be taken back to the classical XIX Century museums.
All the works of Thorvaldsen are masterpieces that tell you stories of gods, adventures and other Greek and Roman myths.

Tip:
Come on a Wednesday as it is free to enter on that day each week.
Don't forget to look up and down as you walk through the galleries.
Definitely get the audio guide which is organized well, and you have options to delve deeper as needed.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia

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