Castle Island (Slotsholmen) Walking Tour, Copenhagen

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

Traditionally seen as the birthplace of Copenhagen, Castle Island (Slotsholmen) gave rise to the Danish capital with a small fortress built on it in the 12th century AD. Since the Middle Ages, this area, also known as the "Island of Power," has been the center of Denmark's government. It houses several prominent landmarks that played significant roles in the country's history.

The imposing Christiansborg Palace is the seat of the Danish Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Prime Minister's Office. Architecturally impressive, it serves as the symbol of Danish governance.

The Old Stock Exchange, with its distinctive spire adorned by four entwined dragon tails, is a fascinating historical edifice that once accommodated the local stock exchange. Its quaint design adds to the island's charm.

The Royal Library (Kongelige Bibliotek) is a treasure trove of knowledge, containing countless books, manuscripts, and historical documents – a true haven for scholars and history enthusiasts.

The Danish War Museum (Krigsmuseet) offers a glimpse into Denmark's military history, showcasing an impressive collection of artifacts, weapons, and memorabilia from various wars.

The Black Diamond, a modern addition to the Royal Library, stands out with its sleek, black façade, gleaming like a diamond. Inside, you'll find exhibitions, events, and a world-class library collection.

Christian IV's Brewhouse, otherwise known as Kongernes Lapidarium, is a museum filled with sculptures and artifacts from Danish history, providing insight into the nation's royal heritage.

The Marble Bridge (Marmorbro) is an elegant bridge connecting Castle Island to the rest of Copenhagen, offering stunning views of the cityscape and the waterfront.

Lastly, Thorvaldsens Museum is a tribute to the famous Danish neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. It houses a collection of his sculptures and works of art.

Nowadays, this compact island is a great place to escape the crowds and take photos of splendid architecture. A step onto Castle Island offers a chance to explore the past, appreciate art, and soak in the beauty of Copenhagen. So, take this step now with our self-guided tour and enjoy the experience at 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 (Borsen)
  • 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)

Christiansborg Palace, located on the small island of Slotsholmen outside Copenhagen Harbor, is a multifunctional building serving as the seat of the Danish Parliament (Folketinget), the Prime Minister's Office, and the Supreme Court. Unique for housing all three branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—it is the only structure in the world to do so.

The current palace is the third on this site; the original castle built by the city's founder, Bishop Absalon, stood here since 1167. Its remains along with those of its successor – Copenhagen Castle – have been excavated and are now visible in the subterranean section at Christiansborg. After suffering two major fires in 1794 and 1884, the palace was rebuilt in a historicist Neo-baroque style by 1928.

Often called "the Castle of the Realm" (Rigsborgen) or simply "the Castle" (Borgen), Christiansborg is also used by the Danish monarchy, specifically the Royal Reception Rooms, the Palace Chapel, and the Royal Stables.

King Christian IX's equestrian statue at the Riding Ground Complex, unveiled in 1927, caused controversy, as the horse model for it was sourced from Hanover, Germany, causing discontent among Danish breeders.

Owned by the Danish Government, parts of Christiansborg are open to the public. If you have a Copenhagen Card for tourists, admission to the royal reception rooms (as well as the 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 a 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. Access to the viewing platform is free, though passing through a security check is required due to the official nature of the building.

Why You Should Visit:
The on-site 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 one-hour tours included in your ticket (they run at 3 pm each day but also at different times during weekends: 12 pm or 2pm), unless you'd rather wander the rooms on your own, reading the descriptions.
2
Old Stock Exchange (Borsen)

2) Old Stock Exchange (Borsen)

Constructed by a pair of Flemish-Danish architects as a testimony to Copenhagen's wealth in the 17th century, "the commodity bourse" (Børsen), later known as the stock exchange, was built under the reign of Christian IV, from 1619 to 1640. Fit to impress foreign and local merchants arriving by sea, its design declared a clear intention to bolster Copenhagen as a Northern European trade hub. Like many other buildings in the city during that period, this eye-catching red-brick structure was inspired by the Dutch Renaissance style; the inscription on its low facade, stretching out along the waterside, reads "For the profitable use of buyer and seller."

Throughout centuries, the building underwent several modifications, most significantly in the 19th century. Until 1974, it served as the Danish stock market and today houses the Danish Chamber of Commerce.

A popular tourist attraction, the Bourse was most noted for its iconic "Dragon Spire" (Dragespir), shaped as the tails of four dragons twined together and topped by crowns to symbolize the union of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Perhaps it also showed an aspiration of Copenhagen to rule the united Scandinavian empire as its commercial capital.

Originally built in 1625, the 56-meter (184-foot) spire was replaced in 1775 due to structural concerns. According to legend, it was also to protect against enemies and fires – and true enough, for many years, the building was spared from damage, while the neighboring structures burnt to the ground. The luck ceased on 16 April 2024, when a fire caused by renovation work severely damaged the building, destroying half of it and toppling the spire itself. Recognizing the cultural impact akin to the Notre Dame fire (the disaster struck just over five years after a similar tragedy at Notre Dame, marking a poignant moment for Denmark), the authorities vowed to rebuild the property.

Meanwhile, the nearby island of Christian's Harbor (Christianshavn) – Copenhagen's "Little Amsterdam" district – has its own distinct spires quite interesting to see up close (or zoom in).

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

3) Royal Library (Kongelige Bibliotek)

The Royal Library (Kongelige Bibliotek) in Copenhagen serves as the national library of Denmark and the university library for the University of Copenhagen. It stands as one of the largest libraries globally and the biggest in the Nordic countries. Historically significant, the library was founded in 1648 by King Frederik III, who endowed it with a rich collection of European literature, and it was opened to the public in 1793.

In 1989, the Royal Library merged with the Copenhagen University Library, founded in 1482, boosting its prestige and collections. Further mergers included the Danish National Library for Science and Medicine in 2005, and the Danish Folklore Archive in 2008, expanding its scope. In 2017, it merged with the State and University Library in Aarhus, forming the Royal Danish Library, operating in Copenhagen and Aarhus. This consolidation solidified its role as a key custodian of Danish cultural heritage.

The Royal Library houses an extensive collection of books, journals, newspapers, manuscripts, maps, prints, photographs, music scores, and digital content, including four annual electronic copies of the Danish Internet. It also holds nearly all Danish printed works dating back to 1482, thanks to significant donations and legal deposit requirements. As of 2017, the library possessed nearly 37 million physical units and over 2.4 million electronic titles, accessible through an online catalog and a reading room, providing comprehensive access to its patrons.

Thus, the Royal Library not only functions as a crucial academic and cultural resource but also as a guardian of Denmark's printed and digital heritage, continuously evolving to include a wide array of media and historical treasures.

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.
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.
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.
6
Christian IV's Brewhouse / Kongernes Lapidarium

6) Christian IV's Brewhouse / Kongernes Lapidarium

Situated in the heart of Copenhagen on Slotsholmen island, The Lapidarium of Kings (Kongernes Lapidarium) is housed within a historical edifice—the 400-year-old brewhouse of King Christian IV. This building, originally part of Copenhagen’s military fortifications and later utilized as a brewhouse, spans an area of 8,000 square meters. Following extensive renovations, the brewhouse was transformed into a public museum space and officially opened on June 3, 2014.

The Lapidarium of Kings features an impressive collection of 300 statues and sculptures that have been curated from various Danish royal gardens, palaces, and buildings. These pieces range from natural stone figures to plaster models, each representing a piece of Danish royal history and artistic heritage. Highlights of the collection include a plaster model of the equestrian statue of King Frederick V at Amalienborg and the original equestrian statue of Christian V at Kongens Nytorv.

The lapidarium, derived from the Latin word "lapis" (meaning stone), serves as a repository for stone sculptures and fragments that have been deemed worthy of preservation. Over the centuries, Danish kings have adorned their palaces and cities with statues to symbolize their power, drawing international inspiration, particularly from France. Many of these statues, exposed to the elements over the years, have deteriorated and been replaced, adding a layer of historical evolution to the collection.

Visitors to the museum can experience these majestic statues "eye to eye," gaining a new perspective on sculptures that might have once adorned high building facades or palace exteriors. This intimate setting under the vaulted ceilings of the old brewhouse offers a unique blend of architectural and sculptural art, inviting exploration and appreciation of Denmark's rich royal and cultural history.
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 in Copenhagen is solely dedicated to the works of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, who was prominent in the Neoclassical style. Thorvaldsen spent most of his life in Rome, where he created his art. Situated on the small island of Slotsholmen near Christiansborg Palace, the museum's architecture, designed by Michael Gottlieb Bindesbøll and constructed between 1838 and 1848, draws heavily from ancient Greek styles.

The building surrounds an inner courtyard where the artist is buried, featuring Egyptian-themed paintings depicting palm trees, lions, crocodiles, and exotic flora. The exterior design combines elements from Attic Greek, Pompeian, and Egyptian architecture, particularly evident in the large trapezoidal doors. The museum stands out for its colorful aesthetics, both inside and out, with each room boasting unique grotesque-style ceiling decorations. Outside, a frieze by Jørgen Sonne illustrates Thorvaldsen's return from Rome in 1838.

Inside, the museum showcases Thorvaldsen's works in marble and plaster, including original plaster models used for casting bronze and marble sculptures. These works are now exhibited worldwide in museums, churches, and other locations. Additionally, the museum displays paintings, as well as Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts collected by Thorvaldsen during his lifetime. Personal belongings used by the artist in his daily life and work are also on view, offering insight into his creative process and lifestyle.

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.
Get the audio guide which is organized well, and you have options to delve deeper as needed.

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