Physically, much of Copenhagen dates from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a cultured ensemble of handsome renaissance palaces, parks and merchant houses laid out around the waterways and canals that give the city, in places, a pronounced Dutch flavour. Successive Danish monarchs left their mark on the place, in particular Christian IV, creator of many of the citys most striking landmarks including Rosenborg Slot and the districts of Nyboder and Christianshavn and Frederik III, who graced the city with the palaces of Amalienborg and the grandiose Marmorkirke church, along with the elegant royal quarter of Frederikstad in which they are located. These landmarks remain the highest points in a refreshingly low and undeveloped skyline which continues to measure things on an emphatically human scale. Historically, Copenhagen owes its existence to its position on the narrow Oresund strait separating Denmark from Sweden and commanding the entrance to the Baltic one of the great trading routes of medieval Europe and now the site of the regions grandest engineering project, the massive Øresund Bridge. Its this location, poised on the dividing line between Europe and Scandinavia, that continues to give Copenhagen its distinctive character. Compared to the relatively staid capitals further north, Copenhagen has a decidedly European flavour, from the innocent hedonism of the famous Tivoli gardens to the sleazy goings-on around Vesterbros red-light district. Its no surprise that the citys most famous export is a beer, Carlsberg, and the freedom with which it flows in the citys thousands of bars is in stark contrast to the puritanical licensing laws found elsewhere in Scandinavia a fact attested to by the thousands of thirsty Swedes who descend on the city each year. Yet ! Copenhagen is also a flagship example of the Scandinavian commitment to liberal social values, as exemplified by its laid-back attitudes to everything from gay marriages to toplessness and pornography, and is also home to the unique "Free City" of Christiania, whose drop-out community is one of Europes most intriguing social experiments.
For all its twentieth-century success, however, the new millennium finds Copenhagen facing an important set of changes and challenges. On the one hand, the magnificent new Oresund Bridge, opened in 2000 to link the city with Malmo and southern Sweden, has given Copenhagen the infrastructure to become the western Baltics leading urban centre, and there are many who would like to see the city develop into a suitably internationalist and forward-looking metropolis. On the other hand, there are many Copenhageners who regard the bridge, at best, as an irrelevance or, at worst, as a symbol of all those foreign influences that threaten to undermine traditional Danish values. Above all, these influences are typified by Copenhagens burgeoning immigrant community, and simmering racial tensions and the resulting rising power of the right wing pose increasing challenges to the citys tolerant image. At the same time, Denmarks landmark decision in a referendum of October 2000 to opt! out of the single European currency also suggests a national desire to remain isolated from the continental mainstream, with the possible result that Copenhagen will be relegated to a position of provincial irrelevance. For all that, its worth remembering that the citys occasional smugness and resistance to change is the result of its citizens pride in their capital and determination to protect its unique character, and as a visitor youll be made to feel welcome wherever you go, especially since absolutely everybody speaks English.
Copenhagen, as any Dane will tell you, is no introduction to Denmark indeed a greater contrast with the sleepy provincialism of the rest of the country would be hard to find. Thanks to the rapid transport links which connect the capital with its surrounding countryside, however, you can enjoy all the pleasures of rural Zealand without ever being much more than an hour away from the bright lights of the capital. Amongst the many attractions which ring the city are the great castles of Kronborg (the "Elsinore Castle" of Shakespeares Hamlet) and Frederiksborg, while the ancient Danish capital and ecclesiastical centre of Roskilde, with its magnificent cathedral and museum of Viking ships, offers another enticing day-trip....Continua