After Stockholm, my next city up north was Copenhagen, Denmark. Due to budget, trying to fit in Oslo didn’t look smart so this was my last stop in Scandinavia this time. To be honest, visiting anywhere up here is not a great idea if you’re worrying about money. It can get very expensive and Copenhagen is up at the top, but there’s plenty to love about the city that makes it worth the cost, if you can spare it.
While Copenhagen is even more expensive than Stockholm, it brings an edgier, more hip vibe. It shares some similarities with its scenery and architecture, but brings a different feeling when exploring its streets. While still very scenic, it’s not quite as pretty as many parts of Scandinavia, but more than makes up for it in character, which I found even more photogenic for street photography. It’s also a compact city made for walking as much as any out there.
So here are my first impressions of Copenhagen, from my personal Street Photographer perspective…
7 First Impressions of Copenhagen
(From a Street Photography Perspective)
1. Very walkable
Copenhagen feels very compact and was actually named the most walkable city by the non-profit organization, Walk 21. If you like to walk as much as me, you could explore the majority of the city’s best spots on foot without ever needing transportation. Back in the 1960’s, Copenhagen started making a push for sustainable mobility too, creating many areas exclusive to pedestrians. So by foot, or bike, the city is made for easily getting around without the need for transportation.
You could start exploring around Vesterbro, then walk through the center along the always busy Strøget, check out Nyhavn, walk up and around Nørrebro, and finish the day back in the center. All on foot in one day, seeing much of the city’s interest. Combine more days and you can really get a feel for the city by just walking around. Walkability is always high on my list for street photography, as I’d rather just get lost in the streets than spending time in transportation. So this was definitely one of my favorite aspects of Copenhagen.
2. Very expensive
It’s not a secret that Copenhagen isn’t a budget destination. While it’s not quite up there with Oslo, it’s noticeably more expensive than Stockholm, and much more expensive than the rest of Europe, outside of Switzerland. That’s saying a lot and doesn’t really hit you until you’ve arrived. Everything is expensive.
I wouldn’t recommend taking transportation if you can help it. Even the metro is a minimum of $4 a trip in its shortest zone. Luckily, since it’s a very walkable city, you don’t really need to use it. Street photography is free on foot so your biggest budget killers will be food and drink. You can save some money by getting food at large supermarkets like Lidl, though. And if you drink, it is legal to drink alcohol outside, so buy it from the store and enjoy the people watching outside while saving 5 times the price.
You can’t avoid some things, though, so you just need to come to Copenhagen expecting it won’t be a budget friendly photo experience. It’s a unique, beautiful, and walk friendly city with a vibrant atmosphere to make up for it.
3. Colorful Buildings & Plenty of Bikes
The colorful buildings of Nyhavn Street is what Copenhagen is famous for, but there’s more color to be found in the city. Scandinavian countries have a tradition of painting their houses bright colors. They can add vibrancy and life to the city, and photos too. Some of my favorite colorful streets include Sankt Pauls Gade, Olufsvej, and Suensonsgade. And none of these attract the crowds that Nyhavn Street does, so scenes can be easier to manage and less messy.
No where outside of Amsterdam have I seen more bicycles than in Copenhagen. Around some canals, it can give a similar atmosphere to Amsterdam because of this. Everyone uses bikes here and the compactness of the city makes it extremely bike friendly. Some even call Copenhagen the most bicycle friendly city in the world, referring to it as “Bike City.” If you want to capture this, it would be easy to do, especially in areas like Nørrebro. And if you want to use a bike to get around yourself, to explore the city with your camera, it’s extremely easy with the public bikeshare, Bycyklen.
4. Super touristy and crowded in center
Copenhagen has a very dense center that packs the crowds of tourists together, especially along two specific streets, Nyhavn and Strøget. While there can be street photo opportunities here due to all the activity and some nice backgrounds, it can get very touristy and messy.
Nyhavn is the most famous street in Copenhagen, and what you see in postcards and travel guide covers. The colorfully painted buildings and wooden boats along the canal attract people for photo ops, while the line of overpriced restaurant, cafes and bars keep them there. The 17th century entertainment district was a sinful spot for sailors, fishermen and even Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Today it’s all for the tourists. Still, it’s worth walking around with your camera for the backgrounds and atmosphere, you might just get lucky.
For street photography, Strøget is probably the better bet as far as crowded tourist spots go. At over a kilometer, Strøget is one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets. Most known for shopping, it’s lined with a wide variety of shops, restaurants and stores. There’s a few squares along the way where people gather and street performers do their thing. It’s a good street to walk through the center since there’s always plenty going on. Starting at Nyhavn and following with a walk along Strøget will get you your fill of tourists and crowds, but it’s still a must for street photography while in the city.
5. Norrebro is a must for a more local feeling, hipster meets multicultural
Nørrebro is an older working district in Copenhagen that has gone through many changes in recent years. It’s become a place for many of the younger locals, with its trendy bars, clothing shops, edgy spots filled with character, cheaper eats and a vibrant and casual atmosphere. It’s also become the district with a multicultural mix. There’s a big immigrant population here, with many coming from the Middle East, filling the district with kebab shops and other middle-eastern influences.
The district is a very interesting mix of European hipster and multicultural influence. It’s a little more rugged than much of Copenhagen, giving it more character. The graffiti and art influence adds to this atmosphere too. There’s also the large Assistens Cemetary, which has become a popular hangout for locals. Overall, it might be the most interesting district for street photography, in my opinion. Away from most of the tourism and filled with atmosphere, character, life and kilometers of pedestrian only streets.
6. Christiania is another interesting area
Established in 1971 by a group of hippy squatters using abandoned military barracks on the site, Freetown Christiania has since turned into a car-free neighbourhood and marijuana friendly community with its own set of society rules. They claim to be completely independent of the Danish government, forming an autonomous society, although clashes between the state sometimes occur. Most often, this is brought on by their sale of marijuana in small stalls along Pusher Street. (While it always feels extremely safe, due to some gang related stalls recently causing problems, Christiania has now agreed to install cameras and remove all non-resident and organized group run stalls on this street.)
The truth is Freetown Christiania was started as a safe place for non-violence and casual freedom with a focus on artistry. It’s completely open to the public and attracts families and people from all walks of life. There’s a mix of beautiful nature, art galleries, music venues, organic eateries, quirky houses and even a small skate park. Not only does it have its very unique history, but it’s just as unique and interesting to walk around.
*I’d recommend it just for the experience and scenery alone, but while photos aren’t allowed in areas around Pusher Street, you can still get some interesting captures in the surrounding areas.
7. Old town can feel like ghost town, but very picturesque
Copenhagen’s Old Town is located in the City Centre district. Saint Paul’s Street and the area surrounding the church by the same name is my favorite part to walk here. Nyboder is the name of this historic district, where rows of former Naval barracks sit. It can feel like a ghost town with how quiet it is at times, but the colorful yellow hue and character of the buildings here provide some interesting atmosphere and backgrounds.
Although quiet, if you walk around enough, you can find some interesting characters to go along with unique atmosphere here too.
A vibrant, walk friendly experience in the north
Copenhagen has a slightly cooler, edgier vibe than the rest of Scandinavia. It has the history and colorful tourist attractions, cobblestone streets and trendy neighborhoods, but there’s a character throughout the city that isn’t as as polished. There’s a slightly wild side to its beauty. A vibrance that makes the compact, walk friendly city a great one for experiencing on foot with your camera.
If any of you have been to Copenhagen before, tell me about your experience and impressions of the city and country in the comments below! And stay tuned for more on Copenhagen, including some of the best Street Photography shots I captured while there.
(from a street photographer’s perspective)