Also, as I go through our travels, I'm calling out specific info for photographers in green boxes.
The Square HotelOnce we were there, we stayed at The Square Hotel (Yelp), which turned out to be a great location. Standard for a European hotel, the rooms are small, the shower doesn’t work right and the air conditioning isn’t really true AC, but the staff were friendly and helpful.
Should you decide to stay at the Square Hotel, know that they have a lounge on the sixth floor, and this lounge has a patio with ridiculously good views of the city. This is a great opportunity to ask the staff if it’s possible to have ten minutes one morning to take your tripod out and get some shots. As I didn’t discover the balcony until too late, and the weather was bad for the opportunity I could have had, I didn’t take advantage, but certainly would if we visit again.
Strøget & Copenhagen Urban Life
Invalid Displayed GalleryOn the afternoon we arrived, we set out to walk Strøget, one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe. This was Saturday evening, so everything was in full swing. Music was happening on the square, shops were bustling and the cafes and bars lining the streets were all populated with residents and tourists basking the 65F weather. One of the most interesting places I had found in my research was Brewpub Copenhagen (Yelp), so we stopped there for dinner. Know that European (or, at least, Scandanvian) brewpups aren’t going to be like U.S. ones, with a gajillion weird brews on tap, and Brewpub Copenhagen has just about five different (but very similar) selections. Perhaps the most celebrated pastime in Europe is sitting outside a bar or cafe with a drink and watching life go by. After dinner, we were happy to take part, finding a spot outside Victoria Pub (Yelp) on Strøget and watching the activity in the square. It was around 11 p.m. when we headed back to the hotel, and it was just getting dark. That’s one of the attractions of visiting during this time--the crazy amount of sunlight you get. It’s true, you literally don’t notice that you’re tired until it’s midnight and the sun’s finally gone down, but it still feels like 6 p.m.
Early Sunday morning, really the only morning I got out early with my camera, I strolled down Strøget again at about 5 a.m. I was struck by how many people were still out on the street, winding down from the previous night and looking for all the world like they’d narrowly survived a Scandinavian zombie attack. While dodging the zombies/drunks with camera gear in hand, I looked for some quieter streets to take advantage of the morning light. By 7 a.m., almost everyone had cleared out.
The number of sunlight hours at this latitude can really screw with your golden hour planning, if you’re one of those folks. Between the jet lag, weather and need to actually be on vacation, I got way less golden hour photography in than I had hoped. The prime photography hours are going to be about 2-3 a.m. and 10:30-11:30 p.m. Probably the best strategy for balancing great light and actually enjoying vacation activities (often somewhat mutually exclusive things) is to identify two or three mornings where the weather looks good and plan to get to bed early and go out early those mornings. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate with my plans, but I made due with what I did get.
Copenhagen and Water
The vast majority of the time on this trip, I was shooting with my 24-105mm lens on the 6D. While that set up is a touch bulky, it’s nowhere near as awkward as the 70-300mm on that camera. The boats were really the only time I used the 70-300mm; really, a lot of these city streets to too narrow to make a telephoto perspective useful. On that particular boat, everyone was crammed in a bit tighter than I expected, so it was hard to swing the big lens around like I wanted. If you go, spend a few minutes watching the tour boats to get a feel for the setup of each, and then buy a ticket for the one that appears to give you the most space.
Copenhagen’s Tivoli GardensTivoli Gardens. As the second oldest amusement park in the world (believe it or not, the oldest amusement park in the world is also located in Denmark, but I’m not going try to pronounce or even type the name), Tivoli is known for it’s old-fashioned, innocent appeal and beautiful nighttime lighting. In many ways, Tivoli is a reflection of the city outside the gates, but a more positive one. Georg Carstensen founded Tivoli after being granted 15 acres by King Christian VIII on the argument that, “when people are amusing themselves, they do not think about politics.” True to that perspective, Tivoli offers its visitors frivolous exploits such as rides and games, but also cafes, shops and parks. Today, as I suspect it did in the 1850s, Tivoli has a “more than the sum of its parts” effect on people, allowing them to enjoy their day-to-day lives a bit more than they can outside the gates. And, please believe me when I say this: you should eat dinner at Tivoli. There are something like forty restaurants inside its gates, so use Yelp to guide you, but we found a sit down cafe that did not seem like the pale and pathetic imitation of such places we’ve come to expect in American amusement parks. For a truly relaxing experience, eat a late dinner and watch the lights of the park come up as the sun (ever so slowly) goes down.
I always try and look up the website of a place to make sure bringing my tripod is ok, but I couldn’t tell from Tivoli’s website. In any case, I did bring it, and I spent about 20 minutes with it all set up in one of the parks at around 10 p.m. that night. No one seemed the least bit upset and I got some nice shots.
Rosenborg CastleRosenborg Castle was our first stop, where the country’s crown jewels are housed. Despite its grand name and royal history, the castle and its artifacts have a degree of subtle pride. The Danish are proud of their history and their place in the modern world, but they are less showy about it than other countries. The castle and its artifacts certainly represent the royal history very well, but there is not the same feeling of excess that you’ll come across in some other castles and palaces.
Unlike in America, almost every building we entered was photography-friendly, as long as you didn’t use a flash. (In fact, I think they even let you use a flash in Rosenborg Castle.) I probably could have gotten away with a monopod, but didn’t try. In any case, feel free to tote your camera along, just follow whatever rules you’re presented with. On one of our later tours, I encountered a couple who kept using a flash when no one was looking. This is the kind of thing that gets cameras banned outright from historic locations.
NyhvanNyhvan, one of the most famous and picturesque spots in Europe. The 17th century stretch of waterfront is well-known for its brightly colored houses, old boats and famous authors. It is lovely, but incredibly touristy, much like Georgetown in DC.
Christiania (aka, Freetown)Christiania. Also known as Freetown, this is enclave is quite literally a breakaway neighborhood in Copenhagen. The grounds of a former military installation, it evolved from a meeting place for squatters to an actual community that accepted people who simply couldn’t handle life in “normal” society. In the commune-like community, there is a heavy emphasis on individualism, art and creativity. And pot. Lots and lots of pot. Today, Christiania is best known for Pusher Street, an open-air drug market in the heart of the neighborhood. Pusher street is lined with stalls covered in camouflage netting with signs that describe the varieties of weed available there. People in hoodies and dark sunglass, or even scarves wrapped around their faces to conceal identity, amble about and answer questions. A number of large, friendly dogs roam freely. Sign after sign requests “No foto in the Green Light District.” It’s weird, it’s contradictory and it’s a bit intimidating, but it’s also a tourist destination (that, and how weirdly effective the community is at self-policing, are probably the only two reasons this place is tolerated). The locals here are used to wide-eyed tourist stumbling about, and pretty tolerant, if not downright friendly. We nearly caused a minor bike collision as I was putting away my camera gear, and no one was the least bit upset with us.
We didn’t stop for food (though I now regret that), but I have read you can get some of the best vegan food in the country in Christiania. With all that pot floating around, no surprise there. We climbed to a seating area overlooking the main “square” of the neighborhood and sat for a bit, and then decided to move on. If you doubt the legitimacy of the tourist appeal (and the safety of going there as a tourist), you should know it’s listed on the official Visit Copenhagen website. It’s not our kind of place to hang out in for a long time, but it was absolutely worth a visit and walk, and probably would’ve been worth a longer stop for some lunch. If you’re nervous about visiting (and that’s fair), I would suggest you read the entire Wikipedia article, which is quite insightful, and then go read the Yelp or Tripadvisor reviews. But, from my perspective, everyone was perfectly polite and the place was covered in tourists, so I felt no more awkward than I did anywhere else.
After the first “no foto” sign, I simply turned off my camera and left it strapped to my shoulder. After the fourth or fifth, I decided just to put the whole lot away in a bag. Politics aside, it’s their community and their rules, and as a tourist, I’m already something of an annoyance. No need to be a blatant jerk. The images I do have were taken well before Pusher Street and the requests "no foto" requests.