Copenhagen in the summer. I describe it as watching a flower blossom and then suddenly burst into full colour. During this time, the city flourishes as people flock to the streets, fill the parks and put on festivals. And you can’t blame them, given the city spends a good 6 or so months in what can only be described as a constant battle between wind and darkness.
Amidst this blossoming, there is a place where summer activities hit their peak; the city’s edge – the Danish harbour. Up until the 80s, the harbour was in active operation before the shut down of many industries and subsequently, the city was left with masses of open space by the water – the perfect catalyst for public life.
Since then, it has been a long but steady process of design transformation of Copenhagen’s waterfront.
Today, the harbourfront is one of the most successful public spaces of the city. When I say harbourfront, I am not referring to just one parcel of land. The city has made virtually all parts of the waterfront accessible and therefore, the extent of the harbour from Nord to Sydhavn (North to South Harbour) functions as a stage for public life. This is where our mini-tour begins.
If you’re strolling along the canal past rows of colourful facades – you’re in Nyhavn – a commercial port turned tourist favourite where you can grab a beer and look at pretty buildings whilst avoiding a trip on the cobbles. That said, it’s not a trip to Copenhagen without it. Keep walking and you’ll cross Inderhavnsbroen (a contested piece of bicycle infrastructure of which I won’t go into detail) and you will end up over the water at Krøyers Plads.
Krøyers Plads is one of those places that I will never tire of visiting. Designed by COBE in 2015, it’s a mixed-use development with architecture that is a contemporary interpretation of the surrounding warehouses, also former home to the renowned dining experience that is Noma.
I’m no architect, but the tiled brick facades and contrasting black framework are to me, a complimentary fusion of old meets new. Not to mention the surrounding public space, which does an excellent job of facilitating life between buildings and water. Seen in the form of a continuous timber promenade, it is a cornerstone of the Danish summer that offers itself as a place to sit, swim and importantly, enjoy expansive views to the harbour under sunny conditions.
Next, let’s meet Refshaleøen.
A former shipyard, Copenhagen has channelled its industrial aesthetic into a public realm experience by the water. Food markets, an art centre and home to the treasured La Banchina – a year-round favourite, look it up – Refshaleøen is gritty, raw and cool all at once, an escape from the classically pretty Copenhagen yet only a 10-minute ferry ride away.
If we’re talking reuse, they’ve even built student housing out of shipping containers – a friend of mine lives in one and it’s not a bad place to be in return for free access to many of summer’s best festivals. The only drawback is the closest supermarket being a 15-minute bike ride away. It doesn’t seem terrible, but you don’t want to exceed 5 in the depths of winter.
On a final note, it wouldn’t be a complete tour without Islands Brygge – home of the harbour baths. Traces of an industrial past are present in the retained rail tracks and steel structures giving the area an authentic feel; a connection to its past life. Once devoid of any parks or social life, it now offers a space for swimming, picnics, kayaking, people-watching; the list goes on. This is, of course, in addition to the crowned jewels that are the baths, a harbour icon in themselves.
Whilst the aforementioned areas are just pearls on the necklace that is harbour life, there is one unifying element that ties it all together – water. Recognising this simple pleasure, Copenhagen has nailed its role as a stage for public life and in essence, the harbour becomes an extension of the city – a place to breathe, stockpile sunshine and escape hard urban edges in favour of a clear sky and open water. Of course, the effortlessly charming backdrop doesn’t hurt either, but that’s just Copenhagen.
Featured: Ofelia Plads, Author, 2019.
1. Nyhavn, Author, 2018.
2. Refshaleøen Food Markets, Author, 2019.
3. Refshaleøen Shipping Container Housing, Author, 2018
4. The Harbour Baths, Julian de Smedt and Bjarke Ingels Group, 2015. https://urbannext.net/copenhagen-harborfront-critical-review/
5. Islands Brygge, Author, 2018.