There’s an abundance of things to do for book lovers in the Scandinavian capital of bicycles, fairy tales and palaces. In addition to beautiful libraries, book cafes and literary museums, Copenhagen also offers literary tourist trips. Did you know that the League of Antiquarian Booksellers was founded in Copenhagen in 1948? Welcome to literary Copenhagen!
In Copenhagen and the surrounding areas there are some real interesting literary destinations particularly for visitors interested in Shakespeare and fairy tales.
Let’s start at the Royal Library
It’s also called the Black Diamond library (feature image, on top) and is one of the largest libraries in the world, containing copies of every Danish work published since the 17th century, and even many from before that too. The name ‘Black Diamond’ is due to the architectonical shape and choice of materials of its new addition on the back of the original classical Royal Danish library. This is also the Copenhagen University Library, so don’t be surprised to see lots of students milling around or studying at the desks.
You should not miss Hans Christian Andersen Fairytale House
The most famous Dane of all rime, Hans Christian Andersen, lived in Copenhagen most of his life and he certainly helped put his small country on the map. Here you can learn the fascinating story about his life growing up in Odense and moving to Copenhagen to pursue his dream of becoming a ballet dancer. Luckily (for us) he was too rubbish to be a dancer so instead he embarked on his journey to become one of the world’s most famous fairytale authors. The Fairytale House uses wax models to depict scenes from his life.
Hans Christian Andersen created the world’s favorite mermaid. So, hop on the train and get off at Østerport and visit the wistful Little Mermaid Statue. The statue is sculpted by Edvard Eriksen in the early 1910s. The sculptor is also responsible for a trio of incredible statues that are housed in the Roskilde Cathedral which he finished just a year before the commission to create the Little Mermaid. Eline Eriksen, his wife, was the model for all four statues.
In Tivoli Gardens you can enter a ride called The Flying Trunk, a ride inspired by H C Andersen which is a journey through 32 of his most popular fairytales. The scenes are depicted by beautiful wooden dolls with voiceovers in English as well as Danish telling you the names of the stories.
On the outside of the Tivoli Garden is a large statue of a man sitting down and staring wistfully at the park. Not surprisingly, that’s H. C. Andersen.
Hans Christian Andersen was buried at the Assistens Cemetry west of downtown Copenhagen. So were quite a few other famous Danes, also the famous philosopher Søren Kierkegård. Behind the Danish Jewish Museum and the Royal Danish library, the philosopher’s monument is hidden in a serene park where he faces a small pond and stares out at the water.
H M The Queens Referance Library is the Danish Queen’s private library. It contains the personal collections of the Kings and Queens throughout centuries.
You may wonder why I have selected the Church of Our Savior to be part of my literary Copenhagen compilation. If you have read Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth you may have recognized this church as it features in his novel. Axel is forced to climb the spire for 5 whole days before they go into the volcano.
Exploring antiquarian books in Copenhagen
The Danish Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (Den Danske Antikvarboghandlerforening – ABF) was founded in 1920 with 27 members in its first year. It is one of the oldest of its kind in the world, only preceded by the English ABA, founded in 1906, and the French SLAM, established in 1914.
President of the Danish Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association, Maria Girsel, says “Copenhagen has suffered the same fate as so many other cities – the streets that used to be full of booksellers are now full of coffee shops, clothing shops etc.”
However Maria runs one of Denmark’s leading antiquarian firms, Herman H. J. Lynge, which still promotes this rare book trade.
Vangsgaards Antikvariat is the largest antique bookstore in Denmark. You’ll find this gem close to the main shopping street Strøget.
Politikens Boghal, established in 1915, is associated with the Danish newspaper Politiken. The bookstore sells both Danish and English editions of books. Politikens Boghal is one of the largest bookstores in Copenhagen and is considered one of the capital’s best. They regularly hold literary events and you can shop for new books in both Danish and English, including English translations of Danish novels!
Paludan Bog & Cafe (book café) has a lot of small tables gathered in the space downstairs beneath a balcony of books which surround the space. They serve everything from porridge to full English breakfast as well as lunch and dinner menus. When you go upstairs you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to an old gentleman’s home. The cafe is enormous and there are several different seating areas.
There really is something for everyone. For those that are here to study there are slightly more modern silent rooms. This book cafe also doubles up as a bookshop. Some stairs opposite the entryway, you’ll find books they have on offer. It really is a haven for book lovers!
It’s easy to miss The Booktrader since it is located down under the street level. This shop is like an underground bookstore with books arranged according to genre. However, you won’t come across any economic books here since the owner, Lars Rasmussen, doesn’t stock anything that bores him.
As the name implies, you can buy, sell or trade books here. About half the books are in English!
The Library Bar at Copenhagen Plaza is a place for rest and maybe a literary cocktail. The bar is open to everyone, and is one of the most popular bars in Copenhagen.
On the menu you’ll find a number of cocktails inspired by authors and you can enjoy a Shakespearian, Dickens or Hemingway Daiquiri.
Literary destinations outside Copenhagen
In less than 45 minutes you’ll find yourself in the seaside town of Helsingør where a pleasant walk through town will take you up to Hamlet’s Kronborg Elsinore Castle. That was Shakespeare’s inspiration for Elsinore in Hamlet. The castle was built in the 1420s as a fortress and renovated during Shakespeare’s lifetime by Danish King Frederick II to upgrade its military prowess and befit it with chambers fit for a king and a queen to reside there.
Shakespeare never saw Kronborg in person, but he no doubt heard about the famous castle, since plays were routinely performed there. Kronborg is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and if you visit during the summer, you can interact with the cast of Hamlet as they move through the castle grounds.
Visit Ogier the Dane while you’re there. He sleeps in the casements underneath the castle. Ogier made appearances in old epic poems and Danish folklore, and it is said that he will awaken if Denmark is ever in peril in order to defend her.
If you take the train to the little town of Odense, just under two hours, you arrive at H.C. Andersen’s Birthplace. In addition to visiting the Hans Christian Andersen museum, which focuses on his work and his paper art, you can visit his actual childhood home.
Welcome to Literary Copenhagen, compiled by Tor Kjolberg