Copenhagen’s Museum Island

Things to Do — By Jane Graham on September 20, 2010 at 9:01 am

Nestled around the bustling shopping streets of inner-city Copenhagen lays Slotsholmen: Literally, ‘the castle island’, this small islet contains both the origins of the city and the nation’s current power base. In addition, there are more than a handful of other fascinating museums to explore.

Connected by nine bridges to the rest of Copenhagen’s ‘Indre Byen’ or inner city, Slotsholmen is home to Christiansborg Slot – a modern-day castle shared equally by the reigning Royal Family and the nation’s Parliament, called ‘Folketinget’ in Danish. Underneath this palace are traces of the two previous incarnations of Christiansborg – both of which were claimed by fire in 1794 and 1880 respectively. At the very bottom are the remains of Absalon’s castle, the original settlement around which Copenhagen developed in the 12th-century, and which were discovered accidentally during excavations in 1907.

A vital hub of state business, visitors to Christiansborg are not able to wander completely freely around the palace, but can gain access to certain areas. Tours of the Parliament (Folketinget) are available on request, and Absalon’s subterranean remains are also open as part of a special exhibition. The big draw however is the Royal Reception rooms where Queen Margrethe II holds her state functions; these include the majestic Great Hall, where the Queen’s tapestries are seen by thousands of visitors each year. Guided tours of the reception rooms are held daily at 3pm.

Other museums worth visiting include:

  • The Royal Stables (Kongelige Stalde og Kareter). See the many royal carriages used by the Danish Monarchy, some of them around 200 years old, as well as the royal horses that continue to be stabled here (today they number just under 20). Note that during the low season October-April the museum is open from 2pm-4pm on weekends only.
  • The Royal Court Theatre Museum. Located above the Royal Stables, this delightfully atmospheric little museum is a recreation of the original 18th-century Court Theatre of King Christian VII’s reign. Visit the stage, auditorium and galleries.
  • Thorvaldsens Museum (free on Wednesdays, free English audio guide available). In addition to the extensive permanent collection, Denmark’s oldest museum is currently showing an exhibition of drawings by the German Romantics.
  • The Royal Arsenal Museum (known in Danish as ‘Tøjhusmuseet’) is located in the old arsenal built by Christian IV, and in addition to the many weapons on display here, can boast of having the longest arched renaissance hall in Europe, the 156m-long Arsenal Hall.
  • The Danish-Jewish Museum. Designed by acclaimed architect Daniel Libeskind, this museum is a permanent exhibition about Jewish life in Denmark, ‘Space and Spaciousness’.
  • The Royal Library Gardens are found in the grounds of the original royal library and not next to the newer Black Diamond building, and represent a quiet oasis in the middle of Copenhagen. Don’t be surprised if you find one of the country’s politicians sharing a bench with you: this is a popular place for parliamentary refuge.
  • The Black Diamond (The Royal Library). This landmark building of black granite sits on the waterfront and holds the country’s national archives, which were moved here from the original building in 1999, which had outgrown the collection. It includes a bookshop with great English language selection, restaurant and the National Museum of Photography, open daily except Sunday until 7pm – a vast collection of photos dating from 1839 comprising archives, study center and changing exhibitions. Entry ticket is DKK 40.

While there is no cafe in Christiansborg, visitors who have valid tickets for any of the six official Slotsholmen museums (Christiansborg Palace, The Ruins under Christiansborg, Teatermuseet, the Danish-Jewish Museum, Thorvaldsens Museum or the Royal Danish Arsenal Museum) can obtain a 10% discounts at the following local cafes:

Find more information about Slotsholmen’s museums on the official website, www.oplevslotsholmen.dk

Top photo of Christiansborg courtesy of Finn Christoffersen; lower photo of the Ruins under Christiansborg courtesy of Denmark’s Palace and Properties Agency.

Tags: Copenhagen museums, Danish history, royal Denmark

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