The walking tour iPhone app I was using listed the Nyhavn “entertainment district” as a “must see” in Copenhagen. I put “entertainment district” in quotes because when I see the term entertainment district I think of live and film theatres, nightclubs and maybe an art gallery or two. I didn’t look behind any hidden doors or down any alleyways (I didn’t see any), but what I saw in Nyhavn was primarily residences, restaurants and bars. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

I put “must see” in quotes not because I didn’t like it; quite the contrary. It’s just that “must see” is a very subjective call, isn’t it? Something that you would really appreciate seeing I might want to scurry away from as fast as possible and vice versa. I’ll try not to bump into you as we’re running past each other.

Besides, is anything really a “must see?” I mean, really? How many things are there in this world that will cause your death if you don’t see them? A “fatally high cliff ahead” sign is the only one that comes to mind for me at the moment.

All that having been said, I very much liked the Nyhavn district. Although, calling it a district might be somewhat of a stretch. Unless I missed something (always a possibility), it’s one, straight, two-block long canal and the streets and buildings on either side of it. Yet, it’s a very nice two-block long district. I’d recommend visiting it if you’re in Copenhagen, particularly if the weather is nice.

Nyhavn reminded me of the canal district of Amsterdam, except that Amsterdam’s canal district is four concentric, roughly horseshoe-shaped canals, along with a few other canals that don’t fit that pattern. Nyhavn, in Copenhagen, on the other hand, is, as I said, just one straight, short canal. There are other canals in Copenhagen, but they don’t have the feel of Nyhavn.

There are streets on either side of the canal. The buildings along each street are only on the side of the street away from the canal, leaving nothing between the canal and the streets other than some benches or, at least, some flat raised surfaces that are used as benches whether or not that was their intent.

The architecture of the buildings on either side of the canal reminded me somewhat, but not quite, of Amsterdam canal houses, which is probably why I found similarities between Copenhagen’s Nyhavn and Amsterdam’s canal district. The colours of the buildings—oranges, yellows, light blues, greys and others—were also somewhat similar to what I remember of Amsterdam canal houses. And, like canal houses in Amsterdam, there was no space between the buildings, yet it was easy to see where one building ended and the next began.


The streets were wider than what I remember of the streets along the canals in Amsterdam. And the buildings in Nyhavn were wider than what I remember of Amsterdam canal houses. Then again, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to Amsterdam and I don’t have a great memory, so all of the similarities I saw between Copenhagen’s Nyhavn and Amsterdam’s canal district might have been solely in my head. I love Amsterdam. I guess I’ll have to go back to refresh my memory.

Street Life

The restaurants and bars in the Nyhavn district are concentrated on only one side of the canal, the sunnier northern side, where they line the street. All of the bars and restaurants had outdoor tables that spilled out onto the sidewalk. The street on that side of the canal is car-free, which makes strolling there even more of a pleasure.

I did not investigate the liquor laws in Copenhagen, so I don’t know if drinking while sitting beside, standing or walking on public streets is legal there or if people did it despite the law. Many of the bars that line the northern street in the Nyhavn district sell beer to go. When I was there, a number of people were drinking their beers to go on the benches along the canal, across from the bars and restaurants.

Where I live (Toronto, Canada), it’s illegal to consume alcohol in public places other than on licensed patios or in other licensed areas. That’s unnecessarily puritanical, if you ask me. The people in Nyhavn seemed to be enjoying themselves despite consuming alcoholic beverages beside the canal rather than in a restaurant or bar. I didn’t see anyone who was drunk and disorderly. And I didn’t see a single sign of the Apocalypse. Go figure.

In addition, I saw a benefit to being able to drink in a public place that I hadn’t thought of. In Toronto, and in other cities, I’ve seen people rummaging through garbage bins and pulling out recyclables so they could collect the deposit or sell them to a recycler. I’ve always thought this—rummaging through garbage—was terribly demeaning for those people.

Public alcohol consumption offered an alternative. While sitting in a bar on a warm, sunny day and sipping a glass of wine, I saw a man walking up and down the street in front of me. When people sitting along the canal finished their beer he politely asked them for their empty bottles.

This helped with the garbage problem. There was no risk of people leaving their empties lying around and littering the street. And the garbage receptacles in the area didn’t fill up as fast as they otherwise would have.

Plus, I thought it was much less demeaning for the person collecting the bottles than rooting through garbage cans, which can get rather disgusting because they are, after all, filled with garbage.

I hadn’t intended to end this piece on the Nyhavn with a couple of paragraphs on garbage and garbage-pickers. That’s just where my mind went. To avoid ending with that, I’ll repeat here that Nyhavn is a pleasant, yet lively district. It’s not worth making a trip to Copenhagen just to visit Nyhavn, but if you’re in Copenhagen anyway, it’s a nice day, and you’ve got some spare time to sit and sip wine while watching the world go by, you should definitely check out Nyhavn.

Been there? Done that? Do tell.