Copenhagen's central district is called Indre By, meaning 'inner city'. During the reign of King Christian IV (1588-1648) this was the fortified part of the capital bordered by walls, dams and moats, which for a couple of centuries marked the official limit of all development. Few buildings from this era survive, thanks to a couple of seriously damaging fires in the 18th century, but the street pattern in the inner city remains archaically compact, and there are enough rows of colourful crooked houses to keep the tourists happy. [60 photos]
Strøget is central Copenhagen's chief artery and one of Europe's longest pedestrianised streets, if technically half a dozen shopping streets cobbled together. It winds from City Hall Square to The King's New Square via a couple of other non-squaresquares, its retail profile climbing from a 7-Eleven at one end to Bang & Olufsen at the other. The LEGO store is in the middle, and perhaps not as huge as you'd expect. Because it's relatively narrow throughout, Strøget's not overstuffed with pavement cafes, but the warren of densely-packed sidestreets has more of those. I preferred the warren.
Danes like their spires, dozens of which poke up above the Copenhagen skyline. The spire on the top of the former Stock Exchange comprises four intertwined dragons' tails rising to a thin point. The black and gold spire at Vor FrelsersKirke has a corkscrew staircase around the outside for those with the nerve to climb its 150 steps. The spire atop the parliamentbuilding is the tallest of all, with three large crowns inserted beneath the weathervane (and a less vertiginous ascent).
The Danish Parliament can be found on Slotsholmen, or Castle Island, the city's historic core. Surrounded on three sides by what's now a canal, this small patch is also home to several museums, the Queen's state rooms and stables, the Royal Danish Library and some old brewery buildings. We merely wandered through rather than going inside anything, but did manage to be present at the precise moment 100 lycra-clad cyclists turned up at the end of a five-day character-building cross-country bike ride, stood on the steps of Parliament and (unexpectedly) burst into song.
The most intriguing city centre building must be the Rundetårn, or Round Tower, built by Christian IV to support a national observatory. The interior of the cylindrical tower is taken up by a broad cobbled ramp which spirals 7½ times to the almost-top, originally designed to make ascent practical for those on horseback. These days tourists walk, but I was surprised to be overtaken by a guy in a small delivery truck heading upwards to replenish refreshments in the rooftop kiosk.
The tower is attached to the outside of a church, which means that after one circuit you get to peer inside the nave, after four you can visit an art gallery in the attic and after five you can step off into the bell loft. I suspect the art in the gallery is sometimes quite good, but the current exhibition comprises hundreds of circular white discs laid out across the floor so is very much a 'walk straight back out again'. On circuit seven a small aperture opens up into the tower's hollow core, the official 'point zero' of Danish cartography, where it's possible to squeeze in and stand on a glass floor to look 25m down.
The ramp ends at the foot of two short staircases, the first wooden and the second in stone, creating a final narrow spiralling bottleneck. And then you're outside on the viewing platform with 360° views of rooftops, spires and distant power station chimneys, plus (on a good day) Sweden. I went up on a good day. Had I gone up on a Sunday afternoon I'd also have been able to visit the central observatory, but it was at least possible to climb a few steps inside the dome and see the telescope. It's not the original. With an entrance fee of just 25 krone (£3), I'm voting Rundetårn Copenhagen's best value attraction.
I confess I don't have many other paid-for attractions to compare it to. We turned up mid-afternoon at Rosenborg Slot, the royalcastle, only to find that the next available slot was 90 minutes distant and with limited time to look round the suites (and crown jewels) before closing. The castle's gardens were splendid, so we wandered the lime avenues and watched the greedy carp in the moat, but they probably look a lot prettier when it's not chucking it down. Other attractions we didn't visit include the Nationalmuseet, the Statens Museum for Kunst and Designmuseum Denmark, which I suspect I'd only have persuaded my companions to hide inside had the weather been more torrential for a more prolonged period of time.