Travel Guide: Copenhagen

by | 02. Nov 2012


The 8 House by BIG. Photo: Kasper Egeberg

We walked the streets of Copenhagen to select what we consider must-see examples of the Danish capital’s recent architecture focusing on the iconic buildings by the waterfront, innovative housing residencies in the new urban area Ørestad – and a few small extras for swimmers, skateboarders and animal lovers.

The Danish Capital Copenhagen is well known for combining sustainable high tech solutions with good design and livable urban spaces. This makes swimming in the harbor a natural activity for the citizens of Copenhagen, while bicycles are their most popular means of transport. Since 2000 Copenhagen has seen a massive boom in modern architecture with notable contributions both by leading international architects and a wave of successful, new Danish architects.

SEB Bank & Pension HQ

The SEB Bank & Pension Headquarters by Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects was completed in 2010, adding both remarkable shape and color to the Copenhagen waterfront. The complex consists of nine towers, enveloped by two geometrically challenging ten-story buildings. The two buildings are connected by a public square, laid out as a sloping landscape, which in some places rises seven meters above street level. The urban landscape, inspired by Swedish mountain scenery with trees, grasses and mosses, is designed by SLA and conceals a car park below. The terraced urban landscape has become quite a popular spot for skating kids practicing their moves on the board.

More information on SLA’s website

Location: Bernstorffsgade 50, 1577 Copenhagen V


Photo: Sidsel Hartlev


Photo: Sidsel Hartlev


Photo: Sidsel Hartlev


Photo: Sidsel Hartlev

Th” Harbor Bath

The Harbor Bath opened in 2002 and was designed by PLOT (Bjarke Ingels’ and Julian de Smedt’s former architectural practice). The Harbor Bath is extremely popular in summer time and even has a dedicated association of winter swimmers.  BIG has made a design suggestion for extending the Harbor Bath to include facilities for all year bathing such as saunas.

Learn more about the revitalization of the waterfront on Sustainable Cities’ website.

Find more images and information on Copenhagen X Gallery

Location: Islands Brygge 14, 2300 København S


Photo: Courtesy of JDS

The Royal Danish Library –  “The Black Diamond”

With its glittering polished surface of African granite, the Royal Danish Library has become one of the Copenhagen waterfront’s architectural landmarks. The building was designed by schmidt hammer lassen architects and was inaugurated in 1999 as an addition to The Royal Library’s older building complex. The massive black building is divided in the middle by a horizontal glass section, providing a fabulous view over the harbor from the foyer within. The ground floor contains a café, bookshop, concert hall, lecture hall and exhibition space.

More information about current exhibitions and opening hours on the Royal Library’s website

More about the project on schmidt hammer lassen architects’ website

Location: Søren Kierkegaards Plads 1, Copenhagen


Photo: Sidsel Hartlev


Photo: Sidsel Hartlev


Photo: Sidsel Hartlev

The Copenhagen Opera House

In 2005 Denmark inaugurated its first Opera House, located prominently on the Copenhagen waterfront. The Opera House was designed by Henning Larsen Architects and funded by the A.P. Møller and Chastine McKinney Møller Foundation. The Opera House is built on a direct axis across from the Marble Church, through the Amalienborg Palace and the Amaliehaven gardens, across the Fairway, and in through the glass facade, stopping in the center of the main auditorium. Everything in the auditorium, from seat upholstery to the shape and size of the openings in the back wall, was carefully chosen to create optimal acoustics. The Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Elisasson designed the chandeliers in the foyer.

More information about whats on the Opera

Location: Ekvipagemestervej 10, 1438 Copenhagen


Photo: Troels Axelsen

The Royal Danish Theatre’s new Playhouse

The new Royal Playhouse in Copenhagen, designed by Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects, was inaugurated in 2008. Approached from the city center, the Playhouse seems almost modestly placed in harmony with the surrounding buildings. But viewed more closely or from the opposite site of Copenhagen Harbor, the building reveals its magnificence. Part of the building is juts out into the harbor, inviting visitors to arrive along a promenade of gently sloping ramps, which offer panoramic views of the waterfront. The Playhouse contains three different-sized stages. The exterior is dominated by a continuous glass-encased top story, giving ample light to the offices and actors’ facilities. With integrated thermoactive structures, seawater cooling and demand-controlled ventilation, the Royal Playhouse is proud of its status as a sustainable, energy-friendly theater.

More information about whats on at The Royal Playhouse

More information about the building on Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects’ website

Location: Sankt Annæ Plads 36, 1250 Copenhagen


Photo: Troels Axelsen


Photo: Troels Axelsen

The Tietgen Students’ Residence

The characteristically circular Tietgen Students’ Residence by Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects is perhaps one of Copenhagen’s most outstanding recent buildings. The building was inaugurated in 2006 and contains 360 one-room studio apartments. The ground floor houses the common facilities: a café, auditorium, study and computer rooms, workshops, laundry, music and meeting rooms, and bicycle parking. The apartments are located on the other 6 stories. All rooms face outwards and have views of the surrounding area. Entering the courtyard, one sees that all the common facilities (kitchens, lounges, terraces etc.) face out on to the central courtyard, thus creating a sense of community for the building’s residents.

Also check out the DR Concert Hall (designed by Jean Nouvel) and The IT-University (designed by Henning Larsen Architects), both of which are close by the Tietgen Students’ Residence.

Read more about the Tietgen Students’ Residence on Copenhagen X Gallery

Location: Rued Langgaards Vej 10, 2300 Copenhagen


Photo: Kasper Egeberg


Photo: Kasper Egeberg


Photo: Kasper Egeberg


Photo: Kasper Egeberg

8 House

The 8 House is located in Ørestad South, and is one of many significant architectural works in this ever-evolving area of Copenhagen. The 8 House was completed in 2010 by BIG. It is Denmark’s largest ever, private development. This bowtie-shaped building allows its residents to bike all the way from the street up to its 10th-level penthouses. The unusual combination of a traditional Copenhagen housing block with an urban mountain village, overlooking Amager Common’s vast natural landscape, makes the architecture of the 8 House a unique experience. The ground floor contains offices and commercial facilities, while the upper floors house dwellings of various sizes. The 8 House is designed to accommodate people at all stages of life. Therefore, it contains various different types of housing unit: duplex townhouses with courtyards; apartments with balconies; penthouses with roof terraces; and small apartments.

The 8 House has received several international awards and commendations, including the World’s Best Residential Building (at the 2011 World Architecture Festival in Barcelona) and the 2012 American Institute of Architects’ Honor Award for Architecture.

Interested in urban outdoor sports like roller skating or parkour? Then make sure to take a short detour between the 8 House and the Metro to see the new evolving activity park Plug n Play.

While taking the Metro to Ørestad South, also look out for the two other residential complexes, which BIG/PLOT have designed (the VM-Houses and the Mountain) and the Bella Sky Hotel designed by 3XN.

Read more about the 8 House on BIG’s website

Location: Richard Mortensens Vej 81, 2300 Copenhagen


Photo: Kasper Egeberg


Photo: Kasper Egeberg


Photo: Kasper Egeberg

Elephant House at Copenhagen Zoo

An elephant house designed by Norman Foster & Partners has to be a must-see attraction for both architecture fans and animal lovers. The Elephant House at Copenhagen Zoo has two large domes in the roof and is partially submerged in the ground. Visitors can stroll across the roof and look down onto the elephants’ indoor quarters, which receive daylight through the domes. The Elephant House represents part of an overall effort to blur the boundary between the Zoo and the surrounding public park (Frederiksberg Gardens). So one can also enjoy watching the elephants and their house from the Frederiksberg Gardens. The areas surrounding the elephant house were designed and executed by the Danish landscape architect Stig L. Andersson.

More information on Norman Foster & Partners’ website

Visitors information on Copenhagen Zoo’s website

Location: Roskildevej 32, 2000 Frederiksberg

Photo: JorgenF

Photo: Malouette
Photo: Malouette

More inspiration to experience architecture in Copenhagen:

Find and select architectural works for your own guided tour of Copenhagen on Danish Architecture Guide

Find projects of new architecture in Copenhagen and projects about to be build in the Copenhagen X Gallery

Coming to Copenhagen as a group? Book a tour with one of The Danish Architecture Centre’s guides