boat canals Copenhagen Denmark

The Canals of Copenhagen

Imagine a canal city with rowhouses by the waterfront, ferries transporting eager tourists, and kids splashing around in the water. You’d probably picture Amsterdam or Venice in your mind. But what if I told you that you could get all this and more in Copenhagen?

First for a bit of a geography lesson. Copenhagen has long been an important trading center for Northern Europe, and hence the city was designed such that ships would have easy access to the city center to dock and load/unload goods. Looking at a map of Copenhagen, you’d see that it’s split down the middle by a harbor with half the city on the large island of Zealand and the other half on the island of Amager. I first thought that the waterway was a river but it’s really just part of the Baltic Sea – Amager kept expanding westward with reclaimed land until there was just a thin strip of seawater separating it from the mainland. There are several canals constructed adjacent to the harbor including the popular Nyhavn, or the spot where your parents insisted on taking a family photo when they visited. Since the water surrounding Copenhagen is part of the global ocean system, there are constant flows in and out and the waterways never get dirty or smelly.

Map of Copenhagen showing the waterway between Zealand and Amager and a few canals. Source

My first taste of Copenhagen’s canals came less than two weeks into the semester when our Kollegium (student apartment) organized a boating excursion to help us meet each other. My crew consisted of CJ, Savannah, Julia, Jacob (my roommate), and me. The company we rented the boats from was appropriately named FriendShips! After a short demo, we were off to drive the boat ourselves on the busy, narrow waterways of Copenhagen – both exciting and scary! Ripples from some of the larger ferries and ships were enough to rock our tiny boat. We took turns as “captain of the ship”, but I was reminded far too many times that I held all the liability as the one who filled out the consent form!

The best part about driving around in our own boat was that we could set our own pace. We spent a lot of time exploring attractions that fascinated us, like the famous spiral church (officially “Church of Our Saviour) and Black Diamond, the swanky-looking extension to the Royal Danish Library. We also got as close as we could to Holmen, a former naval base that still contains a decommissioned warship. To complete the vibe, we also had snacks onboard and blasted some local music hits – I discovered that I’m a big fan of Danish pop!

Having a great time on the boat with Holmen visible in the background!

Unique among canal cities, Copenhagen places few restrictions on where swimmers can jump into the water. Still, there are a few specially constructed “Harbour Baths” across the city with cordoned-off swimming pools and diving platforms. A few weeks ago, some of my friends and I made a trip to the original harbor bath in the district of Islands Brygge. We were determined to prevent our fear of cold water and heights from getting the best of us and started by jumping straight from one of the diving platforms. The water was warmer than you’d imagine for fall in Denmark, primarily due to a process I learned about in my core class – the Gulf Stream. I’ll save you the details for now! Suffice to say that we all had a pleasant evening, swimming, and diving through sunset, without dying of hyperthermia.

Mid-jump! Photo Credit: Yurika Hirata

There’s still much more I’m yet to experience of Copenhagen’s waterways, from paddleboarding to “green kayaks” you can rent for free as long as you pick up litter from the canal! Still, I’m glad I had the chance to explore the canals before the weather turns rainier and gloomier. As the semester goes on, expect the topics of my blogs to turn more towards the indoors. To the museums!


By adarshabroad

Greetings, fellow traveler. My name is Adarsh Srinivasan (he/him) and I am in the Environmental Science of the Arctic program at DIS Copenhagen. I'm originally from India, go to college in California, and have lived in 4 US states and three countries just over the past 2 years! Join me for the next chapter in my adventure.

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