Nyhavn is without a doubt the most iconic place in Copenhagen you can visit as a tourist.
Try to Google “Copenhagen” and click on images. What you’ll see are a ton of beautiful pictures of colourful houses located at a waterfront – this is Nyhavn.
Most people visit Nyhavn because it’s conveniently located in the city center, and it’s a great place to take a selfie before moving on with your exploration. However, there is a bit more to Nyhavn than just snapping a few pictures, which we’ll show you in this travel guide.
Here you’ll find information about Nyhavn’s history, what to actually do at Nyhavn, and top tips for visiting. So hopefully, when you’re done reading, you’ll be ready to go out and explore this beautiful place in Copenhagen!
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The history of Nyhavn
Let’s start this guide by diving into the history of Nyhavn in Copenhagen.
The name “Nyhavn” actually means “New Harbour”, which it certainly was at that time.
The canal was dug out by Swedish prisoners of war between 1671 and 1673. The point of creating the canal was to make Denmark more competitive in the trade business and to create a waterway that led straight into Kongens Nytorv – the new upcoming city center of Copenhagen. That way, the imported goods could be moved directly into the city.
Not long after the harbour was established, the colorful houses we see today began to rise next to the canal. With the many sailors and tradesmen frequently arriving and leaving the harbour, hotels and pubs were built and Nyhavn became notorious for drinking and prostitution – so it was actually known as one of Copenhagen’s bad neighbourhoods.
However, today the area has completely changed.
The colourful houses are now turned into restaurants, which are frequently occupied by tourists enjoying a cold beer and some Danish Smørrebrød, and the waterways are mainly dominated by the popular canal tours.
Unlike the old days, Nyhavn has become one of the most popular neighbourhoods to visit in Copenhagen.
Interesting Nyhavn facts
- The canal was dug out by Swedish war prisoners from the Dano-Swedish war in 1658-1660.
- Nyhavn canal is 450 meters long (according to Wikipedia).
- The original name of Nyhavn was “Gyldenløves Kanal” – named after Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve, son of King Frederik 3. of Denmark.
- The oldest house in Nyhavn dates back to 1681.
- Danish writer and poet H. C. Andersen used to live in 3 of the houses: Number 20, 67, and 18.
8 Activities in Nyhavn, Copenhagen
1. See “Mindeankeret” at Nyhavn
Most explorers enter Nyhavn by walking directly from Kongens Nytorv. If this is the case, then the first thing you’ll notice at the beginning of the canal is a massive anchor.
This anchor is named “Mindeankeret”, which means “The Memorial Anchor”. The anchor was placed in the memory of the Danish sailors that lost their lives during World War II.
At first, in 1945, a memorial cross was placed here, then it was replaced by a marble cross in 1948, which was then replaced in 1951 by the big anchor we see today. Underneath the anchor is a lead capsule buried with the names of 1600 diseased sailors from the war.
Mindeankeret at Nyhavn will probably be the first thing you’ll see, so take a moment to appreciate it before moving on with your exploration.
2. Admire the old ships and houses
One of the absolute best things to do in Nyhavn is to just take a stroll up and down the canal. Maybe this was a given, but we feel that we still had to put this point on the list of top activities in Nyhavn.
The colourful houses in Nyhavn are more than 300 years old, and some of the ships are quite old as well. So it’s pretty unique to walk around the harbour front and admire them.
You’ll obviously find the best views of Nyhavn by walking to the side of the canal that’s opposite the colourful houses – the shadow side. So if you’re standing in front of the anchor that’s mentioned above, you’ll want to start your exploration by walking to the right of the canal.
3. Take the mandatory Nyhavn selfie
One of the most popular places to take pictures in Copenhagen is at Nyhavn. The colourful town houses, the calm canal, and the old ships make a very picturesque scene. Actually, it’s a perfect scene for selfies.
Anyways, the best place to take a picture of yourself or of the scenery is from the opposite side of the canal, which I refer to as the “shadow side” above (because there is not really any sun here). Then proceed to walk towards “Nyhavnsbroen”, which is the only bridge that crosses the canal. From this bridge, you can also take some great pictures of Nyhavn.
The best time to take pictures in Nyhavn is in the early morning, when the sun is at the buildings, but your fellow tourists haven’t arrived yet.
4. See where H. C. Andersen used to live
As mentioned under the Nyhavn facts-section, H. C. Andersen lived in a total of 3 houses in Nyhavn.
Hans Christian Andersen is one of Denmark’s most loved poets and writers. He is mostly famous for his many fairytales, including the Little Mermaid that most people know. He was born and he died in the 19th century, which means he lived in Nyhavn during this time period.
Below you’ll find a list over when and where he lived in Nyhavn, so make sure to take notice of the house numbers when you walk around the harbour front.
- 1834: H. C. Andersen lived in nr. 20 on the second floor.
- 1848-1865: H. C. Andersen lived in nr. 67 on the second floor.
- 1871-1875: H. C. Andersen lived in nr. 18 on the first floor.
5. Go on a canal tour from Nyhavn
One of the most popular things to do in Nyhavn is without a doubt to go on a canal tour.
The Grand Canal Tour at Nyhavn takes you past some of the biggest landmarks in Copenhagen including the Little Mermaid Statue, Amalienborg Palace, Christianshavn’s canal, the Church of Our Saviour, Christiansborg Palace, and many other places – in just one hour.
The canal boats are located at the beginning of the canal, close to Kongens Nytorv, and the company is named Strömma. You can either just show up and get your tickets at the stand, or plan ahead and book your tickets online.
If you want to learn more about the Grand canal tour from Nyhavn, then read our full guide: What to expect on a Canal Tour in Copenhagen.
6. Eat smørrebrød at one of Nyhavn’s restaurants
Fancy a cultural and delicious bite while exploring Nyhavn? Then try out the Danish Smørrebrød.
Many of the restaurants at Nyhavn serve the Danish traditional food named Smørrebrød. Some people refer to it as a Danish open sandwich, but really, it has nothing to do with a sandwich.
Smørrebrød is a piece of ryebread that’s topped with cold cuts, fish, veggies, eggs, and other yummy things. The higher and bigger the toppings lay on the smørrebrød, the better. You often won’t even see the ryebread from all the toppings that’s on it.
We danes really love our Smørrebrød and it’s such a classic thing to eat while visiting Nyhavn and Copenhagen. So when you feel the hunger coming, have a sit at one of the cosy terraces at Nyhavn and enjoy a cultural bite of Denmark.
7. End your day with a dessert at Vaffelbageren
Is your day at Nyhavn coming to an end? Then why not end it with something sweet and delicious.
In Nyhavn nr. 49, you’ll find a place named “Vaffelbageren”, also known as “the waffle baker”. Here you can get two types of waffles: A homemade Danish ice cream cone, also named a “vaffel” in Denmark, with your choice of ice cream or a homemade Belgian waffle with ice cream on top.
So if you’re a sweet tooth, then make sure to go by and get yourself a waffle or an ice cream before moving on from Nyhavn and onto the next attraction in Copenhagen.
8. Extra: Christmas at Nyhavn
Are you visiting Copenhagen during Christmas? Then you just have to go to Nyhavn!
During Christmas, you’ll find Nyhavn becomes a magical place. The street is decorated with Christmas lights and Christmas trees, and you’ll see several Christmas stalls aligned in-between the cafés and the canal.
The stalls are selling anything from delicious sweets, to warm socks, to mulled wine. We would especially recommend you to try some “Gløgg”, which is the Danish version of mulled wine. It’s SO GOOD, and it smells amazing!
But the most magical day at Nyhavn is on December 13th during Saint Lucia Day. Here you can see the big kayak parade that sails down the dark canal with lights on the kayaks while singing the Danish “Santa Lucia” song. It’s such a magical sight, and it only happens once a year. So if you’re in Nyhavn that day, you should really take a moment to appreciate this sight!
Christmas in Copenhagen is in general amazing, so consider visiting the city during this magical time of the year.
Tips for visiting Nyhavn in Copenhagen
Before ending this guide to Nyhavn in Copenhagen, we want to pass along a few tips for any future visitor who’s reading along.
- Watch your stuff: Seriously! While Copenhagen isn’t known as unsafe, thefts are not unusual – especially in such a touristic hot spot as Nyhavn. I once stopped a thief stealing a camera from 2 American tourists who had put it down by their feet while admiring the view of Nyhavn. This is a complete no-go! Always keep your stuff on you, Nyhavn can get really crowded in the summer and it’s probably the best place in Copenhagen for petty theft.
- Go to the end and admire the Royal Theatre Playhouse and the Opera House: Two of Copenhagen’s greatest cultural places can be seen from the end of Nyhavn. So make sure to walk to the end of the canal where you’ll find the Royal Theatre Playhouse – and from here you can see the majestic Opera House.
- Visit in the morning if you want to take good pictures: The best time to visit Nyhavn, if you’re a photographer, is in the morning. That way, you’ll get to see the neighbourhood without all the other tourists that only start arriving during the day.
We hope you could use this travel guide to Nyhavn in Copenhagen. While it’s the most touristic place you can visit in the city, it’s also a place that’s boasting of history and beautiful cityscapes – so make sure to stop by on your trip to Copenhagen!
Curious about what else to do in the city? Then check out our full guide: 35 Best things to do in Copenhagen.