Copenhagen’s harbour-front area of Islands Brygge is a favourite for sunbathers, swimmers and strollers.
For most people who haven’t spent a lot of time in Denmark, sunbathing and swimming in the ocean are probably the last things that come to mind when they think of this Scandinavian nation. After all, that large body of water to the west of Denmark is called the North Sea, a name that doesn’t exactly invoke images of frolicking in the sand with margaritas and steel drums playing in the background.
Scandinavia, to those who are not familiar with the region, is often thought of as a uniformly frozen and forbidding place, home to harsh winters and Viking-like hardiness in the face of crushing ice floes crashing down fjords, smashing into your boats, bitter storms demolishing your home while Thor and Odin laugh in your frozen face…
You get the idea.
And while there is of course some truth to that imagery—especially in winter and especially the farther north you travel—summers in Scandinavia can actually be quite pleasant, Thor and Odin notwithstanding. Summers are particularly beautiful in Denmark, the southernmost of the trio of Scandinavian nations.
In Copenhagen, where the capital city’s forward-thinking and green-oriented leaders have invested millions in cleaning up the formerly industrialised and polluted harbour area, a great many people enjoy swimming a few laps right off the pier after work. The waterfront natural area of Amager Strandpark is a 2-kilometer long jewel of a beachfront area just outside the city centre that Copenhagen residents and visitors alike flock to on warm summer days. And numerous beaches right in the city regularly garner a “Blue Flag” rating, meaning they are considered completely unpolluted and pristine.
So, revelling in the surf and sun during the warmer months is a top priority for Copenhagen residents. And one of the city’s favourite spots for enjoying the sea is right in the city, the lovely Islands Brygge neighbourhood. Islands Brygge—which translates to Iceland’s Quay—is a gorgeous stretch of waterfront just south of the Christianshavn district, ranging roughly from the Langebro Bridge in the north to the Bryggebroen Bridge in the south. It’s home to a beautiful waterfront promenade that offers great views of the city and the sunset, and is an ideal place for residents and visitors alike to enjoy a cold beverage and stroll, swim, or just hang out.
From soy to sabotage to swimming
The Islands Brygge area tells an inspiring story of urban renewal and regeneration, and is also at the heart of one of the most important stories about the Danish people during World War II. Walking around in Islands Brygge today, it’s hard to imagine that this entire area was undeveloped—and largely underwater—up until the 1880s.
As the city’s harbour traffic and industry kept growing, more and more land was needed in order to operate efficiently as a world-leading port. Land reclamation efforts continued to move southward from Christianshavn and soon enough the Islands Brygge was filled in, in order to create space where timber, coal and other materials could be stored before being shipped elsewhere.
One early industry that made its home in Islands Brygge was a soy bean processing company. Another early claim to fame for Islands Brygge is that during World War II, with numerous German troops being stationed at this strategically important location, the Danish Resistance movement frequently targeted the occupiers here with bombings and sabotage.
These days of course, Islands Brygge has quite a different vibe. While the buildings in the area are largely residential, much of this laid-back and trendy neighbourhood definitely has a sense of being a publicly-owned space. Even in the section to the north where residential blocks dominate, the streets are still very pedestrian-friendly, and small shops line the sidewalks. To the south is an area known as Havenstaden, an neighbourhood that has been redeveloped from industrial concerns into offices and residential buildings.
One great touch that city planners and developers have implemented in the revamping of the Islands Brygge area is that they haven’t run away from the district’s industrial past. Sections of old railroad tracks and an old railroad car have been cleaned up and incorporated into the public area’s aesthetic in an artful way, and grain silos and other former factory buildings have been renovated into unique apartment buildings, such as the former dual silos that make up the Gemini Residence.
But the main focus for visitors and locals alike when coming to Islands Brygge is the long stretch of open park area along the harbour called, oddly enough, Havenparken (Harbour Park). This vast open area stretches about a kilometre along the waterfront, providing a wealth of outdoor activities for people to enjoy on summer days, not to mention amazing views of the heart of Copenhagen across the water. Here are a few of the highlights:
First and foremost for visitors to Islands Brygge is usually the open esplanade area running up and down the waterfront. As you cross over the Langebro bridge from the Tivoli area and head south along the harbour-front, you’ll pass the unofficial entrance to the area, a striking sculpture called “Arken” by artist Harvey Martin. Evoking a roofed Viking longboat with a stylised sun perched atop in an industrial-looking rust-coloured material, the piece is judged by many to fit nicely with the aesthetics of of Islands Brygge. It speaks to Denmark’s long-standing connection to the sea and Danish optimism, as well as the more recent history of Islands Brygge as a renovated industrial neighbourhood.
Islands Brygge harbour baths
Moving south along the water’s edge you’ll pass some boat and kayak rental businesses, always a fun outing on a pleasant day in the tranquil waters off of Islands Brygge. Next you’ll encounter the Havnebadet, or the Islands Brygge harbour baths. The pools here are the highlight for many visitors to the waterfront area, offering one of several sea bath facilities around Copenhagen.
It’s also a favourite spot for sun worshipers, and summertime finds Copenhagen denizens enjoying the five separate pools, each of which is 7 meters (23 feet) deep extending into the pristine water separating the island of Amager from the rest of Copenhagen. There are two 50-meter pools for swimming and diving, two pools dedicated to children, and a diving pool with springboards ranging in height from three to five meters.
Wintertime visitors also enjoy the facility’s two saunas, interspersed with quick dips in the frigid sea water to cool off for the particularly brave or foolhardy. The facility has lifeguards on duty in the high season.
But the 600-person capacity Havenbadet facility isn’t the only place you’ll find people enjoying all that Islands Brygge has to offer in summer. In nice weather there are usually tons of people sprawled on the lawn adjacent to the baths enjoying a cookout, playing beach games or just sunbathing.
If you neglected to pack a picnic, or if you just want to take a break from the sun and enjoy a cool beverage on a covered patio, there are a host of restaurants and cafes just opposite the baths and the adjacent green space offering everything from a coffee to elaborate cocktails, as well as food choice ranging from a simple slice of pizza to a sit-down dinner.
Walking further south along the waterfront, you’ll come across the Kulturhuset Islands Brygge, the Islands Brygge cultural centre. This gorgeous, modern facility offers concerts and performances of all kinds, ranging from classical music to rock music to improv comedy shows to children’s shows. From time to time you can even find a fun, comedy-oriented program there on “Cracking Danish Cultural Codes.”
The facility also hosts a popular cafe offering an expansive view of the sea from long, communal picnic tables outside, and a variety of food ranging from traditional Danish cuisine to French and more. They even offer a participatory program for children called “Super Sunday,” which gives young people the chance to explore a variety of creative areas including movement and dance, street theatre, contemporary circus performance, and more.
Further south along the water’s edge you’ll head into the Havneparken or Harbour Park, a slightly more tranquil but nonetheless just as inviting section in the Islands Brygge waterfront area. People here also enjoy simply strolling or sitting along the water to enjoy the view, but there are also basketball courts, volleyball facilities, kid’s playgrounds, open grassy areas, and more.
The Havneparken area is also home to a skateboard park, and on nice summer days you’re also likely to encounter people who couldn’t be bothered to go to the harbour baths and are simply diving in to the pristine—if chilly—water right off the pier.
For those interested in the history of the Islands Brygge area, an out of service railroad car and a section of tracks have been preserved and offer an exhibition on the industrial past of the neighbourhood.
There’s also a bandstand there, the Pinen Bandstand, that was originally created out of the overturned hull of an old 1950s-era ferry called the Pinen. While the ship’s body was torn down due to neglect in 2011, on many summer nights you’ll happen on an open-air concert being performed there nonetheless.
Islands Brygge: Bryggebroen Bridge
Continuing south, the esplanade along the water here is perhaps even quieter than the northern section, still offering stupendous views of the city. You’ll soon pass by the Bryggebroen ferry stop, and by then you will have seen the Bryggebroen Bridge. It’s a beautiful, well-designed pedestrian and bicycle-only bridge that take you across to the mainland, finally depositing you near the Dybbolsbro station, just a 2-minute ride or 14-minute walk from Tivoli.
Getting to Islands Brygge
One of the great draws about the Islands Brygge area—aside from the lovely views and variety of activities there—is just how easily accessible it is. Walking from Tivoli Gardens you’ll be across the Langebro Bridge and at the head of the esplanade in just 11 minutes.
The neighbourhood is also served by the metro at the Islands Brygge station, just three stops down from Norreport Station on the Green or M1 metro line. If you plan to drive, your best bet is probably taking H. C. Andersen Ave. to the Langebro Bridge and across. Although this route is the fastest according to Google Maps, it is also the likeliest to have traffic slowing you down at certain times of day. And if you’re cycling, its just an 8-minute ride from Tivoli Gardens across the Bryggebroen Bridge.
All in all, spending time at Islands Brygge should be on the must-do list for any traveler heading to Copenhagen. With such a variety of culture, history, activities and of course all that pristine open water awaiting, residents of Copenhagen are lucky indeed to have such gorgeous spot awaiting them right in the heart of this amazing city.
Not every city boasts facilities as diverse as the Islands Brygge harbour baths, to the Kulturhuset Islands Brygge with its array of concerts and other performances events, not to mention its world-class restaurant — as well as the spectacular views of the rest of Copenhagen and the sunset behind the sparkling buildings across the water. Islands Brygge really does have a mix of everything that the best of Copenhagen has to offer.
And with the social nature of the park areas as well as that of the baths, the open-air cafes, the volleyball and basketball courts, and the interactive performance events, visiting Islands Brugge is also a great way for visitors from other countries to meet with actual Danes and learn something about their culture first-hand.
Head out to Islands Brygge today and get your fun and sun on — the Copenhagen way!
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