Copenhagen City Hall: A Phoenix From the Ashes

Copenhagen City Hall, one of the city's landmark buildings, is a must-visit spot marked by a difficult history of destruction and survival. Here you'll find out about what happened and all the things that you can do while visiting.

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This image shows the facade of Copenhagen City Hall from the Radhuspladsen (City Hall Square).
Copenhagen. The fine old city Hall. Exterior

Beyond historical sites, wonderful architecture, iconic canals and countless shops, Copenhagen’s center is also an area for governmental buildings. Many of these have a long history, yet still serve the community to this day. For example, the Christiansborg Palace, located to the east, which houses the three branches of power. Or the Copenhagen Court House, to the southwest in Nytorv. But it’s to the north where the Copenhagen City Hall (“Københavns Rådhus” in Danish) stands.

The Copenhagen City Hall serves as the headquarters for the Lord Mayor and the municipal council. This building is a historical site with breathtaking architecture, ornaments and sculptures, open to the public for free. During the opening hours, you can explore every inch as you please, except for the tower, where you need an escort. Outside, right in front of the entrance, there’s a very large square called Rådhuspladsen (literally “City Hall Square”). That’s the most popular spot to meet with people, from small friend gatherings to protests of hundreds.

This image shows Copenhagen City Hall, with dozens of pedestrians passing by right next to its entrance.
Copenhagen City Hall, with dozens of pedestrians passing by. IndustryAndTravel/Bigstock.com

Born from the ashes

On 1728, a fire destroyed more than a quarter of Copenhagen and left a fourth of the population homeless. The number of fatal victims and wounded was very low, but the architectural and cultural loss was devastating. The University, the Round Tower and City Hall, along with books, instruments and archive of records, were lost forever. The reconstruction works took almost a decade (until 1737), including a new city hall, but then it all burned again.

The 1795 fire was less destructive, mostly due to the firefighting measures implemented after the first one. However, it destroyed the remnants of Medieval and Renaissance architectural legacy in the city. A new city hall (also used as a court house) rose twenty years later. But in late 19th century, they decided that a bigger and more splendid one should be built. Architect Martin Nyrop was chosen for that task and, more than a decade later, the work was finished.

The previous building was turned into the Copenhagen Court House and has continued serving the community ever since. Nyrop’s City Hall has also continued working since its inauguration in 1905, becoming one of the city’s most beloved buildings. That’s how, just like the mythical phoenix, the Copenhagen City Hall rose from the ashes of destruction.

Inside the Copenhagen City Hall

This image shows the Great Hall of Copenhagen City Hall. It's a big spacious hall, with several offices and rooms surrounding it. The roof reflects the light of outside.
The Great Hall of Copenhagen City Hall. The current building opened in 1905. StockphotoVideo/Bigstock.com
This image shows some of the paintings displayed on an art gallery in the Main Hall.
Sample of an art gallery in display on the Main Hall.

The interior of the building is very interesting and it basically consists of two big sections: the front section and the back section. In the first one, the reception and then the spacious Main Hall welcome the visitors. This hall, located near the entrance, is made of old earth-toned tiles that underscore the architecture of the building. In some occasions, this space also serves as an art gallery and concert hall.

Around the Main Hall, in the ground level, you can find Jens Olsen’s World Clock. This is a complex astronomical clock that will blow your mind. Besides telling time and date, it shows solar and lunar eclipses and positions of important stellar bodies. On the other side of the Main Hall, you can also find the City Archives. This is an extensive collection of thousands of old and new documents from the city.

In the upper levels, you can find the Wedding Hall where hundreds of local and foreign couples tie the knot. Added long after Nyrop’s dead, it has beautiful and colorful folk tales murals. Right above the entrance, there’s a very elegant and stylish Banqueting Hall where important guests are received. There’s where the royal family, the parliament or the government invite national and international politicians and other public figures. Other important spots are the city council meeting rooms and the Lord Mayor’s office, where big decision taking happens.

Beyond the Main Hall

The back section also revolves around one spacious spot: the City Hall Garden (“Rådhushaven”), a gem ignored by most tourists. This garden was once a courtyard that extended to H. C. Andersen’s boulevard, but they had to trim it down. Nowadays, it’s there for private events, like wedding receptions, and it’s most recurrent visitors are the staff and japanese tourists. Now, surrounding the garden are dozens of private offices for the city council’s and the Lord Mayor’s secretariats.

The City Hall Tower is the most popular spot in this section and one of the tallest buildings in Copenhagen. Such is its fame, that some tourists only go there to walk up its 105.6 m (346 ft) of height. To do so, you have to pay a fee and have a staff member escort you during the walk. It’s a worthy experience nontheless, because it gives you an amazing view of the city.

Paid experiences

This image shows the Wedding Hall, where couples from all over the world come to get married. The door seen in the background is the entrance to the wedding office, where the ceremony takes place.
The Wedding Hall. The door seen in the background is the entrance to the wedding office, where the ceremony takes place.

The Copenhagen City Hall offers paid experiences for all tourists, like a guided tour in English and Danish. The English tour takes place from Mondays-Fridays at 1 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. for 50 DKK. The tower-only option mentioned above is from Mondays-Fridays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Saturdays noon for 30 DKK.

Moreover, locals and tourists can both wed at the City Hall, same-sex couples included. To do so, you can contact the marriage office and deal with the paperwork yourself, although it can be tedious. So you can also hire third-party marriage services credited by the City Hall, like Getting Married in Copenhagen. Once all the paperwork finishes, they’ll assign you a date for the ceremony at the Wedding Hall. Get there on time: the Wedding Hall can get a little crowded and the staff isn’t always helpful or kind.

In conclusion, the Copenhagen City Hall has a lot to offer for tourists. Whether you wed in there or just visit, don’t forget to take your time to take it all in. Its history of survival, wonderful classic architecture and itinerant art galleries make for an interesting stop while touring the city landscape.

Have you been to Copenhagen City Hall or do you want to go? Would you have your wedding there? Tell us everything in the comments section below!

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