Copenhagen’s Nyhavn: From Seedy To Scenic

Nyhavn FI

Thirsty sailors, rowdy bars, and busy brothels – you’d never know it today, but if you took a stroll along the quay of the Nyhavn canal in the 17th Century, a seedy party would unfold around you.


Copenhagen owes its existence to sea trade, and this canal and waterfront dates back to the earliest days of the city. Cargo and fish from points east and west were handled here, and it was a gateway to the city. But renovation, gentrification, and brightly colored paint have transformed the area into a tourist magnet. Today it’s a delightful place to stroll, linger over a glass of wine in the sun, or take a canal tour.


Nyhavn (New Harbor) and its waterside cafes and shops are one of the charming highlights of Copenhagen. Townhouses from the 17th and 18th Century line the north side of the canal, and lavish mansions, like the massive Charlottenborg Palace, face them on the south (the haves and the have-mores). A few warehouses remain, which have been converted into pricey lofts.

Sailing ships, old and new line the canal as well. One of the most interesting is a “lightship,” which is a sailing lighthouse. These mobil lighthouses were moved and anchored depending on changes in the location of sandbars.

Lightship XVII

Lightship XVII Bow

Lightship XVII, (Does the name show a lack of imagination or the reality of life expectancy?) was built in 1895. And just so you don’t think these boats were novelties, this lightship was involved in several collisions, and in 1954 it was rammed and sank.

Diver's Helmet

There would be no Copenhagen without the sea, and charming Nyhavn is a scenic reminder of what that means.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri



We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

55 thoughts

    1. Thanks Roberto, for the follow and for the comment. Nyhavn is so quaint and colorful, it looks like a Hollywood movie set. But there’s an old-world charm there that can’t be duplicated. And on a sunny day, it’s the perfect place to wander and relax. ~James

  1. I also love the combo of richness you offer the readers – and your photos gave us a tour – also loved the opening words: “Thirsty sailors, rowdy bars, and busy brothels…”

    1. Thanks very much. Seaports have never been known for their niceties, so it’s good to see a place like Nyhavn turned around. It’s one of the highlights of Copenhagen now, but in the 18th Century, not so much. ~James

  2. The brightly colored houses along the waterway remind me of Burano. I first heard of lightships while I was on a tour of Narragansett Bay. I know of at least 2 which still function as a lightship, but also offer overnight accommodations (very pricy accommodations!).

    1. I’d never heard of or seen a lightship Laura, but they seem to be an effective idea for areas that have shifting sandbars. This lightship was pretty small, so an overnight would be cozy. ~James

    1. I visited Bergen years ago, and you’re right, it is similar. I’m sure that in the old days these buildings were dark and drab, but they certainly look better brightly painted. ~James

  3. I loved Nyhavn when I was there! Thanks for posting such beautiful photos of it! I love that you captured less obvious subjects too! Well done 🙂

    1. Thanks very much. On a sunny day, it’s difficult to take bad photos at Nyhavn. It’s one of those photogenic places that photographers love to find. Do you have lots of great photos from your trip? ~James

      1. I agree 🙂 Unfortunately when I was there it was foggy and cold but I was able to get enough shots to at least keep the memory alive. As to them being great..well..I enjoy them. Have a look if you like: Again, lovely picture! I enjoy your blog.

      2. I had a look at your photos and they’re good. Of course they don’t have the bright, summery feel, but I’ve been to Copenhagen in October, and your photos are a great reminder that in that part of the world, the weather can be nasty. ~James

    1. Thanks Sue. These are old-fashioned diving helmets that you might see in movies like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” As Pam mentioned below, we saw them in Tarpon Springs, FL. The Greek sponge divers still use them. ~James

      1. James it caught my eye because I saw a full suit in a second hand store in a wee town in Scotland near Aberdeen. It had sold written across the face mask or I would have tried to bring it home in my carry on. 🙂

    1. Thanks Tess. Nyhavn is quite the photogenic place, and you can buy postcards just like these photos in every tourist shop in town. This really is a neat area, and being there on a warm, sunny day was marvelous. Disney couldn’t create a movie set this nice. ~James

  4. Neat place! We saw those old diving helmets in Tarpon Springs, Florida. They used them when diving for sponges. Canal boat ride sounds wonderful!

    1. Pam, Terri’s sister lives in Clearwater, and on every trip, we try to get up to Tarpon Springs. There’s a restaurant directly across the street from the main dock called “The Plaka.” We’ve had gyros all over the world, and the standard by which they’re all judged are made in this tiny Tarpon Springs restaurant. If you haven’t been to the Plaka, do yourself a favor on your next trip. ~James

      1. Thank you for that tip! We need to make a return visit to Tarpon Springs – it has been a long time. I thought I didn’t like Greek food until I ate in a restaurant there – what a difference! Thanks for the tip – we will definitely try it out.

  5. Lovely town, gentrified with the haves and have mores (like the description). Great photos as always James and Terri. I don’t suspect drunken sailors and brothels would stand much of a chance there. 🙂 –Curt

    1. Thanks Curt. No drunken sailors, but as I said to Jeff, I’m sure that on certain weekends the football fans drink their share of Danish beer. Interestingly, prostitution was decriminalized in Denmark in 1999, so it’s legal (or more accurately, not illegal). But brothels are still illegal. Either way, you can bet that none of this will be tolerated in this high-dollar neighborhood. ~James

    1. Nyhavn is a scenic area, and the preservation helps to get a feel for what it was like in the 18th Century – well maybe not the brothels and wild bars, but you know what I mean. ~James

  6. What a beautiful canal! I always feel like I have been to a city after reading your posts. Not enough that I no longer want to go, mind you, and my list of places to visit is growing thanks to the two of you. 🙂

    1. Thanks LuAnn. For most people, Copenhagen isn’t on the tier 1 destinations list in Europe, but for an easy, relaxed, and interesting place, it’s great. It’s convenient and fun that you can walk to most of the sights in the historic area and it doesn’t involve the metro or bus. But, they have a city bus set up just for the tourists that runs a circle route by all the important sights, which is neat. ~James

    1. You’re right Dorothy. The first time I visited Denmark, I had been on a seismic boat on the North Sea for a month. It was October, the weather at sea was bad, and I was never so glad to see terra firma. I spent a few days in Copenhagen on the company dime before flying back to Dallas – very nice. I think this experience instilled my kind thoughts about Denmark. ~James

    1. Thanks Catherine. I’m excited for you on your Peru trip. It had been on our list for years and years, and in our past few years of travel, Cusco and Machu Picchu have been a highlight. The world is getting to be a smaller place, but Peru and MP are truly unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I’m sure that you’ll have a wonderful time (and visiting with your children), and I’m looking forward to the posts. Bon Voyage! ~James

    1. Nyhavn is a charming area that showcases a large part of what made Copenhagen a successful city. I would love to see a before/after photo from a couple of centuries ago. All the best in the New Year. ~James

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