Freetown Christiania: Copenhagen’s “Independent Republic”

Freetown Christiania
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Last time I was in Christianshavn, the lively canals and islands area of Copenhagen, I saw a man with an iguana draped over his shoulder. I was on my way to Freetown Christiania, a self-styled independent republic. It is the sort of place where you can expect the unexpected, where iguanas would be more welcome than cars or outside lawmakers.

Freetown Christiania
The colourful entrance to Freetown Christiania

What is Freetown Christiania?

Freetown Christiania began as an attempt by squatters to occupy the disused barracks and defensive structures alongside the Stadsgraven Canal. It soon developed into a collective community, attracting freethinkers, bohemians and drug dealers. In 1971 it declared itself a “self-governing society”, and it has had an uneasy relationship with the Copenhagen authorities ever since.

Barracks in Christiania
The community grew up around disused barracks

Today Christiania has around a thousand inhabitants. No cars are allowed (there are a surprising number of rules for such a free-spirited community). So everyone gets about by bike, most commonly the distinctive Christiania cargo bikes – bikes with front trailers, which we saw carrying anything from children to groceries and fresh meat. The rules make it a quiet and peaceful place, slightly at odds with its reputation as a drug users’ paradise. In fact, although the main road is known as Pusher Street, with drugs openly on sale, hard drugs are strictly forbidden. (If you walk down Pusher Street you are advised not to take photographs, as even soft drugs are illegal in Denmark.)

House in Freetown Christiania
The houses are all individually designed and built

 



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Exploring Freetown Christiania

It has to be said that Christiania is more of a curiosity than a tourist attraction. However, there are features that make it worth a visit. The creativity of the residents is apparent: there are outdoor sculptures, and every available surface seems to be painted with vivid patterns. The houses are individually designed, often brightly coloured and with a certain “home-made” quality. As you walk around, you’ll spot other quirks such as the “Embassy of Uzhupis” (Užupis is a similar bohemian community in Vilnius, Lithuania).

Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen
Pinnable image of Freetown Christiania

For myself, I enjoyed the canal side walk, past the remains of the city’s defences. The locals were enjoying the summer sunshine, picnicking and sunbathing on the grass beside the water. Further along, I found a peaceful path, with the mounts of a rampart on one side, a nature reserve on the other. There were birds, butterflies and wild flowers, a pleasant retreat in the heart of the city.

Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen
A peaceful path in Freetown Christiania

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7 thoughts on “Freetown Christiania: Copenhagen’s “Independent Republic””

  1. We were in Copenhagen in 2014 but declined to visit Christiania. I thought a place with free and open cannabis trade might be risky. I’m glad I saw it through your lens!

  2. I saw a segment about Christiania on a TV news program. I’m afraid our brief visit to Copenhagen provided only enough time to see the LIttle Mermaid statue in the harbor, to visit a museum and a castle and to eat what seemed like outrageously expensive food. Christiania looks like an intriguing place.

  3. We visited Christiania many years ago with our children. We were all on bikes and it was a fun place to ride through. I found it a bit odd though. It is a place where the residents started out as squatters and free-thinkers who abhor rules and yet so many of the houses looked like they are now regarded as private property.

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About Karen

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren. I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 60 countries at the last count). I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica (I still hope to get there one day…), and my current favourite destinations are Italy, Spain and North America. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.

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