One of Denmark’s most famous writers, Hans Christian Andersen was born into a poor family in Odense, Denmark, on April 2, 1805. Andersen’s classic fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “The Princess and the Pea” continue to captivate children and adults nearly 140 years after his death.
The house where Andersen was born is now a museum with exhibits about his life and career. There are listening stations where you can listen to many of his stories, as well as original drawings and papercuts made by Andersen himself to illustrate his tales.
On a self-guided Hans Christian Andersen walking tour of Odense, visitors can see various locations connected with the author, including the house where Andersen lived for much of his childhood, the church where he was christened, and Odense Castle, where his mother sometimes worked as a washerwoman, bringing her son along to play with the other servants’ children.
At the age of 14, Andersen left Odense to seek his fortune in Copenhagen, where he spent most of his life. As a result, the Danish capital offers many sights for visitors interested in Andersen.
Andersen’s life in Copenhagen began at the Royal Theater (Den Kongelige Teater), where he worked for several years without a fixed salary. The theater’s management decided to sponsor his education, and it was during this time that Andersen wrote his first book, Youthful Attempts (published under a pseudonym).
Andersen lived in numerous locations in Copenhagen over the course of his life. As a student he lived for a year in an attic room at Vingårdstræde 6, a building owned by the famous Magasin du Nord department store. Though the building was damaged in a fire in 1964, Andersen’s room was reconstructed to look the way it did when he lived there. It’s now part of a small museum run by Magasin du Nord, with entrance from the third floor of the department store. The store itself was once a hotel, Hotel du Nord, where Andersen lived for a decade.
For much of his life, Andersen lived in lodgings in Nyhavn, now one of Copenhagen’s most popular harborside districts. At various points in time, Andersen lived at numbers 20, 67, and 18. He wrote his first fairy tales while living at number 20, from 1834 to 1838.
Other Copenhagen locations associated with Andersen include:
– Lille Kongensgade 1, where Andersen rented a room and bought his first furniture at the age of 61 (all his previous lodgings had been furnished);
– Hotel d’Angleterre, where Andersen stayed on various occasions;
– Bakkehusmuseet, the former home of prominent literary patrons and a gathering place for poets and authors, including Andersen;
– Rundetårn, now an exhibition space but formerly the university library where Andersen spent much of his time.
The famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park opened in downtown Copenhagen in 1843, to Andersen’s great enthusiasm. A friend of Tivoli’s founder, Andersen was fond of the park’s Chinese-style buildings and gardens. Tivoli inspired his fairy tale “The Nightingale,” which he wrote in just two days at the end of the park’s first season. At Tivoli, you’ll find a ride dedicated to Andersen’s fairy tales (“The Flying Trunk”), puppet shows of his stories, and the Hans Christian Andersen Shop with merchandise related to the author.
Few people travel to Copenhagen for the first time without visiting the Little Mermaid, the statue inspired by Andersen’s beloved story, written in 1837. One of the city’s most popular attractions, the bronze sculpture sits on a rock at Langelinie near the port of Copenhagen. For many, visiting the mermaid is somewhat underwhelming – the statue is small, and the crowds often make it difficult to get a good photo. But for the true Andersen fan, it’s nonetheless a must-see.
Andersen died of liver cancer in 1875 and was buried in the Assistens Kirkegård in the Nørrebro part of town. His funeral was held in Vor Frue Kirke (the Church of Our Lady) and was a national event attended by the king and crown prince. Not bad for a poor washerwoman’s boy from Odense!
Originally published: February 14, 2013. Latest update: August 29, 2018