The Borgen tour of Copenhagen

Follow in the Statsminister’s footsteps and discover the secrets of the hit Danish drama’s captivating locations...

It is a brisk October afternoon as we walk towards the eastern entrance of Christiansborg Palace in downtown Copenhagen.


As serious-looking Danes bustle along in sharp suits and winter coats, and cyclists speed past on the city’s ubiquitous bike lanes, Dieuwertje Visser — her black parka shielding her against the early autumn chill — suddenly stops and looks at me.

“Don’t you know where we are?” she says, expectantly. My blank expression suggests that I don’t.

“This is where Birgitte parks her bike,” Dieuwertje says brightly, signalling towards the rows of plastic bicycle racks outside the 18th-century palace, the former home of Denmark’s royal family and now the seat of its government.

“And over here,” she says, striding towards a looming archway, “is where the car picks her up when she leaves parliament.

“People usually recognise it,” Dieuwertje — known as Di — adds quietly, with just a hint of disappointment.

It is a bit of a faux pas, I reflect, not to recognise such a prominent site on our walking tour, inspired as it is by Danish TV show Borgen, the complete box set of which is now available.

When it comes to Borgen, art strongly imitates life in Copenhagen, where the hallways of Christiansborg — known as Borgen, meaning ‘the castle’ — buzz with political life. TV crews hover in the car park, black cars stop to deposit Denmark’s great and good, and workers appear from the huge wooden doors to shout into mobile phones and smoke urgently.

The current Christiansborg palace was built by King Christian X of Denmark; the first two — also built by King Christians, of which the country has had 10 — burned to the ground. Nowadays, it hosts the Danish supreme court, parliament and the administrative offices of the royal family — meaning it is home to all three arms of Denmark’s government: the legislative, executive and judicial.

Earlier in our walking tour, Di — who works for tour company Peter and Ping — had shown me a less grand Borgen institution, the offices of Ekstra Bladet, the controversial tabloid newspaper better known to fans of the show as Ekspres.

Just like its fictional counterpart, Ekstra Bladet is regularly in trouble in Denmark — most recently for being the only media outlet in the country to break an embargo on reporting a hostage crisis, when Danish aid workers were captured by al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia.

“They are known for getting their hands dirty,” says Di, diplomatically. Peter and Ping Walking Tours, Di says, are seeing more and more fans of the show — from both the UK and France, where the show has also recently aired — turning up in Copenhagen and wanting to see where it all happens. Di also does a walking tour for Danish crime drama The Killing, which she admits has so far been more popular with tourists. The tour involves a night trek around Copenhagen’s seedy Vesterbro district — with its strip clubs, bars and occasional methadone clinics — and trips to the murder sites in the three series of the show.

Borgen, with its focus on Danish politics, is a more staid affair. Instead of a chapel where a priest is found strapped to a cross — as in The Killing — we find ourselves on the bridge over the main canal that looks onto a block of flats, the exterior of which is used as the fictional offices of TV1.

And instead of the slaughterhouses and grimy backstreets where Sarah Lund chases a suspected killer, we gaze at the street where Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), the crusading young journalist and later political adviser to Birgitte, lives in the third season of the show.

But unlike The Killing — which uses Copenhagen as a backdrop to a dark, fictional thriller — with Borgen, life increasingly imitates art as well. When the first season was shown on Danish TV in 2010, the country had never had a female prime minister; just a year later, Helle Thorning-Schmidt took power at the head of a coalition including — as on the show — moderates, socialists and greens.

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More recently, a season-three episode that features fictional prime minister Birgitte Nyborg toying with the legalisation of prostitution provoked a heated argument in the Danish parliament, with Danish MP Mai Henriksen advocating a bill of rights for sex workers in Denmark.

Henriksen, Di explains, was roundly criticised by journalists and politicians for lifting her policy straight out of a TV show, but in a lot of other cases Danes are happy for Borgen to have an impact on politics — not least when it involves popular characters such as spin doctor-turnedpundit Kasper Juul, played by Pilou Asbæk.

“It is as if Kasper has become a real person since Borgen — people say that he is the perfect spin doctor, and that Denmark’s real spin doctors should be like him,” Di says as we walk back into town along wide, tree-lined boulevards.

“The show actually often sets the political agenda in Denmark, and people discuss how much influence it has had on Danish politics.” And I realise, as I stand in this illustrious setting, that the show has become reality for me too.

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Population 559,440

Region Europe

Airport Copenhagen Airport

TV shot here: The Bridge, Borgen, The Killing

Local food: Danish smørrebrød (open rye-bread sandwiches), frikadeller with rugbrød (meatballs and rye bread with pickled gherkins), Rullepølse (rolled stuffed pork, often with tomatoes herbs and onions).

Stay: Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District is currently the place to be in the Danish capital, where local bars – known as bodegas – and trendy pizza restaurants rub shoulders with strip clubs and drug outreach centres.

In that regard, Hotel Ansgar (Colbjoernsensgade 29) is smack in the middle of the action, with the added benefit of being a stone’s throw from Copenhagen’s less seedy, historic Tivoli Park and City Hall (The Killing fans will recognise politician and later murder suspect Troells Hartman’s second floor office overlooking the square).

But while the meatpacking district of Vesterbro may look dodgy, it is actually a very safe place to spend an evening; bodegas like Freddy’s Bar (Gasvaerksvej 28) – on our visit packed to the rafters with inebriated Danes haranguing a long-suffering barmaid and ACDC on the jukebox – are far more fun than the Irish bars and tourist traps of central Copenhagen.

As for Hotel Ansgar, it is simple, clean, quiet and affordable – which will, for many, be key in a notoriously expensive city. As well as the aforementioned Vesterbro, it borders Chinatown for those who want a change from Copenhagen’s ubiquitous Michelin-starred restaurants.

Getting there: DFDS Seaways sails from Harwich, in Essex, to Esbjerg, in Denmark, three times a week. The crossing takes 17 hours, followed by a three-hour drive to Copenhagen. Alternatively, flights leave from London and major UK airports daily.

Tourism board:


Visit Copenhagen with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details