Spend more than a few hours in Denmark, especially on the tourist trail, and you’ll quickly start to wonder: what’s with all the mermaids in Denmark? After all, you may expect to see these more in Disneyland rather than in Scandinavia.
Well, the presence of mermaids in Danish culture is well-established, with Denmark’s history having been connected to these mythical creatures long before Disney came around.
This means that knowing where to spot mermaids in Copenhagen and other cities of Denmark can be a really great part of your trip. Most of them are quite easy to find and, once you know the story behind them, you’ll start to see just why the artwork of these fascinating creatures is worth your time.
Mermaids of Denmark
1. The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen
The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen (or “Den lille Havfrue” in Danish) is easily one of the most visited tourist stops in the country. Located a short walk (or bike ride) from the center of the city and perched on a rock in the harbor, it’s a relatively small statue given its fame.
However, you may struggle to find a time when it’s not surrounded by tourists, making it difficult to get that photo you’re looking for without 100 other people blocking your view.
This is why a lot of people choose to visit the statue from the water. Copenhagen‘s canal boat tours are a great way to see the city as the canals themselves are beautiful and you get to get right up close to some things which may be a bit harder to see from land.
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Why is The Little Mermaid famous in Denmark?
The Little Mermaid is famous in Denmark because the original story was written by Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen. The story was first published in 1837 and, in 1913, the famed Little Mermaid statue was unveiled in Copenhagen. It continues to be one of the most visited sites in the country.
The original fairytale is quite different from the Disney version that you probably know. For one thing, it ends with the mermaid (who isn’t called Ariel) killing herself because she refuses to kill the prince. Safe to say, that didn’t quite make it into the Disney movie.
The statue, on the other hand, was created by Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen after being commissioned by Carl Jacobsen, the Carlsberg brewer. He was inspired to do so after watching a ballet of The Little Mermaid at The Royal Danish Theatre.
Related: 61 Great Things That Denmark is Famously Known For
The Little Mermaid and vandalism
One of the things The Little Mermaid statue is famous for is actually the number of times that it’s been vandalized. Some of these occasions have been political statements but some have been simple pranks or out for no identified reason at all. These include:
- 1964: Decapitated
- 1984: Arm cut off (and returned two days later)
- 1990: Attempted decapitation
- 1998: Actual decapitation (with the head returned anonymously to a TV station)
- 2003: Blown off the rock and left to float in the harbor
- 2006: Covered in green paint and left holding an “adult toy”
- 2013: Balaclava put over her head and a sign added saying “Free Pussy Riot”
- 2017: Covered in red paint with the message “Denmark defend the whales of the Faroe Islands” written on the ground in front of her
- 2017: Covered in blue paint (two weeks after the previous occurrence) with “Befri Abdulle” (“Free Abdulle” in Danish) written in front of the statue
- 2020: Her rock was painted with a “Free Hong Kong” message
- 2020: Her rock was painted again with the message “Racist Fish”, with stickers added to her body
There are also occasions where she’s been dressed in the sports shirts of the Swedish or Norwegian soccer teams – a particularly hilarious attempt at vandalism when you consider their rivalries, especially Sweden’s, with Denmark’s team.
Where is The Little Mermaid statue in Denmark?
The Little Mermaid statue is located at the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen, Denmark on a rock located slightly in the water of Copenhagen harbor. The statue has, however, been moved once to Shanghai, to be displayed in the Danish pavilion at Expo 2010 from May to October that year.
It’s very easy to get to the statue from the center of Copenhagen. For example, from Nyhavn, where many tourists start their city tour, the easiest way is to simply walk for 20 minutes. You’ll go through some of the older parts of the city, the castle that the Danish Royal Family still lives in, some beautiful Copenhagen churches and Kastellet, an old military fortress, so it’s definitely worth the walk.
You can also ride your bike in only six minutes or take a taxi if you really have to – but, unless you have mobility issues, I really wouldn’t recommend it. There are also hop-on-hop-off buses which stop near the statue.
As mentioned earlier, you can also take a canal tour from Nyhavn, all of which stop at The Little Mermaid statue on the way. The only issue is that the background of your photos will be full of tourists.
2. Agnete and the Mermen
For me, out of all the mermaids in Denmark, this one is definitely the coolest. It’s actually based on a Danish fairytale about Agnete, who was a mermaid who left her seven sons as well as her husband. They’re so sad about her leaving that they spend the rest of their days staring up out of the water, waiting for her to come back.
That’s right; this statue is actually underwater. The best way to find it is to go to the corner of Ved Stranden and Højbro and keep an eye out for a blue sign on the side of the canal that tells boats to be careful of the statue. That’s where you should look into the water to find it.
You may not be able to see the entire statue every day depending on how cloudy the water is or if there’s enough light. That said, if you’re only able to see a few of her sons, it sort of makes the whole experience even sadder knowing that others are down there begging for their mother to return.
3. Genetically Modified Mermaid
The Genetically Modified Mermaid is a strange twist on the fairytale nature of the other mermaids in Denmark. It’s part of a set of seven statues that are collectively called the genetically modified paradise. The group of sculptures includes others like the Pregnant Man, Madonna, Adam and Eve.
After having been on display at expo 2000 in Hanover, the genetically modified mermaid was moved to Copenhagen in 2006 and can now be found at Langelinie Alle 17 in Copenhagen Ø.
She’s not so far from her more famous cousin, being just a 10 minute walk from The Little Mermaid statue. While many tourists don’t bother making the walk, it’s a really interesting sight that, if you have time, I recommend you do.
4. Havfrue statue
“Havfrue” simply means “mermaid” in Danish (or, more literally, “sea lady”) and this statue sits just outside the impressive Black Diamond library in Copenhagen.
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The one you find on the waterfront just outside the library is actually a copy from 2009 of the original, which was created in 1921 and lives in the Danish National Art Gallery.
But even if it is only a copy, this less well-known Danish mermaid is definitely worth a visit, mainly because walking along the waterfront where the Black Diamond is is a must-do as part of your visit to Copenhagen.
5. Han the Merman at Helsingør
A great day trip from Copenhagen is to visit Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, better known as Hamlet’s castle for fans of Shakespeare.
And just near the entrance of this castle is one of the few male mermaids in Denmark, known as Han (which means “he” in Danish). He’s a joint piece by two Danish and Norwegian artists and was placed in his harbor home in 2012.
He’s intentionally similar to The Little Mermaid in terms of his pose, although he’s made from stainless steel so, on a clear day, appears to sparkle in the sun.
6. Mermaid Statue in Odense
Hans Christian Andersen is actually from a city called Odense, located about 1.5 hours away from Copenhagen by train. But for fans of the author and his fairy tales, you should definitely consider adding the city to your itinerary.
One of the best parts of the city is that, scattered throughout its parks and streets, are 16 sculptures inspired by Anderson’s famous stories. This includes, of course, a mermaid sculpture found in Munke Mose park. She’s located on a base that’s about 4 meters (13 feet) high, giving the impression that we are seeing her from deep in the ocean as she swims past above us.
But it’s not the only fairytale that’s earned a sculpture in the set. My personal favorite is a statue of Thumbelina in the city center, but there’s also a great statue of Hans Christian Andersen himself sitting on a bench and watching the world go by.
7. Agnete and The Merman in Aarhus
Remember the sad story of Agnete from the underwater statue earlier on? Well, Agnete and her merman have also earned a statue in Park Allé in Aarhus, where they both sit perched above a large fountain.
One great tradition when students graduate is that many of them “go swimming with the merman“ to celebrate the completion of their studies. You’ll know it’s them because they’ll also be wearing the famed Danish graduation cap as they get soaked!
(And if you end up visiting Aarhus, don’t forget that it’s one of the best places in Denmark for Viking experiences!)
8. Mermaid Statue in Asaa
This one mermaid in Denmark is a bit controversial, but to know why, we have to refer back to the original Little Mermaid statue.
That is, the statue is protected by copyright until 2029 and any replicas must be authorized by the Eriksen family, as relatives of the original creator, Edvard Eriksen. They have very strongly protected this copyright, having even (successfully!) sued a Danish newspaper in 2020 for publishing cartoons making fun of the statue in the context of some right wing debate that was happening in Denmark at the time.
In fact, if you go to the Danish Wikipedia page for The Little Mermaid statue, the photo of the statue has been edited to have a blank space where the mermaid should be due to copyright issues.
So when the city of Asaa in Denmark erected a very similar statue of a mermaid, the Eriksen family was not happy. They have since sued over this, seeking financial compensation and an order that the Asaa mermaid should be destroyed.
This means that if you want to see this Danish mermaid, you may want to hurry up before the court case is finalized.
9. Airport mural
While not a statue, there are various examples of mermaids appearing in modern Danish artwork. And you may even see this as soon as you arrive, with a large mural at Copenhagen Airport, called “Airport People“, featuring a not so hidden mermaid statue in it.
It’s a great welcome to the city and it’s perfectly emblematic of how important Denmark’s mermaids are to the country.