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Borgen is a Danish drama focusing on the life of Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a politician trying to do it all — power, politics and family. Many of its preoccupations are local to Denmark, and revolve around the difficult and necessary compromises of governing in coalition. Borgen (Danes say it as “born”) first aired in 2010 but became a global hit once it was picked up by the BBC and other international networks. It has been back in the news because Netflix and the Danish broadcaster DR made a fourth (and probably final) series that aired in 2022.

Most of the locations for the series — especially seasons one to three, when the filming budget was much tighter — are within a small area of central Copenhagen, and as a superfan I wanted to see them all. Christine Bordin from the city’s Nordic Noir walking tours agreed to show me round on a tour that other fans can book. It took us about 1.5 hours — with a lot of stops for talking — and the walk is a flat 3km.

FT journalist Isabel Berwick leaning against a column on her tour of locations featured in ‘Borgen’
FT journalist/‘Borgen’ superfan Isabel Berwick on her Copenhagen tour of locations featured in the political drama
A wing of Christiansborg Palace, with a statue of a man on a horse in front of it
Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish parliament © Mathias Eis (2)

Copenhagen is a compact city, and its claustrophobic, gossipy political world is reflected in Borgen (meaning “the castle” — the local term for Christiansborg Palace, the building that is also home to the parliament and the Supreme Court).

Bordin is French but has lived in Copenhagen for 25 years, and has a wry insider/outsider view of Denmark’s society and political system — and the international popularity of the Nordic noir genre that includes Copenhagen-set The Killing and The Bridge. Many of her guests on these tours are British, American and German.

A woman’s hand holding a Polaroid of Birgitte Nyborg, with Christiansborg Palace in the distance behind it
Birgitte Nyborg (played by Sidse Babett Knudsen)
The offices of the Danish broadsheet ‘Politiken’, with passers-by crossing the square in front of it
The offices of the Danish broadsheet ‘Politiken’ © Mathias Eis (2)

Borgen is an outlier series in terms of the Nordic noir genre. “Borgen is and is not Nordic noir,” Bordin says as we begin our tour on the vast City Hall Square (Rådhuspladsen). It has a thriller-ish feel with all its political intrigue and backstabbing, but nobody is murdered.

Birgitte Nyborg, who unexpectedly becomes prime minister of Denmark at the very start of Borgen, is part of a long tradition of strong female characters in Nordic film and literature, and before that in Old Norse religion and culture.

“Saga Norén [the Swedish detective in The Bridge] is called Saga for a reason — that refers to the sagas,” Bordin says. That should probably have been obvious to me, a woman so enamoured of all things strong and Norse that I named my daughter Freya.

An internal courtyard surrounded by arches in Copenhagen City Hall
Corridors of power: Copenhagen City Hall, which was built from 1892 to 1905 . . . 
Sunlight shining on a grey-stone staircase in Copenhagen City Hall
 . . . in the ‘National Romantic’ Nordic architectural style © Mathias Eis (2)

On one side of the square sits the office of Politiken, a serious broadsheet newspaper founded in 1884. A huge sign on the top of the building telegraphs its importance to the politicians inside City Hall, which sits almost opposite. The tense and mutually important relationship between journalists and politicians is one of the themes at the heart of Borgen, and Bordin outlines how the plotlines sometimes reflect real events. In the early 2000s, a disgraced MP went straight into an editor’s job at a tabloid paper in the same publishing group as Politiken — a controversial event that Borgen’s creator, Adam Price, echoed when Birgitte’s scheming (aren’t they all?) political rival Michael Laugesen becomes the editor of a tabloid.

Season four of Borgen focuses on a plotline about an oil discovery in Greenland, with Birgitte forced to make morally compromising decisions — always with the mighty US involved, as well as Russia and China. It offers an education for viewers about Denmark’s ambivalence and Greenlanders’ anger about the colonial past and the power structures that still linger.

The green doors of Kanal-Caféen restaurant
Kanal-Caféen is a favourite lunch haunt of Danish politicians and government officials
The 18th-century entrance to the original Christiansborg Palace
The 18th-century entrance to the original Christiansborg Palace, which burnt down in 1794 © Mathias Eis (2)

We walk on to the nearby canal, where Kanal-Caféen is one of the oldest and most traditional restaurants in the city. It’s a power-lunch fixture for government officials and MPs and features in Borgen and The Killing. The context — as Danish viewers would know – is that women were not allowed to eat here unless accompanied by a man until the mid 1960s.

Across the canal is an 18th-century entrance to the Christiansborg Palace. We head through this into the grounds of the current Christiansborg Palace (built in the early 20th century – the two previous palaces on the site burned down) and walk through the colonnades that line the square. This is the location for a lot of “walking and talking” meetings take place in the early series of Borgen, although, as Bordin points out, it is echoey, and therefore in reality “would be the last place people would be gossiping”. I decide to power-pose like Birgitte there, nevertheless. Maybe some of her political nous will rub off on me.

A man riding a horse in the royal stables at Christiansborg Palace
The royal stables at Christiansborg Palace
The colonnades of Christiansborg Palace
The colonnades of Christiansborg Palace feature prominently in the early series of ‘Borgen’ © Mathias Eis (2)
The steps of Christiansborg Palace where Birgitte Nyborg (played by Sidse Babett Knudsen) made her victory speech on becoming prime minister
The steps of Christiansborg Palace where Birgitte Nyborg made her victory speech in ‘Borgen’ on becoming Denmark’s prime minister © Mathias Eis

There’s a massive and unsightly horse paddock in front of the palace. The most extraordinary fact I learn from this entire tour is that the current queen of Denmark, Margrethe II, had a historic fountain ripped out (it features in early scenes where Birgitte and her mentor, Bent Sejrø, can be seen talking or eating sandwiches). Bordin drops the bombshell: the fountain was dismantled in 2013 because it was rumoured that the queen, who has a wing of the palace, wanted a place for her horses. A law in Denmark had been passed requiring all horses to have a paddock – but I can’t help wondering if there might have been other spaces available to the Crown. We are discussing politics on this walk, but it turns out the queen of Denmark still wields plenty of power.

All the scenes that were supposedly shot inside the Danish prime minister’s office in the palace were in fact recreated in studios, carefully curated with Danish design pieces — and art from a well-known city gallery owned by the parents of Borgen star Pilou Asbæk, who plays spin-doctor Kaspar Juul.

The Royal Library Garden, with its fountain at the centre
The Royal Library Garden, which Birgitte Nyborg frequents for ‘walks and talks’ in ‘Borgen’ © Mathias Eis

Round the corner, though, is the famous main entrance where newly elected PM Birgitte stands on the steps to give her victory speech in series one. It’s imposing and ceremonial but nearby is the informal Royal Library Garden, also familiar from many scenes in the series.

This peaceful public park — which has been named as one of Copenhagen’s most romantic spots — has (thankfully) managed to keep its lovely fountain. Real MPs often eat their lunch here in good weather, and it was also used for Birgitte’s “walk and talk” scenes. I make a note to rewatch: Bordin says there are far fewer of these in later series, and especially in season four. By this time Birgitte is far more powerful and sure of herself — and the camera focuses on her alone.

The glass facade of the Royal Danish Library, aka the ‘Black Diamond’
The Royal Danish Library, aka the ‘Black Diamond’
Restaurants seating viewed through a floor to ceiling window in the Royal Danish Library
A scene in ‘Borgen’s’ second series was shot in the Royal Danish Library’s then restaurant © Mathias Eis (2)

From here it’s a short walk to the harbour, and the so-called “Black Diamond”, the Royal Danish Library. A scene in a series-two episode called “In Brussels, No One Can Hear You Scream” was shot in the restaurant here. (It’s been shut since Covid.) Bordin talks about the shifts in the series that reflect the country’s deepening relationship with Europe. “Early in the series, when Birgitte wants to get rid of someone, she sends them to Brussels. Then you see a shift in mentality — [in series four] 10 years later she’s minister of foreign affairs”. By the end of the series, there are rumours that Birgitte will be appointed EU commissioner. “It reflects the changing Danish relationship with the EU,” Christine says.

Looking across the harbour, Bordin points out a striking row of blocks of flats, which stand in for exterior shots of the Danish national broadcaster, where Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) works as a newsreader and interviewer before becoming Birgitte’s head of press. The real studios are some way from the city centre.

Glass walkways connecting two buildings in Copenhagen’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Copenhagen’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs . . .  © Mathias Eis
Birgitte Nyborg standing in a glass walkway in Copenhagen’s Ministry of Affairs in the 2022 series of ‘Borgen’
 . . . which is Birgitte Nyborg’s domain in the 2022 series of ‘Borgen’ © Mike Kollöffel/Netflix

As we head over the bridge into the Christianshavn district, we pass the real — and brutalist — Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Birgitte works in later series, having rejoined government as the leader of her own New Democrats party.

The last stops on the tour take in some of Copenhagen’s loveliest canalside streets. This is Katrine’s neighbourhood. Her flat is above the Eiffel Bar, which has been a bar since 1737, and a few steps away, Café Wilder, is where Kaspar Juul declares his love for her.

A boat on the Copenhagen waterfront
In the third series of ‘Borgen’, Birgitte Nyborg lives in a large apartment on Copenhagen’s waterfront © Mathias Eis
The ornate spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Saviour’s Church) in Christianshavn
The spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Saviour’s Church) in Christianshavn, the Copenhagen district that Katrine Fønsmark – Birgitte Nyborg’s head of press in ‘Borgen’ – calls home
The facade of Eiffel Bar in Copenhagen, with a red sign of the Eiffel Tower hanging outside it
Fønsmark lives above the Eiffel Bar – which dates back to the mid 18th century – in Christianshavn © Mathias Eis (2)

How, I ask Bordin, do Danes feel about the success of Borgen? “It was an immediate hit in Denmark when it first aired, then it became a hit abroad, then it became even bigger in Denmark,” she says.

It’s both specific — Adam Price sometimes took near-verbatim quotes from real Danish politicians about the issues of the day and put them into his characters’ mouths — and universal in its honest depiction of the impact of ambition, power and less-than-moral compromises on the individuals involved. We may have seen the last of Birgitte, but I still hope it’s vi ses (see you soon) and not farvel (farewell).

Nordic Noir Tours runs bespoke “Borgen” and “The Killing” & “The Bridge” tours, from DKr800 (about £95) for one person to DKr250 (about £30) each for four or more.

Do you know any other places in Copenhagen where “Borgen” was filmed? Tell us in the comments

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