When we started planning our trip to Copenhagen, the image that popped up in my mind was the multicolored buildings set aside the canal. I pictured brilliantly clean streets flocked with tourists. What I found was just this, but so much more. Now that I’ve traveled there, three “Cs” spring to mind: charm, culture, and coffee. The streets really ARE as charming as they look, culture is around every corner whether it’s a hidden half timbered building or a castle, and they are obsessed with coffee.
I’ve put together a list of the top 15 things you must do when visiting Copenhagen.
Where to stay
When you’re looking for a place to stay I think location is usually of high importance. Especially in a place like Copenhagen, you want to be able to walk or hop on your bike to explore the city. Hotel Ibsens is an awesome location and right next to one of the best places to eat: Market Torvehallerne. There’s a nearby subway stop, great places to eat, and an incredible breakfast. It’s a lovely hotel but has a special take on the Danish concept of “Hygge.”
The biking vikings often don’t stop for much. Copenhagen is a bustling, busy city, but everyday they do make time for “hygge.” There isn’t a word for this necessarily in the English language, but the main idea is coziness. They seek out places that are warm and cozy, where you can snuggle up with a coffee or wine and chat with friends. At first, I wasn’t sure what this really meant, but then I experienced it a few times. The weather can be chilly and rainy, so you can stop in a restaurant, cafe, or hotel to get this feeling.
I remember when we got stuck in the rain and were trying to warm up. Our hotel, Ibsens offered a “Hygge Hour” and we sat on a leather couch with dyed pale green sheepskin rugs and plenty of pillows. We sipped on wine and watched the fire crackle. I thought: now THIS is Hygge! And really, it’s a wonderful concept.
The hotel also hosted a wonderful breakfast each morning with plenty of different jams and cheeses. Our room was an attic style apartment with great lighting, comfy beds, and the perfect getaway for our long travel days.
How to Get around
Public transportation is easy, clean, and accessible. You can easily maneuver around the city with the tram and it’s especially good to take it from the airport to a stop nearest your lodging. I also found walking to be great since the city is relatively small, with many of the large attractions in the city center. Of course, you can bike. Bikers are plentiful and they mean business when they cruise around town, which is why you’ll hear them called the “Biking Vikings.” If you don’t want to be injured, make sure to move out of their way and get the heck out of the bike lanes.
Top 15 Things to Do in Copenhagen
Below you can find a map of all the places discussed in this post:
1. Walking tour
I always suggest taking a walking tour to get a lay of the land, have an overview of the city, and an understanding of what the culture is about. I particularly liked our free walking tour in Copenhagen because the guide gave us a good history lesson and intertwined it with jokes and unique insights about the Danes. I learned about why Danish people are so dang happy. We also got a chance to see the changing of the guard which takes place at Amalienborg Palace.
The scene at Nyhaven looks like one straight out of a painting. People milling about the streets, drinking Carlsberg beer and eating hot dogs. Neatly lined cafes filled to the brim with tourists and wealthy Danes sip coffee and eat frikadella as wooden boats make their way into the harbor. This spot really looks like a fairy-tale. The restaurants around here can be expensive but the hot dog stands are selling delicious food and beer and many sit right on the dock to watch the world go by.
One of the most interesting parts of Copenhagen is Christiania. Once a commercial center in the 1920s, it attracted artists and people who thought outside the box. Now, it’s an community for alternative thinking where anything goes. It’s a true independent anarchist community with their own set of rules. You can freely buy weed in former military barracks. There’s also small shops, food, and a skate park. It’s their own utopia and way of living and it’s a definite must see in Copenhagen.
4. Christiansborg Palace
You'll find the seat of the Danish parliament at Christiansborg Palace. It's also used by the Royal family for many events. You can get a ticket and see inside the rooms or go up the tower here to get a great view of the city. The Christiansborg tower is the highest tower in Copenhagen. Fun fact: Christiansborg Palace is the only government building in the world that houses all of its government branches within one building!
5. Market Torvehallerne
One of the best things to do in Copenhagen is to try the different cuisines. Going to Market Torvehallerne is the perfect place to do this. The modern market has different food counters where you can pick from the Danish specialty of Frikadella (meatballs) and smørrebrød (open faced sandwiches). I feasted on one of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. You'll find fresh ingredients and many different options for meals.
Another place to check out is Papirøen or “Paper Island” where you can find more street food and a bit fancier options as well. You can also go to the meat packing district, Kødbyen, for food and art galleries.
6. Marble Church
This is a lovely church and has the 4th largest dome in Europe. You can't miss the church's copper green dome. Oddly enough the church is not marble, but limestone. It’s named the marble church because they longed to have one, but the construction was slow and budgets were cut. The church, also known as Frederik's Church, is immaculately decorated inside with statues and rococo architecture.
7. Canal Tour
To get a different view of the city head over the Nyhaven dock and hop on a boat. You can also rent a Kayak for free if you pick up some trash in the water. The canal tour is available in multiple languages and the guide gives you a good review of the city. The canals were built throughout Copenhagen because, at the time, the king wanted to build a city like Amsterdam. Along the way you’ll see things like the Black Diamond Royal Library, given it’s name because its structure tilts slightly toward the water causing it to glitter in the sun.
You'll also see the famous Copenhagen Opera House. Notably, it is one of the most expensive opera houses ever built with construction costs well over $500 million!
8. Hop over to Sweden
One of the things I loved so much about Copenhagen was it’s proximity to Malmö, Sweden. You can take a train from Copenhagen to Malmö and discover a different culture, language, and traditions. We ended up staying here a couple days because we loved it so much!
9. National Museum
This is a vast museum filled with history from Denmark’s past. I love going to a museum to really get a grasp of how Denmark came to be. We reveled in learning more about Viking history and Danish stories.
Another museum to check out is Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. This is Copenhagen’s signature art museum and named for it's benefactor, Carlsberg, who also produces the famous beer.
10. Walk Strøget Street
This was the first major pedestrian boulevard in Copenhagen. Now, it's one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe (p.s. Heidelberg has one as well!) at 1.1 kilometers (just over half a mile). It’s filled with shops, bars, and restaurants. You'll find some real treasures and plenty of places to spend your money.
11. Rosenborg Castle
To get a good understanding of Danish royals head to Rosenborg Castle. You'll see well manicured gardens, rooms that were kept in the style from that time, and beautiful art. Don't miss the incredible crowns on display (and some jewelry to boot) from Copenhagen's kings and queens/ They are richly decorated with stones and, of course, gold.
12. Tivoli Gardens
This theme park is not your typical one. It’s full of pretty rides, food stands, music, and beautiful buildings. This is Europe’s most famous theme park and it’s easy to stick around for a few hours to ride rides, eat some candy floss, and take in a show. Every few hours they offer a free show. It's said that this quaint theme park inspired Disney Land!
I suggest planning a few hours here to get the most out of your visit. You can buy tickets on their website, here or at the front entrance gate.
13. Little Mermaid
This statue is one of the most photographed in Copenhagen but it is a bit underwhelming. It’s a little farther out from the city so I suggest heading there after you visit the palace.
14. Church of Our Saviour
The Church of Our Saviour is a baroque church and is famed for its mesmerizing helix spire with an external winding staircase that can be climbed to the top, offering extensive views over the city. It's one of the prettiest churches and one of Denmark's most famous.
15. Try the Local Cuisine
Copenhagen has grown into a gastronomic metropolis with foods sampled from all over the world. Here's a look at what you shouldn't miss.
What to Eat in Copenhagen
Seafood – There is no shortage of delicious seafood and you'll find it almost everywhere you go.
Frikadella – this is a savory meatball that you’ll find in many restaurants.
Open Face sandwich called smørrebrød – It's a tough word to say, but not hard to eat. You'll find them topped with eggs, cheese, lettuce, and seafood. It's delicious!
Hot Dogs– the Danes love their dogs and you'll find them on every street corner.
Cheesecake at Bertels – One of the most decadent cheese cakes I've EVER had! And perfect for a little hygge.
How much time do you need in Copenhagen?
I believe you can accomplish all of this in three days. We spent three solid days in Copenhagen and spent two more in Malmö, Sweden. This was enough to get a good view of the city and all it has to offer.
What to wear in Copenhagen
Expect some rain! I'd suggest bringing a good rain jacket and shoes that can get wet. Here's a suggested packing list.
When to visit Copenhagen
It can get quite chilly in Copenhagen, so I suggest the warmer months. Some of the best months are May, June, or September. We were in September and the weather was cool and mostly dry.
Check out a perfect day trip to Copenhagen in Malmö, Sweden and jump into the Baltic Sea!
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