Copenhagen is one of the most charming cities I have ever seen, and in my opinion, it truly stands out. A green capital with relaxed, cheerful inhabitants who actively engage in work that sustains the environment, who lead a healthy lifestyle and generally focus on their wellbeing. The Danes have a specific word that expresses the happy, comfy, cozy atmosphere of their country and capital city: hygge. Copenhagen is definitely the most hygge capital on Earth 🙂
It is one of those capitals where many things happen, yet without leaving the impression of a busy, exhausting city. Copenhagen is quite small, therefore a few days might be enough to see its main tourist attractions. I plan to write more posts about Denmark in the future, since there are many interesting places to see in this small part of the world.
Experiencing Copenhagen as a tourist can be very exciting and interesting, but it is actually the Danish lifestyle and not the city itself that makes Danes the happiest nation in the world. Yes, you read that right, Denmark has been nominated as the happiest country in the world for some years in a row 🙂
So what to do when on vacation in Copenhagen? Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting places in this wonderful city, but keep in mind that Copenhagen is a city with a particularly hygge atmosphere and relaxed pace, so trying to blend in and attune to the city’s rhythm is more important than the attractions you see.
The same goes for the architecture and style in general: during my stay in Copenhagen, I’ve started to enjoy the minimalistic Danish design, which you can get a taste of even in restaurants and shops.
What to visit
The charming Nyhavn, formerly Copenhagen’s main port, is now a lively area with colorful houses and pubs packed with tourists. This place is a must see as the houses alongside the canal are a symbol of Copenhagen. You have most likely already seen a version of the bellow photo in articles, postcards and tourist guides about Copenhagen.
This charming neighborhood looks a lot like Amsterdam because of its canals, bridges and houses on the waterfront. This is a very nice area for taking a walk and enjoying a coffee.
Here, you can also find the Church of Our Savior, with its spiral tower. Those who dare take the old wooden stairs up to the top of the tower will be rewarded with an amazing view over the city. Even the Øresund’s Bridge can be seen from the top.
Around the corner from the church, you can find Christiania, which is still the subject of heated debates. Christiania is a self-proclaimed autonomous area in the center of Copenhagen, also known as The Freetown. It began as an experimental society in the 1970s, when there wasn’t enough housing space for the people of Copenhagen, and a few free-spirited citizens chose to move in this former military area.
Famous as a place where hippies and art enthusiast can live without restrictions, it is also a place where one can buy all kinds of homemade products… including cannabis 🙂 Because of the cannabis market, outside drug dealers tried to enforce control of the market in Christiania, and this ended in huge conflicts, transforming Christiania in a place where Danes won’t let their teenage children go after dark.
I’ve been there a few times during the day, and it seems quiet and peaceful, more like a village forgotten by time in the middle of a capital city. It’s an inspiring area where you can witness an alternative lifestyle and admire an original settlement and houses built by ‘common’ people without architects or designers. There are also cafes, a market and a renowned vegetarian restaurant.
Before visiting Christiania you should know that taking photos or driving are not allowed inside the Freetown.
This is the most touristic street in Copenhagen, said to be the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe. It starts at Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) and ends at Kogens Nytorv. The City Hall end of the walking street is always too crowded and not as enjoyable as the downtown end, since it is close to the main station, which is always too busy, just like in every other city.
The Round Tower
A rather small, but really enjoyable building – one of my favorites. An interesting tower, which was long ago home to the city’s planetarium. Now hosting various art galleries and small, cozy events, it also has a nice cafe and offers beautiful views of the city center from the top – an ideal location for photographs.
Rosenborg Castle and Amalienborg Palace
Amalienborg is the home of the Danish Royal family. The palace itself is formed of four identical buildings laid out in an octagonal perimeter. The royal guards can be seen at Amalienborg around the clock. The number of guards and their uniforms differ according to events throughout the year, as well as which of the Royal Family members are at home. The guards change every day at midday, when they can be seen marching to and from Amalienborg to their base, next to Rosenborg Palace.
The Amalienborg area is very beautiful and definitely worth a visit. From the palace square you can see Copenhagen’s Opera House, the Amalienborg fountain, Frederik’s Church, also called The Marble Church. There is also a palace museum and the Amalie Garden park, and the Bredgade Street nearby, one of my favorites in Copenhagen.
Rosenborg is a very beautiful castle from the 17th century. It hosts Denmark’s crown jewels as well as other royal treasure, and has a beautiful garden that is actually Copenhagen’s oldest park and is full of people all year round.
What we see today is actually the third version of the palace, the first two having been destroyed by fire. It used to be the home of the Royal Family, but after it burned down in 1784, the Royal Family moved to Amalienborg. Today it hosts the Danish Parliament, the office of the Prime Minister and the Supreme Court of Denmark. Some parts of the palace can be visited with a pre-booking, and its tower can be visited free of charge without an appointment.
This charming garden houses the second oldest amusement park in the world. It has something for everyone, from adrenaline-packed rides and activities, to cozy, romantic gardens, restaurants and cafes if you are looking to relax. Tivoli has three themes/seasons over the year, each season with its own decorations and setup. The three seasons are Christmas, Summer and Halloween. Between seasons, there are breaks when the gardens are closed – so plan your visit accordingly.
The Little Mermaid and Kastellet
On the way to the Little Mermaid, you will find the Kastellet, a star-shaped fortress that was once part of Copenhagen’s defense perimeter, and still houses a military barracks, though nowadays mostly serving as a park and jogging route for the residents of nearby Østerbro neighborhood. Sunrise and sunset are announced every day with cannon fire.
The little mermaid is the city’s symbol and most visited tourist attraction.
You probably know H.C. Andersen’s fairytale with the same name, but I think the story of the statue is equally interesting and probably less known. The statue was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of Carlsberg, after he saw a ballet show that staged Andersen’s fairytale. Impressed with the lead ballerina (Ellen Price), he ordered a statue be built in her likeness, but the ballerina didn’t want to pose in the nude so the sculptor (Edvard Eriksen) modeled the little mermaid’s face after the ballerina, and used his wife (Eline Eriksen) as a model for the statue’s body. You can find the complete story on Wikipedia.
The statue can be a bit of a disappointment for some visitors who expect an imposing work of art, since the Mermaid is in fact quite small. Ironically, there is another statue in the area, also representing a mermaid, which perhaps more closely resembles the mesmerizing creatures of fishermen tales. The other mermaid might be less artistic, but it is definitely bigger, so if you feel disappointed by the Little Mermaid’s size, you can always take a short walk to visit her “sister” 🙂
The Canal Tour
By far the most interesting tourist attraction in Copenhagen. A one hour boat tour in which you get to see the most beautiful parts of the city, and hear some interesting historical facts. It will help you to better understand Danish culture and history while also getting an overview of the city.
The museum is located in Carlsberg’s old brewery and is a fun attraction for beer lovers. Besides the interesting museum, and the free beers included in the entrance price, there are also horse stables to be visited. The horses there are quite beautiful.
There are many museums in Copenhagen and for sure there is one that you will find interesting. The National Aquarium (Den Blå Planet), for example, is the largest aquarium in Northern Europe, housed in a modern building with stunning architecture. There is also the Experimentarium, temporarily located in the city center, across the canal from Nyhavn. Take a “boat-bus” there.
But my favorites are the art museums: Statens Museum for Kunst, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Danish Museum of Art & Design etc. It might also be a good idea to visit the National Museum of Denmark, which hosts one of world’s largest collections of Viking artefacts. Entrance to most of the museums is free of charge on Sundays.
When to visit
The best time to visit Copenhagen is of course in the summer, when everything is green, the days are long, and if lucky enough you can even go to the beach (if not for swimming, at least for sun-bathing). During the summer, there are also a few events and parties that shouldn’t be missed. Search the web for exact dates of these events. Distortion, for example, is a massive street party that goes on for three to four days. The party starts every day around 4pm and ends at around 10pm, moving to a different neighborhood every day. There are DJs mixing different types of music and even bands performing directly on the streets, surrounded by thousands of Danes dancing, drinking and having fun.
Sankt Hans Aften, on the 23rd of June, is an old Danish holiday, and there are many related events, usually at the beach or somewhere close to the water, like at Nyhavn’s canal. The tradition of burning witches is still alive in Copenhagen: large bonfires are lit in different parts of the city and puppets symbolizing witches are burned, while people gather around for a chat and a few drinks.
November/December is also a good time to visit. Danes simply love the winter holidays and in fact Christmas here starts much earlier than in the other parts of the world. The Christmas season starts on the first Friday of November with J-day, when Tuborg Christmas Brew beers are distributed for free on the streets downtown and in pubs. After J-day, the city is decorated with Christmas lights and Christmas markets are set up. Most of the Corporate Christmas parties are also held in November.
New Year’s is another excellent reason for partying, and New Year’s Eve in Copenhagen is celebrated with a high number of fireworks all over the city. Danes dress up for New Year’s, and you will be amazed by all the men in bow-tie suits and women in elegant dresses and high heels. This was quite a surprise for me as the Danes usually wear comfortable, practical clothes that allow them to easily ride their bikes.
If you have some extra time, you might want to pay a half-day visit to Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød or to The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, both of them very interesting attractions with stunning architecture, and amazing outdoor surroundings.
Dragør is a town located on the island of Amager, only 12 km south of Copenhagen city center. It is one of the most charming and special towns in Danemark because of its cobbled, narrow streets and its traditional yellow houses that are hundreds of years old.
How to get around
Most of the areas are covered by public transportation, which is also quite efficient and available at a reasonable price. From the airport you can get to the city center using the regional train, metro or buses. The train or metro rides take around 15 – 25 minutes. The main stations connecting all other areas are the Central Station (København H) and Nørreport.
Inside the city, you can use the metro, S-trains and buses, but most of the tourist attractions are within walking distance of one another.
The City’s interesting neighborhoods
København K – the “inner city”, where most of the tourist attractions are located. Get off at Kogens Nytorv or Nørreport metro stations, København H or Nørreport train stations.
Vesterbro – a lively neighborhood preferred by Danes for going out. Many pubs, cafes and places to eat.
Ørestad – known for its modern architecture. You can see some very interesting and famous modern buildings here. Easiest is to get there by metro.
Beaches – during the long summer days, they are packed with people. Even if the water temperature rarely reaches a chilling 20 degrees, there is always somebody swimming. No matter the weather, I find it relaxing to take a walk on the shoreline.
The closest beach to the city is Amager Strand, and one can easily get there by metro.
In Denmark, almost no one uses cash. Paying by card is the most common form of payment. In some places, usually in small shops, there are surcharges for paying with a Mastercard.
It is not required to tip at restaurants like it is in most other countries. However, in the few restaurants that do accept tips, you will most likely be asked directly on the POS when paying by card.
Rent a bike while visiting Copenhagen if your hotel doesn’t provide you one for free. It is a really fun way to enjoy the city and it will also help you save money on transportation and quickly get you to a pub or cafe after a long day of sightseeing.
Copenhagen is located on a few small islands in the Baltic sea, therefore storms and strong winds are quite common when the temperature decreases, so a windproof raincoat during autumn/winter/early spring is a must.
This cheerful Scandinavian city with tower bells announcing the time and old cobbled streets with colorful houses amidst water canals is a must see. You can admire spectacular sunsets on the long summer days, or enjoy a cup of coffee/gløgg wine during the winter days, in the coziest atmosphere you can imagine. Visiting Copenhagen during the summer and during the winter are completely different experiences, both equally entrancing. Therefore going to Copenhagen at least twice is mandatory 🙂