Back in 2014, my dad contributed a guest post to the blog about things to do in Copenhagen, Denmark, based on the trip he took there with my mom. To make it more in line with the kind of travel articles I publish today, I decided to update his guide.
Whether you're planning a weekend getaway or are visiting Copenhagen for a day, the list below – a mix of his experiences and some extra information I added – will surely keep you busy.
- 20 fun things to do in Copenhagen
- 1. Photograph the Little Mermaid
- 2. Watch the changing of the guard at Amalienborg
- 3. Check out the Opera House
- 4. Visit colorful Nyhavn
- 5. Go shopping at Stroget
- 6. Have fun at Tivoli Gardens
- 7. Grab a bite or two at the Reffen street food market
- 8. Enjoy a Canal Tour
- 9. Marvel at the decadence of Christiansborg Palace
- 10. Circle up the Round Tower
- 11. Go on a Bicycle tour
- 12. Visit the Carlsberg Brewery
- 13. Wander around Rosenborg Castle
- 14. Get your art on at the Glyptoteket
- 15. Visit the commune of Freetown Christiania
- 16. Go green at the botanical garden
- 17. Dive into Denmark's past at the Nationalmuseet
- 18. Find the biggest Islamic art collection in Scandinavia at the David Collection
- 19. Visit Bakken, the oldest amusement park in the world
- 20. Get the best view of Copenhagen as voted by the locals
20 fun things to do in Copenhagen
1. Photograph the Little Mermaid
When asked about what to see in Copenhagen most people will refer to the Little Mermaid, a statue famous because of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Be warned, though: very much like “Manneke Pis” in Brussels, the rather small statue is bound to disappoint a lot of people.
You’re going to want to visit the Little Mermaid during the day when the lighting is good. However, be prepared to have to elbow people out of the way to get a good shot. Being one of Denmark’s most famous landmarks, it is always buzzing with tourists.
Once you’ve got your picture, take a stroll along the water and take in the views. You'll pass the “Kastellet”, a kind of fortress still in use by the Ministry of Defense and several military and intelligence services. There is also a park which is nice for a short stroll or just to hang out at.
2. Watch the changing of the guard at Amalienborg
The Amalienborg Palace is a former royal palace that is now a museum and that alone makes it worth a visit. However, if you can time your trip well, you can also witness the changing of the guards ceremony that takes place outside.
At 11:30 on the dot every day the guards leave the Rosenborg Castle and march to the Amalienborg Palace for the ceremony at 12 pm sharp.
If you'd like to visit Amalienborg, entry is free with the Copenhagen Card.
3. Check out the Opera House
Unless you’re an opera fan, the Copenhagen Opera House is best enjoyed from the outside. Its quirky, futuristic architecture has caused it to be one of the most modern and expensive opera houses ever built. Move over Sydney!
If you want to see a performance, there are ballets, operas, and theatrical shows playing most nights.
4. Visit colorful Nyhavn
If you were to close your eyes and conjure up a picture of Copenhagen in your head, it would probably look a lot like Nyhavn. This gorgeous waterfront dates back to the 17th century and features an iconic row of multi-colored houses and wooden houses that never move place – contrary to the tourist boats.
All the former trading buildings and warehouses have been converted into restaurants, bars, and cafes. Especially when the weather is nice, and everybody wants to sit outside, a spot on the many terraces is hard to find. You might want to be careful, though, as these can be expensive tourist traps.
The story goes that Hans Christian Andersen (yes, him again) has lived in several of these houses and has written the story of the Little Mermaid here. In former times, the neighborhood had a bad reputation for loud bars and fighting sailors, but nowadays it is the place to be.
For the full experience, take a leisurely walk from one end of the street to the other.
5. Go shopping at Stroget
Running through the heart of Copenhagen is Stroget, one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets and the city’s shopping hub. Along this famous street, you’ll find everything from Gucci and Mulberry at one end of the spectrum, to Zara and H&M at the other end.
If your budget is really tight, even window shopping with a Danish pastry in hand makes for a fun activity here.
Make sure to walk through Stroget until you reach the end and the Radhuspladsen or city hall square.
6. Have fun at Tivoli Gardens
The Tivoli Gardens are about the closest thing to Disneyland you’ll find in the Danish capital. This huge park boasts dozens of rides, shops, restaurants, performance venues, and natural spaces.
There is also a Tivoli Food Hall, comprising a range of street food stalls from around the world. Entrance is a little steep at over €50 (450DKK), but this includes unlimited rides and you can stay all day.
Entry to Tivoli Gardens (not the rides) is included in the Copenhagen Card.
7. Grab a bite or two at the Reffen street food market
Reffen is a street food market on Refshaleøen. It's no less than 6,000 m²-big, with over 50 food stalls, bars, and workshops. If that's not enough, you can devour all the things at the 4,000 m²-big seating area by the water.
Interesting is also that all the stalls here follow the principle of “reduce and reuse”, being as environmental-friendly as possible.
8. Enjoy a Canal Tour
If you get tired of walking the streets of Copenhagen, why not experience the city from a different perspective. Canal tours run daily and are conducted in English, Danish, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian among other languages.
The tour only takes an hour, but you’ll see a whole host of the city’s famous sites, such as the Black Diamond Library, the Little Mermaid statue, and the Christiansborg Palace.
Good to know: there's a canal tour included in the Copenhagen Card.
9. Marvel at the decadence of Christiansborg Palace
The Christiansborg Palace is one of Copenhagen’s most spectacular buildings and the only thing in the city more extravagant than the palace’s exterior is its interior. The Great Hall is the pièce de resistance thanks to the elaborate tapestries found hanging on the walls.
On a more practical note, the Christiansborg Palace also contains the Danish Parliament Folketinget, the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of State.
Entry to Christiansborg Palace is included in the Copenhagen Card.
10. Circle up the Round Tower
According to Copenhagen’s tourism board, the Round Tower (Rundetaarn) is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. To get to the top, you’ll need to walk up the ramp that winds around the inside of the tower. It’s about a 200 m walk at a steady incline, but the sweating and panting are worth it for the views of Copenhagen from the top.
As a bonus, once you get to the top, there is a glass floor that allows you to look down into the core of the building. A cool sight, but not ideal for those with vertigo!
11. Go on a Bicycle tour
People love their bikes in Copenhagen! The citizens of the capital cycle more than 1 million kilometers combined each day (read more fun facts about Denmark here). You can rent one to explore the city on two wheels independently or join one of the bike tours that take you along the most important sights and some more quirky spots.
12. Visit the Carlsberg Brewery
Note: as of December 2018, the visitor center is closed for refurbishment, due to open again in 2020. Keep your eyes peeled for new developments as the new visitor center promises to be even more exciting than the old one. In the meantime, the Carlsberg Museum and Brand Store are still open.
13. Wander around Rosenborg Castle
The Rosenborg Castle is a dramatic building surrounded by verdant gardens, just a stone’s throw from the water border with Sweden. Visitors have the opportunity to wander through the rooms and corridors of this imposing edifice, which are filled with royal artifacts.
There are four floors to explore, each more opulent than the last.
Entry to the Rosenborg Castle is free with the Copenhagen Card.
14. Get your art on at the Glyptoteket
The foremost museum in Copenhagen, the Glyptoteket was originally built around the personal collection of Carl Jacobsen, son of the Carlsberg Brewery founder. Not only does the museum have a fabulous collection of art and sculptures from all over the world, but it also has a rooftop terrace and a covered courtyard garden with real palm trees.
Entry to the Glyptoteket is included in the Copenhagen Card.
15. Visit the commune of Freetown Christiania
Christiania is one of the most peculiar places in Europe. It is an autonomous community located right in the middle of Denmark’s capital. Honestly, most people visit Christiania to buy and smoke weed or hash, but if that’s not your thing there’s plenty of other stuff to do. Check out the cool graffiti all over the buildings or grab a drink in one of the cozy but edgy bars.
Good to know: it's not allowed to take photos here.
16. Go green at the botanical garden
It’s impossible not to feel happy in a botanical garden. Being surrounded by multi-colored flowers and natural beauty is always a pleasure, but it is even more so at the Copenhagen Botanical Gardens.
Here, you’ll find plants from all over Central and Southern Europe, as well as homegrown Danish additions to the gardens. There are also 27 greenhouses, teeming with tropical species. Cameras at the ready!
17. Dive into Denmark's past at the Nationalmuseet
Whether you’re a history buff or just fancy injecting a bit of culture into your trip, nothing beats wandering around the national museum. Exhibitions follow the history of Denmark from prehistoric times, all the way up to the modern day. And, yes, there is a whole section dedicated to Vikings.
Entry to the National Museum is free with the Copenhagen Card.
The David Collection’s array of Islamic art is truly impressive to behold. Artifacts dating back millennia can be found in the display cabinets here. These include weapons, vases, textiles, stuccoes, jewelry, paintings, calligraphy and more.
Regardless of whether or not you had an interest in Islamic art beforehand, this collection is guaranteed to blow you away.
19. Visit Bakken, the oldest amusement park in the world
Just ten minutes out of the city lies Bakken, the oldest amusement park in the world, dating back to 1583. The park is tucked away in a picturesque forest and entrance is free so it is perfect for budget travelers.
While the theme park is nearly 500 years old, the rides are all in tip-top condition. There are 32 rides altogether, catering to all age groups, and there are food stands and bars for when you need to replenish your energy.
20. Get the best view of Copenhagen as voted by the locals
Finally, you would be crazy to go to Copenhagen and miss out on what has been dubbed by the locals, “the best view in the city”. To find this famous view you will need to climb the 400 steps to the top of The Church of Our Saviour. The final 150 steps are on the outside of the church spire, making the ascent rather daunting.
Once you reach the top you will enjoy unhindered vistas of the entire city and beyond.
And that's it! As you could read, the Copenhagen Card gives you free access to many of the activities mentioned here but if you still aren't sure whether the card is worth getting for your specific trip, you might want to read this Copenhagen Card review.
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