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Top 10 Things to Do in Copenhagen, Denmark

Updated on August 4, 2019
Lewis Martin profile image

Architect and lover of travel serendipity. New things, new experiences and meeting new people is part of the beauty of travel.

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Copenhagen: See and Taste a Beautiful City

I fell in love with Copenhagen when I first visited it. To me it has a modern swagger but doesn’t loose touch with its history and is a warm cosy city much like the Danish word Hygge. Copenhagen is at the center of a Danish culture which punches well above its weight on the International stage. In Film two Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg established Dogme a set of rules aimed at giving back artistic power to the Directors and Actors which has had a lasting influence.

In Food culture, partly inspired by Dogme a group of chefs and entrepreneurs have built an ecosystem of mostly organic food sourced locally and seasonally, it has catapulted Copenhagen Restaurants onto the world stage with Restaurants like Noma which has won Best Restaurant in the World three years running.

Copenhagen is the Capitol and biggest city of Denmark. It sits on the Eastern coat on the island of Zealand on the other side of the straight of Øresund from the city of Malmö in Sweden. The Øresund Bridge that joins the two cities has made it the biggest urban area in Scandinavia. It's on the main route in and out of the Baltic Sea so historically grew rich and powerful thanks to it’s strategic location controlling the straights and levying a tax on ships and goods passing through.

The modern city is one of parks and waterfronts mixed with exciting urban developments. At the forefront of sustainable design and planning, home to some of the most exciting restaurants in Europe and relaxed, friendly and waiting to be discovered.

view over the city from Church of Our Saviour Vor Frelsers Kirke
view over the city from Church of Our Saviour Vor Frelsers Kirke | Source

10 Must-Do Activities in Copenhagen

  • See Copenhagen From The Water
  • Visit Tivoli Gardens
  • Walk Christianshavn
  • Shopping around Strøget and Elmegade
  • Take a Beach Day and visit the National Aquarium East Amager
  • Explore The Modern Architecture of the Waterfront
  • Taste the Cafes and World Class Restaurants
  • Sample Royal Denmark at Amalienborg Palace and Rosenborg Castle
  • Tour Christiana The city within a city
  • Take a Day Trip Away

See Copenhagen from the Water or Hop on a Bike

As Copenhagen is a Maritime city built around the water a great way to take in the city for the first time is exploring it on the water. Pick up a canal boat tour right from the center (Ved Stranden 26) or from Nyhavyn and you will get a potted history and go past some of the grand old and exciting new projects along the waterway. They should also take you past The Little Mermaid Sculpture (Langelinie) which I wouldn't visit it otherwise. Other options include taking a private boat, or going on a Kayak tour which I can greatly recommend. Its much more exhilarating and active than getting on just another guide boat tour.

If the time year means the water is a bit too cold then think about two wheels as Copenhagen is a mecca for the bicker with about 45% of locals using one every day. There is a city bike system (Bycyklen) or many places all over the city where bikes can be rented. There are some great routes both out of the city to the local beaches or parks or stick to an urban route checking out the harbour area.

If you are the type for biking you can even ditch the very good public transport in favour of a bike for anything within Copenhagen.

View of Nyhavn one of the must visit places in Copenhagen and from where you can take a boat trip round the city.
View of Nyhavn one of the must visit places in Copenhagen and from where you can take a boat trip round the city. | Source

Visit Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli is an amusement park founded in 1843 so it’s the 2nd oldest amusement park in the world right in the center of Copenhagen. It was visited by Walt Disney whom it inspired to build his own Disneyland and is as popular now as it has ever been with great rides for children and adults and while it retains loved rides like the wooden roller coaster from 1914, it also added a virtual reality ride in 2017 The Demon.

There is a Hotel in Tivoli and another planned, also good restaurants and Tivoli puts on music events throughout the year. Check out their Website for a full list of events and rides etc. Even a walk around in the evening is lovely, but it costs something to walk around the grounds even if you don’t go on the rides. The restaurants and cafes there are accessible without entering Tivoli otherwise.

Photo of Tivoli from outside
Photo of Tivoli from outside | Source

Walk Christianshavn

This area the city is the closest you will get to seeing the city as it was before the fire of 1728. It offers a wide range of cultural experiences, opera, museums or walking by the waterside. Climb up to the top of the tower at the Church of Our Saviour Vor Frelsers Kirke for a rooftop view over Copenhagen. From here you can also visit Christiania.

With a laidback maritime atmosphere, plenty of history and beautiful buildings and sights I actually prefer it over the more beautiful and much more busy Nyhavn. The natural place to wander around or take a drink in a cafe of bar on the Christianshavn canal or wander up to the end of Strandgade for some street food.


View of Christianshavn from Street
View of Christianshavn from Street | Source

Shopping around Strøget and Elmegade

Strøget is one of Europes longest pedestrian streets and packed full of shops of different kinds so its perfect for a shopping excursion of any length. International brands are here but also some Danish designers, you can have a taste of many of them at Illums Bolighus (Amagertorv 10) which will cover you for all kinds of Danish Interior design or try Mads Nørgaard (Amagertorv 13-15) for Danish fashion.Turn off Strøget and go to Gråbrødretorv Square for a lunch or drink break in a beautiful old Square and soak up the atmosphere.

If you prefer a little more hip and low key vibe try Elmegade in Nørrebro with shops like Native North and the Laundromat cafe and with plenty of Vintage shops to add to the mix its great for some shopping away from the more touristy places. Then take a break from shopping and have an Ice cream in Istid (Jægersborggade 13) which makes Ice Cream with Liquid Nitrogen.

Gråbrødretorv Square for a quick bite or to watch the world go by.
Gråbrødretorv Square for a quick bite or to watch the world go by. | Source

Take a Beach Day and visit the National Aquarium East Amager

Amager Beach is one of the focal points for relaxing Copenhageners during the summer. It’s a 2 km long artificial island forming a lagoon with pools on the one side, and a sandy beach on the other. Just 15 minutes from the inner city, the island offers many green areas like Amager Beach park, a nature center and Copenhagen Cable Park while Kastrup Sea Bath offers a way to swim in the Sea without getting your feet sandy!

You can also visit The Blue Planet, Denmark's National aquarium (Jacob Fortlingsvej 1) the building is also an impressive modern design. If you want a swim but don’t want to leave the center then The Harbour Baths at Island Brygge you can swim right in the center of the city.

Kastrup Sea Baths
Kastrup Sea Baths | Source

Explore The Modern Architecture of the Waterfront

Danish Architecture is punching well above its weight on the World stage and Copenhagen is almost unmatched in its innovative modern Architecture, from small edgy projects to cool mega developments. This is the place to see the building types that will influence the next generation of Architects and urbanists.

A good place to learn about the Architecture of Copenhagen would be from the Waterfront at the new building Blox (Bryghusgade) by OMA. The building is designed by the Dutch Architects office of Rem Koolhaus who had a great hand in inspiring the current generation of Danish Architects. The Danish Architecture center is also in this building so you can look at the guidebooks and browse the exhibitions here. From here next door is the Black Diamond or Royal Danish Library by Schmidt Hammer Lassen then follow the waterfront to see the New Playhouse, and Opera House opposite the Royal Palaces.

Also you can travel to Ørestad area by Metro and see some of the daring modern buildings by BIG and others that have captured Architects attention all over the world.

View of the Playhouse from the water
View of the Playhouse from the water | Source
Apartment building VM House in Ørestad by BIG
Apartment building VM House in Ørestad by BIG | Source

Taste the Cafes and World Class Restaurants

It’s not very long ago that Danish food was generally bland and stogy. Not anymore. Denmark and Copenhagen in particular is witnessing a renaissance in food culture. People like René Redzepi and Claus Meyer with Restaurants like Noma a many times voted best restaurant in the world and Geranium have firmly put Copenhagen on the culinary map.

But it's not just haute cuisine, with street food, cafes, bistros, informal restaurants, Copenhagen has it all. For some great streetfood right at the center walk over the bridge at Nyhavn to Strangdgarde and sit outside, have some organic beer and some street food from a wide range of stalls.

Other places of note are Silo Restaurant on the 17th floor of a building in the harbour, or Gro Spiseri (Æbeløgade 4) set within an urban rooftop farm. In Kødbyen the old meat packing district is Fiskebaren a great place for seafood mostly cooked in the New Nordic style it's relaxed, and there are basic tables for eating outside.

Streetfood on Strandgarde
Streetfood on Strandgarde | Source

Sample Royal Denmark at Amalienborg Palace and Rosenborg Castle

At Amalienborg Palace visit the Amalienborg Museum (Amalienborg 1257) to get a taste of the lives of the Kings and Queens of Denmark. You will see the interiors of the rooms of some of the recent kings and queens and see how the monarchy works today in balance with its older tradition. Rosenborg Castle was built in the early 17th century by the Danish king Christian IV. Among the main attractions is the Knights’ Hall with the Royal coronation thrones, Denmarks Crown Jewels, Castle Interiors with one of the world’s finest Venetian glass collections.

The National Museum lays out the History of Denmark from before Viking times up to today and it's free to enter.

Amalienborg Palace
Amalienborg Palace | Source

Tour Christiana the city within a city

Head on to Christiania the famous Commune or Freetown inside of Copenhagen. Christiania was founded in 1971 when some squatters entered the military barracks in Bådmandsgade. Since then it has often been controversial but also much loved and was given official status when the Foundation Freetown Christiania was established in 2012, with its own school and flag.

There are 850 permanent residents there with their own cooperative rules. You can just enter there and look around, there are many shops, galleries and cafes but its a little confusing and hard to understand more of what you are seeing than at surface level. That's why I would recommend a guided tour by one of the residents of Christiana you can arrange them in advance or show up for their regular scheduled tour times which are also in English.

Christiania - One of the entrances
Christiania - One of the entrances | Source

Take a Day trip away

There are several great day trips out of Copenhagen which you can all do by Train from the Central Station.

The Town of Helsingør has The M/S Maritime Museum of Denmark and Kronberg castle. Kronberg castle is Denmarks most famous castle known for its connection to Hamlet. The Maritime Museum with impressive modern building provides a history of this maritime country.

Louisiana art gallery is a world class modern art gallery set on the coast with beautiful grounds filled with modernist sculpture. For anyone interested in modern art it's a must see.

Roskilde, the old capitol of Denmark with Cathedral at its center and a Viking museum on the water. AGreat for a day out walking round the old town and finding out about Denmarks Viking heritage, or if you come at the beginning of July it's where one of the biggest summer festivals in Europe happens.


Louisiana art gallery, view from the gardens.
Louisiana art gallery, view from the gardens.

General Information

The currency is Danish Krone, all prices in the shops include VAT. Denmark, like most other European countries, has 230-volt AC(220-240 range), 50Hz current and uses two-pin continental plugs. Language is Danish but most people speak English well. If you have a limited time in Copenhagen and want to see a lot in a short amount of time think about ordering a copenhagen card which can cover your travel in the city and entrance to many of the places I have talked about.

Copenhagen Map

A
Tourist Boat tours:
Gammel Strand 26, 1202 København, Denmark

get directions

Pick up a tourist boat tour from here or from Nyhavn.

B
Tivoli Gardens :
Tivoli Gardens, Vesterbrogade 3, 1630 København V, Denmark

get directions

Tivoli Gardens for concerts, walks, thrills, and good food.

C
Christianshavn:
Sankt Annæ Gade 29, 1416 København, Denmark

get directions

Walk Christianshavn, climb the church tower and take in the view over the city.

D
Strøget :
Strøget, København, Denmark

get directions

Shopping down Strøget one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe.

E
The Blue Planet National Aquarium :
Jacob Fortlingsvej 1, 2770 Kastrup, Denmark

get directions

F
Blox:
Bryghusgade 10, 1473 København, Denmark

get directions

Start in the Danish Architecture center to explore the Architecture of the city.

G
Amalienborg Palace:
Amalienborg Slotsplads 5, 1257 København K, Denmark

get directions

H
Christiania:
Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen Municipality, Denmark

get directions

Take a guide from the Freetown to properly see round and understand this unique community.

One Thing for The Road

One book: How to be Danish by Patrick Kingsley

One movie: Festen (The Celebration) and the first official Dogme film.

One song: Mirador by Efterklang

One drink: Akvavit Danish snaps (otherwise a nice Danish Beer!)

One dish: A Smørrebrød open sandwich

One article: Things to Do in Copenhagen, Denmark When You Are Short on Time by Karen Hellier for a slightly different but excellent take on Copenhagen.

© 2019 Lewis Martin

Comments

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    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      5 months ago

      I haven't been to Copenhagen for a few years, however, I enjoyed reading this article full of interesting facts and tips. Great photos.

    • Lewis Martin profile imageAUTHOR

      Lewis Martin 

      5 months ago from Finland

      Thanks Liz, yes it's a great city I was just over there again over the summer and was very sad to leave.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 months ago from UK

      This is a very useful and well-illustrated guide to Copenhagen. We have friends who visited the city on a short break and highly recommended it.

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