Wondering what things to do in Copenhagen? With these 20 stunning places to explore in Copenhagen, it’s no wonder the Danes are the happiest people in the world.
I covered a lot of ground in my four days here, and I’ve prepared a comprehensive list of what things to do Copenhagen. This is a comprehensive list of my 20 favourite spots in the city centre. They also happen to be very photogenic!
Before I jump into sharing all the wonderful things to do in Copenhagen, bare with me a second as I set the scene of this great city.
“DING-DING”. Fresh out of the Nørreport station at rush hour my ears are buzzing as I try to find my bearings, and locate the hotel. A tall blonde woman in office attire whizzes towards me on her bicycle alerting me to get out of her way.
“Why are you honking at me? I’m nowhere near the road”. I think to myself. I look down. It takes me a few seconds to register that I’m not standing on what I thought was the pedestrian footpath. Turns out cyclists have right of way here in Copenhagen and I’m standing in the middle of their very own elevated bike lane!
I knew getting around on a bicycle was a way of life here, but having lived in London for 3 years, I’m used to cyclists having to mingle with the rest of the traffic on the main road.
I can’t say this was my only accidental invasion of a bike lane either during this trip. In cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam that encourage cycling, it usually takes me a few hours of walking around to adjust to this change in traffic hierarchy.
Surprised and a little frazzled, I step back onto the footpath.
I really needed this city break.
It’s July, and summer in London means the underground reaches suffocatingly hot temperatures. My daily commute involves breaking a sweat while packed into a busy rush hour tube. After a few months of this routine, I’m ready for a break.
It’s an overcast but balmy afternoon in Copenhagen. The clouds part and the sun’s warm yellow light begin to light up the coloured buildings. A beautiful sunset looks like it might on the cards.
Crossing the Dronning Louises Bro (Queen Louise’s Bridge) I notice the all the people who are chilling with friends on the railing, sidewalk and benches with a drink in hand. It feels like they are waiting for something, a parade perhaps, or staking out a spot for an evening fireworks display. What’s the occasion?
I find out later that this bridge is actually a hip and popular hangout for many Copenhageners.
Queen Louise’s Bridges was built in 1887 and went through a bit of a transformation when the road was narrowed to allow for wider sidewalks and bike paths.
More benches were installed than originally planned to due to people’s need to soak up the sun and hang out on the bridge.
By 17:20, the sun’s rays light up the buildings across Sortedam Lake. Dark clouds hover above with blue skies on the horizon. Tonight we take it easy, not wandering far from my friend’s apartment in Nørrebro where I’m staying.
After demolishing a vegan burger at Cocks and Cows we wander around the corner to Kassen, a popular bar with a great selection of classic and original cocktails. I’m loving this city already!
By midnight, I’m exhausted. As we head back home, I’m feeling the excitement bubble up knowing that tomorrow I can start exploring this charismatic city.
And thus begins my photogenic tour of Copenhagen.
First stop is…
1. Wander up the spiral Rundetårn
Rundetårn, meaning ‘Round Tower’ is not only a beautiful 17th-century brick tower, it is also the oldest functioning observatory in Europe.
Christian IV built the tower during the height of Denmark’s astronomical achievements. Many of them owed to the astronomer Tycho Brahe.
When Brahe died in 1601, the King wished for the continuation of his research and so established the tower.
While today it is no longer used by scientist, the observatory is still used by many amateur astronomers and visitors.
Reaching the observatory is probably one of the easiest tower-climbs around with ample space and no stairs! Instead, you walk up a spiral pathway; a cake walk compared to Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica.
Along the way, you’ll pass the library hall, which once housed the entire book collection of the university. The famous Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen used to visit the library, finding inspiration for his work.
Staying close to its core, the walk is 85.5 metres long, while on the outer wall it’s 268.5 meters. Obviously, the closer you are to the core the steeper the incline will be, so I recommend opting for somewhere in the middle, which is about 209 metres long.
Stepping out on the outdoor platform, you’re rewarded with 360-degree views of the city from the heart of the historical centre.
The late afternoon sun makes the view even more magnificent. Allow enough time to chill out on the benches and take it all in.
2. Shop ‘til you drop on Strøget
Located in the centre of town, Strøget is one of Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping streets at 1.1 km long.
You’ll find shops for all budgets on this most famous shopping strip. Big international brands like Prada, Max Mara, Louis Vuitton, Mulberry, Hermès and Boss are all located at the end of the street facing up to Kongens Nytorv.
If you don’t have a wad of cash in your bank account, then you can continue along Strøget down towards City Hall Square, where you’ll find shops like H&M, Vero Moda, Weekday and Zara.
When Strøget was turned into a pedestrian-only zone in 1962, this sparked the beginning of major changes in the approach of Copenhagen’s urban life. Following the success of this initiative, the city began to place a much greater emphasis on pedestrian and bicycle access to the city at the expense of cars. This approach has, in turn, become internationally influential.
3. Climb Copenhagen’s tallest Tower at Christiansborg Palace
Christiansborg Palace is one of the four Royal Palaces located in the centre of Copenhagen.
Situated on Slotsholmen (the Palace Island), Christiansborg Palace is the most important building in Denmark today. It is the centre of Danish democracy as the seat of the Folketinget (the Danish Parliament), the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister’s office, and the Royal Reception Rooms.
For almost a thousand years this has been the site of parliament and sovereigns ever since the times of Arch Bishop Absalon, in the 12th century. Over the centuries, kings have been crowned and married in the royal palaces on this site where palaces have been erected, burnt down and erected again. The last fire was in 1884.
The palace that stands today dates back to the beginning of the 20th century.
Attached to the palace is Copenhagen’s tallest tower, Tårnet tower, standing at 106 meters. It has a whole 40 cm of extra height over the tower at City Hall, which is the second tallest. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Sweden!
Unlike Rundetårn, you’ll have to brave the steps to the top for this uninterrupted view.
The Tårnet is free to visit and is open every day except Mondays.
4. Visit the Hans Christian Andersen at Assistens Cemetery
To the north-west of the centre is Nørrebro, a trendy neighbourhood full of restaurants, cafes, and bars. Also located here is Assistens Cemetery, the resting placing of two famous Danes, author Hans Christian Andersen and philosopher and poet Søren Kierkegaard.
While Hans Christian Anderson is world famous for his fairytale books including ‘The Little Mermaid’, The Ugly Duckling’, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, and ‘The Princess and the Pea’, and ‘Thumbelina’, the name Søren Kierkegaard is less likely to ring any bells.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”? Well, these wise words can be accredited to Søren Kierkegaard.
While for some visiting cemeteries may be considered morbid, I actually enjoy it because they usually don the most beautifully kept gardens and offer a peaceful break from the city centre.
Founded in 1760, the graveyard is still in use today. Over the past 200 years, it has become the last resting place for a number of other famous Danish personalities.
5. See the Black Diamond dazzle in the sun
The Black Diamond is a modern waterfront extension to the Royal Danish Library’s old building on Slotsholmen (the Palace Island). Its nickname is a reference to its polished black granite cladding and irregular angles which spring to life under the sun.
Apart from functioning as a library, the building houses a number of other public facilities and activities, most of which are located around the central top-lit atrium which cuts into the building with a huge glazed front facing the harbour.
For the best view of the Black Diamond, head over to Papirøen (Paper Island); which we’ll talk more about later in this list.
6. See the Colourful Buildings by Nyhavn
This is the money shot.
If you Google ‘Copenhagen’ the iconic photo you’ll see is the characteristic and colourful buildings lining the port. Nyhavn, actually translates to ‘New Harbour.
In the past decade it has been thoroughly cleaned: so clean in fact, that the inner harbour is safe enough to swim in!
Nyhavn was originally a busy commercial port within the walled city of Copenhagen where ships from all over the world would dock. Gaining passage was only possible at one of the town’s three ‘ports’ – Vesterport, Østerport, and Nørreport. This area was packed with sailors, ladies of pleasure, pubs, and alehouses.
Today these wonderfully colourful old houses have been renovated and classy restaurants dominate the old port.
The oldest house in the area is at No. 9 Nyhavn, dating back to 1681. The design of the house has not been altered since that time. Many of the houses lining the quays of Nyhavn have been the homes of prominent artists.
Hans Christian Andersen used to live at No. 20, where he wrote the fairy-tales ‘The Tinderbox’, ‘Little Claus and Big Claus’, and ‘The Princess and the Pea’. He also lived twenty years at No. 67 and two years at No. 18.
7. Sneak a peek inside Christiania, aka Freetown Christiania
For me, the most fascinating place in Copenhagen is Freetown Christiania; a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood which is recognised as a large commune by Danish law.
The autonomous inhabitants of Freetown Christiania sustain a green and car-free way of life. The area was first established in 1971 by a group of hippies who occupied some abandoned military barracks on the site and developed their own set of society rules, completely independent of the Danish government. Still today, the Copenhagen law enforcement do not police the area.
Freetown Christiania is a mix of homemade houses, workshops, art galleries, music venues, cheap and organic eateries, and nature.
It is still a society within a society, meaning you cannot buy a house in Christiania. You must instead apply for it, and if successful, it is given to you.
The idea of visiting this part of town can be daunting considering the warnings on tourism sites and the massive ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ sign out the front of its entrance. It’s important to take them seriously and follow them for your own safety. Photography and filming are strictly forbidden especially in and around Pusher Street, mainly due to the hash dealing, which is illegal in Denmark. Even having your camera around your neck or in your hand isn’t allowed. So be careful. There are, however, areas just outside of the main entrance where you can take photos without breaking any rules (see above).
Having said all that, I’ve heard that the Christiania nightlife is pretty awesome with live outdoor music.
During the day it’s a nice to stroll around its green gardens, graffiti-covered structures and enjoy the warm sounds of musicians strumming their guitars throughout the space.
If you fancy a more personal recount of its history, check out the guided tours run by local Christianites.
8. Climb the Church of our Saviour
Located near Freetown Christiania is Church of our Savior, famous for its golden spiral tower.
Each year more than 60,000 people climb to the top which is 90 metres above street level.
The climb is much more demanding than both Rundetårn and Tårnet mentioned earlier. You’ll be scaling ladders, going through narrow archways, and climbing up steep steps.
The last 150 steps are on the outside of the spire and are not for the faint-hearted But, as with all skyline views, it’s well worth it!
Church of our Saviour is one of Denmark’s most famous churches. Ever since the serpentine spire was inaugurated in 1752, is has been a popular pastime to climb the 400 steps to the top.
Standing on top of the spire and on a golden globe is Our Savior Himself, Keeping watch over the royal city of Copenhagen.
9. Walk in the steps of Royalty at Amalienborg Palace
Hidden away behind the streets of Nyhavn is Amalienborg Palace, the winter residence of the Danish royal family.
It’s not just one palace, but four different ones which flank the square. In return for tax immunity for 40 years, the four palaces were built by four noble families in the middle of the 18th century on direct orders by the King Frederik V, who needed a new royal palace but he didn’t want to pay for it.
In 1794 the royal family moved into the four palaces around the square.
Every day at noon, you can watch the change of guards in the courtyard. When HM the Queen is in residence, the ceremony is called The King’s Watch (Kongevagt) and the guards are accompanied by the Royal Guards music band.
When the palace is not inhabited or the Queen isn’t there, the Guards march through Copenhagen without music accompaniment, and the route is shorter. This watch is called The Manor Watch.
10. Say ‘hi’ to The Little Mermaid
The second most iconic picture of Copenhagen is the sculpture of The Little Mermaid.
Perched on a rock near Langelinie Pier, this bronze and granite sculpture was a gift from Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen to the City of Copenhagen in 1913.
After watching a ballet performance of the fairy tale, Carl Jacobsen fell in love with the character and commissioned the sculptor Edvard Eriksen to create a sculpture of the mermaid.
The area around The Little Mermaid is always packed, so get there early!
11. Explore the Kastellet fortress
Located north of the centre is Kastellet, one of the best-preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe. It is constructed in the form of a pentagram with bastions at its corners.
Originally commissioned by Frederik III in 1662, today the defensive walls are covered in lush green grass while the moat surrounds the beautiful 18th-century barracks. There is also a historic windmill and chapel which is occasionally used for concerts.
12. Throw a coin into Gefion Fountain
Just beyond Kastellet is Anders Bundgaard’s monumental Gefion Fountain, depicting several oxen pulling the plough of legendary Norse goddess Gefion.
Gefion Fountain was donated to the city by the Carlsberg Foundation in celebration of Carlsberg brewery’s 50 year anniversary in 1897.
A great amount of detail has gone into this fountain. For example, behind of the oxen, the water sprays up from behind the wheels and the plough. While the water which sprays out of the oxen nostrils emphasises the power and strength of the oxen.
Gefion Fountain is the largest monument in Copenhagen and used as a wishing well. So, keep some coins handy!
13. See a performance at The Royal Theatre
The Royal Theatre is another beautiful building in the Copenhagen’s city centre. But perhaps even more stunning is its interior.
Located in Kongens Nytorv Square, it was built in 1748 and welcomed notable people such as Søren Kierkegaard. In was here that Carl Jacobsen fell in love with The Little Mermaid, before commissioning her sculpture.
All performances are state-subsidized, making tickets quite affordable compared to theatre tickets elsewhere in Europe.
Should Her Majesty attend a performance, the audience is required by tradition to rise and remain standing until the Queen is comfortably seated.
14. See the Crown Jewels at Rosenborg Castle
Rosenborg Castle and its gardens, Kongens Have (The King’s Garden), was my number one favourite place to visit in Copenhagen.
Rosenborg Park is the oldest and most visited park in the city with its lush green grass and lime tree avenues making it the perfect spot for a picnic.
If you’re visiting during summer, keep an eye out for the many temporary exhibits, and if you’re lucky you can catch a concert too.
Built by one of the most famous Scandinavian kings, Christian IV, in the early 17th century, the Rosenborg Castle contains 400 years of royal art treasures and the Crown Jewels and Royal Regalia.
Originally, the plan was to create a new garden a short distance from the centre but influenced by the new trends in other royal courts in Europe, King Christian IV decided to build himself a summer residence. Taking inspiration from Versailles, the king installed his own private bathroom and was called “the King’s secret room”.
15. Grab a Selfie with Hans Christian Andersen
While you’re visiting Rosenberg, make sure you swing past the huge statue of Hans Christian Andersen in The King’s Garden.
16. Climb the spiral staircase in the Botanical Gardens
Copenhagen’s Botanical Garden covers 10 hectares with an extensive complex of historical glasshouses dating from 1874.
There are more than 13,000 species plants arranged in different sections including Danish plants, perennial plants, annual plants, and rock gardens.
The garden also has a special air-conditioned greenhouse that can re-create environments suitable for Arctic plants.
While the garden has an impressive 27 glasshouses, the most famous is the old Palm House. Built in 1874 and towering 16 metres tall, inside you’ll find the stunning cast-iron spiral staircase leading to a passageway around the top.
17. Relive your childhood at Tivoli Gardens
No trip to Copenhagen would be complete without a visit to Tivoli Gardens.
Despite its name, Tivoli Gardens is actually an amusement park. No matter your age, Tivoli Gardens really does have something for everyone. You’ll find a variety of restaurants, street food, rides, gardens, live performances, and a nightly fireworks display!
Tivoli Gardens is beautifully landscaped with exotic architecture, historic buildings and lush gardens.
But wait until you see it at night! Thousands of coloured lights create a fairy tale atmosphere creating a magical atmosphere.
The rides are all designed to match Tivoli’s architecture and gardens. Some rides are nostalgic while others are for the thrill seekers. The ride, Vertigo, which turns you upside down at 100 km/h and was voted Europe’s Best Ride in 2014.
Hans Christian Andersen fell in love with Tivoli Gardens, visiting numerous times, as did Walt Disney.
18. Have Lunch on Paper Island
Papirøen (Paper Island) contains Copenhagen’s first and only street food market full of delicious independent street food.
The name comes from the island’s former use when the large grey industrial halls were used as paper storage for the Procurement Association of the Danish Press.
What makes the market unique is its sustainability, with the priority being on using ingredients that haven’t been transported over long distances, but are instead locally produced. Meals start from as little as DKK 50 (US $7).
Once you decide on what to eat, you can either enjoy your meal overlooking the waterfront with a stunning view of the Black Diamond or chill out in the large hall. There is usually a DJ outside playing some smooth tunes too.
19. Have a picnic in Frederiksberg Gardens
Another picnic hotspot is Frederiksberg Gardens, which surrounds the royal palace.
Frederiksberg Palace was built as a new summer residence by King Frederik IV (1699-1730). He loved the palace so much that he hardly ever visited Copenhagen, even though it was just a few kilometres away.
Frederiksberg Gardens is an English-style Romantic landscape garden with winding paths, canals, lakes, small islands, and trees.
In typical romantic landscape garden style, the park has two follies (a building constructed primarily for decoration), waterfalls, and grottos.
20. See the Kronborg Castle in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’
Unfortunately, time ran out for me this time around, but if your itinerary permits it, promise me you’ll take the 1-hour train ride to Kronborg Castle.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is where Shakespeare set Hamlet in his famous play. In the play, Shakespeare calls Kronborg Castle ‘Elsinore’. Consequently, Elsinore has become the English name for Helsingør, the town, where Kronborg is situated.
Below Kronborg Castle is a series of creepy crypts and catacombs. Also hidden here is Holger the Dane (Holger Danske), a legendary figure in Danish culture. This imposing stone statue portrays him sitting on his rock throne. It is said that if Denmark is ever in trouble, Holger the Dane will wake from his rock throne and defend her!
Stay in Copenhagen? Here are my accommodation recommendations
For budget travel, Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel is awesome! The dorm rooms have free Wi-Fi and covers which over extra privacy. There’s even a terrace with a BBQ where you can relax in in the summer. Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel is 100 yards from Copenhagen Central Station and popular Strøget shopping street is within 10 minutes walk.
For a hotel stay, I love Ibsens Hotel. It’s just so… gorgeous! From the city map print on the carpet to the chic design in the modern rooms, this CO2-neutral boutique hotel is both centrally located and great value!
Want to venture out of the city? Take a Day Trip
- Castles Tour from Copenhagen: North Zealand and Hamlet Castle
- Private Shore Excursion: Best of Copenhagen and Northern Zealand with Kronborg Castle
- Copenhagen Shore Excursion: Panoramic City Tour with Harbor Cruise
- Malmö Independent Day Trip from Copenhagen with Canal Cruise
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Over to you!
Have you visited Copenhagen? What did you enjoy the most? What else would you add to this list?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.
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