Before landing in Copenhagen, I had no idea what to expect. All I had heard was that it was expensive, the locals were extraordinarily chic and minimal (SWOON), and there were more bikes than people (apparently the ratio is 3-1!). Unusual for me, I had no definitive plan for how I was going to fill my long-weekend; but, I very quickly learned, that the Danish capital is a captivating mix of Midcentury modern design, forward-thinking restaurants, and storybook charm.
If you are visiting Copenhagen for the first time, here is everything you need to see, do, and eat to have the most magnificent trip imaginable. And, if you happen to be making a little Scandinavian trip (lucky you!), here is my Stockholm City Guide — stay tuned for the Oslo version coming soon!
Getting Around: The metro is expansive but also expensive, so I had no issues walking around everywhere I needed and wanted to go. Here are the essential neighborhoods:
- Christianshavn: With its gabled houses and canals, this human-made island is a quiet escape in the heart of the city.
- Frederiksberg: Come to this historic neighborhood to see the city’s Neoclassical architecture and to picnic at Frederiksberg Park.
- Frederiksstaden: The 18th-century Amalienborg Palace anchors this waterfront quarter, which is lined with shops.
- Indre: In the medieval center you will find indie bars and cafés, along with luxury shops, museums, and the Botanical Garden.
- Nørrebro: A multicultural enclave north of downtown, Nørrebro has a creative, bohemian vibe.
- Vesterbro: Trendy bars and clothing stores fill this former red-light district near Tivoli Gardens.
Getting Sleep: I stayed at the Generator Hostel Copenhagen, and while it was a large, chain hostel (I tend to prefer smaller, more intimate settings), the location was ideal, and I would definitely recommend.
EATING & DRINKING
The food scene in Copenhagen is exceptional, with many of the city’s restaurants regularly topping international foodie lists. After all, Noma, the four-time winner of “Best Restaurant In The World” is located here! However, eating in this city often means you need to take out a second mortgage, so I have kept this list to places that you can try no matter how small your budget.
A visit to Copenhagen Street Food is a must. With 35 food stalls, each with approachable prices and menus, the market aims to promote and support the global street food movement, so you can choose from items as varied as Danish hot dogs, Italian charcuterie, Mexican tacos, Belgian frites, Cuban fare, and Turkish street food. Everything looked so good that it took me about 30 minutes to make a decision; but, ultimately, I ended up going for Korean street food courtesy of Bulko. I had their Japchae (DKK80/$12) which is made from sweet potato noodles and was delicious — especially when drowned in gochujang (Sriracha’s Korean cousin). Grab your meal from inside and then (weather permitting) go outside and sit alongside the harbor. If you are going with a large group and want a table for two hours, you can make a reservation for Mon-Sat after 17:00.
Torvehallerne is another market hall geared for food lovers as it specializes in selling some of the freshest products that aren’t usually found in ‘normal’ markets. Located right in the center of the city, the stalls here are separated into two covered markets and offer everything from pastries to coffee, sushi, charcuterie, cheese, chocolates and everything in between. There are even produce stalls and flower vendors in the courtyard if you fancy some fresh blooms! I should probably mention that there is a Coffee Collective and mini Grød here as well, should you want to combine some of these suggestions into one meal! Additionally, check out Summerbird — Denmark’s best chocolatier — and Tapa del Toro for Basque Country tapas.
Surprisingly, two of my favorite meals in Copenhagen took place in the early hours of the morning. Grød (the Danish word for porridge) specializes in, yep, porridge. Don’t fear though, this is not the kind of gruel that you were forced to consume for years before school. Ordering is simple; you can choose from a list of pre-designed combinations, or make your own from the three different porridge bases (regular oat, three grain and gluten-free), and a whole load of tasty toppings. I went for a gluten-free base with strawberries, raspberries and apple compote (DKK50/$7.50) which turned out to be a heavenly combination.
Atelier September is housed in a beautiful, old antique store that feels French and flirty. The interiors are beautifully light-filled and tastefully decorated, and the menu is short and sweet. The clientele is fashionable and the food is just as trendy. I went for a cappuccino (DKK35/$5.24) and the yogurt granola (DKK65/$9.73) which comes immersed in a zucchini jam and then topped with matcha. Hands down the best thing I ate the entire time I was in Copenhagen.
Last but not least, COFFEE! Undoubtedly the most popular coffee shop in Copenhagen, The Coffee Collective has three outlets in the Danish capital (Godthåbsvej, Jægersborggade, and Torvehallerne) and they keep them each stocked with small-brew coffee from all over the world. Aside from making consistently delicious, lightly roasted coffee, what makes The Coffee Collective so attractive is their keen awareness of the footprint they have on the industry. They are committed to sourcing and roasting top-notch coffees while also improving living conditions for coffee farmers. “Ultimately, our dream is for a coffee farmer in Kenya to obtain the same status and living conditions as a winegrower in France,” says a statement on their website. After a Sunday morning walking around Assistens Cemetery, I went to the original outpost in Jægersborggade.
I am a big proponent of immediately doing a walking tour when you reach a new city. They are a great way to get an overview of everything and check off lots of “must-see” places in a couple of hours — without continually looking down at a map. Copenhagen is small, so by doing a walking tour right away, you will instantly get your bearings and find yourself set up for hassle-free wanderings for the rest of your trip. Copenhagen Free Walking Tours are the best walking tours in the city. I did the Grand Tour which takes three hours and guides you to The City Hall, Christiansborg Palace, the old City Center, the harbor at Nyhavn, and the Royal Palace Amalienborg. My tour guide Jarod was engaging and brimming with knowledge, and he kept the group thoroughly entertained with snippets of history and culture about both Copenhagen and Denmark. I left the country armed with a lot of random facts! He planned it perfectly so that we arrived at noon to see the changing of the guards at Amalienborg Palace.
Later in the weekend, I did their Tour of Christianshavn which lasts 90 minutes and takes you down winding cobblestone streets, past unique churches and right to the entrance of Christianshavn. This is Copenhagen’s self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood, and definitely one of the most exciting parts of the city. Founded in 1971 on an abandoned military base by an alternative theater group, it’s now home to higgledy-piggledy workshops and houses, organic eateries, music venues, bars, cafés, and around 1,000 freethinking inhabitants. Push your way through Pusher Street (and the weed dealers) and wander along the winding paths, admiring the unusual architecture and lush nature, before taking a seat by the scenic lake. Guaranteed: you’ll spot some curious characters along the way.
Additionally, I did the Canal Tours’ Grand Tour of Copenhagen that boarded near Nyhavn harbor area and gave me a whole new perspective of the city from the water. During the tour, you will see The Copenhagen Opera House, Amalienborg Palace, Christiansborg Palace, the impressive Black Diamond Library, and, of course, the Little Mermaid.
Once you have done the tours, for a closer look, you can go back and revisit the main sights. You will disembark at Nyhavn — you know the place with the colorful little houses. Take a wander around the area (skip the overpriced restaurants) and enjoy some of the pretty little homes, cafes, and shops that make up this part of town.
The Little Mermaid is the most famous sight in Copenhagen, and while it is a lot smaller than you may imagine, it is worth seeing her beauty. When walking to The Little Mermaid, I ended up strolling though Churchillparken, a beautiful public park that houses St. Alban’s Church and the Museum of Danish Resistance. The area has a long history as open green space but received its current name in 1965 to commemorate Winston Churchill and the British assistance in the liberation of Denmark during World War II.
Rosenborg Castle is another one for your consideration. A lot more intimate than many of Europe’s imperial palaces, this turreted 17th-century one has three cozy floors with gilded chambers, chinoiserie, and intricate tapestries. Fun fact: the crowns of the Danish kings and queens are kept here in special vaults! Speaking of paying your respects, Assistens Kirkegård is a cemetery full of great respected Danes such as Hans Christian Andersen. It definitely isn’t as solemn or as somber of a place as you may think; instead, it is located right in the middle of the vibrant and noisy Nørrebro district. As strange as it may seem, this little slice of heaven is filled with secluded spots where you can chill out with a new book or podcast. The best respite in the city has to be Copenhagen’s Botanical Garden which houses an extensive complex of historical glasshouses dating from 1874. Trust me, the sweat you will endure from the Palm House is worth it, and I particularly enjoyed the Cacti and Succulents House. Keep in mind that it is open daily year-round, but the greenhouses are open only at certain times on certain days.
Probably the best view of the city comes at the top of the winding walkway within the Rundetaarn, or Round Tower, that dates back to the 17th century and is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe (more fun facts!). There are no steps, instead, a reverse-style helter-skelter walkway that gradually inclines until you reach the summit. Keep a lookout for a little cut-out about half-way up the walkway where you can stand on a glass floor, hovering 25 meters above the ground, and see the tower’s core. Next to the Rundetaarn is Trinitatis Church which used to serve as a church, observatory and university library. While it is beautiful, the most awe-inspiring one was Frederik’s Church aka the Marble Church with its copper green dome.
Museums in Copenhagen are closed on a Monday, but some truly excellent ones are worth squeezing into your itinerary. Without a doubt, the BEST decision I made while in Copenhagen was to make the day trip out to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Located in Humlebæk, 35km away from Copenhagen, visiting is a beautiful affair due to the serenity and feeling of geographical isolation you get upon entering the grounds. The name comes not from an obsession with New Orleans, but instead from the original owner of the country house who romantically named it after his first three wives — all of whom were called Louise. The collection includes artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, Gerhard Richter and outdoor sculptures by Richard Serra and Anthony Calder. I loved the fact that the space offers a stunning fluidity between art, space, and landscape. If you take the train from Central Station, you can buy a discounted combo ticket with round-trip rides and entrance to the museum.
My two other museum picks are Thorvaldsen’s Museum and Designmuseum Danmark. The former is dedicated to the work of Bertel Thorvaldsen, a Danish sculptor of international fame, who spent most of his life honing his craftsman skills in Italy. While abroad he created works of art for the Pope, Napoleon and many of the royal families of Europe, so when he finally returned home, he brought with him a wealth of artifacts, beautiful art and stunning new artistic perspectives for the city to enjoy. Designmuseum Danmark seeks to put Danish design into a historical perspective. In other words: you will learn more than you ever thought was possible to know about the design of a chair and the streamlined nature of lighting. I enjoyed this museum though, particularly the newly opened fashion and textile gallery.
Said to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney World, Tivoli is a genuinely stunning inner-city park that’s known for its lake, flower beds, and Chinese pagodas. There is also great shopping, great restaurants (ranging from Wagamama to Kähler i Tivoli where open-faced sandwiches are served on signature ceramics), concerts, and lots and lots of candy. Such a lovely spot for a date night, although I still had a great time on my own (duh!)
In the heart of the city is one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets, the Strøget where you can find a wealth of shops, from chain stores to some of the world’s most expensive brands. Magasin du Nord is the country’s leading chain of department stores, and this one (which has direct access to the metro) is the grandest of them all. It is seven-stories of everything from fashion to home design, beauty, books, and groceries. Even if you aren’t in the market to purchase anything, make your way downstairs to the food emporium where you may just get lucky enough to taste some chocolate samples, just saying. For the best mementos, aka lego keyrings of The Little Mermaid, go to the Lego Flagship Store.
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