For your first visit you need no less than two and a half days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace. Add another day for trips further afield.
Distances are walkable in the city center, you are unlikely to need use of public transport much, except for going further afield.
Love its colorful buildings and juxtaposition of old and new.
Don’t miss: climbing to the top of the Church of Our Savior.
Worthy attractions: Christiansborg’s Royal Rooms; Rosenborg and Kongens Have; Nyhavn; Church of Our Savior and Christianshavn around it; St Frederik Church; Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek; Round Tower; David Collection.
Recommended day trips: Roskilde for its cathedral; Helsingor for Kronborg Castle.
Left for another visit: Tivoli Gardens amusement park; Frederiksborg; two other museums at Christiansborg; Danish Jewish Museum; Statens Museum for Kunst.
Last visit: July 2015.
Copenhagen is an attractive and happening city, offering impressive architecture, diverse entertainment, thriving culinary scene, and plenty of vibrancy.
Things to See
There are many attractive corners in the Old Town center ♥♥♥, with old and restored frequently colorful nice houses. The attic windows add special charm. Spires of major churches and palaces inject more of a monumental aspect, and the frequent interposition of modern architecture with the more historic one is rather eye-catching.
Among the most picturesque areas in all of Europe, Nyhavn ♥♥♥ is a canal-side pedestrian area lined with restaurants. Just a place to linger and absorb the gamut of colors.
The main shopping street of Copenhagen, Strøget ♥♥, is impossible to avoid as it disects the Old Town. It hosts plenty of design stores and international brands, which open not only on the sequence of streets that comprise Strøget, but are sometimes tucked away in passages running off it. Strøget is a bit off-putting in the morning when all shops are closed and delivery trucks dominate it; from late morning on, it becomes very crowded, the weather notwithstanding.
No less than 4 royal palaces reside within boundaries of the city. Of those, my favorite is Rosenborg ♥♥♥, a beautiful medieval castle that sits at the edge of Kongens Have park ♥♥. The above-average-size park has a rose garden, a children’s playground, several fountains and statues – not a bad place for unwinding. The castle is known first and foremost for the excellent royal treasury, displaying jewelry, weapons, crowns, etc. The interior of the castle is also interesting – three levels of impressive rooms of lived-in opulence. The self-guided tour is augmented by the excellent free wi-fi-enabled guide on your smart phone.
The most centrally-located of the palaces, Christiansborg ♥♥, is outwardly the most monumental. Inside, you will find impressive royal rooms, formal spaces, adorned with paintings and wall hangings. The palace offers three separate museums, but we did not go to either royal stables or 12th-century ruins of a bishop’s palace.
When you are in Christiansborg, you may want to walk through nearby Royal Library garden ♥, a pleasant space with a tall fountain. From there, entrance to a couple of museums that we could not fit into our time in the city can be gained.
The other two royal palaces also did not fit into our itinerary. Frederiksborg is slightly further afield from the city center, while Amalienborg did not rate high enough to make the cut. We did come to the latter for the popular Amalienborg royal guard change. In our view, it was a disappointment. The ceremony lasts for about 30 minutes with several long pauses when absolutely nothing is happening and the guard formation is simply standing in the middle of the plaza. It makes sense to come see it not at 12, but at around 12:15, when the crowds start dispersing – you will still catch one or two movements of the change. Amalienborg Square ♥ is an impressive symmetrical space, once crowds thin out.
The Round Tower ♥♥ (Rundetaarn) is one of the elevated points to observe the city skyline. Its not too crowded and not too high viewing platform, reached mostly by a sloping walkway rather than stairs, offers pretty good views in all directions. There are several mild curiosities along the way up.
The major art museum in the city, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek ♥♥ offers a small but interesting collection of impressionists, with a lot of early Gaugin. We were also pleasantly surprised by the paintings in the wing of Danish landscapes, and the collection of Rodin statues.
The David Collection ♥♥♥ is one of the more impressive museums that we have seen across Northern Europe. The entrance is completely free, as is the use of tablets offered for in-depth viewing of various artifacts. English overviews and artifact labels may be sufficient for those who do not want to burden themselves with carrying a tablet. There are two floors of Islamic Art, and slightly less impressive two floors of furniture, paintings and ceramics.
Climbing the tower of the Church of Our Savior ♥♥♥ (Vor Frelsers Kirke) is one of can’t-miss activities in Copenhagen. You may have to endure some wait to get to the tower, and then will need to navigate a progressively narrower climb prone to congestion, but it is very much worth it for the great views over the city from above. Spaces might be tight enough to be possibly problematic for some, and the last portion of the climb on the exterior of the church spire eventually narrows to a space for one single person at the very top. The more or less constant traffic makes it impossible to linger at the top for too long, but a few dozen steps lower there are plenty of opportunities to position yourselves for lingering observation.
Around the church, Christianshavn ♥♥ is a pleasant area of the hip variety, with many attractive buildings, nice eateries, and a trendy vibe. It is also where you can gain entry to Cristiania, a self-governed neighborhood espousing alternative lifestyles. I am not sure what the attraction is there. Graffiti is colorful in some places, as are certain houses, but the area looks just like you would expect one with little public order to look – not exactly appealing and in many cases run-down.
We did not actually step inside the Church of Our Savior, but we explored several other churches in Copenhagen. The most impressive one is Frederik’s Church ♥♥, also known as The Marble Church, with a magnificent dome and a beautiful organ. The others we saw were ornamental Trinity Church ♥; understated and decorated by wooden carvings instead of precious stones Reformed Church ♥, where a nice custodian gave us a short overview of the church’s history; and not too ornate but boasting some interesting features Church of Our Lady ♥, St Alban’s Anglican Church ♥, and St Paul’s Church.
Hans-Christian Andersen, one of the most famous Danes ever, has several points of interest associated with him in Copenhagen. There is a statue ♥ of him next to the City Hall, another statue in Kongens Have, and a curious ground-level Andersen-themed shop on the less busy side of Nyhavn. There is also a very popular Little Mermaid statue which to us was kind of underwhelming; it is located some walking distance from the city core; on approach, you will pass the impressive Gefion fountain ♥.
Copenhagen is not defined by canals as much as Amsterdam, but there are still several very picturesque ones, with plenty of houseboats and pleasure boats moored on the sides. Taking a boat tour ♥♥ is recommended. There are several different flavors, departing from various points in town (including a hop-on, hop-off version). We took the one hour long “Grand Tour” – the route takes in most of the canal-side and harbor-side attractions, the live commentary is not perfect but passable, and the invariably low bridges that the boat scrapes under make the trip all the more exciting.
We only walked around Tivoli Gardens and did not find the time to explore it. The amusement park features among the most popular sites in Copenhagen.
If you are spending a few days in town, the Copenhagen card ♥ is an excellent deal. It includes all museums not just in the city proper but further afield, as well as all public transportation in the city and on the regional trains and buses, plus discounts to boat tours. The card is valid from the first use, so you have a measure of control when your 48-, 72- or 96-hour period starts. The only small downside is in your expectation to obtain preferential access to sites – that does not happen, you will have to endure the same lines to the cash register as everybody else in order to validate your access.
Places to Eat
TripAdvisor nowadays makes finding restaurant recommendations quite easy, so these vignettes are meant to offer no more than a starting point for your research. All places visited in the summer of 2015.
A side note: American credit cards that are not pin-n-chip-enabled get charged extra 3.5% at the majority of restaurants.
Restaurant Tight ♥♥, one block off Strøget – popular place, tables on several levels, simple yet pleasant modern-rustic decor. Excellent menu for every taste, with all our choices bringing some form of praise. Inventive takes on classic dishes: Potato croquettes, for instance, did not taste as expected at all but were still yummy. Service very friendly and efficient. Our damage: 1000 DKK for two with a bottle of wine. Reservations recommended.
Restaurant Krebsegaarden ♥♥♥ – top-rated restaurant in Copenhagen at the time of our visit and one of the best meals we ever had. It is not only about food, it is about continuous interaction with engaging owner Mats and witty main server Carson. Very small menu, 3 appetizers and 3 mains, changing monthly. Go for a tasting menu, which can include smaller portions of all 6 menu items, or your chosen 4 (but everyone at the table must have the same). Include wine pairings offered by Mats. We practically closed the place after four and half hours long dinner, and along the way I got offered complimentary whisky swigs. Not cheap but highly recommended, our damage was DKK 1800 for two, including extra tip of 10%. Advance reservations – a few weeks ahead – are essential and require re-confirmation a couple of days before the visit.
Brasserie Degas ♥♥♥ – excellent French food, the waiters explain what is being served, nice atmosphere and ambiance. All selections of fantastic quality; fish soup is just like they serve it on Cote-d-Azur. Overall, a great dinner experience. Our damage: DKK 1450 for two, including aperitifs, a bottle of wine, and 10% tip.
Tapas and Vine Bar Lundgren VIP ♥♥♥, near Kongens Have – tapas here are actually cold cuts, but a fantastic plate it is. Simple pricing, wine is charged only in proportion of how much of a bottle you finish. Good ambiance, nice service – a superb accidental find for lunch, but could probably work as an evening meal as well. Our damage: DKK 350, including half of a bottle of wine.
Hyttefadet ♥, on Nyhavn – surprised by how good the food was given the tourist locale. Very good Danish “open sandwiches” (minimal bread is involved), several varieties of herring. Our damage: 500 DKK for lunch for two with two glasses of wine, prices reflective of popular location.
Glyptotek café is a reasonable choice for lunch is you are spending significant time at the museum. Might have to wait to be seated at busy times. Order at the bar, get the dishes via the waiter. Our damage: DKK 500 for three dishes and two wine glasses.
As in any large city, the options for a hotel or an apartment are plentiful on major online platforms. København K is the most central area, but København V is also within walking distance to most sites.
Hotel SP34 ♥♥ is in København V. The ambiance is very nice, modern decor, good-sized room, huge shower, free wi-fi. Excellent amenities downstairs, including a large lounge and a separate library. The hotel is located near Strøget and Tivoli, at the edge of the Old Town, with all major points of interest no more than 15-20 minutes away on foot. Reasonable breakfast; only boiled eggs for hot food but plenty of other stuff to get by: cold cuts, cheeses, pastries, fruit, cereal, juices, smoothies, cottage cheese and yogurt, etc. The hotel holds a “happy hour” daily between 5-6 pm, you get a free glass of wine (unless you are an attractive woman, in which case you are likely to get at least one extra). Last stay: 2015.
Copenhagen metro is not very useful in the city center, with only a few stops strung on one side of the perimeter of the Old Town which are served by all lines. The bus system seems to be extensive, but it also primarily goes around the perimeter of the city core.
Taxi from airport to city center costs about $50. Inside the city, a trip that may warrant a taxi would cost around DKK 150.
Regional train system is efficient and well-run (and stops on the same stations as the metro inside city boundaries).
Overnight ferry Copenhagen – Oslo
Whether your itinerary allows for overnight sailing (as opposed to a few hours for a door-to-door journey centered on air travel) or you are doing it for pleasure, the trip from Copenhagen to Oslo (or reverse) on DFDS Seaways is likely to leave overall positive impressions. The ship leaves the port of origin at 4:15pm and reaches the destination at 9:45am the following morning. If you are into scenic travel, you have several hours of navigating Øresund and Oslofjord when the sun is up. If you are into shopping and entertainment, you are on a big cruise ship, with all attendant amenities.
We had a small outside cabin that could theoretically sleep 4 people, a la train compartment (but with ensuite bathroom with shower). The porthole did not give much in terms of views but the space might have felt more claustrophobic without it.
One downside of the trip is lack of wi-fi. It is available only in one central area – and it is not too fast either.
There are several restaurants on board. We had a pretty mediocre experience at the steakhouse one – bland food, harried waitresses, long wait between courses. Pre-paid dinner option only really matters in terms of having a reservation; the cost of your meal is calculated as the total of your a la carte selections minus your prepaid amount – it will always result is some form of additional payment.
Breakfast buffet is fairly extensive, nothing too special, but sufficient; getting a table – any table, not just a good one – may become a challenge as the morning progresses, so plan to come as early as 6:45am or so (or wait until about 8:45).
The terminal in Copenhagen is less than 15 minutes away by taxi from the city center. In Oslo, it is even closer, possibly within walking distance to some of the hotels.
The boarding is largely efficient, but disembarking may take some patience as all travelers converge on narrow exits.