Copenhagen – in Danish, it’s København – is an attractive and happening city, offering impressive architecture, diverse entertainment, a thriving culinary scene, and plenty of vibrancy.
There are many attractive corners in the Old Town center ♥♥♥, with old and restored frequently colorful nice houses. The attic windows add a 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 dissects the Old Town. It hosts plenty of design stores and international brands, which are located not only on the sequence of blocks 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 the boundaries of the city. Of those, my favorite is Rosenborg ♥♥♥, a beautiful medieval castle that sits at the edge of Kongens Have Park ♥♥. 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 smartphone. Within the park are a rose garden, a children’s playground, several fountains, and various statuary – not a bad place for unwinding.
The most centrally-located of the palaces, Christiansborg ♥♥, is outwardly the most monumental. Inside, you will find impressive royal rooms and formal spaces, adorned with paintings and wall hangings. Beyond royal apartments, the palace complex includes royal stables and the 12th-century ruins of a bishop’s palace. You may also want to walk through the nearby Royal Library garden ♥, a pleasant space with a tall fountain.
Frederiksborg Palace is slightly further afield from the city center, while Amalienborg is usually considered less impressive of the bunch. There is a popular Amalienborg royal guard change, which is probably not worth the effort to see, as it 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. If you choose to see it, do not come for its start at 12, but rather join around 12:15 when the crowds start dispersing – you will still catch one or two movements of the change. Amalienborg Square ♥ unveils itself as an impressive symmetrical space, once crowds thin out.
The Round Tower ♥♥ (Rundetaarn) is one of the elevated points to observe the city skyline. The not overly crowded and not exceptionally high viewing platform, reached mostly by a sloping walkway rather than stairs, offers pretty good views in all directions. There are several mild curiosities on display along the way up the walkway.
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 an impressive museum that is free to enter. Free use of a tablet as a hand-held guide enhances the viewing of various artifacts although English-language 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 the 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 that is prone to congestion; spaces are 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 a single person. 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. On balance, it is very much worth it for the great views over the city from the vantage point.
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.
Of many churches in Copenhagen, possibly the most impressive is Frederik’s Church ♥♥, also known as The Marble Church, with a magnificent dome and a beautiful organ. Also worth a look is the 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; as well as not too ornate but still boasting some interesting features Church of Our Lady ♥, St Alban’s Anglican Church ♥, or 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 is actually 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). A one-hour-long “Grand Tour” takes in most of the canal-side and harbor-side attractions, with live commentary that is passable, and the invariably low bridges that the boat scrapes under making the trip all the more exciting.
Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park but probably more than that, is often mentioned among the top attractions in the city. Other possible attractions include the Danish Jewish Museum and Statens Museum for Kunst.
If you are spending a few days in town, the Copenhagen card offers a pretty good 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 on 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.
Copenhagen metro is only marginally 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.
Accommodation-wise, København K is the most central area, but København V is also within walking distance of most sites.
As far as eating out is concerned, whether you reserve a table in advance based on online ratings or just pick a restaurant at random, it is hard to have a truly disappointing meal in Copenhagen. I personally prefer local vibes in less touristy areas, but sometimes sitting down in an eatery on a crowded square can have its rewards.
A separate mention has to be given to Restaurant Krebsegaarden (on Studiestræde), the top-rated restaurant in Copenhagen at the time of our visit (2015) and one of the best meals we ever had. While the tasting menu was magnificent, the continuous interaction with the chef and his crew was an integral part of the enjoyment. There is a very small – and constantly changing – à la carte menu, and two options of a tasting set, including wine pairings. Obviously a more expensive meal than most. Advance reservations – a few weeks ahead – are essential and require re-confirmation a couple of days before the visit.
Worthy of additional recommendations are: Restaurant Tight (a block off Strøget on Hyskenstræde), with inventive takes on classic dishes, and Tapas and Vine Bar Lundgren VIP (near Kongens Have), where we had a fantastic cold-cuts plate for lunch.
Well-connected with the rest of the country by the train network, Copenhagen can serve as a springboard for visiting other destinations. Roskilde and Helsingor are among the options.
Roskilde Cathedral ♥♥♥, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is brick-built and deceptively not too opulent. The organ is something completely unreal. There are several chapels, a crypt, an interesting altarpiece, and a separate museum. Also in the town of Roskilde are a couple of museums, including a reasonably well-known Viking Ship Museum.
Kronborg Castle ♥♥ is another UNESCO World Heritage site at the edge of Helsingor (Helsingør). The castle is big and imposing, although somehow feels below the level of truly outstanding. People especially attuned to the works of one William Shakespeare may find it more remarkable, as it is considered to be the setting of Hamlet. You can traverse four different routes through the castle’s wings, with two of them ending at the same common point. It is also possible to walk along the fortifications. The rooms are sparsely furnished and decorated. Seven remaining original tapestries are all displayed in a single room. A free introductory guided tour in English every hour on the 30′; beyond that, you can tour on your own with an audio guide or avail yourself of more detailed guided options.
Helsingor is a pleasant enough town short on renowned features aside from the castle.
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 4:15 pm and reaches the destination at 9:45 am 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, like a train compartment (but with an ensuite bathroom with shower). The porthole did not give much in terms of views but the space might have felt more claustrophobic without it.
There are several restaurants on board. We had a pretty mediocre experience at the steakhouse one – bland food, harried waitresses, and long wait between courses. The 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 à la carte selections minus your prepaid amount – it will always result in some form of additional payment.
The 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 6:45 am 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, within walking distance of some of the hotels.