Top Things to Do in Copenhagen, Denmark
Historic charm meets cutting edge design in a city where the Vikings once made their home. Fairy tales, legends and myths were born here and maybe that's why Denmark regularly ranks as the world's happiest country. It's capital, Copenhagen is no longer the poor cousin of Stockholm in the north so if you're visiting the city, you'll see that there's quite a lot to do and choosing depends a lot on how much time you have there. Here's the best of what to see in Copenhagen.
As a one time resident, I was enriched with sights and experiences very different from the the more well known European cities, but saw that Denmark serves as a bridge between the rest of Scandinavia and mainland Europe. The seemingly reserved Danes are some of the most polite and helpful people you'll ever come across and most can speak English surprisingly well, so never hesitate to ask for directions or tips about attractions or places to eat or shop at. Of course, a few useful Danish phrases will go a long way.Credit: Jonas Smith, on Flickr
There is a famous Danish phrase - "hygge". It has no direct English meaning but roughly translates to "a cozy feeling one gets when surrounded by good friends and food". This term came about because of the long and cold winter months when the best thing to do is gather with friends around candlelight, listen to good music, and partake in a sumptuous meal.
The following Copenhagen travel guide groups attractions by type and covers my favorite ones. They will give you an essence of what the city is all about. Since it is one of Europe's most expensive cities, it may be a good idea to buy the official Copenhagen Pass to help you save money on entrance to the attractions and local transportation.
Public transport rules here!
Navigating Copenhagen is pretty easy, with the city divided into districts and each one having its own distinct flavor. The easiest way to explore is by the Metro and S-train services, while buses are also reliable. Because the city is surrounded by harbors and canals, certain points can be accessed by taking a hop-on hop-off canal tour boat or a Harbor Bus.
However, there is another even better way if you can get a handle on your map and traffic rules, and that is by bicycle. With so many attractions centered in the central part of the city, and the terrain being almost completely flat, cycling is quite an enjoyable way to see the sights. The city encourages everyone to use this mode of transport by providing special cycle-only lanes, and tourists can use them for free within the designated central zone.
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Castles and Palaces
Just like the rest of Europe, Denmark has its fair share of impressive castles and palaces. Two of the must sees are situated in the heart of the city.
The Rosenborg Castle, was built in the early 17th century by King Christian IV in the Dutch Rennaisance style. He was tired of the old medieval style castle in the city and he couldn't rule from the Frederiksborg Castle 35 kms away, so he came up with the idea to build Rosenborg. The royal family lived there till 1710, when more modern residences were built nearby. It was soon turned into a museum and hence the well preserved interiors. You can take a tour throughout the castle, take a stroll through the King's Gardens and ogle at the Crown Jewels and other regalia in the basement.
The Amalienborg Palace is really four separate palaces in the Danish Rococo style, built around a square. It has been the winter residence of the Royal Family since the mid-1700s when various members of Danish royalty took up residence in each of the palaces. Because it is still a residence, the main palace areas are closed to the public, but you can tour the palace museum for a look at more historical royal artifacts. Try to catch the Changing of the Guard that happens everyday at noon.
Walk Through the Land of Fairy Tales
Home of Hans Christian Andersen and a very old amusement park
Credit: claudslewisMaster of fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen, made his way from Odense to Copenhagen as a teenager and soon became inspired to write novels and his famous stories for children. The capital proudly showcases him and his works throughout the city.
You can see three of the houses in which he lived at Nyhavn, a canal that dates back to the 17th century. It was built to transport supplies to the old city center, but now serves as a showcase for old wooden ships. Its sidewalks are now lined with cafes, bars and restaurants on one side and old colorful town houses on the other. It makes a great spot to people-watch and refresh yourself with Danish coffee, pastries and meals. In winter, cafe owners will provide you with a blanket to keep away the chill!
Credit: claudslewisThe Little Mermaid tale is commemorated with a small but iconic bronze mermaid statue just off the promenade along the harbor, while Andersen's own likeness can be found through several statues. One popular one is near the Town Hall, right on his own boulevard, and the other is in the King's Gardens in the Rosenborg Castle grounds.
Credit: claudslewisDenmark is home to the two oldest amusement parks in the world. Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest as it opened in 1843. The attractions in this popular park are inspired by an imaginary Oriental style and some of the original rides are in operation even today. The park is magical because of its beautifully manicured landscapes and custom-designed lighting. H.C. Andersen was said to have been inspired by Tivoli in at least two of his tales.
Most Danes are secular Evangelical Lutheran Christians belonging to the Church of Denmark, hence the large number of Protestant churches dotting the capital. Many of them date back to the 1500s, when the Church of Denmark split from the Roman Catholic Church. For three decades after that, Catholicism was banned in the country. Once religious freedom was granted in 1849, a number of other faiths grew in the country.
Credit: claudslewisDespite Denmark being one of the most secular countries in the world, its history is firmly routed in Christianity, so some of the best places to visit in Copenhagen are the churches, as they will give you a glimpse into how the country evolved.
Just across the channel from Amalienborg Palace is Frederik's Church or Marble Church, named after King Christian V who commissioned the church in 1749. Due to rising costs, worked slowed and then stopped until 1894, when it was finally complete and inaugurated. Visit the church to see its dome, the largest in Scandinavia, the walls built of solid marble, and the grand interior done in the Roman baroque style.
The National Cathedral of Denmark is Vor Frue Kirke or Church of Our Lady, which began its life as the Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary's in 1187 under the eye of the founder of Copenhagen, Bishop Absalon. The style was Romanesque and it was completed in 1209. Two fires, vandals and war bombardment destroyed the church several times over until the neo-classical style church that you see today was completed in 1829. The tower now houses Denmark's oldest bell, largest bell and two other ones. Bronze statues of Christ and his Apostles line the central nave.
The Vor Frelsers Kirke or Church of Our Saviour is situated in the Christianshavn district of the capital. After Denmark lost southern Sweden in 1660, Christian V was the first king to be born as absolute monarch. To stamp his authority, he built the church which was completed in 1696. It is one of the rare examples of baroque architecture in the country. The main attraction of the church, the spire, was added 50 years later.
Grundtvig's Church is an unusual expressionist style church that began to be built in 1921 in honor of Danish philosopher, Grundtvig. The west facade reminds one of a church organ, while the interior resembles a Gothic church. It has two organs, one of which is used for concerts.
The Alexander Nevsky Church, the only Russian Orthodox church in Copenhagen, was built in 1881 to commemorate the marriage of Denmark's Princess Dagmar to Alexander Alexandrovich, a future Tsar of Russia. The style is in 17th century Muscovite, with three onion domes rising from the top.
Danish Design and Architecture
One of the cool things to do in Copenhagen is to look for the stunning examples of Danish architecture and design. World renowned for being cutting edge, Danish designers have plenty of opportunity to show off. Whether you want to buy things to outfit your home with or just window shop, the stores here will leave you in awe.
While you can find great design stores throughout the city, the best showcase is Stroget, Europe's longest pedestrian-only shopping street. In addition to lots of historical nuggets to explore, you'll also find three of the city's most prestigious stores here. Illums Bolighus houses home furnishings and accessories from some of Scandinavia's most famous modern designers. Royal Copenhagen, the famous porcelain company, has its flagship store here. So does Georg Jensen, Scandinavia's most revered silverware company, in the form of the Danish Silver shop.
Credit: seier+seier, on FlickrFor stunning examples of modern Danish architecture, visit the massive Opera House located across the channel from the Amalienborg Palace. The new Concert Hall, home of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and the National Symphony Orchestra, lies in an ambitious development area in the northern part of the city.
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Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen Collectibles and Gifts
Porcelain from Royal Copenhagen makes an ideal souvenir, as its history dates back to the late 1700s and each product reflects expert craftsmanship. The factory was endorsed by the then Queen of Denmark, Juliane Marie. Over the years, the company has partnered with famous Danish design companies and designers to bring out new designs in the classic blue and white porcelain style. Some are collectibles, while others are modern interpretations for the contemporary dining table.
Georg Jensen, was a Danish silversmith known for his gorgeous Art-Nouveau designs in silver and stainless steel, although his company has always incorporated other elements into certain pieces as well. You can find excellent gifts in categories like jewelry, clocks, watches, cutlery and other silverware.
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Towers and Stunning Views
Credit: Nicholas, on FlickrThere are two towers from which you can get beautiful views of Copenhagen. The first one is from the 17th century Round Tower or Rundetaarn, located in the center of the city. It was built as an astronomy observatory, and the inside features a spiral ramp going all the way to the top. It is part of a complex that also houses a church, a library and a cultural and concert venue.
The second viewpoint is from the top of the spire of the Church of Our Savior in Christianshavn. The spire is 95 meters up and features an outer corkscrew spiral staircase of 150 steps that disappear as they reach the top. To get to this scary outer staircase, you first have to climb 250 steep steps on the inside of the tower in a very cramped and claustrophobic space. However, once you get to the top, you'll find that the view is magnificent and you can see all the way to Sweden.
Museums and Art Galleries
If you're visiting Copenhagen, a visit to one or two of its museums and galleries is a must.
The National Museum of Denmark or Nationalmuseet is a museum that you can visit more than once, especially since it is free. It resides in a massive 18th century mansion and houses one of the best collections of historical artifacts from Denmark and the rest of Europe. Follow the history of the country, including its Viking past, right down to present times.
The Danish National Gallery or Statens Museum For Kunst houses more than 700 years of art from Denmark and the rest of Europe. You'll find works from such artists like Rembrandt, Picasso and Rubens. If you're lucky, you might be able to catch special large exhibitions from old and new masters.
Looking for a Mediterranean feel in chilly Denmark? You'll find that in Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a museum built by the Carlsberg family. You'll also find almost as many Mediterranean art pieces here as in Italy, another large collection of Danish and French art, and a substantial sculpture collection as well. There's also a famed restaurant and cafe for you to unwind in afterwards.
Copenhagen is the home of brewery giant, Carlsberg, and the company has a Carlsberg Brewery museum and visitor center where you can learn about beer making and the company's own history. The admission ticket includes two free beers.
Wide Open Spaces
Water and gardens everywhere
Denmark's cold months can be difficult to manage out in the open, but for the rest of the year, one of the best things to do in Copenhagen is to explore the city's open spaces for a delightful and free way to take in the sights. These also make for some of the best things to do with kids.
The city is surrounded by water. There's the harbor and many lakes and canals to walk beside while taking in impressive old and new architecture. At the Copenhagen cruise port, watch ships set sail to the other Scandinavian countries or take a canal boat tour for an alternative glimpse of Danish history.
Credit: News Oresund, on FlickrThe impressive Oresund Bridge across the Oresund Strait connects Denmark to southern Sweden and is a combined road and railway bridge and tunnel spanning 7.5 miles, making it the longest of its kind in Europe. It connects Malmo in Sweden with Copenhagen, so you can easily take a day trip there if you'd like. You take the train or bus if you don't want to drive yourself, but it's also possible to view the bridge from its starting point on the Denmark side.
Spend half a day at Copenhagen's beautiful Botanical Gardens that house historical glasshouses among its outdoor sections. This garden is not just for Danish plants, as the glasshouses mimic various global conditions in order to grow other species as well.
Credit: claudslewisOne of northern Europe's best preserved star fortresses can be found at the old Citadel(Kastellet). It now serves as a historic park and site, but it was built in 1626 to protect the city. It is Europe's oldest military bastion that is still functioning today. Most of the original buildings and an old windmill are still intact, and you can take a pleasant stroll along the ramparts to view these sites.
Navigate Around Copenhagen and the Rest of Denmark
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