Copenhagen is a city of contrasts. On one side you have this stoic, righteous, Nordic attitude; and yet on the other, you have this incredibly quirky and alternative vibe that unbalances everything you thought the Danish capital would be.
This is precisely what makes Copenhagen so riveting and captivating. Out of all the must-see landmarks and pop-up restaurants and edgy boutiques, not one is like the others.
First-timer to Copenhagen? Here are the 26 places you’ve got to see and things you’ve got to eat. Velkommen til Danmark!
Things To Do In Copenhagen: Sightseeing
The ultimate Copenhagen postcard! Dating back from the 17th century, Nyhavn was constructed on orders of King Christian V from in 1673 by Swedish prisoners from the Dano-Swedish War of 1658–1660. Much like Amsterdam and other trade ports in the Early modern period, Nyhavn definitely wasn’t the chicest place to be; in fact, it was considered to be Copenhagen’d Red Light District, where drunk fishermen happily “mingled” with prostitutes. I swear it’s nothing like that today! ;-)
Dating back from the 1700s, this Rococo gem is the winter residence of the Danish royal family and is actually made up of four identical palaces forming a square upon which the statue of King Frederik V keeps a watchful eye. Amalienborg is where the daily changing of the guard ceremony occurs between 11:30 and 12:00.
Church of Our Saviour
This otherwise unexciting church is noticeable from all over Copenhagen thanks to its 90-metres high golden helix spire. If heights weren’t one of the things I’m most scared of, I wouldn’t have hesitated to climb the 400-step outdoor staircase to enjoy yet another beautiful viewpoint of Copenhagen.
Copenhagen’s second most visited palace – which technically houses the Danish parliament, the prime minister’s office, and the Danish Supreme Court – does not disappoint. The palace itself is, naturally, absolutely splendid, but what really keeps drawing the crowds is the free-of-charge view from atop the 106-metres high central tower and the Queen’s exceptional collection of 11 French tapestries.
Although its canals are nowhere near as famous as that of Venice or Amsterdam, Copenhagen does have plenty of scenic waterfronts to be explored. Boat tours are a nice excuse to simply sit back and let yourself be entertained by the guide’s often witty commentaries with the beautiful city of Copenhagen as a backdrop.
Call it a commune, call it a hippie paradise, call it whatever you like; the truth is that Christiania is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Characterised by its counter-culture that advocates for looser drug regulations and a freer, more democratic market, this neighbourhood is also home to inexpensive eateries, alternative art galleries, and collaborative workshops. Whatever you do, though, do NOT take your camera out; locals do not take kindly to being photographed (hence the lack of picture for this entry).
Built as a scientific observatory back in the 1700s, the Round Tower is, to this day, the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. After a mind-boggling hike up the step-free spiral walk, visitors are rewarded with splendid 360° views of Copenhagen’s old town.
Housing over 13,000 species and 27 historic glasshouses over an area of 10 hectares, the Copenhagen Botanical Gardens are a must, especially considering they are free of charge. Tip: the wrought-iron staircase and mezzanine of the main building are a favourite spot among local Instagrammers.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Although not in Copenhagen per se, this wonderfully contemporary and confounding museum is well worth the short train ride up north. It is often referred to as the epicentre of modern art and consistently welcomes bold yet captivating exhibits visited by art lovers from around the world.
Located just a few subway stops west of Copenhagen’s centre, the 250-year-old Carlsberg Brewery hosts the world’s largest collection of beer bottles as well as interactive and modern exhibits about the general history of beer, and that of Carlsberg’s more specifically. Like any brewery tour worthy of its name, the visit concludes with a generously-sized sampling.
I only visited the gardens in October when it was in full Halloween mode, but I reckon it must be equally entertaining at any other time. The amusement park features a mix of modern and vintage rides, including one of the few remaining wooden roller coasters that still require a brakeman on board every train.
A great attraction to visit if you’re planning to see the Little Siren, the Copenhagen Citadel is equal parts bucolic and historic; despite the abundance of joggers and young families on play dates, Kastellet is one of the finest examples of star-shaped fortresses in Northern Europe.
Rosenberg Castle & Gardens
Although not as lavish as Amalienborg and not as popular as Christiansborg, the Rosenborg Castle nonetheless deserves a visit, if only for a glimpse of the Danish crown jewels. Its vast collection of thrones, portraits, tapestries, and other memorabilia that commemorate battles between Denmark and Sweden at the time of the famed King Christian IV.
Despite it not being featured in guidebooks, this quaint street has gained worldwide popularity thanks to its photogenic curb appeal and the colourful houses that flank either side of it. To be fair, though, it is one of the two oldest streets in the Old Town of Copenhagen and still feature its original cobbling.
As you can tell by the lack of photographic evidence for this entry, I’m not the biggest fan of the Little Siren statue. I am not sentimental in that way and, anyway, my allegiance lies with the Lion King as far as children’s movies are concerned. But I guess it represents an important aspect of Copenhagen’s history: indeed, the statue was commissioned by none other than Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg himself as a gift to the city in 1913.
Things To Do In Copenhagen: Eating & Drinking
Porridge at Grød
If the name wasn’t a good enough indication (grød means porridge in Danish), it’s all about oatmeal at this small take-away counter inside Torvehallerne… and not the boring kind. My two top picks were the ultra sweet Oat (homemade dulce de leche, fresh apples & roasted almonds) and the savoury Asian-inspired Congee (chicken, ginger, coriander & soy). The menu changes seasonally.
I usually try to steer clear from restaurant chains but Gorm’s is a blunt exception to that rule – it’s actually one of the few palatable options in Nyhavn. This Nordic-Italian pizzeria hybrid imports most of its key ingredients straight from Italy. A delightful and fairly priced option in central Copenhagen? No one can say no to that.
The Coffee Collective Torvehallerne
On the other end of the wonderful foodie gem that Torvehallerne market is The Coffee Collective. I’ve abundantly documented by love for independent coffee shops and soy lattes and this one was no exception. They have a great outdoor patio area where the coffee is as enjoyable as the peoplewatching.
Ever since I visited Sømods Bolcher I’ve been obsessed with hard candy. Opened in 1891, the time-capsule confiserie still uses the same ancestral candy-making process and if you time your visit right you may even be able to see them in action – it truly is a spectacle! My favourite flavours were apricot and pear.
Even if you’re not a beer aficionado, this microbrewery is a must. If only for the interior design! If you’re here for dinner, make sure to ask for the sampling menu, where each dish is expertly paired with one of their 10 homemade brews.
Don’t be fooled by with gritty neighbourhood; Nørrebro is one of the coolest places in the city and Café Auto is one of the highlights. This moody Nordic eatery serves delicious and modern Danish fare with noteworthy breakfast & lunch options.
I discovered this place on Instagram (somehow it was the floors that really enticed me to visit this Nørrebro local gem) and I’m really glad I did. This organic bakery/café was opened by the restaurant next door and offer a unique Italian twist on the famous Danish smørrebrød, with focaccia bread and scrumptious cured meats.
Street food at Pølsevogn Papirøen
The city’s first and only genuine street food market is located inside an old warehouse on a small island across the Royal Danish Playhouse. It houses stalls from all over the planet and offers some of the most budget-friendly, genuine options in the city with a glorious waterfront terrace to boot.
You can’t go to Copenhagen and not have a smørrebrød – there’s probably a law against that somewhere! The cult of the open-faced sandwich started right here in the Danish capital and although it can be found almost everywhere, I have a preference of Aamanns Deli.
If you’re in town long enough to sample all these eateries yourself or if you’re on a budget and long for smaller sizes, this food tour takes you to a few of the places listed above (Aamanns, Nørrebro Bryghus, Sømods Bolcher, and Torvehallerne) and many more, with the insightful tips of a local foodie specialised in Nordic cuisine.