What to do, where to stay, and why you should visit the Danish capital. Here’s my guide to the best things to do in Copenhagen…
Copenhagen is a city that conjures so many different images. Hygge. The colourful houses of the harbour. The sprinkle of magic that comes courtesy of the fact that children’s fairy tales writer Hans Christian Andersen once lived there.
If you’re anything like me then you’ll also be intrigued by the Scandinavian design aesthetic and all of the effortless stylish ways that’ll show up across the Danish capital.
One thing I also really enjoyed in Copenhagen is the sense of serenity. A lot of that comes from the most popular mode of travel here: cycling. Copenhagen is an urban space that isn’t dominated by cars in the way that other capital cities are.
Instead of honking horns, rush hour traffic, and huge roads cutting across the city, there are clear bicycle lanes on every road. It really was a welcome relief and made a change from the car culture.
I loved everything about Copenhagen. Despite catching Covid on the way back it was one of the best city breaks I’ve been on – and it was the first time I’d been abroad in two years!
Here are my picks of the best things to do in Copenhagen…
1) Visit Nyhavn
If there’s anything you must do when you visit Copenhagen it’s to visit the charming harbour area of Nyhavn. Rows of colourful 17th-century townhouses line up in rows facing onto the waterfront, acting as a magnet to tourists and locals alike. Nyhavn was the first place we headed on our trip to Copenhagen and it certainly didn’t disappoint!
There are bars and restaurants that are the perfect place to soak up the old-world charm. The sheepskin throws, twinkling fairy lights, and cosy heaters also help. They are on the expensive side and so we only had lunch here once, but it was a lovely experience.
The area is also sprinkled with a little bit of magic fairy dust. That due to the fact that iconic fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen used to live here at Nyhavn. He’s the author of so many fairy tales that you’ll recognise: The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl and of course The Little Mermaid.
2) See Hans Christian Andersen’s house
Hans Christian Andersen lived at No.20 Nyhavn from 1834, renting out two rooms. It was here where he was living when his first fairy tales was published – The Tinderbox, Little Claus and Big Clause, The Princess and the Pea, and Little Ida’s Flowers.
His house isn’t on the most photographed side of the harbour, it’s actually further up on the other side. There’s a plaque outside the door so you’ll know that you’re there.
3) Take a Copenhagen boat trip
I always think a boat trip is a bit of a rite of passage in a European city.
You get a good round-up of the big-ticket items to go and see, you enjoy an interesting water-side perspective of the city, and you get to sit down for an hour. If you’ve been tramping around the city for a while then that’s always welcome – at least for me!
You can take a boat trip from the colourful harbour of Nyhavn. I was intrigued by the flattened shape of the boats at first. They’re definitely not the prettiest, but it turns out they have to be that way so they can squeeze under all the low bridges on the route.
Although it was only an audio tour, we got a look at some of the big hitters in Copenhagen. We saw the Copenhagen Opera House, the Royal Danish Library, known as the ‘Black Diamond’, and passing views of The Little Mermaid statue. I really enjoyed the tour. We sat outside so that we could get better photographs, but it was absolutely freezing – be warned!
4) The Little Mermaid
Everyone talks about how the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen is a bit of a let-down.
A lot of the blogs about Copenhagen advise you to just get a glimpse of the statue on the boat tour and leave it there, but I wanted a close-up. The statue is inspired by the Hans Christensen Andersen fairy tale of the same name, which was written in 1837. As someone that used to regularly flood the bathroom doing performative versions of Little Mermaid songs in the bath with my sister, much to our mother’s horror, I wanted to see it!
The Little Mermaid statue is made of bronze and was unveiled all the way back in 1913, but it’s its unassuming size that means it’s often described as underwhelming. It stands at just 1.25 metres tall. When you think of other iconic statues that symbolize cities (the Statue of Liberty in NYC or Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro) it doesn’t really compare.
However, I didn’t hate it. In fact, I actually found sitting on the steps and taking in the views of the statue, the gentle lapping water, and the surrounding area rather pleasant.
The statue is perched on a rock at the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen. It’s around twenty minutes walk from Nyhavn harbour. I found it to be a really nice peaceful spot just to sit down and be still for a few moments. Admittedly, it wasn’t peak season with crowds of people taking selfies (including myself in that!) but I liked it.
5) The Genetically Modified Little Mermaid
I’m not going to pretend this is one of the must-sees on your trip to Copenhagen. However, just as we were about to leave The Little Mermaid statue I looked on my Google maps. I noticed that there was another statue around seven minutes walk away called the Genetically Modified Little Mermaid. I was definitely intrigued.
It’s located in the harbour at Langelinie where the cruise ships dock. It’s designed by sculptor Bjorn Norgaard and is part of a group of sculptures in the area that are all misshapen and distorted. They’re almost like the Picasso version of a real-life portrait, where the form is twisted out of shape and the ordinary becomes irregular.
It definitely seems to be something that people aren’t overly aware of. It was deserted when we were there and the staff at our hotel hadn’t heard of it. If you like abstract art and want to see a playful reinterpretation of the famous Little Mermaid statue, go see it.
Otherwise… you don’t have to worry that you’ve missed out on something big.
6) The Round Tower
The 17th century round tower is one of the iconic Copenhagen landmarks. It was built as an astrological observatory back in the 1630s, as one of Christian’s IV’s architectural projects. Now, it’s one of the best spots to grab some pretty amazing views of the city.
The tower is known for its ‘equestrian staircase’, which isn’t a term I’d heard before. It basically means a gently sloping flight of stairs that can be negotiated by horses. In this case, it’s not even a flight of stairs – it’s really a gently inclining pathway that you climb. And there was me being a dum-dum at the start asking how many steps it was to the top, lol!
All sorts have gone up in it though. Apparently, there’s been horses, carriages, bicycle races, a world-record breaking unicycle trip, and even a motor car going up the tower. Geez! Even if you’re just walking up the tower like a regular joe, it still feels pretty magical.
Hans Christensen Andersen actually visited the Round Tower when he was a young man. It’s referenced by name in one of his poems, so maybe the sense of magic isn’t just me.
There was also a Hans Christian Andersen exhibition on while we were here. I’m not sure if it’s here at the time but it involved peering through peepholes at various objects and trying to work out which fairy tale was being alluded to. It was a little creepy, but great fun.
7) Visit Rosenborg Castle
It’s a castle that commands attention from the very centre of the city. Located in the Kings gardens in Copenhagen, the castle was built in the 17th century by one of the most famous Danish Kings, Christian IV. If you want to see 400 years of royal history this is the place!
For me, it felt at times like a castle out of a Disney movie or something – probably Beauty and the Beast, actually. Some of the furniture is so opulent it’s almost outrageous and one of the French-style cabinets reminded me of the ones that come alive in the movie.
You can pick up a map with a guide to all the rooms and this was useful so that you knew what you were looking at. There were definitely some intriguing spots. The commode for one – and the mirrored room that was next door to where a porn stash was kept.
A lot of people seem to think that the best part of visiting Rosenborg Castle is getting to see the crown jewels. As much as it’s great to see the sheer size and volume of all the sparkly stuff, it all looks the same to me. It could have come out of a pawn shop to me!
Disclaimer: we headed here at about 3.30pm after a long day of sightseeing and I was slightly worried that I wouldn’t have the brain space to learn about a castle. Well, I shouldn’t have worried. I found the whole experience really engaging. There also isn’t too much reading material. You can simply wander around and soak up the atmosphere if you like!
8) Copenhagen walking tour
Want to scratch beneath the surface of Copenhagen? Then I’d definitely recommend a walking tour to help you get more of a local insight into what the city is really like.
We did ours through GuruWalk. There are a variety to choose from but I opted for the Christianshavn tour which lasted an hour and a half in total. Christianshavn is a neighbourhood in Copenhagen made up of a number of small islands. It’s one of the most culturally diverse areas in Copenhagen and it also has echoes of Amsterdam – just me?
I really liked the tour. Our guide was friendly and funny and was able to bring the landmarks to life in a way that you just don’t get when you’re wandering around on your own.
For example, the Church of Our Saviour is famous for its golden spire as well as its Carillion, a type of musical instrument. Apparently, it doesn’t just play religious music, though. In fact, locals have heard it play everything from Star Wars to Game of Thrones. I love that!
This walking tour is free and you just pay what you think it’s worth. Obviously, that put the fear of god into me – what is too much? What is too little? Luckily our guide didn’t look and just let you shove a note in his pocket. You can also pay by card as hardly anyone has cash these days. In fact, this was the only reason we took cash out for the whole trip.
9) Visit Free Town Christiania
Christiania is Copenhagen’s ‘free town’ hippie neighbourhood and it definitely has its own vibe.
What is Christiania exactly? Well, it’s essentially a hippie commune that functions completely independently of the rest of the city. Back in 1971, a group of people set up their own community in an old military base, and they’ve lived there ever since.
It is an experience. It took me a moment to realise what I was looking at: people openly selling marijuana at pop-up stalls all the way down the infamous Pusher Street. There are restaurants, cafes and you’ll also see the red and yellow of the Christiania flag, too.
They don’t do tours in here anymore so you will have to step inside yourself. From what I’ve read, some people do find Christiania a bit intimidating. Luckily our walking tour of Christianshavn stopped right outside Christiania and so we were able to just pop across in small groups – it was nice to see some of the familiar faces from the tour!
Is Christiania safe? It didn’t feel unsafe in the time that I was there and I think it’s generally considered to be safe. One thing to note – you’re not allowed to take photographs on Pusher Street, as you might expect, and you will see ‘no photography’ signs. I took a couple of photographs elsewhere in Christiania but I did try to be as discreet as possible.
If you want to see what a counter-culture community really looks like, go visit.
10) The Church of Our Saviour
I’m never usually one to rave about visiting a church on holiday but this one is a stunner. The winding serpentine spire can be seen from all around the city and it’s beautiful. I kept catching the gold glinting in the afternoon sunshine.
You can pay a fee to climb the 400 steps to the top of the tower and I’d highly recommend doing it. You climb various ladders internally and then emerge onto a platform near the top. Next, you can choose to continue up the winding stairway to the top.
I thought that the steps would eventually lead to some sort of final stop. Um, they don’t. The staircase just gets narrower and I swear the barrier gets lower too! We stopped just before the end and made our way a little bit back down before taking pictures.
Back on ground level, make sure you step into the church itself. The organ is this intricately carved work of art and so is pretty much everything else around you. I was blown away.
11) Explore Kastellet
Kastellet, which translates as the Citadel, is one of the best-preserved star-shaped fortresses in Northern Europe. It was founded by that guy again, Christian IV, this time in 1626.
It certainly wasn’t what I expected. When I read the word ‘fortress’, pardon my ignorance, but I expected to see some sort of castle-like in the middle. However, that wasn’t the case. In fact, there are rows of ordinary buildings that look like army barracks in the centre.
If you go up the steps you can walk around the perimeter, which has nice views of the surrounding areas. There’s also a windmill along with cannons dotted around at various points. The fort might not the blockbuster attraction, but it’s still worth seeing.
12) Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is an art and sculpture gallery in Copenhagen. It was founded in 1888 by Carl Jacobsen, who is the son of the founder of the Carlsberg brewery.
It’s famous for its sculpture gallery and there’s also a lot of Danish art, French impressionism, and even a couple of Egyptian mummies entombed in dimly lit room. As someone who had never seen a real-life mummy before, this was pretty exciting!
I’d also read that this place had an amazing winter garden and it didn’t disappoint. The whole of Copenhagen has this air of serenity about it but this was something else. It was this beautiful haven of tranquillity with leafy plants, trickling water features, and benches placed in various locations just inviting you to take a seat and unwind for a minute or so.
The only thing I have to say about the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is that it’s a little on the warm side. I actually remembered reading this before I came but by that time it was too late and I was wandering around in my hat, coat, and scarf and getting increasingly too warm. So if I can give you any advice it would be to leave your coat in your locker!
Located in Norrebro district of Copenhagen, Superkilen is something that I read about online and was instantly intrigued by. According to Wikipedia, the area was designed to bring together refugees and locals in what is described as one of the most ethnically diverse and socially challenged communities in Copenhagen. It’s essentially an urban improvement project and the result of a collaboration between arts groups and landscape architect firms.
When I saw the pictures of Superkilin it looked like this entire pink neighbourhood, which looked especially enticing from a bird’s eye view. I also came across a few blogs raving about it and so I knew I didn’t want to miss out on visiting here.
It doesn’t look quite like the pictures I saw online. Maybe they were heavily filtered or maybe it’s just a bit more ‘bedded in’ than it was a few years ago, but I was a little underwhelmed by Superkilen.
That’s not to say it isn’t cool. It does have a surreal feel to it and it’s an interesting place to wander around and grab some photographs. We weren’t the only tourists there. But we did walk for around 30 minutes to get there and so, for me, I’m not sure it was worth it.
However, I really enjoyed Norrebro as a district – especially to eat in. We spent a lot of time here scouting our restaurants that aren’t on the typical tourist circuit.
14) Hans Christian Andersen grave
Speaking of Norrebro… if you do decide to explore this area in Copenhagen then you’ll also be able to go and see the grave of Hans Christian Andersen. I quite like a little visit to a graveyard when I travel. I visited Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris and I’ve also enjoyed soaking up some of the gruesome bodysnatching history in the graveyards in Edinburgh.
But back to Copenhagen. Hans Christian Andersen’s grave is located in Assistens Cemetery in Norrebro. You may think that wandering around a city is a little ghoulish, but it’s actually a lovely space to spend some time. There were groups of people wandering around while we were there. With the sunshine and the greenery it was all rather tranquil.
If you look up Apple or Google maps it’ll help you find where the grave is located and save you wandering for ages trying to find it. It still took us a while tbh, even with the map!
15) The Old Stock Exchange
You’d be forgiven for thinking, hmmm, the old stock exchange doesn’t sound very exciting. And I would usually agree! But this is a building you’ll probably pass by a few times when you’re in Copenhagen and there are a few things about it that are pretty interesting.
The building, also known as the Borsen, dates back to 1625. It was built during the reign of Christian IV. I know, him again! It’s one of the oldest buildings in the city.
The first thing you’ll notice is the dragon-spire. The spire is made out of four dragons with intertwining tails which are said to represent the Scandinavian empire of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It’s said to be this symbolism that has protected the buildings when a lot of other buildings in the city have burned down. Our walking guide actually joked that the answer to any question about old buildings in Copenhagen is ‘it burned down!’
When we were on our GuruWalk walking tour our guide also dropped an interesting fact into the conversation. He said that there had been a request to convert the building and asked us to guess what it could be? Turns out… McDonalds! Let’s hope not!
16) Torvehallen food market
What combines Danish delicacies with a buzzy atmosphere? Torvehallen food market. Copenhagen is well-known for its street food and this huge glass-fronted building is a great place to do a sweep of all the best Danishes dishes – or try whatever you fancy!
Wander around and you’ll see delicious food in all directions. Ice creams of every shade of the rainbow. Stacks of smorrebrod piled high with tempting toppings – or pickled herring, wriggly prawns, and sliced boiled egg, depending on your version of tempting. Ha!
There are spices. Pastries. Tacos. Porridge. There is pretty much something for everyone here, so it’s great if you’re with a larger group who all like different types of cuisines.
If you want to sit outside there are picnic benches and public toilets located just outside. It was a little too cold when we were there. Give it a month or so and this would be a lovely spot to soak up a couple of hours of late afternoon sunshine. Alternatively, you could walk ten minutes down the road to the ?? lake and eat your food there.
Things to do in Copenhagen (that I wanted to do)
For some reason there were quite a few things that weren’t open when we were in Copenhagen. There were also a few things we just didn’t have time to do. I would definitely like to return to Copenhagen in the future and when I do this is what’s on the list!
17) Tivoli Gardens
The famous theme park is a must if you’re visiting the city. It first opened its doors in 1834, which makes it the third-oldest theme park in the world. It was also said to have inspired Walt Disney. He visited Tivoli gardens in 1951 when he was in the planning stages of Disneyland. Hans Christensen Andersen is also said to have visited Tivoli many times.
With that in mind, I was seriously gutted when I found out that Tivoli was closed for refurbishment when we were there. I’d already ummed and ahhed about whether I should go on the old-fashioned wooden roller coaster or not. I went on one in China several years ago and vowed never again. But I was all ready to go back on my word. Next time!
18) Kronborg Castle
This castle is more commonly known as Hamlet’s Castle, because it’s the real-life setting for Shakespeare’s play of the same name. As an English Literature graduate, my ears pricked up at this. To be or not to be, that is the question. Or in my case, to go or not to go?
If I had one more day on my trip, I definitely would’ve gone. Kronborg Castle is a little bit out of town (around an hour by train) but it sounds well worth the trip. There are creepy crypts and a statue of Holger the Dane, which sounds right up my street!
19) Designmuseum Denmark
If I said that I wanted to go to a furniture museum in Copenhagen then you might be thinking, huh, that sounds kind of dull. However, as someone who is an Instagram fan the whole Scandi design aethestic I was really looking to dive deeper into Danish design.
However, it wasn’t to be. At the time of writing the museum was closed for renovation. If you do get a chance to go along then you’ll see an amazing ‘wall of chairs’ installation that showcases over 100 chairs, with a focus on Danish furniture design. Admission is also free for anyone aged 26 and under, so good news if you fit into that category!
Where to stay in Copenhagen
There really is a place for every budget in Copenhagen. My budget for accommodation is generally mid-range. I’m not gonna lie, I like a nice-ish place to rest my head after long days pounding the pavements.
When I started looking there were plenty of places that fit my budget and looked really inviting. In the end, we opted for Hotel Kong Arthur. Here’s what I liked about it…
I love a little bit of Danish design and so I loved browsing through all these gorgeous hotesl in Copenhagen. There were a lot of beautiful choices. What I would say is that some are super minimalist. Hotel Kong Arthur had a lot of gallery walls throughout the communal areas and the rooms. I felt that brought a bit more warmth to it.
The stylish décor is everywhere throughout the hotel, from the light and bright dining area to the sofas in the reception area. There is also an amazing courtyard that would be amazing to eat breakfast or have a drink in the summer months.
I also find it tricky to pick a good location. Often you never really want to know where you want to be until you have a chance to be in the city for a few days. However, I think we lucked out with the location of the Kong Arthur Hotel.
The hotel is located pretty centrally, around a ten-minute walk from the Norreport station. It’s 100 metres from the beautiful Copenhagen Lakes which are this wide-open space which look amazing at sunset. It’s near to Torvellhallen food market and the Norrebro district.
Breakfast is always a deal-breaker for me. You want to set yourself right for busy days of sightseeing, right? Luckily the Hotel Kong Arthur had a great breakfast. There were meats, cheeses, bread, cereal, and delicious pastries to choose from every morning.
My favourite part was the glass containers they had which contained either porridge with jam or scrambled eggs and bacon. I had both every day and they were just so tasty!
When I was browsing Copenhagen hotels I came across something that seemed to feature in a number of hotels. A ‘cosy hour’ between the hour of 5pm and 6pm each day where you could get a free drink at the hotel bar (you can choose from alcohol or soft drinks.)
It’s definitely not something that would ever fly in the UK but, here, it’s borne out of a desire to bring guests together for an hour. I really liked it. We often ate pretty early so we’d get back just before 5, go to cosy hour, and then head out for dinner each night!
One thing that I just wanted to mention is about teabags. If you’re a big tea drinker then you may want to bring your own teabags to Copenhagen because they aren’t that easy to find.
The black tea we had at breakfast at Hotel Kong Arthur and in other coffee shops in Copenhagen was OK, but a lot of the time Earl Grey was the closest thing to English Breakfast tea. I’m a bit fussy when it comes to tea so I’d definitely pack my own next time.