So Copenhagen isn’t JUST drinking on canals with friends (although a lot of it is, and that is awesome). It’s also got a lot of beautiful sights, and here are some of the highlights!
Copenhagen’s downtown area, where all of the main tourist sites are, is actually quite small and it’s totally possible to just go on foot from place to place. It can be a bit of a walk from point A to point B, but it’s a scenic city, so if the weather’s nice I would totally recommend walking!
Take in the Danish Architecture
Copenhagen is filled with alley after alley of cute rowhouses, many of them painted pleasant hues of orange, marigold, pink, mauve, periwinkle (I’m really busting out my knowledge of Crayola colors here), etc. with rose vines spread up the sides. Spend some time wandering the streets and just enjoying how pretty and quaint the buildings here are.
Probably the most iconic spot in all of Copenhagen, Nyhavn has to be one of your first stops in the city. What used to be a sailor’s port (read: lots of booze and prostitutes), is now a beautifully vibrant area of restaurants and bars–and the signature colors are just so picturesque, see? It’s easily the most Instagram-worthy spot in the whole city.
Although probably the best way to enjoy the architecture of the city is to wander the cobblestone streets by foot, another great way to take in the cityscapes is on a canal tour. You can board one of these ubiquitous canal boats right from Nyhavn, and they have tours where a single tour guide does the whole thing in English, German, AND Danish ALL AT ONCE (these Scandinavians are beasts when it comes to speaking languages). They will take you through the waterways of the city and introduce a lot of landmark sights and buildings, a very good intro to the city.
Palaces and Castles Galore
Just a few blocks away from Nyhavn is Amalienborg, the royal palace and home of the Danish queen and her family (although they only reside there in winter). Inside you can take a look at some of the previous royal families’ rooms, and also learn more about the Danish royal family and European royal lineage in general (which, as an American, is sort of fascinating and so foreign to me). You can also catch the changing of the guards here at 12 noon. Just be sure not to get stuck on a bus behind the marching guards on their way to the palace–like we did!
Make a quick stop in the Marble Church, a beautiful domed structure just across the street from Amalianborg, for free.
About a ten minute walk northwest from there you will come to Rosenborg Castle, one of the old royal summer residences. The King’s Garden, a peaceful public garden outside of it, is a nice place to have a picnic on a sunny day, and the museum inside is fairly interesting–if you like looking at how royalty decorated their homes centuries ago and looking at royal jewels.
Head towards the Copenhagen central station and you will hit Christiansborg, which houses the Parliament and Supreme Court. Inside you can tour the royal reception rooms, horse stable, and kitchen. Here you’ll see where the queen receives guests of state and the royal thrones. You can also climb the tower, the tallest one in Copenhagen, for a nice view over the city.
Head North of the City
If you’ve had enough of castles in the city, why not go see more castles outside of the city? (Ha, I only partially kid–it’s Europe; there are a lot of castles.) But really, a great day out of the city includes a trip to see Kronborg, the castle on which Hamlet is based off of, and the Louisiana Museum of Art.
Take the train north through the suburbs of Copenhagen in the direction of Helsingør. The 45 minute train ride is lovely, and passes by cute little towns that follow the coast north out of city. These towns are totes adorbz, and maybe I entertained fantasies of eventually retiring there and having a porch on which I would eat danishes all day and a rose garden in which my little Danish grandchildren could scamper.
When you step out of the Helsingør train station, you can see the imposing Kronborg castle in the distance. It’s about a 15 minute walk along the sound to the castle grounds. Once you’re done exploring the castle, hop back on the train (by now you should be getting a lot of use out of that Copenhagen Card I told you to get) going south back towards Copenhagen and get off at Humlebæk station. From there it’s about a ten minute walk to the Louisiana Museum of Art (signs will clearly mark the way for you).
If you appreciate contemporary art, the Louisiana Museum of Art has a great, varied, and digestible collection that is small enough to take in in an afternoon. Before or after wandering through its various buildings, be sure to spend some time to just enjoy the grounds of the museum, dotted by sculptures. Bring a picnic to have on the grass or get a bite to eat at the cafe, which has a wonderfully relaxing patio for taking in the views over the water and soaking in some sun.
Visit Tivoli at Night
It seems that the Scandinavians like having amusement parks in their cities (=they are a fun-loving people)? Copenhagen’s got probably the most famous one: Tivoli Gardens. Opened in 1843, it is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world, so don’t expect Six Flags-adrenaline-pumping types of rides. Even if the rides aren’t your thing, stroll around the grounds to see the interesting influences from “the Orient” (Chinese lanterns, a Chinese pagoda, the above building built in the Moorish style) and get in touch with your inner child by eating some ice cream and candy. I think the magic of Tivoli is best seen at dusk as it turns to night, when the buildings and the rides light up, lending a sense of wonder and enchantment to the park. In the summer, there are also several entertainment programs each week, with live music, ballet performances, plays, and light shows. While we were there, there was a live big band and lots of people swing dancing!
Check out a Hippie Commune
For a look into an alternative way of life in Copenhagen, take a stroll through the self-governing hippie community of Freetown Christiania. Since it was established in 1971, inhabitants have maintained their autonomy from the Danish government. The small community of about 1,000 residents consists of self-constructed houses and buildings, many painted with colorful, trippy murals; cafes; community centers; music venues; gardens; and most notoriously, “Pusher Street,” where there are lots of people selling weed. Just don’t take photos or video where there are signs indicating that they’re not allowed; the locals won’t take kindly to it. Though the community has developed an understanding with the Danish state, they’ve had their ups and down in their relationship with the law (occasional police raids still occur). You likely won’t spend too much time here, but it was definitely an interesting place to witness just how free a society Denmark is.
Get your Eating and Drinking On!
I already covered this in my last post about hygge, but Copenhagen has an incredible selection of restaurants and bars and spaces in which you can kick back with a bottle of wine or a cold Carlsberg beer. You can even eat at one of the best restaurants in the world, Noma, which requires hard-to-snag reservations made months in advance, but worth a try if you are a foodie! Definitely spend some time relaxing at a cafe with a latte and a pastry. You also can’t visit Copenhagen without trying smørrebrød, the traditional Danish lunch open-faced sandwich. Unfortunately, on my short trip to Copenhagen I only got to skim the surface of all that Copenhagen had to offer. But I’m looking forward to going back to spend some quality time eating and drinking my way through the trendy neighborhoods of Norrebro and Vesterbro.