Copenhagen was a city I always wanted to visit because of it's commitment to thoughtful architecture. But I soon found out there was much more to the city. As the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen was the center of the Danish empire for many generations. As such, there are many palaces and historical landmarks that compliment the classic and modern architecture displayed throughout the city.
Although I mainly stayed in the city center and didn't get to explore the outer districts, I felt like I had a good feel for the city's character. With the meandering canals, lush gardens, and the extensive biking and public transit infrastructure, you get the sense that Copenhagen was built for the people and to serve them. My lasting impression was how clean, scenic, safe, and beautiful the city was. Everyone seemed to be filled with energy and joyful faces, ready to seize the day but also to just enjoy a sunny afternoon.
Culture & Customs
Even though it's in Denmark, American culture is very widely consumed in Copenhagen. Indeed, when asking someone if they spoke English, they'd always reply "yes, of course". Therefore Americans should have no problem getting around and talking to the locals here.
Copenhagen has been voted several times as the happiest city in the world, and it's not hard to see why. People are generally happy here, and like to enjoy whatever the day brings them. They even have a word for their cozy lifestyle - "hygge", emphasizing the little things and simple pleasures like relaxing with your loved ones while enjoying a good meal.
It is an egalitarian society, valuing the needs of the group rather than the individual. Women are highly valued and receive equal pay and access in business, and are treated with respect in society. Danes conduct themselves very politely and believe it's important to follow proper public behavior, expecting it out of everyone. If they see someone not following the rules or being obnoxious, they will generally speak up about it. And this goes for just about any interactions within Danish society. They emphasize proper etiquette and treat everyone with respect, and they expect the same courtesy.
Get a Copenhagen card - This is basically a city pass with a time limit. Getting this will save you from spending on public transportation and discounts/free admission to many activities and attractions like the Tivoli Gardens amusement park, Nyhavn canal tours, the Denmark National Aquarium, and to several of the top castles/palaces. Definitely worth it if you're planning to sightsee.
You can expect normal prices for accommodations in Copenhagen. A shared room in hostels will be about $30 a night, which was what I paid for with an 8-person dorm and twin-sized bunk beds at Urban House. It was clean and had a shared bathroom inside. Private rooms in hostels will cost more in the range of $100-200 a night, with hotel room prices being very similar. These prices represent nicer accommodations so they will vary depending on the condition and quality of the rooms.
Many travelers also opt for renting out rooms via AirBnb. But all of these options are widespread throughout the city. They'll usually have wi-fi and some will have cooking facilities. I recommend hostels if you're looking to be around more activity since most of them will have a bar and cafe on the ground floor. Tripadvisor was the most helpful tool so I always suggest that when booking accommodations.
Situated on the port is one of Copenhagen's most famous attractions. Boats sit on the water against a strip of colorful buildings in the backdrop. Nyhavn is a 17th-century waterfront, canal and entertainment district in Copenhagen, Denmark. Stretching from Kongens Nytorv to the harbour front just south of the Royal Playhouse, it is lined by brightly coloured 17th and early 18th century townhouses and bars, cafes and restaurants. The canal harbours many historical wooden ships.
City Walking Tour
Take a free walking tour around the city center to get a lay of the land and get to know the area. I recommend doing it the first day you're there so you can take the information into the rest of your stay. Remember to tip your guide though!
Palm House Museum Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden is a unique green space in the heart of Copenhagen, which invites engagement in the world of nature. The garden is part of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and differs significantly from other parks in the city by being a living museum with research, public outreach, teaching and nature conservation as its main tasks. Here, you will find Denmark’s largest scientific collection of plants – including species that are either threatened or extinct in nature. Take an hour or two to walk around and enjoy the beautiful collection.
Christiania is a district in Copenhagen that runs on its own set of rules, literally. It was established in 1971 by a group of "hippies" that occupied some abandoned military barracks and developed their own society with many rules and special conditions independent of the city. There's a mix of homemade houses, workshops, art galleries, and communal spaces. One of the more prominent features is the availability of marijuana here as it is openly sold and consumed. Indeed, walking around Christiania you get a more bohemian vibe that is hard to find anywhere else in Copenhagen. Just remember to follow the rules or else you might face some backlash (no video or photography).
Church of our Savior
This is one of Denmark's most famous churches. I just took a snap from across the street, but ever since the serpentine spire was inaugurated in 1752, it has been a popular pastime to climb the 400 steps to the top (image above).
Christiansborg is a magnificent palace and government building in central Copenhagen. It is the seat of the Danish Parliament (Folketinget), the Danish Prime Minister's Office and the Supreme Court of Denmark. Therefore it is the only building in the world that houses all three of a country's branches of government. From the outside, it looks like an old estate from long ago. But the inside feels as clean and new as can be, especially considering you need to put on the given plastic slippers upon walking in. It is adorned and decorated as a palace should be. I always say visiting these palaces is a great way to learn the history of the capital and the royals who passed through. The entrance fee is 150DKK (~$25) but free if you have the Copenhagen card. Don't forget to visit the tower at the top to catch a great panoramic view of the city.
This is one of the city's more trendier areas. It's multicultural hub that gives off a younger and more urban feel. There are dive bars, cheap pizza and kebabs, and eclectic murals such as the revitalized skate park seen on the right (Superkilen).
Copenhagen is well-known as a huge biking city. Statistics have shown that there are even more bikes than residents. And it's never been easier to rent one, making it the easiest way to explore the city as they're available all around, you just need to sign up for an account online and pay with your credit card. So if you're looking to experience Copenhagen like a local, rent a bike!
If you're like me, then you're a sucker for the decadence of decorative arts. The early-17th-century Rosenborg Slot was built in Dutch Renaissance style between 1606 and 1633 by King Christian IV to serve as his summer home. Today the castle's 24 upper rooms are chronologically arranged, housing the furnishings and portraits of each monarch from Christian IV to Frederik VII. The pièce de résistance is the basement Treasury, home to the dazzling crown jewels. Walking through this lavish castle gives you just an idea of what royal life was like back in the day. Some of the interiors are truly beautiful. Just remember it's closed on Mondays.
Tivoli Gardens Amusement Park
Tivoli Gardens (or simply Tivoli) is an amusement park that opened on August 15, 1843 and is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world. When I visited, the park was more charming than it was thrilling. The rides and attractions were similar to carnival rides, but the timeless vibe, dazzling decorations, and extremely well-kept grounds made it a pleasant experience. It would be a great place to visit and explore with friends.
Explore City Center
The city center is the 'old town' of Copenhagen, where the historical traditional buildings have been retrofitted to modern uses. It's dense, it's compact, and it's alive. Walk around the narrow cobblestone streets and admire the traditional architecture. Or go into a one of the local shops just to see and experience what it's like. Regardless of what you do here, just make sure you don't leave Copenhagen without seeing what the city center has to offer.
This is one of the quintessential things to do in Copenhagen if you visit. The reason being that you see most of the important parts of the city and learn much about its history, old and new. The sights aren't spectacular but the tour really is pleasant. You go down narrow canals and harbors, all clean and almost elegant, and pass by the beautiful charming architecture. Especially pleasant on a sunny day, you may even catch some locals on the tour with a beer. I recommend using one of the tours on the side of the port instead of the beginning since it's a bit cheaper but provides the same views.
Morning Bars - These bars are the ones that are open super late up until the morning after all the clubs close. Locals here like to stay out late even until 9am.
Little Mermaid Statue - This is probably one of the most recognizable landmarks in Copenhagen. Originally sculpted out of inspiration from the classic fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson (adapted by Disney), the tale speaks of a mermaid who everyday swims up from the bottom of the sea, staring longingly towards the shore hoping to see her beloved prince. Located sitting on the coast, I only saw it from the back while I was on my boat tour, but you can walk over to see it from the front. Just be wary of all the tourists around.
Hans Christian Anderson Museum - I didn't get to visit this museum but I found out very early that Mr. Anderson is a very prominent historical figure in Copenhagen's history. He is responsible for many of the Disney fairytales that have become so popular. This museum features the origins of all those children's stories (which are a lot darker than the adaptations) along with a collection of display sets and memorabilia.
Grundtvig's Church - You've probably seen photos of this church somewhere on Instagram. It was built to commemorate a prominent Danish priest, poet, and reformer, and has been modernly referred to as a gothic cathedral. Well-known for its massive size and traditional Danish furniture, it also give the air of a calm, tranquil feeling likely due to the emptiness and lack of decor. Sadly I didn't get the chance to visit due to distance and a busy schedule, but to me, it is a photographer's gem because of its symmetry and patterns.
Eating out in Copenhagen can get expensive, but there are plenty of cheaper options if you're on a budget. The quickest and cheapest options are definitely the local pizza and kebab shops, a popular meal found all over the city. But one of the most popular Scandinavian dishes is probably the Smørrebrød. It includes a meat (I recommend the pickled herring) on rye or crispbread and a variety of different vegetables. Grab one of these and you'll be feeling like a viking in no time. If you are going out to a restaurant, expect to pay at least $15 or more for a nice dish. If you're looking for the most famous eateries, there's a few that you can't miss:
This is an indoor street food market with independent stalls and food trucks selling different snacks, meals, and drinks. I got something that looks like a regular hotdog but is actually a Danish streetfood classic. It includes sausage with remoulade, relish, pickles, and potatoes. And you can add fried and fresh onions as well as the usual condiments on there. The market is located in a warehouse right next to the water so you can grab your food, sit outside and admire the views with ships passing by. You can read more about the food market here. It's a classic Danish pastime so be sure not to leave without passing through here!
The Meatpacking District in Vesterbro (Kødbyen)
This is where the trendy restaurants, bars, and markets are located in Copenhagen. It's where all the young hipsters come to enjoy the vibrant nightlife. With its upscale atmosphere and chic crowds, this is a great place to enjoy the night and mingle with locals while tasting all the food and drinks this place has to offer.
There weren't many specific shops I targeted in Copenhagen but this brunch spot was definitely one of them. What initially attracted me was the trendy storefront and tasteful decor inside. But what makes it popular is the coffee and avocado bread which was well worth the time it took to find this place.
Copenhagen has one of the best public transportation networks I've experienced. The airport is located just 5 miles south of the city center, and it only takes about 12 minutes on the train to get to the central station. Some prefer taking the metro depending on your destination, but both are good options. Admittedly, I had some trouble finding which direction to go so I had to ask for some help. But once you're on your way it's smooth sailing from there on.
The metro covers most of Copenhagen and are clean, modern, and usually has free wi-fi. And believe me when I say their system will make you appreciate a good, functioning metro. You don't need to swipe in anywhere but make sure you buy the ticket before you get on because if you're caught without one, there's a hefty fine. You can get a city pass or Copenhagen card (24-hour, 72-hour, etc.) which gives you unlimited travel on trains, buses, and the metro for a limited amount of time, I highly recommend getting this!
Probably the best option to get around the city is renting a bike from a rental shop or just off the side of the street, which are available everywhere. Their system is very easy, you just download an app, enter your payment info, it unlocks and you're good to go. And as I said before, Copenhagen is a cycling-centric city with dedicated bike lanes on just about every street. Just remember to stay on the right side and use hand signals for any turns.
If you prefer to be transported by car, Uber is no longer functioning here but there are several taxi apps you can use, one of which is Taxa 4x35.