The city of Copenhagen has a long and rich history. It was the center of the Danish empire for hundreds of years, and as such, it is home to many palaces, historic buildings, and cultural relics. But modern Copenhagen is not a city steeped in the past — it is looking forward to the future. The classic architecture and canals are juxtaposed with modern infrastructure, new buildings, and a surprising number of windmills.
I’ve been to Copenhagen twice. The first time was just a visit on my way from Sweden to Germany. The second was to experience the city more deeply with some very close friends of mine that I hadn’t seen in years. I walked away from that experience loving the city even more than I did after the first time.
Then again, it is hard not to fall in love with such a clean, beautiful city filled with historic sites and friendly people. (Too bad there isn’t better food, but not everywhere can be Italy.)
The thing I enjoyed most about this trip was that I finally got to explore the city in a lot more depth. I didn’t really get a chance to do that before due to limited time and very, very poor planning. I wasn’t going to let that happen again, and after a week in the city, I walked away having seen many of the must-sees Copenhagen has to offer:
Christiania – This hippy enclave has been around since the 1970s. During that time, peace-loving hippies took over an abandoned army base and set up a commune. Over the years, it has become a drug haven, with people coming to hang out and smoke the weed that is very, very openly sold here. In recent years, the government has cracked down on the area and has won a series of legal victories against it. They are in talks to try to save it, but it may not be around much longer. If weed isn’t your thing, come anyway for the cool beer gardens, the people-watching, and the wall murals.
Boat Tour – The canals and harbor of Copenhagen are very scenic and much cleaner than those of Amsterdam. (You can actually see the bottom of the Copenhagen canals.) Take the hour-long boat tour to learn a bit more about the city. The huge boats leave from Nyhavn, and while they’re “touristy,” you will find a surprising number of locals on them drinking a beer on a sunny day.
Tivoli – Tivoli is an amusement park located in the center of the city. It’s not cheap to visit, and the ride tickets cost extra. But this is a popular place for families, children, and kids on school holidays. While it may not be the most popular place for everyday travelers, I had a blast here, especially playing bumper cars with my friends.
The Morning Bar – “Morning bar” is a term for the late, late (i.e., early morning) bars that open after the clubs close. The Danes like to drink and tend to stay out at these bars until about 9am. The most famous is Louise’s.
Nightlife – Copenhagen has a variety of pubs, lounges, and clubs. This city doesn’t start pumping until about 1am and goes very late (see “morning bar” above). I would recommend trying to spend at least one night out.
Christiansborg Palace Ruins – Underneath this palace in the middle of the city, you can see the ruins of Bishop Absalon’s fortress, which dates back to 1167. It’s dark and damp down there, giving it a very crypt-like and ancient feel. I was really impressed with the detailed information provided about the fortress and its path to the current palace.
Round Tower – Rundetaarn is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. And after a long, tiring walk to the top, it provides a sweeping view of the old part of Copenhagen.
Church of Our Saviour – Located near Christiania, this church is worth seeing for its giant spiraling bell tower. The interior of the church is basic and features a few interesting paintings, but the winding tower is what makes it worthwhile. It has always been regarded as something of a manhood test to climb up and touch the globe on the summit, nearly 100 meters up in the air.
Hans Christian Andersen Museum – While this is really “made for children” and features Disney-like displays and sets, I quite liked this museum. Inside, you get to read all of Andersen’s children’s tales, which were a lot shorter and darker than I had thought. It was quite the eye-opener. Disney lied to me all these years.
Historical Museum – The national history museum has many exhibits relating to Danish history and Viking weapons. (Skip the Museum of Copenhagen, though. It was awful and didn’t convey much.)
Danish National Gallery – The Danish National Gallery (free entry!) has great art from the likes of Rembrandt, Picasso, and Matisse. There are also a number of paintings by Danish artists from the “Golden Age.”
Little Mermaid – It may be small, but this statue makes for some excellent pictures. And since it is near a park that is very much worth visiting, there’s no reason not to head over and snap a photo. Watch out for hordes of tourists trying to get into your shot, though.
Kastellet Park – Kastellet used to be a fortress guarding the city, but it is now a public park, a cultural-historical monument, and also used for military purposes. The park has great gardens, trees, and ponds surrounding it. It’s right near the Little Mermaid and is a wonderful place to relax on a warm day.
Also, keep in mind that Copenhagen isn’t a cheap city. The strong krone makes it a very expensive experience for travelers. Luckily, I stayed with friends for most of my time. But when I didn’t, I paid $30 USD for a 24-bed dorm room! That was one of the cheap dorms in the city, too. I can’t imagine how much a hotel would actually cost.
In terms of saving money, I found that buying drinks at the grocery store helped, as well as eating at the hot dog and sausage vendors ($3 USD for a huge condiment- and extras-filled hot dog). Attraction-wise, I really suggest you get the Copenhagen city card. Like in Oslo and Stockholm, attractions in Copenhagen can really add up. The cost of the card is only 249 kroner for the 24-hour card and 479 for the 72-hour card. (A great bargain, as most museums are 70 kroner to get into and you get free transportation.)
While I enjoyed Copenhagen my first time, I definitely grew to love it my second. I got to see a lot more of the city, and spending time with my friends showed me a bit of the local life and culture, too.
Copenhagen is a beautiful, fun city I will definitely return to. In fact, given my love of Norway and Sweden, I think I should just move to Scandinavia and get it over with. I can’t seem to stay away from the place.
Note: The city of Copenhagen gave me a 72-hour Copenhagen card, which I used to see the city’s attractions that I missed from my 2009 visit.
Photo credit: 1