The Saturday City: Copenhagen

CopenhagenThe 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 by modern infrastructure, new buildings, and a surprising amount 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 is 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 last time 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:

Christinia – 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 there. 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.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

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 here to learn a bit more about the city. The huge boats leave from Nyhavn, and, while “touristy,” you will find a surprising amount of locals on them drinking a beer on a sunny day.

Copenhagen canals

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 to go 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.

Tivoli, Copenhagen

The Morning Bar – There’s actually more than one morning bar in Copenhagen. “Morning bar” is a term for the late, late (early morning) bars that open after the clubs close. The Danes like to drink and tend to stay out at these bars until about 9 a.m. The most famous is Louise’s.

Nightlife – Copenhagen has a variety of pubs, lounges, and clubs. This city doesn’t start pumping until about 1 a.m. and goes very late (see above morning bars). I would try to spend at least one night out.  

Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen

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 through a long, tiring walk to the top, it provides a sweeping view of the old part of Copenhagen.

Church of Our Saviour – Located near Christinia, 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 Anderson Museum – While this is really “made for children” and features Disney-like displays and sets, I really liked this museum. Inside, you get to read all of Anderson’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.”

The Little Mermaid statue, Copenhagen

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 is now a public park, a cultural-historical monument, and is 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 kroner 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 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 hotdog).  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.

Editor’s Note: The city of Copenhagen gave me a 72 VisitCopenhagen card, which I used to see the city’s attractions that I missed from my 2009 visit.

  1. Nice! Good run down of the city. I live just in Southern Sweden, so going to Copenhagen is one of those every once in a while, “going to the big city” kind of adventures. I don’t know if the Copenhagen city card includes a trip to the Louisiana Museum (pronounced “Luce-iana” by the Danes) in Humlebæk, but for anyone staying longer than a day, it is well worth the short train ride north for a visit.

    Another deal for people traveling in the area is the “Around the Sound” two-day bus and train pass. This allows you to make a round trip through the Oresunds region (Copenhagen, Helsingør, Helsingborg, and Malmö) with unlimited on-and-off any public transportation and discounted tickets to all the castles, museums, etc. in the area.

    So glad you enjoyed your time in this area!

    Kate | Transatlantic Sketches

    • NomadicMatt

      I met a lot of people who lived in Malma but worked in Copenhagen. I thought idea of living in one country and working in the other was pretty cool.

  2. I visited Copenhagen a few years back, in winter. Days were short, evenings very cold yet it was all very enjoyable. And I was probably the only foreigner in town who loved Danish rye bread.

  3. First of all, I was happy for all the happy side references to Sweden. As a Swede living in California it was just the boost of patriotism that I needed:) But the post WAS about Copenhagen so I’ll focus my comments on your review of our former conquerors… Nice summary! I literally have a great, succinct guide for my Copenhagen trip that I’ll likely be planning for early 2012. Good cost cutting suggestions as well. Whenever I am in Scandinavia I try to crash with family or friends and, as you mentioned, hit the grocery stores. How much time would you budget for a thorough Copenhagen visit? Also, any suggestions for good day trips from Copenhagen? What are some good hostels in the $30 range? Also, I’ve heard Copenhagen is the best dressed city ever? True or hype?
    Thanks again for a great post… you’ve got a new and interested reader…

    • NomadicMatt

      People dress very well there but I think they are a bit fancier in Stockholm.

      I would budget about 70 – 100 USD per day depending on how much you want to go out and party. Moreover, Roskilde makes for a good day trip. A very historic city there with a beautiful church.

  4. Sanders

    Regarding your comment on Copenhagen’s food…I think you just missed all the good places. Copenhagen’s got a lot of great restaurants, including what many consider to be the best restaurant in the entire world in Noma. I’d probably agree the average restaurant isn’t like your average family run Italian place which is great, but Copenhagen has some really top-notch food places

  5. Larissa

    You must be getting excited about your impending move :) I’ve said it so many times before but….I REALLY need to get over to Copenhagen more and now that I know about these morning bars, I probably will. I knew things stayed open later than in Malmö, but not 9am! This leads me to believe my theory that Copenhagen is the Vegas is more accurate than I initially thought. I can’t wait to get back!

    P.s. Everyone should go to Floss if they are looking for a cheaper place to start their night. On the weekdays I think it’s 25kr for 2 beers which is a great deal in those parts.

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