As the capital of Denmark and its largest city, Copenhagen seamlessly blends the old and the new. It was no wonder to me why Copenhagen scores so highly with those who’ve visited. It’s certainly a place I’d visit again. Here’s why you too should visit Copenhagen.
How to spend 48 hours in Copenhagen Denmark
Copenhagen | København
Copenhagen (Kopenhagen or København) is the capital of Denmark. And Denmarks largest city. Danish is the official language but most residents of Copenhagen also speak english. The currency is the Danish Krone.
Copenhagen was founded in 1167 and the original ruins are still to be seen under Christiansborg Palace (covered below). As a city, Copenhagen is filled with castles and palaces to explore. Far more than I could see in a single trip.
It’s a vibrant modern city that seamlessly blends the old and the new. And a city I believe should be on everyones European summer holiday travel itineraries.
Getting to Copenhagen
There are two main routes to Copenhagen. The first is to fly in via the Copenhagen international airport in the south-east of the city. And the second route is via train.
I used the second method. And I took a train from Berlin via Hamburg to Copenhagen. The train was relatively quick for me. And it was incredibly cheap when booked in advance using OMIO.
The train also had the advantage that I didn’t need to go through customs, spend hours at an airport and I got to visit Hamburg on the way. But if you’re not already in a Europe in a country near Denmark, flying would be your best option.
Getting around Copenhagen
Copenhagen is such an incredibly walkable city. It does have a convenient metro (Copenhagen Metro or Københavns Metro) that runs 24 hours a day. But Copenhagen is so easily walkable and pretty, I found myself taking the metro sporadically and walking everywhere else.
I purchased a metro pass for all stations in Copenhagen which allowed me to get on and off the metro as I pleased. Most days I’d take the metro out to the furtherest attraction I was visiting that day and walk back along one of the many promenades, boardwalks or canals and visit other sites on my way back toward the center of the city.
Must See Tourist Attractions in Copenhagen Denmark
The tourist attractions covered below are those that my local friends recommended to me. I’ve included them in the order that I visited them and each destination is relatively close to the next. Thereby creating a logical map that you can follow to see each one.
There are significantly more sites in Copenhagen than I’ve covered. But these are the big ticket items so to speak. You could likely rush through them in 1-2 days. Yet 2-3 days would be ideal to give you time to properly see each of the castles. The castles are large and each will take about 2-3 hours to see properly.
Yet beyond Copenhagen’s palaces, castles and museums is its natural beauty. It’s beautiful city criss-crossed with canals and smattered with parks. It’s the type of city you should just get a coffee and sit in a park by the water and watch the world go by.
One of my favourite cities in Europe, it’s one I would advise you to take your time with. Casually explore Copenhagen and you won’t be disappointed. I spent a week in Copenhagen and it simply wasn’t enough.
To complicate matters further, on my train ride from Hamburg Germany I spotted a lot of Danish towns along the way that looked like they too were worth exploring. And they were a short train ride from Copenhagen.
But for now, here are the top sights in Copenhagen Denmark
The Little Mermaid
Copenhagen was home to Hans Christian Andersen. The author of the original ‘Little Mermaid’ that was adapted by Disney. Spoiler alert, only in the Disney movie is there a happy ending.
The statue was a gift from Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen to the City of Copenhagen. And the statue is said to be 4ft tall. But 3ft of its stated size are the granite rocks it sits on.
The Little Mermaid statue is one of the most famous and most visited tourist attractions in Copenhagen. And it’s actually considered one of the most photographed statues in the world.
From what I saw when I visited Copenhagen I’d tend to believe the claim that it’s one of the most photographed statues in the world. There was a long line directly in front of the statue to take a selfie with it.
People were queuing for up to 30 minutes. Just to take a selfie with a small bronze statue. Personally, I just walked up on the side, took the pictures below and walked off. As it didn’t really seem worth the wait.
While I found the statue underwhelming and not worth a specific visit to the site, the area around the statue was definitely worth visiting. While everyone else was jockeying for position in a line to take a photo with ‘The Little Mermaid’, I got a coffee from a nearby van. Then I walked around the parks, marina, took in the ocean and watched seaplanes come and go.
I also visited the much more impressive Maritime Monument about 75 meters from The Little Mermaid statue. And nobody in The Little Mermaid line even seemed to know it was there.
Kastellet in copenhagen
Located directly behind The Little Mermaid is the Kastellet. The Kastellet is a 17th century star-shaped fortress. It’s still an active military site and is home to the monument to Denmark’s international activities after 1948 and the Danish Eternal Flame.
The Kastellet is open to the public and visitors can enter the citadel and visit the war memorial. And for a view of both the citadel and the surrounding moat and city, visitors to the site can walk around the fort on the ramparts (walls surround the citadel).
From the ramparts you can see down into the moat and observe the large fish that populate the crystal clear waterways of Denmark. During the summer the grassy ramparts of Kastellet are home to juvenile swans. The area is considered a ‘green lung’ of the city and locals visit often for exercise and to relax.
The ramparts or hills surrounding the citadel are steep and the water is deep. It was definitely easy to see from the ramparts why designing a fortress in this star-shaped pattern was effective.
Any potential invaders would need to traverse the moat, climb a steep slippery embankment only to then go down again and up an even steeper embankment. All while being fired upon from no less than 4 angles.
Gefion Fountain is located next to the Kastellet and beside St Alban’s Church. The fountain and its sculptures were a gift to the city of Copenhagen from the Carlsberg Foundation.
Gefion Fountain depicts a scene from Norse mythology involving the creation of the island of Zealand on which Copenhagen is located. Gefjun is promised the territory she can plow in a night and so she turns her 4 sons into oxen. The territory she has plowed is then thrown down into the sea and becomes the island of Zealand.
When I saw Amalienborg in the travel guides I thought it was a Star Trek joke (‘Am Alien Borg’). As it turns out, it’s the home of the Danish royal family. And it’s not a single palace but 4 identical palaces around an octagonal courtyard.
Amalienborg became the official home of the Danish royal family in 1794 when the original Christiansborg Palace burnt down. The palaces at Amalienborg were originally slated to become the homes of 4 noble families before the Christainsborg fire. While Christiansborg has since been rebuilt Amalienborg has remained the home of the royal family.
One of the highlights of visiting Amalienborg are the Royal Guards. And the site is guarded day and night by the Royal Guards whose uniform is similar to their British counterparts.
The guards march through the streets of Copenhagen from Rosenborg Castle each day at 11:30am and arrive at Amalienborg for the handover ceremony at 12:00pm.
Nyhavn is about a 10 minute walk from Amalienborg. And it’s a great place for lunch when you’re done visiting palaces and watching the Royal Guards march around.
Nyhavn was the old commercial centre and port district of Copenhagen. It’s where all the international ships would dock and sailors would seek out a beer and company in one of Nyhavn’s many colourful bars. Today Nyhavn has been restored and its image cleaned up. It’s now full of old pubs and fine restaurants.
It was in Nyhavn that I’ve had probably the best fish and chips of my life. I spent hours here just sitting at different restaurants watching the canal tour boats and pedestrians go by. It’s also where all the locals go for a beer when the weather gets warm by Copenhagen standards. Which is anything warmer than freezing.
It’s also worth pointing out that Hans Christian Andersen lived in Nyhavn. Numbers 20, 67 and 18 were where Andersen lived. Basically anywhere you sit to take in the view and have a beer, Anderson has probably had a beer there before you and drawn inspiration for a fairytale.
The original Christiansborg Palace burnt down in 1794. Yet the site has been home to a castle since 1167 when it was Bishop Absalon’s Borg (Castle). And the current site still has within it the foundations of that original castle.
Christiansborg Palace Foundations
Underneath Christiansborg Palace the original foundations of Absalon’s castle have been unearthed and preserved. Including the original medieval sewers and wells. Which were surprisingly close together. So close together in fact that the drinking water likely had an undesirable taste.
Also from the basement museum I learnt that the original Christiansborg Palace was built on the site of Copenhagen Castle, which was itself built over Absalons Castle.
Absalon’s castle was destroyed and replaced in 1369. And its successor Copenhagen Castle which had a stagnant moat that was known for its foul odour was replaced in 1730 by the first Christiansborg.
The first Christiansborg Palace was destroyed by a fire in 1794 that killed over 180 people. The second Christiansborg burned down again in 1884. The current Christiansborg is the third iteration of the Christiansborg Palace.
Christiansborg Palace Interior
The current third version of the Christainsborg Palace was only completed in 1928 and it’s all relatively new inside. No Danish Monarch with the exception of Frederick VII who resided in the second Christiansborg between 1852-1863 has lived at the site since the first Christiansborg burnt down in 1794.
The Christiansborg Palace is now home to the Danish Parliament and the Prime Ministers office. It’s used by the monarchy for visits with heads of state. And the Danish queen holds regular meetings at Christiansborg.
The Great Hall Christiansborg Palace
The Great Hall was renovated for Queen Margrethe II’s 60th birthday. It was decorated with a series of 17 tapestries recounting the history of Denmark. The tapestries were based on designs by Bjørn Nørgaard and were woven by Gobelins of Paris. The tapestries took roughly a decade to produce.
From the history of Denmark’s founding, wars, monarchs and the rise of Hitler, everything is featured in the tapestries. Even the arrival of Daffy Duck to Denmark in 1949 is hidden in the works.
Christiansborg Palace Chapel
The Christiansborg Palace Chapel is the royal chapel and is at the disposal of the monarch. The original chapel that was constructed at the time of the first Christiansborg Palace was burned along with it.
Luck saved the chapel from being burned down along with the second Christiansborg Palace. But in 1992 the Chapel was destroyed by a fire that spared the third Christiansborg Palace.
The chapel was the second last building I toured when visiting Christiansborg. And by the time I got to the chapel I was sure of two things. The first being that Danish palaces burn down all too frequently. And the second is that Denmark needs to invest in fire safety equipment in places frequented by royalty.
The chapel is used for royal weddings, baptisms and lying in state. It’s also used for a service each year at the inauguration of parliament.
Christiansborg Palace Tower
The Christiansborg Palace Tower has the highest viewing platform in the city. And it provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding city. On a clear day it’s possible to see the coast of Sweden.
I particularly enjoyed spotting all the other landmarks I’d visited in Copenhagen from the tower. And from the tower it’s much easier to see the extent of the canal networks in this part of Copenhagen. I spent quite a bit of time just watching the boats cruise by from the tower.
Entry to the tower is free. But all visitors will need to go through a sequence of metal detectors and security checkpoints due to the Prime Ministers office being nearby.
Rosenborg Castle was originally built in 1606 as a country retreat and summer house. It was repeatedly renovated and expanded until 1624 when it evolved into its current design.
It has 5 floors and a type of basement level that houses the vault with the Danish Crown Jewels. There are flower gardens on each side and a moat. In summer the gardens and green spaces around the castle draw tourists and locals alike.
And next to Rosenborg Castle are the barracks for the Royal Guards. At 11:30am everyday you can watch them march out of their barracks on their way through Copenhagen to Amalienborg where they will perform a changing of the guard ceremony at 12:00pm.
Rosenborg Castle Interior
There are two main rooms in Rosenborg Castle that must be visited while at Rosenborg. The Long Hall and the semi-subterranean vault housing the Danish Crown Jewels. Yet I found the collections in all the rooms at Rosenborg to be more interesting than most others I encountered at other castles in Copenhagen.
At Rosenborg Castle you’ll find everything from solid silver lions surrounding the thrones to pistols gifted to Denmark’s monarch by Abraham Lincoln shortly after he became President of the United States.
There were pistols, swords, coronation saddles and more. I spent longer wandering the displays of Rosenborg than I did at the Christiansborg which is many times larger.
Denmark’s Crown Jewels | Danish Crown Regalia
Entering through a second door near to the main and wandering down a narrow and dimly lit staircase you’ll find the vault room that sits under Rosenborg Castle. It’s in this small room under Rosenborg that you’ll encounter the Danish Crown Jewels and the Danish Crown Regalia.
In the vault room you’ll find everything from jewel encrusted gold swords to huge emeralds and sapphires. This room has it all. One piece of jewellery I found interesting at Rosenborg Castle was a small diamond ring which had a humorous tale to tell (see below).
I also learnt from the various display placards that pieces of the collections are from time to time loaned out to the monarchy and are worn for special occasions. Not necessarily the swords and crowns, but the rings and necklaces.
Like most other symbols of the monarchy in Denmark including the castles like Rosenborg and Christainsborg the Danish Crown Jewels are also owned by the state. All of the symbols of power and prestige that would ordinarily be assumed a part of the monarchy in Denmark, do not belong to the monarchy. Instead the state owns and maintains these items and will loan them back to the reigning monarch on request.
The Round Tower
The Round Tower or Rundetårn is an astronomical observatory located in the older parts of Copenhagen’s shopping district. It was built in the 17th Century following the death of Tycho Brahe.
The construction of the observatory merged with that of a student chapel and library for the University of Copenhagen. And the tower and its associated building houses the former student chapel, the observatory and a public art space that was the university library.
The Round Tower in Copenhagen is 35 meters tall and the observatory sits atop. From the viewing platform at the top you get quite the view out over the older parts of Copenhagen. And the spiralling ramp up and down the tower has viewing portals out to parts of the city at different heights.
Copenhagen Waterfront and Canal Tours
One of my favourite things to do in Copenhagen was to follow the myriad canals and waterfront promenades and just walk. Copenhagen is an infinitely walkable city.
Scattered throughout Copenhagen along the public thoroughfares you’ll encounter historical artefacts. Everything from old ships like the Abel Tasman though to statues commemorating kings, battles and Denmarks seagoing past. Just walking around Copenhagen is itself worth the time it takes.
For those who want a slower pace and can’t be bothered walking there are also canal tours. I found the Hey Captain Canal Tour interesting. The tour I went on took a little over 2 hours and meandered through Copenhagens waterways. It was warmer than walking and allowed me to rug up.
Copenhagen | Conclusions
I absolutely loved Copenhagen. And it’s a city I will visit again (likely many more times!). Copenhagen is absolutely worth visiting. I was also lucky enough to experience it while most other travellers were absent due to COVID lockdowns around the globe. So there were few other tourists.
I had no problems with transport and the city was extremely easy to navigate. Currency wasn’t a problem as I could use my cards literally everywhere. Even language proved no barrier as everyone I encountered in Copenhagen spoke English.
The only negative for me in Copenhagen was the climate. I’m Australian and we don’t like the cold. And Copenhagen in summer was still cold. It’s always cold in Copenhagen. And even though summer had a high of 24 degrees celsius during the day, it’s near freezing at night.
Where to stay in Copenhagen
I stayed in the suburb of Syndhavnen at the Moxy. And I’d recommend the Moxy to everyone. The Moxy was located about a 3 minute walk from the local metro station.
Moxy Sydhavnen was more moderately priced compared to some of the advertisements on the booking sites I checked at the time. Even Airbnb in Copenhagen was ridiculously priced.
On returning to Copenhagen I’d likely start looking for accommodation on the hotel booking sites as opposed to airbnb. Copenhagen is a tourist friendly city but some of its airbnb and hotels aren’t tourist friendly in price. Yet the pricing could be affected by seasonality.
You can find The Moxy Sydhavnen here.
Copenhagen climate and affordability
The best time or season to go to Copenhagen are the warmer months (August – September). Still these warmer months have an average of 10 degrees celsius at night. With an added wind chill that makes it feel much colder.
I’d assume rarely any tourists go to Copenhagen in the dead of winter. So the hotels and airbnb’s would likely be much cheaper. And I’ve been told Copenhagen is even more beautiful in the winter but the lack of sunlight and the low daily temperatures would be a little too much for me.
Is Copenhagen worth visiting?
Absolutely. With Berlin as my favourite European city and Budapest my second, Copenhagen is my third favourite European city. It’s a small city that feels much bigger than it its. And yet it remains eminently walkable and has an unending list of attractions. About the only thing I would say I absolutely didn’t like was The Australia Bar (it sucked).
How many days did I spend in Copenhagen and how many days would you need in Copenhagen? I spent 7 days in Copenhagen. But I would say the average tourist could start with 3 to 4 days. It all really depends on the pace at which you like to move. But the one thing that is for certain is that Copenhagen’s relaxed lifestyle will slow you down.
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