Copenhagen City Guide: from Nyhavn to Noma; what to do and where to eat to make the most of a trip to Denmark’s beautiful capital…
Copenhagen City Guide
Copenhagen is one of my favourite European cities. It has so much to offer visitors: here you will find some of the world’s most renowned restaurants, a perfect blend of historic and modern architecture, and find hygge very much alive and well. Following my own trip here, I’ve put together a Copenhagen city guide, providing the lo-down on what to see & do and where to eat. If you are already planning a trip, I hope that this article will help to ensure that your trip to Denmark’s capital city is a great one. If you are not already planning to visit (and I can’t think of any valid reason not to be), perhaps this will help inspire you to book some plane tickets pronto!
~ What to Do and See ~
Part one of the Copenhagen city guide: 13 activities and sights which should not be missed.
1. Explore the city on a bike
Jumping on a bike is the perfect way to get the lay of the land, enjoy some fresh air and light exercise and, for those who have travelled from further afield, dust off the jet lag cobwebs.
Copenhagen is a relatively flat city, which makes biking easy and enjoyable. There are a number of bike tours which run in the city and we chose to bike Copenhagen with Mike. A local tour guide provided us with an amusing insight into everyday Danish life and an overview of some of the key historical moments in Copenhagen’s history. During the tour we visited a number of Copenhagen’s key sites including the Little Mermaid, Nyhavn, Nyboder and Amalienborg Castle. I really enjoyed myself and it proved an excellent way to find our bearings and to choose which landmarks we would revisit during the days that followed.
In times past, Nyhavn was a busy commercial port. Today, it’s a lot more relaxed and one Copenhagen’s most visited attractions. Colourful wooden houses line the waterfront; a perfect postcard composition. In the summer months especially, the outside seating areas of the numerous restaurants and bars provide a perfect place sit back, relax and welcome in the evening.
During the day time, canal tours start and finish in Nyhavn. They are a wonderfully easy way of taking in some of Copenhagen’s key sites and offer the chance to see the city from a slightly different perspective.
3. Tivoli Gardens
Disclaimer: I love theme parks. As we will all no doubt agree, rollercoasters are freaking awesome. In Copenhagen, after spending the day broadening your cultural horizons, take a hop skip and a jump over to Tivoli Gardens. It’s the second oldest functioning amusement park in the world! For a big slice of entertainment and a healthy dollop of nostalgia, Tivoli is certainly worth a visit. The park provides entertainment for the entire family: there are puppet shows, fairground rides, live jazz, light shows and, of course, freaking rollercoasters.
4. Spy on Dragons
Børsen is the 17th Century stock exchange which sits in the heart of Copenhagen. Its redbrick facade and faded green roof tiles are a throwback to Denmark’s renaissance period. The building’s distinctive spire is worthy of your attention (and a couple of photographs, obviously). The spire is formed of four dragons, their tails spiralling up into the Copenhagen sky.
5. Visit a Hollywood filming location
All around Copenhagen there are small slices of history and throwbacks to the past. The colourful, terraced houses of Nyboder are one such example. Repetitions of orange walls, green window frames and red shutters make for some colourful photos. If they look familiar, it’s because they were used as a filming location for the Danish Girl. The houses themselves date back to the 1700s when King Christian IV commissioned their construction to serve as naval barracks.
6. The Lego Shop
Like most boys born in the 80s, I was partial to a bit of lego. Okay, that is a massive understatement; as a kid I was obsessed with lego. It would be interesting to know just how many hours were spent building and playing with those magic bricks. Lego is one of Denmark’s most famous exports and I figured it would be quite rude, not least to my younger self, if I didn’t step foot inside Copenhagen’s flagship lego store. I mean, look, there’s a bloody great lego dragon!
7. Watch the changing of the Royal Guards
Denmark has one of the oldest monarchies in the world, tracing its lineage back over 1000 years. Amalienborg Palace, situated in central Copenhagen across the water from the opera house, serves as the Queen’s winter residence. The palace buildings circle the perimeter of a large brick-paved square. It’s here that you can see the Royal Guards. The changing of the Guards ceremony takes place daily at 12 noon.
8. Check out Frederick's Church
After visiting Amalienborg, head over to Frederick’s Church, which is located approximately 100 metres away. The church is a wonderful example of the rococo artistic style (an 18th century art form which arose out of France and is characterised by fanciful curved asymmetrical forms and elaborate ornamentation – thanks Google). It has the largest dome of any church in Scandinavia and there are obvious similarities with St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
9. Rosenborg Castle
Set within the King’s Garden is Rosenborg CastleDespite being over 400 years old, it looks totally fabulous. The castle is surrounded by a moat on 3 sides and topped with the same green colour scheme which is abound across the older parts of the city. The gardens which front the castle provide a nice setting, especially when the sun is out. Venture inside the castle to gaze upon the Danish Crown Jewels, see walls ordained with rich tapestries and a trio of silver lions standing guard in the throne room.
10. The Little Mermaid
At the end of the Langelinje Pier you will find Copenhagen’s most famous statue. Yep, you guessed it, it’s the Little Mermaid. As her name suggests, she is pretty small in person (I’m there for scale). The statue is was a gift to the city from one of Copenhagen’s most famous sons, Carl Jacobsen. Fun fact: she’s actually been decapitated twice, but (thankfully) has been lovingly restored on each occasion.
11. Soak up some history at Kastellet
Those history buffs amongst you might want to take a trip to see Kastellet, the star-shaped fortress in central Copenhagen. It was one of the key sites in the Battle of Copenhagen. In the centre of the fortress’ grassy ramparts are some pristinely preserved buildings: the red barracks – two storey terraces known as ‘the Rows’; the colourful Commander’s House; and, on the King’s bastion, the last of 18 windmills which originally stood on the site. If a history lesson doesn’t take your fancy, you could opt to stroll along the ramparts and take in the views which they provide of the city.
12. Climb to the top of the Church of our Saviour
Next up is the Church of our Saviour. The church itself is one of the most famous in all of Denmark. Its unmistakeable black and gold serpentine spire is visible from all over the city. Looking for some superb vistas across the city? Climb the 400 steps up to the top and you’ll be in for a spectacular reward.
13. Visit Christiania
Number 13 on the list (but not unluckily so) is Christiania, a free town. The independent community is governed by its own rules, independently of the Danish government. It’s also known as the ‘green light district’ on account of the permanent cannabis stalls which used to be set up along Pusher Street. Venture in or take a guided tour to see a different, more bohemian side of Copenhagen.
~ Where to Eat ~
In part two of my Copenhagen City Guide, I’ll let you in on my top picks for lunch and dinner…
Picks for Dinner:
Noma: The brain child of René Redzepi, a superstar in the culinary world. Since its opening in 2003, Noma has received the title of ‘world’s best restaurant’ on five separate occasions. Five! Bookings need to be made months in advance and, sadly, we weren’t important enough to secure a last minute reservation. It would also have doubled the cost of our trip. Maybe next time… For some more affordable (but super tasty) alternatives, read on…
Krebsegaarden: My favourite meal in Copenhagen was at Krebsegaarden, which offers a unique dining experience. I subsequently learned that its the #1 ranked restaurant in Copenhagen on TripAdvisor – and with good reason! The restaurant’s menu and decor takes its inspiration from the artwork on display at the nearby Gallery Krebsen. The menu is ever-rotating; influenced by the exhibition and the nationality and culinary preferences of the artist who’s work is on show. We opted for a five dish tasting menu, with accompanying wines/beers. The owners clearly love what they do and it certainly shows in both the hospitality and the food. The restaurant staff were friendly, fun and supremely knowledgeable. The dishes were creative, beautifully presented and, most importantly, delicious beyond description. The restaurant is fairly small so make sure that you book ahead and don’t miss out on a tremendous dining experience.
Picks for Lunch:
Schønnemann: You can’t possibly head to Scandinavia without indulging in some smörgåsbord. Whilst the open sandwich originates from Sweden, you will find fantastic iterations across the other Scandinavian countries. For a fabulous smorgasbord experience, head to Schønnemann. The restaurant is one of the oldest in Copenhagen. It dates back to 1877 and has run through 3 generations of the same family. It’s interior is easily identifiable: dark wood panelling and walls painted green. It’s something of an institution. For something a little different (at least if you are visiting from the UK), try one of the herring options.
Torvehallerne: this was one of the stops on our bike tour. I had the most delicious sorbet: one scoop blood orange flavour and one scoop chocolate. In addition to the amazingness of the sorbet on offer, there are more than 60 stalls selling a variety of fresh fish, meat and gourmet chocolate. There are also numerous places to stop, take a seat and enjoy a selection of small plates, whether it be for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
All in all, I loved Copenhagen. It offers laid back Scandinavian charm, there’s loads to see and do, and there’s some cracking, top quality food to enjoy. It’s perfect for a quick weekend getaway, but there is also enough to keep visitors occupied for an additional couple of days.