Things to Do in Copenhagen
With its jumble of 17th- and 18th-century townhouses, painted in a rainbow of bold colors and its cobblestoned waterfront lined with shops and restaurants, Nyhavn is one of Copenhagen’s most photogenic thoroughfares. The scenic road and canal runs from the grand Kongens Nytorv (King’s Square) to the banks of the main Inderhavnen canal and makes a strategic starting point for sightseeing cruises, with tours taking in nearby attractions like Amalienborg Castle, Copenhagen Opera House and the Little Mermaid statue.
Nyhavn also makes a popular choice for a lunch date or evening drinks, and the many bars and restaurants spill over onto the waterfront during the summer months, from where you can watch the traditional wooden fishing boats moving along the canal below. Additional sights of interest along Nyhavn include the Memorial Anchor commemorating the Danish Navy fleets of WWII and a number of houses formerly lived in by fairytale writer H. C. Andersen – no.18, 20 and 67.
With a history dating back over 800 years, the Baroque Christiansborg Palace is one of the capital’s most iconic landmarks, set on the island of Slotsholmen in Copenhagen harbor. For a long time, Christiansborg Palace was the principal residence of the Royal Family but despite their relocation to Amalienborg Palace in 1794, the palace remains at the center of Danish rule, housing the Danish Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Danish Supreme Court, alongside a number of Royal Reception Rooms.
Today, the palace welcomes visitors by guided tour, offering guests the chance to view the ornate Throne Room, where Danish monarchs are crowned; the richly decorated Queen's Library; the grand Royal Banqueting Hall and the Great Hall, where a series of spectacular tapestries depicting 1000 years of Danish history are displayed – a gift to Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II on her 50th birthday in 1990. Visitors can also opt to tour the Royal Stables.
Since opening its doors in 2005, the Copenhagen Opera House has quickly secured its place as one of the capital’s most iconic buildings, with its futuristic roof canopy looming over the waterfront of Copenhagen harbor. The award-winning design, which spans 41,000 square meters and 14 stories, was created by local architect Henning Larsen and features equally captivating interiors, including a striking marble foyer and a gold-plated auditorium roof, shimmering with 24-carat gold leaf.
The opulent surroundings are the home stage of the Royal Danish Opera but the Opera House’s varied schedule includes everything from classical, ballet and opera performances to jazz concerts, held on the 1,500 seat main stage, alongside a roster of experimental works held on the smaller Takkelloftet stage. The principal opera season runs from mid-August until June, when guided tours of the impressive building are also available.
Denmark’s Old Stock Exchange, which was built in 1625, is one of the oldest building in Copenhagen and home to some of the city’s richest history. The original structure housed some 40 stalls for trading and was flanked by water on three of its four sides. Between 1658 and 1659 the lead roof was removed in piecemeal and used to fashion cannonballs to combat the Swedish occupation of the nation. It wasn’t until a few centuries later that roof was full restored.
Although the Old Stock Exchange is iconic in the city’s history, it’s not open to the public. Travelers can explore the land around the building, but it’s difficult to actually get inside. Only those with invites to dinners, conferences or galas are typically lucky enough to pass through the doors. Visitors should still keep their eyes out for the swirling dragons’ tail spire that sits atop the red brick building, which represents the original kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
The Danish castle, Rosenborg Slot, was built between 1606 and 1633 in the Dutch Renaissance style, typical of Danish buildings of the time, by architetual innovator King Christian IV. Now the castle contains a museum exhibiting the Royal Collections, heirlooms representing the span of royal Danish culture from the late 16th to 19th century. Some of these artifacts belonged to the nobility and the aristocracy in the past.
The castle became state property and was opened to the public in the1830s and to serve the dual function as a royal treasury and a museum. The particularly interesting attractions include the glittery crown jewels, the Danish Crown Regalia, coronation furnishings, and impressive family portraits. The castle is surrounded by the city’s oldest public park, Kongens Have, featuring lovely botanical gardens.
More Things to Do in Copenhagen
With a history dating back to 1859, Copenhagen Zoo is one of the oldest zoological gardens in Europe and one of the countryâs top tourist attractions. The animal inhabitants of the 11-hectare park span all corners of the globe, including rhinoceros, giraffe, zebra and lions, alongside a number of rare and endangered species like red pandas, polar bears and amur leopard.
Visitors can marvel at local wildlife in the dedicated Nordic area, where reindeer, muskox, brown bears and grey wolves can be found; watch hippos swimming from an underwater lookout in the Hippopotamus House; interact with farm animals, reptiles and snakes at the petting zoo; or climb the 43.5 meter high observation tower, for expansive views over the surrounding city and parklands. Additional highlights include the Elephant House, designed by legendary British architect Sir Norman Foster to house the zooâs Asian Elephant breeding program.
Over 300 cruise ships call every year at the port in Copenhagen, which was named Europe’s top cruise destination each year from 2004 to 2008. The largest city in Scandinavia, Copenhagen is a charming capital with 17th and 18th century architecture and winding cobblestone streets. Also home to one of the world’s oldest monarchies, the port is a great starting point for cruises to the Baltic countries, St. Petersburg, and even the British Isles and Greenland.
Arriving in Copenhagen, you will debark at either the Langeline Pier or the Freeport Terminal. Langeline Pier is an easy walk from the city center, but you might also take a taxi, a waterbus from the end of the pier or bus #26, which runs about every 20 minutes. Free city bikes are also nearby – you can check one out for the day if you prefer to pedal your way around Copenhagen. From Freeport Terminal, shuttle buses run into the city center, as does bus #26, and taxis are also available.
Contemporary art enthusiasts will find plenty to challenge their perceptions at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark’s leading museum of modern art, where innovation and creativity meet head on. A short journey from Copenhagen, the museum occupies a dramatic setting on the shore of the Oresund Sound, with its modernist façade surrounded by an idyllic seafront sculpture park – both the work of Danish visionary Knud W. Jensen.
Behind the glass-fronted exteriors, the museum harbors a vast permanent collection of over 3,000 modern and contemporary works, dating from the post-WWII era to the present day. This is one of the largest modern art collections in Scandinavia, featuring significant pieces by Picasso, Warhol, Rauschenberg and Giacometti, alongside works by Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois, Jean Arp and Max Ernst.
Few fortresses hold the power to amaze and impress quite like Copenhagen’s Kastellet. This stunning five-pointed structure was built in 1662 and houses one of the most incredible examples of this style of architecture in the country. Travelers who venture into the emerald grounds will find well-preserved barracks, a small chapel and even a moat. And while the grounds are lovely to explore, visitors say views of the iconic Little Mermaid, Marmorkirken and the cobalt-colored harbor add another level of beauty to this landmark that’s worthy of the journey. Travelers will likely find tourists and locals biking, walking and picnicking at this scenic destination.
Immortalized in print as the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the imposing fortress perched on the northeastern shores of Zealand, is often better known as its literary alter-ego, Elsinore, and is one of Denmark’s most visited attractions. With its dramatic seafront location and towering Renaissance façade, it’s easy to see why Shakespeare was inspired by Kronborg Castle (Kronborg Slot) and in 2000 the magnificent royal abode also became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although its history dates back as early as the 1420s, the present day Kronborg Castle was built in 1585 by Danish King Frederick II and expanded by Christian IV in the early 17th century. Despite being looted by the Swedes in 1658, the later addition of defensive sea walls and a moat elevated Kronborg to one of Europe’s most impregnable strongholds.
Since being taken over by squatters in 1971, Copenhagen’s Christiania neighborhood has become the city’s most infamous district, a self-proclaimed independent state, home to around 1000 permanent residents and notorious for its legal cannabis trade. The unique community was founded by a group of freethinkers, who have run the tax-free, self-governed commune for over 40 years.
Located in an abandoned military barracks, many of the free city’s houses were built by the residents and decorated with colorful murals and sculptures, making the district a vibrant cultural hub and a popular attraction for tourists. Visitors are welcome to stroll the streets of Christiania, take a guided tour led by local residents or relax at the area’s cafés, bars and live music venues, but be careful to follow the self-dictated rules of the area, which include not taking photographs or videos, refraining from using mobile phones, and strict enforcements of anti-violence and hard drug policies.
The Rundetårn (or 'Round Tower' in English) is perhaps the best place in Copenhagen to enjoy panoramic views of the city’s skyline with its fairytale old town and many spires. The observation deck is located 35 meters (115 feet) above street level, offering an expansive view of inner Copenhagen.
The tower was built by King Christian IV, the famous architectural innovator of Denmark, to be an astronomical observatory. A wrought iron lattice runs along the edge of the platform, featuring Christian IV’s monogram. The Rundetårn was mentioned in two Hans Christian Andersen fairytales and is commonly used as a metric to compare heights of buildings in Denmark.
The Carlsberg Brewery was established in 1847 by J.C. Jacobsen. The visitor's center showcases the history of Danish beer and has dioramas to illustrate various processes involved with brewing.
After a self-guided tour in the museum you walk through a garden and stables with Jutland dray horses. In the courtyard there is a smaller replica of the Little Mermaid Statue that Carl Jacobsen commissioned for Copenhagen. You can enjoy an authentic glass of beer in the brewery, as well as some traditional Danish food. There's also a giftshop for souvenirs with Carlsberg insignia for beer connoisseurs.
Christianshavn is a man-made island neighborhood in Copenhagen. It was established in the early 17th century by King Christian IV as a military fortification and center for commerce. Divided by a network of canals, it is often compared to Amsterdam in style.
Christianshavn used to be a working-class neighborhood in the 20th century, but it has since evolved and now is considered to be quite a lively, diverse, and trendy neighborhood. Its streets branch out from the main canal and the houses are colorful and quaint. It is a great area for a stroll or to grab a meal.
A pristine Renaissance palace in the middle of a lake that has been repurposed as the National History Museum is a fairytale look into the past. Frederiksborg Slot was constructed for King Christian IV from 1602 - 1620 and was the site of Danish royal coronations through 1840. Today, it offers a look into the historical splendor of knights, royalty and national honor, along with royal furnishings and elegant gardens.
This spectacular former fortress is spread out over three small islets on a lake. The lush Baroque interiors feature gilded ceilings, magnificent tapestries, paintings and antiques in more than 70 rooms available for public viewing. The Knights Hall and the Coronation Chapel are not to be missed attractions. Take a stroll outside along the lake for picturesque views of the castle and enjoy a longer walk through Slotshaven, the expansive beautiful gardens north of the castle, if you have more time.
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