A few months ago I was lucky enough to go on a work trip to London for a few days. While London isn’t my favorite city in Europe, it is an excellent jumping off point for many other amazing trips, My husband was coming to meet me at the end of my time in London and we had three extra days with which to do as we pleased. We had a few criteria: head to a place we hadn’t been before, on a relatively cheap and fast flight, to a place where three days was enough. After discussing Zurich, Brussels and Oslo, we finally settled on Copenhagen, largely because the flight was about an hour and once my Hamlet-loving husband heard “Denmark,” he was pretty much sold.
Going in, we knew little and had few expectations for what awaited us in Copenhagen. It turned out, however, to be a surprisingly wonderful trip, and the perfect excursion to tack on at the end of another city. It has all the history you’d want from a European city, but is a little quirkier and more unexpected than places like Paris or London. The food we had, while not, in my opinion, much better than the pub food of the UK, was certainly more adventurous. And of course, the Danes are rated as some of the happiest people on earth, and while you may take that as you will, it certainly was a marked change from the culture of New York that I’m used to.
We had just over 48 hours in Copenhagen, a perfect amount of time, really. Here are some of our favorite things we did, should you ever make it to the Danish capital:
1. Indulge in breakfast
There’s a reason the Danish have their own category of breakfast foods. If you don’t mind a little sweetness to start your day, you absolutely can’t go wrong with any of the huge selection of breakfast pastries available to you. My personal recommendation? A cinnamon snail (Kanelsnegel) and a flat white coffee. It’s not a dinner rez at Noma, but a good Danish danish is a food experience you cannot miss.
2. Wander through Tivoli
Copenhagen is a fairly small city, but they still somehow manage to have an entire amusement park smack dab in the middle of it. The Tivoli leisure garden, while not the size of Six Flags, comprises a collection of rides, restaurants, game arcades and performances spaces right on the edge of downtown Copenhagen. While it might be a bit touristy, and perhaps a tad pricey, it’s definitely worth an afternoon or evening visit. Ride the roller coaster and bumper cars, have a nice meal at one of the many restaurants (like Nimb or the Biergarten) and spend a couple of hours walking around the beautifully landscaped grounds. As the second oldest amusement park in the world, it offers a really unique experience, without even having to venture outside the city.
3. Have a meal outside in Nyhavn
If you’ve ever seen pictures of Copenhagen, they were probably of the Nyhavn area. While architecture all over the city is beautiful, the Nyhavn area around the canal is where those gorgeous, multicolored townhouses all are. Bridging either side of a short canal, the Nyhavn houses are a gorgeous backdrop to sails of boats docked along the water and a series of outdoor cafes and restaurants. Spend a couple of hours walking along the water, admiring the scenery and duck into any of the restaurants for the smorrebrod, or open face sandwich, that the Danes are known for.
4. Walk just about anywhere
Copenhagen is a very green city–bikers outnumbered both cars and walkers when I was there, and the city is the perfect size for getting around on foot. By far my favorite thing in Copenhagen was just wandering around. In just one day, we covered most of the downtown area on foot, and saw more alleyways, marketplaces and beautiful buildings tucked away in corners than we would have if we’d taken taxis or even ridden around on bikes. The city is also full of gorgeous architecture (like those famous Nyhaven buildings) that spending a few hours just wandering will give you a better feeling of the city’s history and vibe than anything else might. I suggest skipping the long trek out to the Little Mermaid statue, though, and keeping your trails to the inner streets of the city–I promise, you’ll stumble upon some really wonderful little nooks.
5. Climb a building
Not only is Copenhagen easily walkable, it’s easily climbable as well. There are almost no skyscrapers in the city, which might make you think the bird’s eye view would be rather boring. On the contrary, the view of Copenhagen from above is quite spectacular, and luckily, there are no shortage of ways to see it. Try climbing up Rundetarn (Round Tower), a historic observatory in the heart of the downtown Stroget neighborhood, or try the Marble Church on Frederiksgade for unobstructed views straight to the Amalienborg Slot palace grounds, where the royal family resides. Because the city is rather short, neither climb is particularly difficult, though if you don’t like heights, you might prefer to stay inside Rundetarn, instead of edging along the dome of the church. You’ll have terrific views in all directions, straight out to the water that surrounds the city.
Of course there are plenty of other wonderful things to do for a few days in Copenhagen–the Torvehallerne KBH food market, the changing of the palace guard, wandering through the north and south neighborhoods (Norrebro, Christianshavn) and the fantastic underground tour of the Christiansborg Slot palace (built on the ruins of other palaces, which has burned down twice!). But in my 2.5 days in the Danish capital, these are the five things I absolutely wouldn’t have wanted to miss, and highly recommend should you ever make your way there.
What’s your next planned trip? Have you ever been to Copenhagen?