Are you thinking about a city trip and don’t know where to go? Consider 2 days in Copenhagen. It had been on the wish list for years, and yet, the annual weekend away always brought my BFF and me somewhere else. Recently, we finally made it, and we visited the best things to do in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen in short
Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark. The municipality of Copenhagen has a population of just over 600,000. About 20% of the total population of Denmark lives in the wider urban area of Copenhagen (1.2 million people).
Copenhagen was established in the Middle Ages, and quickly became the capital city. The name is derived from “Kobmandshavn” (Merchant Harbour). Large warships were built here, but today, the city is no longer a harbour, and there is little industrial activity.
Copenhagen was occupied for an extended period of time during World War II. The Gestapo used the Shell building as their headquarters. British pilots bombed it in 1945. A mistake was made, and the attack also destroyed a French school, killing a large number of children.
Most buildings in the centre of Copenhagen date back to the 17th century. The surrounding areas were built to address the great demand for housing. The most famous areas are:
- Østerbro: considered the most beautiful of the “bridge districts”. It is home to many families with children.
- Vesterbro: very famous because of the “Tivoli” amusement park.
- Nørrebro: a typical working-class neighbourhood, with lots of small shops.
You can spend your 2 days in Copenhagen at any time of the year. However, the best time for your weekend in Copehagen is from May to September. The weather is nice, with temperatures between 17 and 23 degrees. It does not get very hot in Copenhagen during the summer either.
Hotels in Copenhagen
There are hotels in all price categories for your city trip to Copenhagen. We chose the Skt. Petri, part of Nordic Hotels & Resorts. The hotel is situated less than 30 minutes from the airport, and is very central. The famous Torvehallen are 300 metres away, and the best things to do in Copenhagen are closeby.
The rooms are cosy and the bathroom has a rainwater shower, bath, double sink, and separate toilet. The matrasses are very comfortable.
Breakfast is served in the open lobby. The chef will prepare your egg on request per your instructions.
The porters at the hotel love to give you advice about the different restaurants. They can also assist if you want to discover Copenhagen by bike.
Families are also welcome here, as they have a few connecting rooms. Keep an eye on the website, as you can often get up to 50% discount for the second room.
Best things to do in Copenhagen
We start our 2 dags in Copenhagen with a visit to one of the most-photographed spots and top places to visit in Copenhagen. Nyhavn is cul-de-sac at the end of the harbour, and is lined with lots of colourful townhouses along the quay. The oldest house, number 9, was built in 1681. The harbour was built at the request of King Christian V. The current welcoming terraces were once the bars for sailors. Not only was there a lot of drink on offer, some ladies of pleasure were also here to entertain.
The world-famous writer Hans Christian Andersen lived in a few of these houses. He wrote, among other stories, The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid and The Emperor’s New Clothes
Did you know Nyhavn Harbour has the longest outdoor bar in Scandinavia?
This 18th-century palace in neo-baroque style stands where the Royal Palace used to be. When it burnt down, a new palace was built. It then burnt down too, in 1884. The current building dates to 1906. Today, it is a museum where you can view the carriages and costumes of the royal family, among other things.
The Danish Parliament, a number of ministries, and the Supreme Court are also housed in the building. The royal family sometimes uses the royal reception rooms, the palace chapel, and the stables.
You can visit the ruins of a fort dating to 1167 underneath the current Christiansborg.
Amalienborg is a palace complex from the 18th century and is one of the places to visit in Copenhagen. It consists of four nearly identical palaces around a courtyard. The royal family resides in the Christian IX palace. They used to live in a different palace, but they moved here temporarily after it burnt down. It suited them so well, that they decided to stay.
The changing of the guard takes place here at noon. Interesting, but it’s very busy here at that time. If you prefer looking around at your leisure, it might be better to go at a different hour.
The Little Mermaid
The top attraction during your 2 days in Copenhagen is of course the statue of the Little Mermaid. The statue, after the main character of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, was created in 1913, and is in fact, rather insignificant. It is only 1.25 metres tall, and lies close to the shore. You immediately know where it is because of the amount of people around it.
The Little Mermaid has suffered a lot. She was decapitated in 1964, it was damaged by vandals a number of times, and she has had a few different outfits, such as a burqa which she has now worn twice. There are plans to move her further from the shore, so the statue is harder to reach.
The statue went to Shanghai for the Expo 2010. Many Danish people thought it was scandalous that the mermaid was temporarily removed. The Natural History Museum placed a mermaid skeleton on the rock in protest.
Near the Little Mermaid lies the Churchill Park, with the Gefion Fountain. The fountain is named after the mythical Scandinavian goddess Gefion.
The legend tells the story of the Swedish king, who promised her that she could keep the land that she could plough during one night. She changed her four sons into oxen, and ploughed a large area of land. She took the land, and threw it into the sea, creating the island of Zealand on which Copenhagen was later built. The hole she left behind is Lake Vänern, which has nearly the same shape as the island of Zealand.
Beside the fountain stands the Anglican Sankt Albans Kirke. It still has services in the English language.
There is also a small bust of Winston Churchill in the park.
The 36-metre-high round tower named Rundetaarn dates to the 17th century and is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe.
Denmark was famous for its astronomical research when it was built. Today, the tower is still used by amateur astronomers. There are no stairs on the inside, but rather a path that goes up in a spiral. You are rewarded with a spectacular view of the old city at the top so it's one of the places you have to visit in Copenhagen.
You pass the library on your way up. This is where once all the books of the university were stored. Hans Christian Andersen visited here often, and found inspiration for his many poems and fairy tales.
Strøget is the shopping part of Copenhagen and one of the best things to do for fashionistas.. Be sure to plan a few hours of shopping during your 2 days in Copenhagen. There are shops with typically Danish design, but all large brands are also represented: Gucci, YSL, Chanel, etc.
There is plenty to see in the Illum department store. The building is beautiful on the inside, and is a must place to visit.
The rooftop bar is an ideal spot for a drink or a bite to eat.
You can find Strøget between Kongens Nytorv and the City Hall Square.
Copenhagen Opera House
Budapest might have the most beautiful opera in Europe, but Copenhagen also has bragging rights. It is an ultra-modern building on the outside. It is nearly completely surrounded by water, much like the Sydney Opera House.
The building was nearly completely privately funded. Arnold Maerks Mc-Kinney Moller is a retired shipbuilder, and one of the richest, if not the richest, person in Denmark. If you have time, be sure to have a look inside.
Of course, if you are going on a city trip to Copenhagen with your children, Tivoli is one of the places to visit in Copenhagen. This amusement park from 1843 is filled to the brim with rides, including five rollercoasters. And while your kids enjoy themselves on the different attractions, you can take a leisurely walk through the beautiful gardens. It also features a theatre as well as several restaurants.
Tivoli is beautifully lit in the evening, so it is definitely worthwhile to visit after sundown.
- The park is open from Sunday to Thursday until 11pm and to midnight on Friday and Saturday.
- Unlimited access to all the rides costs about 400 Danish kroner.
- Access to the park sets you back 130 Danish kroner.
- 20 kroner gives you access to the aquarium
And while you’re here, cross over the road. Near the city hall stands a statue of the Danish writer of fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen.
This neighbourhood was established in 1970 by a group of hippies, and is a so-called freetown. This means that the district is semi-independent from Copenhagen.
Initially, hippies were squatting in former military barracks. The Danish government tried to remove the squatters, but they were eventually tolerated as a “social experiment”.
Since 1995, the occupants pay tax and a small amount of rent to the municipality.
Soft drugs are sold openly on Pusher Street, the most famous street in the area. In 2002, the government asked to sell it a little less openly, so the permanent stands were covered in camouflage nets.
The occupants of Christiana do not like you taking photographs. If they catch you taking them anyway, they will ask you, in a polite or not so polite way, to remove them.
Denmark is very proud of Carlsberg, their popular beer. The headquarters of the brewery are in Copenhagen and are one of the places you have to visit in Copenhagen. They have a visitors’ centre where you can learn a lot about the Danish beer culture. Unfortunately, they are renovating at the moment and the centre was closed. They will re-open in 2020. You can of course visit the Carlsberg brand store.
Between the columns you can see a statue of two men. They are the Carlsberg brothers.
The brewery also has a “Nordic Beer Garden”. This garden features all the different varieties of hops that the Danish beer brewers use. The Nordic Beer Garden is part of the Botanical Gardens of the Natural History Museum of Denmark.
The best way to see the top attractions in Copenhagen
.Of course, you can discover Copenhagen on foot. However, there are two quicker ways to see the top places to visit in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen by boat
Enjoy the sights of the harbour and idyllic canals of Copenhagen from a canal boat. You will pass by numerous important historical and modern buildings, such as the Opera, the City Hall, Amalienborg and Christiansborg.
And of course, you will pass by the top attractions in Copenhagen, Nyhavn and the Little Mermaid. The guide will also direct your attention to the new Copenhagen power plant. On top of it lie the world’s longest artificial ski slopes.
You can hop-on and hop-off in different places, and besides Danish and English, the guide often speaks Italian, Spanish, and German.
During the cruise you also get a good opportunity to photograph the spiral tower of the Savior Church.
The baroque church is the most photographed building in Copenhagen because of the spire-shaped spire
Copenhagen by bike
Copenhagen is a great city for cycling. You simply have to discover Copenhagen by bike during your 2 days city trip. It is the perfect way to visit all the best things to do in Copenhagen in a short time.
You can use one of the white city bikes. They even have a screen which allow you to select different cycling routes. To use the bicycle, you need to create an account, and enter your credit card details. This was no problem for me, but my BFF’s cycle did not work properly. Because the screens are used so much, they don’t respond that well sometimes.
Tip: create an account while you’re at home. Then you can just take a bike, log in, and go. You can create an account here: https://bycyklen.dk/en/find-a-bike
While walking around you will see many shops to rent a bike.
At the end we hired one of the bikes from our hotel, Skt Petri.
Where to eat in Copenhagen?
There are many places in Copenhagen where you can buy street food. There is however one spot you should not miss during your 2 days in Copenhagen. Reffen is a street food market on the old industrial estate Refshaleøen. In an area of 6000 m² you will find dozens of food trucks with tasty snacks from everywhere. Sit yourself down on one of the long tables, and enjoy Asian noodles, tacos, hamburgers, or smørrebrød. You can relax in one of the beach chairs along the water.
If you cross the bridge at Nyhavn, you can’t miss Reffen.
Noma is the culinary highlight of Denmark (and Europe by extension).
Noma stands for “Nordic and Mad”. Mad is the Danish word for food. The restaurant was ranked as best restaurant in the world numerous times, and has two Michelin stars.
The menu consists of Scandinavian dishes. If you have something special to celebrate during your 2 days in Copenhagen, or you really enjoy your food, this is the place to go. Beware: you have to book a table months in advance!
The Meatpacking District is an industrial area, outside of the centre. There used to be slaughterhouses and meat processing plants. The area was long neglected, but it has now transformed in to a trendy spot for going out and it's one of the places to visit in Copenhagen. This is where you feel that Copenhagen Rocks! You will find fantastic restaurants here, such as Fiskebar, Gorilla, Warpigs, and many others. It is a popular area, so book a table in advance.
The Torvehallerne is a foodies’ paradise. It consists of two market halls. The mountains of fruit, large chunks of meat, and windows full of exquisite dishes will really whet your appetite. Many stalls sell small warm or cold dishes. There is not a lot of space to sit inside, but there are tables and benches in front of the building where you can enjoy these delights.
In case you have more time to spend, here are another 25 unique things to do in Copenhagen.
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