With streets straight out of a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, what Copenhagen lacks in diversity, it more than makes up for in charm. Epicurean and aesthetic delights abound, bikers breeze by, and street style inspires; it’s easy to see why Danes are famously happy.
There's no denying that the Danes have the best taste in the world. Known for exemplary designs (hello, egg chair) and epicurean delicacies (over 15 Michelin-starred restaurants), Copenhagen is doing everything right. Besieged in darkness half the year, Copenhangeners still find light in everything — whether it's in the graffitied buildings of Freetown Christiania, colorful fashions from contemporary designers, or the vibrant rowhouses that line the Nyhavn canal. To experience the real Copenhagen is to remember that the Danish mentality is a happy one, and that joy can be found even in the simplest things: a fairy tale, a picnic in a cemetery, a cup of coffee. To go or not to go, that is not a question — just go.
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Perpetual daylight makes summer (June-September) the most popular time to visit Copenhagen. Temperatures rarely go over 70F (21C), usually hovering in the mid-60s (~15-20C) the entire season. Festivals and other large-scale events, including Pride and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, attract big crowds, thus spiking hotel rates. Layers are important for summer nights as cool winds from the Baltic Sea sweep across the city. Pack an umbrella if you're visiting in July or August as they are the rainiest months. Spring (March-May) is also a pleasant time to visit: Danes celebrate the winter thaw, days are longer, and the marguerite daisies are in full bloom.
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Copenhagen is splendid in the autumn, but as leaves turn, so do the temperatures. By November, thermometers dip into the 30sF (~-1-4C) and come winter, days have shortened significantly. On average, daylight lasts between 8:30am and 3:30pm. That being said, winter is not unbearable. Snowfalls between December and March seldom accumulate in the city because temperatures remain around freezing point — unlike other Scandinavian countries closer to the Arctic Circle. Thinner crowds and lower hotel rates (except during Christmas) make it cheaper to visit, too.
Nothing is more synonymous to Copenhagen than bicycles. The city bike sharing program, Bycyklen, is the most popular. With over 2,000 bikes available for hire 24/7, 365 days of the year, this is definitely one of the best, easiest, and cheapest ways of exploring Copenhagen and nearby Frederiksberg. Electric bikes come equipped with touchscreen tablets used for navigation and payment. The pay as you go option costs 12DKK per 20 minutes; pre-paid packages of 600 and 1,200 minutes (300 and 500DKK respectively),that are valid a year from date of purchase; a subscription option for 70DKK a month includes 140 minutes of free usage every month. Overage fees apply. Due to its compact nature, Copenhagen is also easily walkable. Top attractions are rarely more than a 20-minute walk from one another and many downtown streets are pedestrian-only.
Perhaps one of the many benefits of Denmark's high taxes, Copenhagen's public transportation is extremely convenient and efficient. The are three metro lines (with more under construction) that loop around and cut through the major city center. Trains do not operate on a fixed schedule but generally run every 2 to 4 minutes during peak hours (7-9am, 2-5pm) and between 7 and 15 minutes during non-rush hours. Trains are driverless, therefore doors open and close automatically. Seven S-trains, or S-tog, are available and travel between the city center and suburban areas including Frederiksberg and Amager. This rail system operates every day and all night, between every 5-10 minutes.
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There are 3 primary buses: the A-bus operates all day mainly in downtown and runs every 3-7 minutes during rush hour and every 10 minutes after rush hour; S-buses run every 5-10 minutes at rush hour, every 20 minutes after rush hour, and are faster than A-buses because they make fewer stops. Operating hours are from 6am to 1am. There is also a night bus (marked with the letter N) that runs between 1am and 5am and stops at gray colored bus stop signs.
The system is divided into zones and fares depend on how far you travel. If you're only traveling by metro, however, you'll pay a maximum of 3 zones, even if the metro runs into zone 4. Journeys to and from the airport require 3 zones, cost 36DKK and are valid for 1 hour 30 minutes. Single-trip tickets cover two zones and cost 24DKK (about $3); you can purchase them based on the destination station or by the number of zones you'll be traveling through. Tickets are good for 1 hour 15 minutes. Single tickets can be used on trains, metros, buses, and the Harbour Bus (ferries) but only within the zones you purchased. City Pass tickets cover both the city center and suburban areas and are based on a fixed amount of time (24 hours, 48 hours, etc.) and vary in price between 80 and 300DKK (about $12-40). Tourists may consider purchasing a Copenhagen Card, which allows travel between zones 1-99 for a fixed amount of time (24 hours, 48 hours, etc.) and provides free entry to many museums and attractions. Purchase tickets at vending machines, at 7-Eleven kiosks available inside all stations, or on the DOT Tickets app. Single-trip tickets may be purchased aboard buses.
For visitors who plan to spend a longer period of time in Copenhagen and heavily rely on public transportation, opt for the reloadable Rejsekort card. The electronic ticketing system allows you to travel between all modes of transportation and unites all ticketing systems and zones throughout the city. You may register and purchase cards online or at a local retailer, and set up automatic top-up payments. To use, simply tap the card on the blue circles available at all stations and buses before boarding.
Yellow ferries known as Harbour buses provide a lovely way to see the city and cost as little as a single-ride ticket. Two lines run between 9 stops, including The Royal Library, Islands Brygge, and Nyhavn. Major ride hailing services like Uber are popular here and as always, provides a fixed price depending on distance and demand. Taxis are also readily available but expensive: the base charge is 24DKK when flagged from the street and 38DKK when booked in advanced.
Danish krone (Kr or DKK) is the official currency, although Euros are widely accepted. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere but it's not a bad idea to keep some bills on hand for small transactions or picking up the tab at the rare cash-only establishment.
While there is no direct translation, hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is a Danish word that implies a sense of coziness and well-being that one gets from enjoying the simpler things in life. The word first appeared in the 1800s and continues to be an integral part of Denmark's cultural DNA. Hyggelig (hygge-like) things include comfort foods, hot drinks, reading, throw blankets, fireplaces, and most importantly, candles. According to the European Candle Association, each Dane burns about 6 kilos (or 13 pounds) of candles a year (ditch those harsh lamps!). Hygge is not only reserved for winter months though — summer hygge activities **include picnics in the park, beach bonfires, and backyard dinners.
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Denmark is rich with folk lore and folk tales that are deeply rooted in Norse mythology. With the North and Baltic Seas swirling through 400 islands, nautical history is a major influence in the stories that have shaped the unique customs of Danish culture. For example, the nøkken is a water dwelling creature that lures victims from their leaking boats or onto thin ice and drags them down to the bottom of the water. Some of the most beloved fairytales that we know today were composed by native Dane Hans Christian Andersen and include the Little Mermaid (who you can see in person), The Princess and the Pea, and the Ugly Duckling.
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Come hungry because Denmark is, unsurprisingly, an epicenter of food. Just in the last decade, the Danes have revitalized the dinner table so much that to say the gastronomic culture is unrivaled in this country is an understatement. Case in point, as of 2019, 17 Michelin-starred restaurants call this city home. One of these unstoppable forces is Noma, which has been ranked one of the best restaurants in the world numerous times. The influential New Nordic restaurant focuses on the local ingredients available each season to illuminate its menu. Chef René Redzepi offers three menus with roughly 20 courses built around seafood, vegetables, and game and forage. The ingredients are then prepared using multiple cooking techniques — fermentation being an important one to Redzepi — and the resulting new interpretations of Nordic food are sublime. Contemporaries of Noma include Kadeau — another Michelin-starred powerhouse sourcing vegetables and ingredients from the island of Bornholm — and Restaurant 108 — which stuns with a menu whose food highlights seasonality and sustainability.
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Seafood naturally makes many menus across Copenhagen: the city started as a fishing village known as Havn and was known for its abundance of herring. The Øresund, the strait that separates Denmark and Sweden, continues to provide the city with much of this fish, which has become a staple in Danish cuisine. Served fried, curried, or pickled, you'll typically find herring as a topping on smørrebrøds, an open-faced sandwich consisting of rye bread, fish or meat, vegetables, cheese or spreads, and garnishes. Red meat lovers rest easy — one of the most beloved meals in Denmark is a pork roast known as flæskesteg. Its salty, crispy rind and juicy insides are best enjoyed during Christmas time when it's served as a sandwich at the countless flea market stalls in town. There's also mørbradbøffer and rød-pølse, a red pork sausage commonly used in Danish hot dogs.
Denmark is not known for its diversity, but before strict immigration laws took effect, the country saw a major influx of migrants, including the Middle East, in the 1960s and 1970s. Today you will find remnants of their cultural impact in the falafel joints that pepper the city. The modern immigrants of the 21st century are the young cooks from around the world who are bringing unique flavors from outside of this harbor city. So although the population appears homogenous, the foods are anything but. Tacos, ramen, Thai, Italian — you name it, they got it.
Gustatory delights continue in the form of baked goods. First on the list is wienerbrød, a bread made of yeast-leavened dough which is folded 27 times. Commonly known as a Danish, these pastries originally from Austria come in varying sizes with jam or cream fillings. Cinnamon rolls, or Kanelsnegle, are some of the most popular baked goods in Europe. But unlike the bready Americanized version, Danes prepare them with dough similar to that used for croissants. The result is a flaky ball of cinnamon goodness. Try both a roll and a Danish at the oldest bakery in the city, Skt. Peder’s Bageri. For something with a kick, opt for the classic licorice that come sin both sweet and savory flavors (or of course, chocolate).
You've heard of akvavit (the strong liquor made from potatoes and grains commonly known as schnapps), mead, and glogg (mulled wine). But what's exciting these days in Copenhagen are the new cocktail and wine bars and microbreweries. For biodynamic and natural wines, give Den Vandrett or Ancestrale a go; creative cocktails and Mad Men vibes can be found at Duck and Cover; and since craft beers have gained in popularity, taprooms like BRUS or Himmeriget deliver.
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If Danes are known for anything it's their impeccable taste in, well, practically everything. Well-designed and curated independent shops abound — that is, if you can swing extra cash for that sales tax. You can start at Strøget (Indre By), the longest car-free shopping road, but only take a peak because many of the shops are those you're familiar with, like H&M or Victoria's Secret. At Project 4 (Latin Quarter), you'll find hip womenswear by local designers and functional canvas Sandqvist backpacks; eco-friendly enthusiasts go for the sustainable fashions at Res-Res in Nørrebro; for throwbacks, scour the vintage racks for sequined dresses at PRAG, also in Nørrebro; or stop by Wardrobe 19 in Indre By for stylish and structured menswear.
If your wallet can stretch a little further, Copenhagen is a mecca for Scandinavian interior design. Splurge — or drool — over Mid-Century modern pieces at Gallery Danish Furniture or at Frama Studio Store. At the Apartment, you'll forget everything you thought you knew about Scandi-design with the colorful and edgy pieces on offer. Complete the look with vintage wallpapers, tapestries, and other home goods at Retro Villa.
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Cemeteries double as green spaces in Copenhagen, therefore it is not uncommon to see people picnicking next to Hans Christian Andersen or Søren Kierkegaard's tombstones at Assistens Cemetery. But if this skews a little too far on your morbidity scale, start at the King's Garden (Indre By) instead. The pristine lawns boast stunning flowerbeds and King Christian IV's 17th century pleasure castle. Frederiksberg Gardens (Frederiksberg) is another impressive park, and along with nearby Søndermarken, forms over 60 hectares of green including a lake, wooded walking paths, a zoo, and the Frederiksberg Palace. Come to Østre Anlæg Park (Indre By) during winter for the famous sledding hill or in the summer to enjoy the lake, sculptures, and outdoor events. And for those who want to brave the waters without traveling north to local beaches like Bellevue Beach, the city's harbors are clean enough for swimming! Take advantage of the longer days and warmer temperatures and dip into the Harbour Baths (Islands Brygge).
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A majority of the original city was engulfed in flames during the fires of 1728 and 1793. Nearly half of Copenhagen's medieval structures were destroyed, but the devastation propelled this Scandinavian capital towards a building renaissance. And while there are too many landmarks to name, a visit to the Round Tower (Indre By) should be at the top of your list. A spiral walkway leads to the top of Europe's oldest functioning observatory. Keep in mind the walk up is strenuous but the views of the city make it worth the effort. The once seedy Nyhavn is now the postcard picture of Copenhagen, and although jam packed with visitors, the colorful row houses are a sight to behold on a cold, winter's day. Grab a drink near no. 18, Hans Christian Andersen's former abode. Bookworms can take solace in the modernly designed Black Diamond, a library that serves as an extension of the Royal Danish Library. Those not afraid of heights can take an elevator to the top floor and walk across the skybridge for a look at the library's interior from above.
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You have to hand it to Copenhagen — when it comes to museums, this city shines. There's a lot of ground to cover here but start at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (Indre By), a museum whose collection of antiquities spann from ancient times to the 19th century. Spread across several mansions, and with an indoor winter garden oasis, it's the perfect destination for a cold rainy day. Engineers will want to pay attention to the DieselHouse in Vesterbro (if you can locate it) to learn about the development of the diesel engine. Or celebrate Denmark's design legacy at the aptly named Designmuseum Denmark (Indre By) where you're invited to trace the evolution of design in fashion, furniture, and interior crafts over the centuries.
If time allows, don't overlook the rich museums outside the city center. Located south of Copenhagen between Ishøj Harbour and Køge Bay Beach is the Arken Museum of Modern Art. This maritime-inspired building houses over 400 works by Scandinavian and international artists from 1990 to present day (yes, even Damien Hirst). For another day trip outing, head north to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk), that, along with its permanent collection, has a sprawling sculpture family-friendly garden. Sticking to the classics? Go for The National Gallery of Denmark or the Hirschsprung Collection located in Østre Anlæg Park (Indre By).
The Freetown Christiania may not seem like it would top this list — after all, it was an abandoned military base taken over by hippies in the 1970s — but this car-free zone makes it the perfect place for those looking for a quiet city escape. Skip Pusher Street, once known as the Green Light District, and head for the good stuff: the food (Era Ora, Restaurant 108, Kadeau). The posh Frederiksberg neighborhood is also filled with top restaurants, cozy cafés, and designer boutiques; and while you'll find the uptown crowds coming here for a fancy night out, Frederiksberg is also home to Copenhagen's favorite verdant oasis, Frederiksberg Gardens. The English-style park is one of the city's biggest and provides ample space to kick back and relax after a long day of sightseeing.
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The land that invented LEGO has plenty to offer families who are traveling with children. A stay in Indre By puts you steps away from Copenhagen's major attractions, including the Little Mermaid statue and the Children's Museum inside the National Museum. But nowhere is more appropriate for the kids than Tivoli Gardens, the amusement park that served as inspiration for Disneyland. The park is the second-oldest in the world featuring lush pleasure gardens, roller coasters and other rides, and live entertainment. It is also the site of one of the city's most upscale hotels, Nimb. Just north is the Natural History Museum which includes a zoological and geological museum and a botanic garden. The Copenhagen Zoo in Frederiksberg delights children with polar bears, elephants, and some newly arrived pandas; for an adventure under the sea, head to the National Aquarium in Kastrup, just 19 minutes south of downtown; and lastly, get hands-on at Experimentarium (Hellerup), a family-friendly museum offering 18 interactive exhibits that range from sciences to learning about world trade.
In the city’s coolest shops and galleries, sleek and modernist rub shoulders with mid-century craftsmanship and riotous traditional patterns. With an an embarrassment of riches on offer, we’ve narrowed down our favorite stops for a design-lover’s visit to Copenhagen.
Guide · 4 min read
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