What to do in the Danish capital of Copenhagen
Spending 2 days in Copenhagen
As the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen is the most popular tourist destination in the country. Many people come to see the little mermaid, but this Scandinavian capital has much more to offer. Denmark is one of the more expensive European countries to visit, so adjust your budget accordingly. Luckily there are some good deals to get. One thing we would advise all visitors who will be visiting at least a couple of sites, is to buy the Copenhagen Card. It offers free entry to almost all sites in Copenhagen, its surrounding area and free public transport including local trains.
We did most of our exploration on foot, but Copenhagen has an excellent public transport network to help you out if you’re getting tired. There is a lot to see, so get up as early as possible for you. The first six sites are always open, so ideally you would do this all before ten o’clock when the SMK opens.
Besides the little mermaid, Copenhagen’s Nyhavn is its most recognizable spot. Start your day here, just to get it over with, but also since the early morning light and the lack of huge crowds will enhance your experience.
Just up the road towards the little mermaid is Amalienborg, the residence of the Danish Kings and Queens. Amalienborg isn’t just one palace but four built around a central square. The current buildings were built in the Roccoco style in the 18th century.
If you turn your back to the water, you have a nice vista towards Frederik’s Church or the Marble Church. This rococo building has the largest dome in Scandinavia and was inspired by St Peters Church in Rome.
Further north lies Kastallet, a 17th-century fortress built to protect the city and the harbour. The fortress is in excellent condition since it is still partly used as a military base. But a large part can be visited and, moreover, it forms a nice park for quiet walks.
So, as you make your way around the outer ramparts, you’ll see the most disappointing tourist attraction in the world, The Little Mermaid. Go here if you’re a completist and want to see it with your own eyes, or go here for the fun of it, the crowds swarming the little statue, doing strange poses and making their Instagram posts.
As you complete your walk around Kastallet, you enter the Nyboder district with its historic row houses. Originally built to house the families of the navy personnel.
Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK)
The SMK, or National Gallery, has a good collection of European art from 1300 onwards. The best parts of the collection are the Danish and Nordic art from 1750 until 1900 not often seen outside of the Nordic countries.
Just across the road lies the Rosenborg Castle, surrounded by the lush Kongens Have, the royal gardens. These gardens are always busy with people escaping the bustling city and enjoying the green surroundings.
The castle itself is built in Dutch Renaissance style, by the same architects who also worked on the famous Kronborg Castle. The castle was mostly used as a summer house for the royal family but has been used as their residence also. The castle is in great condition and besides the contemporary interior, you can also see the Danish crown jewels here.
Just outside the park lies a wonderful relatively small private museum which has free admission. The David Collection houses three separate collections, the most beautiful and largest is its Islamic Art collection. The European art collection is nothing special, and the Danish modern art collection is small but interesting.
As you walk into the modern city centre you’ll find the Round Tower. This 17th-century tower can easily be climbed to the top for some nice views over the city. There are some expositions in the tower and the tower also has an observatory to watch the night sky.
Don’t forget to pass the beautiful 17th century Borse or commodity exchange. It’s a private building but it’s worth to look at the outside.
The National Museum
If you’re into history don’t forget to stop at the National history museum. They have some beautiful prehistoric treasures and bog bodies and a good section on the Vikings.
For dinner, try one of the street food places, the latest hip one is Reffen.
We opted to leave the city to see a bit of the countryside, the famous castle of Hamlet at Kronborg, and the outstanding Louisiana Modern Art Museum. We finished our day back in Copenhagen. There is enough to do to stay in the city but with limited time, this way you’ll optimize your time in Denmark. If you or your children are into Vikings, you can go to Roskilde instead. There, you’ll find a beautiful medieval church and an excellent Viking museum complete with original Viking Longboats.
Since the Copenhagen card includes transport and sites outside the city, we choose to optimize our stay by visiting the castle at Kronborg. This UNESCO world heritage site lies at the entryway to the Oresund and controls its access. There have been earlier castles on this site, but the present-day one is in the same Dutch Renaissance style as Rosenborg castle. The castle in pretty good shape, sadly much of its interior has been lost to the Swedes who captured this castle in one of the many wars between the Kingdoms. Read our UNESCO World heritage site review of Kronborg Castle for more info.
Louisiana Modern Art Museum
On your way back to Copenhagen you’ll pass the Louisiana Modern Art Museum. Get off at Humlebæk station and from there it’s a 10-minute walk to the museum. This museum is beautifully located in a sculpture park overlooking the sea. The sculpture garden has works by greats like Calder and Serra. The collection of the museum itself includes works of Giacometti, Asger Jorn and Yayoi Kusama.
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
When you’re back in Copenhagen, make your way to the Glyptotek. This fabulous museum has one of the best collections of ancient sculptures in the world. But also, a big collection of 19th-century French sculptures and impressionist paintings.
End your stay in Copenhagen with a visit to the second oldest amusement park in the world. Tivoli is right in the centre of Copenhagen and next to the Glyptotek. Even if you don’t like attraction parks, it’s worth to just go for a walk through the grounds in the evening as everything is lighted and the atmosphere is magical.