Often overlooked for its Scandinavian neighbours; Denmark is a quiet corner of Europe that’s well worth a spot on your bucket list. The capital city of Copenhagen is a perfect intro to Danish culture and was voted Lonely Planet’s #1 travel city for 2019. From crystal clear waterways to theme parks and palaces; there’s more than enough to keep you busy for the day.
Guest post by Julia Hammond
Blog: Left Hand Scribbler
What’s the best time to visit Copenhagen?
With a cool climate year-round, the best time to make your way over to Copenhagen is during European summer months. If you’d prefer to avoid major crowds, then a late-Spring/early-Summer trip would suit in May-June. Temperatures usually peak in the mid 20s (Celsius) even during the height of summer, which makes for pleasant sightseeing in July-August, as well. Summer and autumn are also the best months for events in the city, with everything from cooking and food to jazz and even Copenhagen’s own Pride festival happening between July and September.
A few facts about Copenhagen
Denmark is a rather historic place to visit. Like many of its European neighbours, it is still ruled by a constitutional monarchy. The current ruler, Queen Margrethe II, has been in power since 1972, but her royal lineage dates all the way back to Viking kings who ruled over 1000 years ago. This makes this family one of the oldest royal families in the world.
Denmark also holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest continuously used national flag. The well-known red and white cross design was officially adopted in 1625, although its use can be traced all the way back to the 1300s.
The 1800s brought greater fame and fortune to the streets of Copenhagen as the home of fairy tales and theme parks. The famous author Hans Christian Andersen (HCA) spent many years living in the city while writing some of his most beloved tales from The Little Mermaid to The Ugly Duckling. In 1843 the gates of Tivoli Gardens – Copenhagen’s own theme park – were open to the public. Rumour has it that in 1951 Walt Disney paid a visit and was so inspired by the ambient that he sought to bring it to his own parks.
One Day in Copenhagen Itinerary
Top things to do in Copenhagen, Denmark
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Johannesburg.
Start your day right with a Danish brunch board
Get over the jetlag and into the Danish way of life with a classic brunch. Paludan Bogcafé (AKA Paludan Book & Café) is a combined bookshop and café serving up a breakfast board that has it all. It’s a sweet and savoury mix featuring eggs, bacon, a pancake, yogurt, cheese and fresh fruit. All boards also include bread with butter and jam and a glass of OJ or smoothie. They’re open from 9am on weekdays and 10am on weekends, so you can get your 24hr itinerary kicked off in style.
Grab a selfie with Hans Christian Andersen
Just a 10 minutes’ walk from the café you’ll find Hans Christian Andersen’s statue. He’s tucked away in a corner of the main city square and is also listed on Google maps, so even the most directionally challenged tourists can get this item ticked off their list in no time. On your way across you might walk through Strøget; a popular shopping street. If you think you have the time, take another wander here after your photo opportunity and enjoy a little retail therapy.
See the main sights from the water
The next stop on your Danish journey is a trip down to Nyhavn. This is the old commercial port where sailors used to come to wind down with a cool drink and a lady friend or two. Nowadays, it’s a restaurant and a music hub known for colourful houses, beautiful water views and the three former HCA homes; no’s 18, 20 and 67.
It’s also the best place to get yourself on a boat cruise of the city. Take an hour off your feet and let someone else lead the way as they tell you all you need to know about the main sights of Copenhagen.
Take a closer look at the Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid statue is one of the city’s best known tourist attractions, so you’d better make time to see it. There are routes on public transport from Nyhavn to the statue, but since you’ve just rested your feet it’s better to walk it. Along the way you can visit the Amalienborg Palace, which is the current home to the royal family, and stop off for a photo with the guards. You could also take a closer look at the Royal Pavilions which would have featured in your cruise.
Make it a buffet lunch at the markets
All that walking will have you feeling hungry. Torvehallerne is the premier food market of Copenhagen. Here you’ll find plenty of options for a tasty lunch as well as gourmet chocolates, spices and gifts to bring home as souvenirs. Don’t forget to try a Danish classic – Smørrebrød – which are open sandwiches made from buttered dark rye bread and any range of toppings you can imagine. Typically, they’ll include cold cuts of meat or fish, eggs, cheese and salads. Coffees, pastries and even Mexican food stalls are on the Torvehallerne menu, so no matter what your taste buds desire it’s highly likely you can get your fix.
Brush up on royal history in the Rosenborg Castle
Explore the Rosenborg Castle and step back in time for a taste of Danish royal life in the Renaissance. Marvel at artworks and architecture that only a king would see fit to keep in his home. With four levels to the museum, there’s enough to amuse you for the whole afternoon; including the Danish crown jewels.
You can buy tickets online, which will give you a timed entry into the castle and keep your busy schedule on track. If you arrive early or are feeling like breathing in some fresh air after your visit, the Rose Garden in the castle grounds is a peaceful retreat.
Have a sneak peek of the zoo
It’s a little bit out of the way, so not an essential in your day’s schedule, but if you want to make the effort it’s an experience unique to Copenhagen. In the middle of Frederiksberg Gardens you’ll find an open enclosure to the Copenhagen Zoo. How many other cities can boast that?
Refuel with a dinner break
As the sun sets and your day draws to a close, you’ll want to use those last few hours wisely. Treat yourself to a great dinner not too far from our last stop of the day. Looking to indulge? Madklubben Vesterbro has a smashing cocktail list, succulent steaks and sides galore. If you’re feeling like a more casual evening, then Halifax Burgers is your spot. Go the full American-style menu with a burger and shake combo or cheers to a great day with beer or wine.
Thrill your senses in Tivoli Gardens
Last, but certainly not least on our Copenhagen schedule is the city’s very own version of Disneyland. Tivoli Gardens is open all day, but the place really comes alive at night. Ride the nostalgic wooden rollercoaster or scream your lungs out on the Vertigo. Finish your evening with Tivoli Illuminations by the lake – a colourful light show with music, lasers and smoke effects.
Where to stay in Copenhagen, Denmark?
A great location doesn’t have to mean a high price. Cabinn City is budget friendly but still within walking distance of all the best attractions. The rooms are on the smaller side, but this won’t matter if you plan to spend your day exploring rather than hiding out at the hotel.
Right around the corner from Tivoli Gardens is a boutique, classic styled hotel. The Grand Hotel offers a great location, free wifi and spacious rooms. Also within a walking distance from the main city station which is ideal for a short stay in the city.
First Hotel Twentyseven
Modern is the name of the game at the First Hotel Twentyseven with wooden floors, bold colours and black tiled bathrooms in every room. You’ll find Strøget shopping strip on your doorstep and all the dining and sightseeing best in the surrounding neighbourhood.
Day trips from Copenhagen
Complete your Hans Christian Andersen experience with a visit to his home town. Although he spent many years working in Copenhagen, he grew up in nearby Odense. Visit the author’s childhood home or the museum dedicated to his life.
This is another one for literature lovers; Kronborg Castle was the inspiration for the setting of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can relive the drama and spectacle of Danish royal history.
Think of it like the Versailles of Denmark. Built in the 1600s, it has magnificent gardens, a museum and a sizeable art collection. Some day tours even combine a visit to this palace with some time in Kronborg Castle.
Extra tips for visiting Copenhagen
- English is spoken all over Denmark, so you shouldn’t have any problems being understood. However, it’s always nice to give the native tongue a try, so brush up on the basics here.
- Citymapper is a popular iPhone and Android app that helps you get around many world cities – including Copenhagen. It’s integrated with buses, metros and most popular landmarks, so you can get from A to B with ease.
- Rain is a possibility at any time of year, so bring along an umbrella or pack an emergency poncho just in case.
- Forgot your phone charger? Lost your toothbrush? Flying Tiger is a Danish dollar store where you’ll find every novelty and practical travel need. They were originally called Tiger because it sounds similar to the Danish word Tier (meaning 10 kroner), and everything in store was once that cheap. They were renamed Flying Tiger after expanding overseas.
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