Copenhagen is one of those cities that people have been telling me for years that I should visit. But somehow I never got to it. There were always bigger and better places, further away, to see. But when I did finally visit Copenhagen as part of my tour around the Baltic Sea last November, I immediately loved it.
When you read descriptions of Copenhagen, it sounds quite similar to Amsterdam. Beautiful old architecture, rivers, lots of bikes, lots of hipsters. But whereas Amsterdam is overrun with partying tourists year round, Copenhagen was pleasantly calm by comparison. But it is by no means boring and there are lots of fun things to do in Copenhagen!
Copenhagen is not a cheap destination, but it is possible to travel here on a budget. There is plenty of great street food, the city is very walkable and public transport is pretty affordable. The best way to explore it, though, is by bike. It’s the most bicycle friendly city in the world, after all!
Stroll through the Old Town and Nyhavn
Nyhaven, with its colorful buildings, is probably the most famous and most Instagrammable spot in Copenhagen. Copenhagen is situated by the sea and used to be a major marine port. Nyhaven means “new port” and it is one of the prettiest parts of the city. The port is lined with old warehouses painted in bright colors. Nowadays, these warehouses are home to restaurants, shops and bars.
Nyhaven lies at the edge of the historic city center of Copenhagen. This is the most central and touristic part of the city, but absolutely cannot be missed. Here you find shopping streets, major landmarks, fancy hotels and restaurants. Everything in the Old Town is a little more expensive and a little less authentic. If you’re looking for the real hipster experience of Copenhagen, you’re better off strolling around Versterbro or Norrenbro.
The old town of Copenhagen is very charming and while I was there late November, there were lots of little Christmas Markets. In fact, I think Copenhagen is one of the must-visit Christmas destinations in Europe.
Learn about Danish history
Denmark has a fascinating and rich history. Even though it’s a relatively small player on the world stage now, it was once one of the most powerful kingdoms of Europe. The Danes ventured far beyond their borders, conquering parts of Scandinavia, Germania, England and Greenland.
When we think of Danish history, we often think of the Vikings. And although they might be the most famous, there is much more to learn about Danish history. I highly recommend visiting the National History Museum in Copenhagen if you’re interested. It’s a beautiful museum with interesting exhibitions on different parts of Danish history.
Visit the Free City of Christiana
The Danish are known for being quite progressive and freethinking. And nowhere is that as evident as in Christiana. The Free City of Christiana was founded by citizens of Copenhagen as a semi-autonomous enclave located on the south side of the old city center.
Around 800 to 1000 people live here, most of which hippies, anarchists and artists. They were first allowed to live here in the 70s as a social experiment and proceeded to operate more or less independently of the Danish and local government. The people that live in Christiana are free spirits, people share what they have and live is run on principles of equality and democracy. But unfortunately, it is not the utopia it was once dreamed to be. Since Christiana more or less has its own laws, soft drugs are allowed, and it has become the main place in the city for drug dealers. The self-governing and “free living” ideals are becoming harder and harder to maintain.
All in all, Christiana is a very interesting place to visit. It really looks and feels like a 70s hippie commune, with psychedelic street art and colorful little houses. But walking around alone, I did feel a little uncomfortable, something I don’t often experience.
The fairy tale world of Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen might just be the most famous Dane of all time (aside from Hamlet, who is of course fictional). Andersen was a writer and wrote some of the world’s most popular fairy tales, such as The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling. His stories inspired and frightened many kids all around the world.
I have always been a great lover of fantasy and fairy tales, and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen were among my favorite as a kid. Some are sad, like The Girl With The Matchsticks, some scary, like the Snow Queen and others still romantic, like The Princess And The Pea.
Andersen died at age 70 and was buried in Copenhagen at the Assistens Cemetary. His grave is marked and you can visit it. The biggest reminder of Andersen is of course the statue of The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen. It’s a bit out of the city center, but easy to reach by public transport. Like most famous landmarks, it’s a lot smaller and less impressive in person 😉
Sample all the delicious Nordic food
Copenhagen might not be the first place you think of when you’re listing foodie cities, but it absolutely is! Before coming to Copenhagen I watched the episode of Somebody Feed Phil on the city, which explores some of the best food in Copenhagen. If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend it. It’s on Netflix and a charming travel/food show.
Copenhagen is the birthplace of New Nordic Cuisine, the fresh take on Nordic food that is now becoming popular around the world. Noma, where it all started, is one of the best restaurants in the world. Of course, dining there is way out of my budget, so for now it remains a dream. Luckily, there are plenty of better priced options for good food in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen is also very veggie-friendly. There are tons of hipster bars and restaurants with vegan and vegetarian option. And even the street food is plant-based! You have to get a DOP hot dog, from one of their carts around the city. The veggie dog is really good and topped with the classic Danish condiments pickled, raw onion, fried onion, mustard, relish/mayo and ketchup.
Of course, I couldn’t leave without trying a smorrebrod, the Danish version of an open-faced sandwich. These are slices of rye bread topped with various ingredients, usually something fishy and something pickled. It proved a bit tricky to find a vegetarian version, but I managed at Hallernes.
Honestly, the best place to dive head first into Copenhagen’s exciting food scene is at the Torvehallerne, two big market halls. Here you’ll find lots of different stalls selling all kinds of foods from Denmark and around the world.
If you’re a fun of hip design, vegan food, and colorful architecture, then you should visit Copenhagen. It’s a great destination for a city trip in Europe, especially if you’re traveling solo. It’s safe, clean, and there’s a lot to do and see. Whether you prefer museum hopping or shopping, my tips on the best things to do in Copenhagen will help you built the perfect itinerary.
Did I miss any of your favorite activities in Copenhagen? Add them in the comments.
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