The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Copenhagen, Denmark

photo of nyhavn in early morning

Over the past few years, Copenhagen’s stock has increased significantly. The Danish capital has gained significance internationally for its emergence from culinary wasteland to one of Europe’s best foodie destinations. 

But that’s not all. This liveable and loveable city has expanded massively, with innovative new districts replacing former industrial areas. Its infrastructure has also continued to improve, and compared to five years ago or so, Copenhagen has a more “complete” feel to it. 

Denmark’s capital has a lot going for it for a relatively small city on a global scale. And if you were to visit without doing any prior research, you might find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed for the first day or so. 

Don’t worry, though; I’ve got you covered. I visited eight times before telling myself “yeah, you should probably just move here” and doing so in 2020—and have acquired *a lot* of knowledge about Copenhagen in that time. Below is the best attempt to put it all together. 

Basic Information

  • Currency: Danish Krone (DKK); card payments are the preferred payment option in Copenhagen. If you’re visiting from abroad, consider signing up for a digital bank like RevolutN26, or Monzo
  • Official Language: Danish, but English is widely spoken 
  • Time Zone: CET (+1 hour ahead of GMT)
  • Population: 804,675 (1st October 2021) 

Copenhagen’s Main Neighbourhoods 

Copenhagen is a pretty compact city. Its main neighbourhoods are all very close to the centre of town, though you can still count some of the districts further out as part of the capital proper. 

Below is a brief breakdown of the closest neighbourhoods to central Copenhagen. 

Indre By

photo of col

Indre By stands for “Inner City” in English. This district is the Danish capital’s core and where you’ll find most of the popular tourist attractions—including Nyhavn and Tivoli. Most of the hotels are high-end, and you’ll do well to find an apartment here if you’re coming to live in Copenhagen. 

Østerbro

Østerbro is north of Copenhagen’s centre and one of the most affluent districts in the city. The neighbourhood is primarily home to families, and you’ll find plenty of parks—including Fælledparken, which is the largest in the capital. 

Parken, where the Danish football team and FC Copenhagen play their home games, is also in this district. 

Christianshavn

Christianshavn is a small, atmospheric neighbourhood between the city centre and Amager. It’s home to the infamous Freetown Christiania, along with picturesque canals and beautiful houses. The district was inspired by the Canals of Amsterdam.

In Christianshavn, you’ll find several bodegas and bakeries—including the first-ever Lagkagehuset. During the summer months, you can get an excellent view of the city from Vor Freslers Kirke. 

Frederiksberg 

Frederiksberg is a separate municipality from Copenhagen, but you wouldn’t notice the difference if you walked from another district into it. Like Østerbro, it’s an affluent area—but the crowd tends to be young families and students. 

Frederiksberg has several attractions, including Copenhagen Zoo and the beautiful Frederiksberg Have park. You’ll also find several cafés and places to eat. 

Nørrebro

Nørrebro is known for its diverse crowd and rebellious atmosphere. The neighbourhood is northwest of Copenhagen’s city centre and borders Østerbro and Frederiksberg. 

Although Nørrebro has gentrified quite significantly in recent years, it maintains its working-class and close-knit community feel. The district has several restaurants with cuisines from across the globe, plus numerous bars and colourful shopping streets. 

Vesterbro 

Vesterbro is one of Copenhagen’s top hipster hangouts. The neighbourhood is right next to the city centre and borders Frederiksberg, Valby, and Sydhavnen. 

In Vesterbro, you’ll find several eateries and places to drink; there’s something to fit every crowd. It’s also where you’ll find many of the best affordable hotels in Copenhagen. 

Other Districts 

Further afield, Copenhagen has expanded significantly and encompasses several other neighbourhoods. Below are the main ones to note. 

København S

København S covers multiple neighbourhoods in the southern part of Copenhagen. These include: 

  • Islands Brygge;
  • Amagerbro;
  • Tårnby; 
  • Ørestad;
  • Sluseholmen;
  • Sydhavnen. 

The latter three are newly-developed districts that feature swanky modern apartments, and Islands Brygge can also fall into that category – though there are a lot of older apartments here too. Amagerbro is traditionally a working-class area, though there’s a bigger mix of people these days. Tårnby is relatively small and not far away from Copenhagen Airport. 

Vanløse

Vanløse is one of Copenhagen’s official neighbourhoods, but it’s easy to forget it exists unless you live there. The district is one of the city’s outermost ones before you start to venture into the suburbs. 

Vanløse borders Frederiksberg, Brønshøj, and Rodovre. is one of the more affordable neighbourhoods in Copenhagen, and you’ll find a mixture of housing available if you choose to move here. 

Valby 

Valby is another of Copenhagen’s outermost inner-city districts and feels like an extension of Vesterbro and Frederiksberg. It’s popular with younger people and those looking to save a bit on their housing, but you’ll also find higher-end villas in this part of the city. 

Valby is close to the Carlsberg brewery and up-and-coming Carlsberg Byen district. The neighbourhood has a good selection of restaurants and English-style pubs. 

Gentofte 

Copenhagen’s northern suburbs are the most exclusive part of the city. Hellerup, Klampenborg, and Charlottenlund—plus Gentofte itself—all attract a wealthy crowd. 

These neighbourhoods have several attractions for tourists and locals, though. The iconic Bellevue Strand is located in Klampenborg, and the huge Dyrehaven nature reserve is a stone’s throw from the station. You can cycle here directly or hop on one of the regular S train services.

Nordhavn

Nordhavn is technically an extension of Østerbro, but it has its own unique feel. The neighbourhood is one of the newest in Copenhagen and features modern apartments that come at a premium. 

Nordhavn is an excellent place to go swimming in the summer, and you’ll struggle to find a place to sunbathe during the warmer months. But if you fancy a challenge, winter bathing is also possible. 

In Nordhavn, you’ll also find one of the UN’s several global offices—plus the German Embassy and the rooftop outdoor gym Konditaget Lüders. 

Kongens Lyngby 

Kongens Lyngby is a pleasant suburb just to the north of Copenhagen. You’ll find a surprising number of shopping opportunities here, along with a good range of affordable housing. The district is connected to the city centre by the S train and bus. 

Bispebjerg 

Also known as Nordvest, Bispebjerg is a neighbourhood in the northwestern part of Copenhagen’s inner-city boundaries. It’s best-known for Grundtvigs Kirke, which will almost certainly remind you of the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church in Iceland.

Bispebjerg also has a large variety of street art, and its cemetery is pleasant to walk around as the cherries blossom in the spring. 

To get to Bispebjerg, cycling is straightforward from central Copenhagen. Alternatively, you can hop on the S train. 

Getting Around Copenhagen

Copenhagen has one of Europe’s best infrastructures, and getting around – whether you live here or are visiting – is nothing short of a joy. 

When you buy a public transport ticket in Copenhagen, it will cover every mode without you needing to buy a separate one. You can purchase longer tickets in addition to single ones, including 24, 48, and 72-hour ones. 

Below is a breakdown of all the ways you can get around the Danish capital. 

Bus

Copenhagen has an extensive bus network spanning the city centre to its outer suburbs. Services in the centre are a little less frequent than other methods but tend to be clean and reliable. 

Metro

Copenhagen’s metro is relatively new and still being expanded. Although much smaller than many networks in Europe, including fellow Scandinavian capital Stockholm, it’ll get you everywhere that the train or bus doesn’t cover. 

The Copenhagen metro concentrates primarily within the city centre, and you can get a direct service to the airport. It’s open round the clock, though services differ on certain holidays.  

Train

Copenhagen’s suburbs are well-connected to the city centre via a comprehensive train network that runs throughout Sjælland. You can get into central Copenhagen from the airport in less than 15 minutes. 

In Copenhagen, the main S train stations you need to keep in mind are Nørreport, Vesterport, and Østerport. Valby is also a helpful stop to keep in mind, especially if you’re moving here and need to get your immigration documents completed. 

Your public transport pass covers travel on the S train within Copenhagen. Further afield, you can buy period tickets for other parts of Sjælland – along with single-journey ones. 

Waterbus

When you look at a map of Copenhagen, you’ll notice that water is an integral part of the city’s geography. Naturally, it makes sense for the Danish capital to have a ferry network. 

Copenhagen’s waterbus network covers pretty much all of the city centre’s waterfront. You can get it from Reffen in the north to Sluseholmen in the south, with other stops including Nyhavn and Islands Brygge. 

The Copenhagen waterbus is also an excellent way to view the city from the water. You can use the same ticket as you would for the metro, bus, and so on. 

Bike 

The number one way to get around Copenhagen is to do as the locals do – hop on a bike and get exploring. 

The Danish capital has an extensive route of wide bicycle lanes that cover pretty much all of the city. When travelling around the inner parts of the city, you can expect your journey to take 30 minutes at most. 

If you’re coming to live in Copenhagen, buying a bike is an absolute must. If you’re visiting, you’ll find several stores to rent one from; many hotels and hostels also have a similar service. 

Another way to rent bikes in Copenhagen is with Donkey Republic; you’ll find their bright orange bikes throughout the city, though they’re a little harder to come by in Frederiksberg. 

How to Get to and From Copenhagen 

Copenhagen is easy to get around once you arrive, and finding your way into the Danish capital is similarly straightforward. Below, you’ll find the different ways you can get to and from the city. 

Air

If you arrive in Copenhagen by air, you’ll almost certainly land at Kastrup Airport. It’s just 12 minutes from the city centre by train and undoubtedly one of Europe’s most efficient. 

Kastrup Airport is clean and spacious, with several places to eat, drink, and shop. You can get flights from all over the world, including Tokyo, New York City, and Los Angeles. Flying to Copenhagen is a breeze from most parts of Europe, too, and it’s just an hour from both Oslo and Stockholm. 

Copenhagen Airport is also your best bet if you want to visit Malmö; it’s roughly 30 minutes away by train. 

A single ticket from Copenhagen Airport to the city centre costs 36 DKK; the most efficient transport options are train and metro, depending on where you’re going to. 

Bus

Regardless of whether you’re in Denmark or travelling internationally, getting to Copenhagen by bus is simple. FlixBus has an extensive service, including from Aarhus and Odense. You can also arrive in the capital from further afield, such as Hamburg and Berlin. 

You can also get the bus to Copenhagen from other cities in Scandinavia, such as Oslo and Gothenburg. It’s usually less expensive to travel via bus than the train, and it often takes roughly the same time. 

Train

Copenhagen is the link between the rest of Scandinavia and other parts of continental Europe, and getting here by train is straightforward. You can travel directly from Gothenburg and Stockholm, and it’s also possible to get here from Hamburg and – with changes – Zürich. 

It’s also easy to reach the capital from pretty much everywhere else in Denmark. Direct inter-city trains operate daily to Odense, Aalborg, and Aarhus. And if you’re travelling from Sweden, Malmö is an easy train ride away. 

Sea

The sea has played a crucial role in making Copenhagen as wealthy as it is today. And for tourists, it’s also a comfortable way to travel to and from Denmark’s largest city if you’ve got a bit of time. 

From Aarhus, you can get a ferry to Sjællands Odde. From there, it’s around a 90-minute drive onwards to Copenhagen. Further afield, you can get the ferry to Oslo from Nordhavn. 

Weather and Daylight Hours

Copenhagen has four distinct seasons. Like elsewhere in Scandinavia, its summer days are long and often warm. The winters are long and dark, but it’s not usually as cold as in Stockholm, Oslo, and Helsinki. 

Below is a breakdown of Copenhagen’s average temperatures and daylight hours throughout the year. 

Spring 

After a long winter slumber, Copenhagen begins coming to life again in the spring. The days are noticeably longer, and before you know it, the trees are green and plentiful with leaves again. 

The weather at this time of the year is fickle. The temperatures are warmer during the day, but you’ll also deal with heavy rain showers and – in some cases – sleet. 

Generally speaking, spring lasts from late March until the end of May. Here’s a breakdown of the average high and low temperatures: 

  • April: 11ºC/4ºC. Warmer days towards the end of the month; generally sunny, but storms can happen)
  • May: 16ºC/8ºC. Mornings at the beginning of the month can still be quite cold 

Meanwhile, the sunrise and sunset at this time of the year are as follows: 

  • April 21: 05:50 sunrise; 20:27 sunset 
  • May 21: 04:48 sunrise; 21:25 sunset 

Summer

Summer in Copenhagen is short, but it’s glorious. If you come in July, you’ll largely be accompanied by tourists; most Danes take a three-week holiday during this month. 

For the most part, you can expect good weather in June and July. Temperatures usually hover around the mid-twenties, but it’s not uncommon for them to reach 27ºC and above. 

Below is a breakdown of the summer weather in Copenhagen: 

  • June: 20ºC/12ºC, with warmer temperatures towards the end of the month
  • July: 22ºC/14ºC; temperatures of 25ºC+ are not uncommon 
  • August: 22ºC/14ºC; windier weather and rain might occur towards the end of the month 

And here’s how much daylight you can expect during these months in the Danish capital: 

  • June 21: 04:25 sunrise; 21:57 sunset. Because we’re so far north, though, it’s already light at around 03:30 and doesn’t get properly dark until after 23:00
  • July 21: 04:57 sunrise; 21:33 sunset 
  • August 21: 05:54 sunrise; 20:59 sunset 

Autumn

Autumn is the most beautiful season in Copenhagen, and it’s a shame that it doesn’t last for very long. In September and early October, the first few days of autumn can still deliver surprisingly high temperatures. By the middle of October, though, the days have shortened significantly, and it’s pretty cold in the mornings. 

Here’s the average temperature breakdown for the autumn months in Copenhagen: 

  • September: 17ºC/11ºC. Temperatures in early September can reach the twenties, and we usually have a week or two of good weather before summer well and truly waves goodbye. 
  • October: 12ºC/7ºC. At the start of the month, temperatures still reach the teens. But by the end, it’s a lot colder – especially in the mornings. 

The sunlight hours are listed below: 

  • September 21: 06:52 sunrise; 19:11 sunset 
  • October 21: 07:52 sunrise; 17:55 sunset 

Winter 

Winter in Copenhagen is long and dark. However, it’s usually pretty mild compared to the likes of Stockholm, Oslo, and Helsinki. 

If you visit during November and December, be prepared for next to no sunlight. In the lead-up to Christmas, it’s not uncommon for the city to be draped in a seemingly permanent layer of grey cloud for weeks on end. 

At this time of year, you’ll almost certainly encounter the infamous Copenhagen wind – which can make it feel a lot colder than your phone’s weather app suggests. Snow is relatively infrequent, and it usually melts before long.

  • November: 7ºC/4ºC; day temperatures are usually double-digits in the first week or so 
  • December: 5ºC/1ºC
  • January: 3ºC/-1ºC
  • February: 3ºC/-1ºC; temperatures can drop below -5ºC, but this is rare
  • March: 6ºC/1ºC 

Here are the daylight hours for each winter month in Copenhagen: 

  • November 21: 07:56 sunrise; 15:54 sunset
  • December 21: 08:37 sunrise; 15:38 sunset 
  • January 21: 08:21 sunrise; 16:20 sunset
  • February 21: 07:20 sunrise; 17:27 sunset
  • March 21: 06:09 sunrise; 18:25 sunset 

Things to Eat in Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s culinary scene has evolved dramatically in recent years, and you’ll now find a broad range of excellent places to eat featuring cuisines from all over the world. 

Nonetheless, traditions still live strong here – and if you want to try some of the local delicacies, you’ll find a few below. 

Smørrebrød 

If we’re being truthful, the smørrebrød you see in restaurants is much fancier than what most Danes have for lunch. Having said that, the importance of rye bread in this country is certainly not an exaggeration. 

Smørrebrød is a simple dish featuring a base of rye bread, followed by butter and toppings. Some are pretty extravagant, and you’ll find plenty of unique ones to enjoy. 

Pastries 

Copenhagen and pastries are a match made in heaven. Throughout the city, you’ll find countless incredible bakeries and the scent of fresh goods being made fills several streets. 

If you’re visiting in January, trying the fastelavnsboller from Lagkagehuset is an absolute must. These are pretty similar to the Semla bun, which you might have tried if you’ve been to Sweden before. 

Another must-try, and one you can get year-round, are the cinnamon buns from Meyers Bageri. This chain has a couple of outlets in the city, including one in the Magasin Du Nord apartment store. 

If you want to try a “Danish” in Denmark, I’m afraid to inform you that the Danes don’t call it that. Instead, it’s known as Wienerbrød; Viennese bakers introduced the pastry to the country, and it has stuck ever since. 

Things to Do in Copenhagen

If you’ve done any research about Copenhagen, you’re probably familiar with Nyhavn, Tivoli, the Little Mermaid, and so on. And while you should do the touristy things (apart from crossing the streets at a red light and walking in the cycling lanes 🙂 ), you’ll get to know the city much better if you try some of the locals’ most-loved activities. 

Below are four that you should set aside some time for. 

Cycling 

If you’re from a place where cars are the top priority, Copenhagen’s bicycle-centric infrastructure will probably shock you initially. Almost half of daily commutes to work and school are made by bike, and it’s the primary form of transport for many Danes regardless of the weather. 

You certainly won’t struggle to find a place to rent bikes in the city. Several stores offer this service, and rental bikes are dotted across Copenhagen. Two of the most popular rental companies are Donkey Republic and Swapfiets.  

Winter Bathing 

Winter bathing is popular throughout Scandinavia, and Denmark is no different. If you fancy channelling your inner Viking, you’ll find plenty of spots in the city centre to jump into the sea for free. 

If you choose to go winter bathing, make sure you’re sober and try to avoid going at night. Having a set of warm clothes ready to change into is also a good idea. 

Running 

Despite all those pastries and pints of Carlsberg, Copenhageners are usually in good shape. The locals are active year-round, and running is one of the most popular activities for many in their free time. 

Copenhagen’s flat landscape and picturesque streets make it a joy to go for a run around. A personal favourite route is around The Lakes in the city centre; it can get really busy in the summer, so try to get out early if you can. 

Hygge 

Hygge is difficult to explain unless you come and experience it in Denmark. It’s about feeling comfortable and content and usually done with others. 

Throughout Copenhagen, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for hygge. Hop into one of the many cafés and grab a coffee with your favourite pastries, or dive into one of the countless bodegas located throughout town. 

It’s something you can’t really look for; you’ll just know once you feel it. 

Money 

Is Copenhagen expensive? To visit, yes – it can burn a hole in your pocket if you aren’t careful. 

If you plan to eat out for every meal and stay in the city centre, you should allocate a bigger budget. However, you can save a bit of money in several ways: 

  • Check to see if the museums you want to visit have a day during the week where they’re free. 
  • Look for listings in the southern part of the city. Alternatively, you can stay in one of the various city centre hostels. 
  • Cook your own meals; Netto and REMA 1000 are the most widespread discount supermarkets. 

When out and about, here’s what you can expect to pay for various things: 

  • Beer in a pub: 30-50 DKK 
  • Meal in a restaurant: c. 100-200 DKK 
  • Cup of coffee: 25-40 DKK  
  • Pastry: 25-35 DKK

Your Complete Beginner’s Guide to Copenhagen

Maybe I’m a little biased because I live here, but Copenhagen is a glorious place to enjoy a few days (or if you really want to, spend the rest of your life). It’s compact and well-connected, with beautiful architecture (and people) everywhere you look. 

Yes, the weather is terrible for most of the year – and yes, it’s not the cheapest place on earth. But when you come and experience Copenhagen for yourself, you probably won’t care about either of those. 

Having read this guide, you should better understand how to get around and what you can do. All that’s left for you to do is book your tickets and join the fun. 

Published by Danny Maiorca

Danny is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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