When I first visited Copenhagen in autumn 2016, I felt like I had discovered a European gem that few people outside of Scandinavia knew about. But in the years since, the Danish capital’s stock has increased significantly as a tourist destination.
I was hooked on Copenhagen upon my first visit, so much so that I decided to visit seven more times and eventually move here. Many others fall in love with the city at first sight, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s a powerhouse of cultural experiences and great food, along with a prime example of how to not do urbanism terribly.
Since you’ve clicked on this article, I can only assume that you’re interested in seeing what the fuss is about. As a first-time visitor, there’s a lot to see and do – but this guide will aim to give you a well-rounded experience. You’ll get to do all the touristy stuff, along with leaving a little room for discovering how the locals live.
Day One: The Highlights
As a first-time visitor, you should dedicate your first day in Copenhagen to learning the lay of the land. Fortunately, the city is pretty compact – and almost all of the main tourist attractions are within a short walk or bike ride from one another.
If you want to fall in love with Copenhagen before you’ve had the chance to do anything else, iconic Nyhavn should be your first port of call. You’ll notice it almost instantly because you’ve seen it on virtually every Google image search of Copenhagen, plus any postcards you saw when arriving at the airport.
While Nyhavn is the city’s most touristic spot, it’s also very popular with locals. This is great for justifying that it’s well worth a visit, but it of course means that the harbour is often pretty crowded – especially during the summer. The area is particularly charming in the early morning, which is also when you’ll find the fewest people – so it’s worth coming here just after sunrise.
To get to Nyhavn, walk down Strøget – Copenhagen’s main shopping street – from the central square. Alternatively, you can get the metro to Kongens Nytorv.
The Little Mermaid is another well-known attraction in Copenhagen, and it’s probably the most underwhelming one. It’s not far from Nyhavn, though, so you can walk or bike up there and grab your picture – before continuing to head north.
A little further north of the Little Mermaid is Kastellet, a well-preserved citadel popular with locals for both walking and running. Walking around here is completely free, but keep in mind that you’re not allowed to bring your bike.
While the Little Mermaid is a little underwhelming, Tivoli is not. It’s the world’s second-oldest functioning theme park (the oldest is just north of Copenhagen). Even if you don’t go on any rides, walking around and enjoying the restaurants is well worth the entrance fee.
Tivoli has several themes throughout the year, and you’re guaranteed to have a different experience each time you visit. The park closes intermittently throughout the year, so you’ll need to check the dates to ensure that your trip coincides with it being open.
To get to Tivoli, head to Copenhagen Central Station; the entrance is not far away. The park is excellent at any time of the day, but the magic factor is dialled up a couple of notches if you visit at night.
Regardless of whether you choose to visit Tivoli during the day or at night, you’ll be back in central Copenhagen and close to many of the city’s other tourist attractions. The Danish capital is often known as the city of spires, and one of the best places to find out why is the Round Tower (Rundetårn in Danish). For 40 Danish Kroner, you can enjoy a superb view of Copenhagen in all directions.
The Round Tower is located on Købmagergade, one of Copenhagen’s main shopping streets. It’s not far away from the Latin Quarter and Nørreport station, so you shouldn’t have any issues finding it.
One of the best free activities you can do in Copenhagen is simply wandering the inner city’s picturesque streets. Even after living here for over a year, I still haven’t gotten bored of this.
Inner Copenhagen has several streets worth detouring for; Magstræde is a popular photography spot for locals and tourists alike. Other locations in the inner city worth checking out include:
- The passage between Nytorv and the city hall
- Gammel Mønt
Your first day in Copenhagen is also an excellent opportunity to dive deeper into the city’s burgeoning culinary scene. You’ll quickly find it pretty shocking that the Danish capital was pretty much a culinary wasteland 20 years ago, and one example of its food renaissance is Warpigs.
Warpigs is in Kødbyen, also known as the Meatpacking District in Vesterbro. It has a broad menu featuring various pork-based dishes, along with some incredible sides; your trip isn’t complete without trying the macaroni and cheese.
In Warpigs, you’ll also find an ever-changing craft beer menu from the world-renowned Mikkeller.
If you’ve typed “Danish cuisine” into Google, you’ll almost certainly have heard of smørrebrød. To be honest, it sounds fancier than it is; you’ll basically get a slice of rye bread with some butter and toppings. Having said that, you’ll find plenty of exciting variations throughout Copenhagen.
One place you can try smørrebrød is Åmanns Deli, which is on Øster Farimagsgade. It’s close to both The Lakes and Ørestedsparken.
I’m going to be level with you – I never had a sweet tooth until I moved to Copenhagen. Since then, the city’s bakeries have managed to shift my mind (and encourage me to part with quite a few Kroner). You’ll find several fantastic places to buy freshly-baked goods in the capital, and a personal favourite is Meyers.
Meyers has a couple of bakeries in Copenhagen, including one in Østerbro and another beneath the Magasin Du Nord department store on Kongens Nytorv. Go for the cinnamon buns if you get nothing else; its madbrød is also worth trying if you’re after something more savoury.
Day Two: Royalty and Bohemian
For your second day in Copenhagen, we’ll discover what makes the Danish capital tick so well – namely, its ability to mix so many contrasting styles together. Despite having enough grand architecture to keep you marvelling for a week, the city also has a rebellious side to it.
We’ll begin with royalty, and where better to start than Amalienborg Palace? This corner of Copenhagen is where the Danish Royal Family lives and right next to the beautiful Marmorkirken church. If you come here at midday, you can watch the changing of the guards for free.
Copenhagen’s royal side gets exciting on Slotsholmen, a tiny island in the city centre where you’ll find the stunning Christiansborg Palace. If you’re a fan of the Danish political drama Borgen, you might recognise this building; in real life, the country’s prime minister also works here.
At the top of Christiansborg Palace, you can enjoy a panoramic view over Copenhagen and even as far as the Øresund Bridge. Entry to the tower is entirely free, and there’s also a restaurant that you can enjoy.
On the ground, the gardens around the palace are also enjoyable to stroll around. And if you’re into photography, the hallways are the perfect spot for portraits or street-style pictures.
From Christiansborg Palace, it’s easy to get to Christianshavn – a pretty neighbourhood inspired by the canals of Amsterdam. It’s very much worth strolling along the waterfront, which – although busy – is a lot quieter than Nyhavn.
Arguably the most famous (or infamous) attraction in this district is Freetown Christiania. I personally wasn’t a massive fan of it, and I cannot stand weed, but I can also see why tourists might find this part of town interesting.
In addition to uncovering a unique way of living that feels miles from the rest of the city, Christiania is also pretty pleasant to walk around. Side-note: it’s not allowed to take photos here without prior permission, and the locals will not take kindly to you doing so.
Day Three: Leaving the Tourists Behind
So far, on your first weekend trip to Copenhagen, we’ve primarily covered the touristy stuff. Today, though, we’re going to step away from the most trodden trails and live a little like the locals.
One of Copenhagen’s most iconic spots is The Lakes. As you might have guessed from the name, you’ll find three large rectangular lakes separating the city centre with Nørrebro and Østerbro – plus two smaller ones that are closer to Vesterbro.
If the weather’s cold enough during the winter, you’ll see The Lakes turn on their magic and freeze over – though this is somewhat rare. In the summer months, you’ll be accompanied by plenty of locals enjoying a stroll in the sun or chatting away on the surrounding park benches.
Just behind The Lakes is the imposing Mærsk Tower in Nørrebro. This structure is part of Copenhagen University, but you can visit the 15th floor on weekdays for a unique view of the city.
If you looked close enough (or at all, really), you’ll be able to see Kartoffelrækkerne – an area consisting of several rows of pretty houses on the other side of The Lakes. These were originally built for working-class individuals but have since become some of the city’s most exclusive properties.
A little further in Østerbro, you’ll find a few more colourful streets that are worth your time. Arguably the prettiest is Olufsvej, which is a stone’s throw from Fælledparken – Copenhagen’s largest park – and the Danish national team’s football stadium. In roughly the same area, you’ll also find Brumleby – a cluster of homes that were some of Denmark’s earliest forms of social housing.
As for food, Nørrebro is one of Copenhagen’s best areas if you’re looking to grab something. One of the city’s best-known eateries is BRUS, where you can find a diverse menu – including fermented fries, fried halibut, burgers, and more. It’s also a popular spot to go drinking if that’s what you’re into.
Walking around Østerbro can sometimes feel like you’re in an elegant quarter of Paris, not least because of how many fine cafés and bakeries you’ll find here. One of the most popular for the latter is Leckerbaer, which you’ll find on Ryesgade. Leckerbaer sells a whole host of sweet goods, including brownies and special pastries throughout the year.
Have you ever been to Copenhagen? What are your tips for first-time visitors? Leave a comment below 🇩🇰