Copenhagen is an incredible city, a place where a rich history meets modern culture. The Danish capital boasts historic palaces and churches, sprawling gardens and parks, canals, and world-renowned fine dining. In preparing for my move here this past spring, I started noticing anything and everything related to the city. And what I noticed the most was that nearly every single post and article were accompanied by an almost identical photo - the Nyhavn waterfront, with its colourful buildings and tall ships.
When I actually visited Copenhagen for myself, I discovered that as beautiful as Nyhavn is, the city has so much more to offer than that row of buildings, or The Little Mermaid sculpture the tourists flock to. A notoriously expensive city, I also found a multitude of places to see and explore for free. If you find yourself in Copenhagen, visit Nyhavn and The Little Mermaid of course, but be sure to explore as much of this fantastic city as you can. Here are just some of the other places there are to experience in Copenhagen, and some tips to help you get the most out of your trip:
The StrØget area includes a kilometre-long pedestrian street which begins at Kongens Nytorv (King's New Square) next to the Nyhavn Waterfront, and run to RÅdhuspladsen (Town Hall Square). Next to the Italian-inspired Town Hall is a statue of writer Hans Christian Andersen, Tivoli Gardens is just across the street, and the Danish National Museum (entry is free) is just a short walk away. The StrØget is packed with everything you would expect - shops and restaurants, squares and fountains, buskers and vendors, and lots of people. It features Gammeltorv, the city's oldest square, which dates back to Viking times, and don't miss the gorgeous Stork Fountain, found at Amagertorv.
Tip: Don't just stick to the main street - there are many picturesque side streets and hidden squares to be found just off the beaten track.
Originally built as a Royal residence, Christiansborg now houses the Danish parliament and the Royal Reception Rooms, site of many official functions. You can tour the Reception Rooms, the Royal Stables, and the subterranean ruins of the original castle built by Copenhagen founder Bishop Absalon in 1167. The tapestries in the Palace's Great Hall recount 1000 years of Danish history and took 10 years to complete; they were presented to Queen Margrethe II for her 60th birthday.
Tip: Next to the Palace is The Old Stock Exchange, one of the oldest buildings in the city. Its twisting dragon spire is a unique piece of architecture.
Just across the canal from the city centre is the burough of Christianshavn. It was created by King Christian IV and modelled after Amsterdam, with a smaller canal of its own. The most famous attraction here is Christiania, a "freetown" established in 1971 when squatters took over an abandoned military barracks. A commune of about 850 residents, Christiania is governed by its own unique laws. There are shops, cafes, and even concerts held inside, but Christiania is famous for its cannabis trade, even though it is still illegal there. It's an interesting place to visit, but not for the easily intimidated, as the atmosphere is a bit unsettling and there are strict rules when it comes to visitors. Even so, it's worth a look, just to see a non-traditional way of living.
Also in Christianshavn is the Church of our Saviour, a baroque church known for its spiralling corkscrew spire, which you can climb for a fee. The gorgeous interior of the church itself is free to visit. A lesser-known church here is Christian's Church, located by the bridge. It has a unique interior design, perfect for classical concerts, and has a fascinating crypt underneath it that is still used today.
Tip: Taking photos is forbidden in Christiania, especially on the main street. Put your camera and phone away to avoid any misunderstandings.
ROSENBORG CASTLE AND THE BOTANICAL GARDENS
Set in the oldest Royal Gardens in Denmark, Rosenborg Castle was built in 1606 as a Royal summer residence. The castle now houses a museum exhibiting the Royal Collections, including the Throne Chair of Denmark, made from narwhal tusks, as well as the Treasury housing the Crown Jewels and the Danish Crown Regalia. The Gardens are Renaissance style, and offer yet another beautiful green space for the people of Copenhagen and visiting guests.
A short walk from the Castle are the Botanical Gardens (entrance is free). The Gardens belong to the University of Copenhagen, and cover ten hectares with over 20 000 specimens of trees, plants, and flowers, as well as rock gardens, statues, a lake, a tropical Palm House, and a Botanical Museum. Visitors are encouraged to sit on the grass and enjoy the gardens and sunny summer weather.
Tip: If you want to visit inside Rosenborg Castle, buy a combined ticket with Amalienborg Palace for 125 kr - buying separately would cost 160kr.
Changing of the Guard
Every day at noon, The Royal guards march from their barracks at Rosenborg Castle to Amalienborg Palace, home of the Royal family, for the Changing of the Guard. As the clock chimes twelve, the rows of replacement guards appear as an eager crowd gathers to watch the spectacle. Admittedly, after the initial excitement of the soldiers emerging from the palace, there is a lot of standing around. But it's worth the wait to see the carefully choreographed sequences as the soldiers march in unison in their smart navy uniforms and distinctive furry helmets. One by one, each guard is relieved from his post as a replacement takes up the watch.
Tip: Most tourists get impatient and leave after seeing the initial march and getting their photo op at a distance. To quote this exchange between two of them after less than 10 minutes: "Seen it?" "Seen it, let's go". But if you stick around and actually watch the soldiers make their way to each post around the square, you can see the guards up close, and get fantastic pictures.
Located next to the NØrreport train station, Torvehallerne is a must-visit for food lovers. You can find everything from fresh meat, seafoods, and cheeses to gourmet chocolates and jams, as well as coffee shops and ready-to-eat meals. In the outdoor market between the two buildings are fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. It's a bustling spot with lots of goodies to be found.
Tip: Try SmØrrebrØd, Danish open-faced sandwiches on rye bread with a variety of toppings, like roast beef or shrimp and egg.
Frederiksberg is one of Copenhagen's most popular residential areas. It has a young, trendy feel to it, and is home to many cafes, boutiques, and restaurants. Copenhagen is full of green spaces, but Frederiksberg Have was my favourite. The park is a lush green oasis in the middle of the city, with a river running though it which is home to many types of birds, including a Blue Heron colony. The best part? It's located next to the Copenhagen Zoo, and there's a viewing area where you can visit the five elephants (including an adorable baby) for free!
In the vibrant NØrrebro neighbourhood is a different kind of park - Assistens Kirkegarde, which is actually a cemetery! It's a place where Copenhagen's most creative minds were laid to rest, from author Hans Christian Andersen, physicist Niels Bohr, and philosopher SØren Kirkegarde, to contemporary reggae star Natasja Saad. Regardless of its main purpose, the churchyard is used by the people as a place to picnic, lie on the grass, and just enjoy the nice weather. It's a unique and fascinating place to explore and absorb the culture of the city.
Tip: Do as the locals do, and pick up a pizza on the way to the Kirkegard have a picnic before you explore.
ISTEDGAD STREET AND KØDBYEN
If you're looking for something a bit different, take a wander down Istedgad Street in Vesterbro. Close to the Central Rail Station, Istedgade Street has a reputation as a red light district, but efforts are being made to make it into a cleaner, greener space. It's vibrant, gritty and colourful, with a hipster vibe. It offers great architecture, lots of street art, and some cheaper options for lunch on the go.
Nearby KØdbyen -the meatpacking district - is a trendy up-and-coming area full of restaurants, art galleries, and theatres. It also has plenty of nightlife.
If the weather is nice, hop on the Metro and head to the seaside park of Amager Strand. Located on Amager Island, connected by footbridge to the mainland, the park has 4.6km of beaches and a wide promenade. It offers various swimming areas, kayaking, a Blocart track (go-carts powered by a sail), an 18-hole mini golf course, and a designated diving area. The Middelgrunden wind farm and the bridge to Sweden can be seen from the beach.
Tip: Have an ice cream from Smiley's by the mini golf - the Honey Nougat is incredible!
If you are visiting Copenhagen for several days, there are a few options for experiencing Denmark outside of the city itself. These places are all less than an hour from Copenhagen and reachable by the S-Train, the city's commuter rail.
Dyrehavsbakken: Bakken is the oldest amusement park in the world, founded in 1543! It's located in a stunning park where wild deer roam the grounds. Admission is free.
Roskilde: The former capital of Denmark features the incredible Roskilde Cathedral, resting place of the Danish Royal Family for hundreds of years.
HelsingØr: This charming seaside town is home to Kronborg Castle, Shakespeare's inspiration for Hamlet's castle
Tip: You can also visit Malmo, Sweden, only a 40-minute train ride across the Øresund Bridge
As you can see, Copenhagen is a city with endless opportunities to explore and discover, and I look forward to experiencing all this incredible city has to offer for many years to come.