This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2016. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
I enjoyed Copenhagen way more than I thought I would.
It’s not that I thought I’d dislike the city – it’s just that I hadn’t originally planned to go there. It only grabbed a spot on our Nordics trip itinerary because the flights from Reykjavik were cheap.
Copenhagen turned out to be one of my favourite stops on the trip. I thought that Sweden would be the Nordic destination to claim all the Scandinavian charm, but I ended up awarding Copenhagen the title of most Scandinavian city.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in Nordic architecture, build on your European history knowledge, and consume way too many pastries, then I can guarantee you’ll go crazy for this vibrant and trendy city.
Here’s my suggestions on how to spend 48 hours in Copenhagen!
Where we stayed:
We stayed in a gorgeous Airbnb apartment in Christianshavn. This area is a quiet and relaxed neighbourhood which is easily accessible from downtown via the Yellow or Green metro lines.
Explore the palaces and castles
If there’s one thing Copenhagen has no shortage of, it’s royal residences. There are three major palaces and castles in Copenhagen all within walking distance of the city center. Entrance to most of the palaces and castles is included with the Copenhagen Card.
First, pay a visit to Christiansborg Palace. This building, built in Neo-baroque style, is currently used as the seat of the Danish Parliament, the Danish Prime Minister’s Office, and the Supreme Court of Denmark. It’s not the most attractive of the three, but you should find it interesting if you’re into politics.
Next up is Amalienborg Palace, where the Danish royalty currently reside. This was an intriguing place for me to visit, as Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary came from my hometown of Hobart, and the story of how she became a Danish royal is like a real-life Disney movie. Aside from dreaming about meeting a Danish prince to sweep you off your feet, you can also watch members of the Royal Guard in the area surrounding the Equestrian Statue, or head into the Amalienborg Museum.
Last is Rosenborg Castle. This is possibly the most impressive of the three as Rosenborg is the oldest and has the most historical significance. The castle was first built as a summer house in 1606 and evolved into the current castle in 1624, where it was used as the royal residences until 1710. Here is where you’ll find the Danish Crown Jewels, and the Throne Chair of Denmark. The gardens here are also very impressive – take a walk around to admire the perfectly trimmed hedges and rose garden surrounding the castle moat.
Walk along Nyhavn
Nyhavn is one spot that you absolutely can’t miss in Copenhagen, as this pretty harbour is the one you’ll probably see on most postcard images of the city. The rows of colourful 17th century buildings are undeniably gorgeous from every angle.
The harbour is a tourist hotspot with a large selection of restaurants and bars. It can get fairly busy during the summer months, so head over early in the day to avoid the crowds.
Before you leave, stop in at Emmerys on Strandstræde for a Danish pastry. It’s a lovely place to eat traditional cinnamon rolls and sip on coffee while you people-watch through the window facing the street. If you’re really interested in pastries, you might even want to book a baking Danish pastry workshop!
See the Little Mermaid and Kastellet
There are many stories about the Little Mermaid of Copenhagen. I was particularly interested to see it as I came across the Mermaid of Warsaw a few years ago, and legend tells that the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen was its sister who parted ways with the other in the Baltic Sea.
The real story of the Little Mermaid statue is that it’s a product of the famous fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It was installed in 1913, and has since become an essential sight for every tourist in Copenhagen. The small-ish statue might seem a little underwhelming at first as there are an alarming number of visitors pointing their cameras towards her rock by the river, but I think it’s still worth spending 2 minutes of your time getting your own photo of the Little Mermaid.
Once you’ve got your photo, turn around and take a walk around Kastellet – one of the best preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe, which is positioned directly behind the Little Mermaid. When you cross the moat into the fortress, you’ll be free to wander around the old military buildings and historic site.
If you’ve only got one day in Copenhagen, wrap up your itinerary here. If you’ve got another day to explore, move on to the day two itinerary!
Wander around Christianshavn
Head to Christianshavn station, then walk towards the Church of our Saviour – a Baroque style church featuring a gold-rimmed tower standing proudly above the city rooftops. The narrow staircase to the top of the spire has 400 steps, the last 150 of which are on the outside of the tower. For those who can suppress their fear of heights, you’ll be treated to some awesome views of the city.
Another great spot in Christianshavn is Overgaden Oven Vandet, a pretty little street that parallels one of Copenhagen’s many canals. The architecture here is second only to Nyhavn, but this quiet canal street has much more of a residential atmosphere.
Seek out Freetown Christiania
After Overgaden Oven Vandet, turn right towards Freetown Christiania. If you’re using Google Maps to find it, just search for ‘Christiania’ – We spent at least half an hour thinking that Freetown Christiania was just a boring old suburb before stumbling upon the real deal on my way back to Christianshavn station. You might want to book yourself onto an alternative Copenhagen tour to see this area without getting lost.
Freetown Christiania is truly one of the most interesting places in Copenhagen. The former abandoned army barracks was taken over by squatters in 1971, resulting in a large hippie commune of about 850 residents. The area now caters for anyone who’d like to drink a beer in the sun and sample some vegetarian grub while immersing themselves in this quirky and artistic suburb.
Enjoy the world’s second oldest amusement park
Tivoli Gardens opened in 1843 and is the world’s second oldest operating amusement park (after Dyrehavsbakken, also located in Denmark). We waited until the late afternoon to head over for more of an adults-only experience, as the opening hours are until 10PM or 11PM depending on the day of the week.
The park is open from April to September and entry is fairly inexpensive at 110 DKK (rides extra), or 220 DKK for an unlimited rides ticket. Inside the park, you can take your pick of of rollercoasters, thrill rides, restaurants, snack stands, and gelato stalls.