10 Best Things to Do in Copenhagen
If you’re looking for a fairytale Nordic getaway, look no further than Copenhagen; the Danish capital is bursting with ancient castles, Rococo architecture, swans plying its winding canals, and statues commemorating Hans Christian Andersen fables. Seeking innovative Danish design and Michelin-starred cuisine? It’s got that as well—in spades. Here, our favorite things to do in the City of Spires.
This restaurant is as good on paper as it is in real life: ex-Noma head chef Matt Orlando debuted his ambitious informal dining concept in a repurposed shipyard building on Copenhagen’s harborfront back in 2013, and the buzz still hasn’t abated. An airy, industrial room allows the spotlight to shine solely on Orlando’s set menus, which lean heavily on seasonal Danish ingredients (think wild duck with pickled yarrow flowers and Pollock with burnt birch). On colder nights, staff light a bonfire in the front garden so diners can schmooze pre- and post-meal.
You don’t have to climb a single step to reach the top of this 1600s astronomical observatory built by King Christian IV, which affords sweeping views of Copenhagen’s spires and rooftops—but don’t think you’re off the work-out hook. Inside Rundetårn—literally meaning “round tower”—is a slanted, spiral corridor that winds its way 7.5 times around to the top. The thinking was that the steady slope would allow scientists to lug their large, fragile astronomical equipment up more easily. On your way down, stop by the old library to catch a concert or ongoing exhibit.
STAY: Nobis Hotel Copenhagen
This 1903 landmark building once housed the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music, but now it's been given a new lease on life as the latest member of Design Hotels, Nobis Hotel Copenhagen. Proximity to Tivoli Gardens isn’t the only thing going for it: a stately concrete façade gives way to contemporary-meets-classic Scandinavian design, with 77 Insta-worthy rooms and suites done up with crown molding and mid-century modern furniture and Restaurant Niels which is kitted out with blond wood furniture and navy-stained wooden floors.
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Originally conceived in 1670 as a gateway from the ocean to Kings Square in the inner city (where ships and fishermen would unload their cargo), the Nyhavn canal has always been a nucleus of activity for sailors and creative types. In fact, celebrated Danish author Hans Christian Andersen wrote some of his greatest works (including The Princess and the Pea and The Tinderbox) while living at number 20. There’s a reason Nyhavn is Copenhagen’s most photographed canal—all you have to do is lay eyes on its bustling cafés and colorful, quayside townhouses—some of which date back to the 17th century.
If you’re a fan of Relæ—or any other restaurant run by ex-Noma chef Christian Puglisi—it’s worth passing through trendy Guldbergsgade and popping into his artisanal bakery. The space is charming: think patterned tiled floors, chalkboard menus, colorful enamel kitchenware, and matte-black shelves lined with just-baked loaves and dough for Puglisi’s next-door pizza shop, Bæst. At breakfast, grab a flaky croissant; come lunchtime, the place transforms into a buzzy restaurant, doling out plates of organic pasta and charcuterie alongside baskets of their signature sourdough bread.
DO: Tivoli Gardens
So what if it’s touristy? There’s something special about visiting the world’s second-oldest amusement park, whose rides are just half the fun. Between bouts on rollercoasters and giant swings, guests often save time to stroll around the central lake lined with vibrant flower beds and Chinese pagodas, pop into the Illums Boligus outlet for some retail therapy, dine on Danish specialties like open-faced sandwiches at Færgekroens Bryghus and pork sausages and Schnapps at the 144-year-old Grøften, or catch a performance at the concert hall.
SEE: Amalienborg Palace
Visitors have seemingly endless choices when it comes to royal palace tours in Copenhagen—Christiansborg Palace is the seat of Danish Parliament and the Supreme Court while Rosenborg Castle houses the crown jewels—but it might be best to start at Amalienborg. The official residence of the royal family is comprised of four identical Rococo palaces arranged around an octagonal plaza and guarded around the clock by the Royal Life Guards (whose bearskin caps might recall those at Buckingham Palace; the changing of the guard happens daily). Two of the four buildings are open to visitors: the Christian VIII Palace houses the palace museum and reproductions of the studies of various kings; book a tour of the adjacent Christian VII Palace to see neoclassical representation rooms still in use.
DRINK: Mikkeller & Friends
For a teacher and two students, what began as a simple after-school beer brewing hobby has evolved into an international sensation. You’ll now find Mikkeller breweries in San Francisco, Tokyo, and Barcelona. Their newest outpost, however, lands closer to home, in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro neighborhood. Mikkeller & Friends is a more modern, minimalist take on the brewpub, with turquoise walls and floors, freestanding blond wood furniture, and 40 beers on tab. Grab a pint and settle in for some quality people-watching.
Sorry, drivers: Copenhagen’s most famous street is open only to pedestrians—and the army of bicycles that arrive in their wake. Thankfully, Strøget was made for walking: its sidewalks, which stretch from City Hall Square to King’s New Square (near Nyhavn), are lined with some of the city’s best shops, from wallet-friendly indie brands to local fashion houses like Stine Goya and Danish design showrooms like Hay House. Got kids in tow? Stop by the Lego shop—the family-owned toy company got its start in Denmark.
The newest boutique hotel to hit the Danish capital comes from renowned ballet dancer Alexander Kølpin, who plays up his theater background here with curated interiors featuring black-and-white photographs of dancers and eccentric objets d’art, uniforms inspired by Alexander McQueen and Isabel Marant, bartenders dramatically clad in white tuxedos, and a location just behind the Royal Danish Theater. Take your pick among the handful of accommodation options, from intimate quarters modeled after sleeper train cars to full-on apartments that come with their own lounges and fireplaces.
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