Our cruise to Norway departed from Copenhagen, Denmark and I knew that without a doubt I wanted to have some time to spend in the Danish capital. Unfortunately, with (forever) having to ration my vacation days “just so” (i.e. not blow the majority of them on just one trip, otherwise the rest of the year feels interminably long), I only had a little more than 24 hours. And yet, when taking into account such factors as having just done a transatlantic flight (well, my travel day was even longer since I started in Pittsburgh where I then boarded a flight to Toronto and subsequently had a long layover there) and jet lag, I still feel I got to see and do quite a bit. Thankfully, we had the morning and a bit of the early afternoon on the day our cruise departed so that definitely helped.
So if you’re like me and your time in the city of Copenhagen is on the briefer side, here’s my guide on how to get a good introduction to this lovely Scandinavian metropolis.
-Mid to late morning
Most transatlantic flights will arrive in the morning although times will vary (ours got into Copenhagen about 10:30 AM, although when researching flights from the United States, I did see ones that arrived earlier). Both the train and metro do take you into the city center from the airport, although if you’re bogged down with a lot of luggage and simply want to maximize your time (this is what we did), hop into a cab and in less than 15 minutes (provided you aren’t arriving at rush hour) you’ll be on your merry way (the airport is extremely close to the city center). For the record, a taxi ride from the airport to the city center will cost around 230 Danish Kroner.
Most likely your hotel room will not be ready (ours wasn’t) so store your luggage and start exploring. Hopefully it’s as bright and beautiful a day as I was lucky enough to have, as I feel the sun definitely helped with overcoming my jet lag. Many of Copenhagen’s attractions will be an easy walk (it’s also a very flat city). A perfect place to start is the Round Tower or Rundetårn as it is known in Danish. It’s a 17th-century tower and was one of the many architectural projects of King Christian IV who had it built as an astronomical observatory (there is a massive telescope at the very top that you can climb to see). It’s famous for its equestrian staircase (who wouldn’t want to ride their horse up to the top), a 7.5-turn helical corridor that leads to the top, and obviously the expansive and stunning views it offers of the city. The building itself is also quite lovely, constructed in Dutch Baroque style.
Once you’ve finished gazing out at Hans Christian Andersen’s home city, get some hot dogs. Yes, you heard me right. Hot dogs are huge in Denmark although they’re a bit different from the American-style version. Walk the very short distance to DØP, an organic hot dog stand. I had read about DØP prior to going and knew I wanted to try one. The sausages are made of organic meat, the bread is whole grain, in short, everything is organic (even the remoulade sauce and fried onions). They do offer alternatives to the more traditional types of hot dogs ranging from a spicy beef sausage served with mashed potatoes and turnips to one made without fat or dairy products. It makes for the perfect street food and judging by the long line we waited in, is incredibly popular with the locals (always a good sign).
By now you’re probably feeling a bit tired and dirty after being in the same clothes for so long, so head on back to your hotel since your room will be ready by now. Shower and rest but be sure not to fall prey to drifting into a deep slumber and not waking up again until 1 AM.
As much as it may pain you (or your travel partner), get up out of bed, raise those limbs and head out the door once more. Seriously, if it’s a bright sunny day you will your body to take in as much of the natural sunlight as possible in terms of staving off the jet lag. Now is time to search out the most famous attraction in all of Copenhagen, Den lille havfrue (the Little Mermaid). To get there I definitely recommend walking along the water. Along the way you’ll pass by the architecturally stunning Copenhagen Opera House and if you take a five to ten minute detour a block away, you’ll also be able to stand on the grounds of the striking Amalienborg, the winter home of the Danish royal family.
It’s the longest walk you’ll probably ever take for a statue that’s somewhat on the tiny side (I feel she’s akin to Mona Lisa in that regard) and yet I was enchanted with her all the same. While she’s in the harbor, you can still get near enough to pose with her. But against the backdrop of the water and the passing boats, she’s simply lovely. The park around the statue is also quite picturesque and if it’s not too cold, definitely spend some time there just soaking in the ambiance. There’s also an ice cream/souvenir stand nearby; I recommend the waffles. While they’re not prepared fresh (they come from a bag), once they were warmed up and topped with powdered sugar, they were just as tasty as what you would find in Belgium.
Start the (long) walk back to the center of the city. Along the way you will find numerous places to grab a drink or a bite to eat along the water. I recommend holding out until you arrive at Nyhavn, the beautiful and mobbed waterfront, canal and entertainment district whose origins date back to the 1600s. Centuries ago it was a center of prostitution and other sordid activity but today it’s where people seem to flock due to its postcard worthy look.
There is no shortage of places to choose from to eat at and thankfully, unlike in other countries, the waiters are not “harassing” you to come in (probably due to the fact that there were very few seats available outside) but persevere until you find a place to sit down and dine. We both ended up ordering the fish and chips. Along with a Carlsberg, Denmark’s hometown beer, and the views of the harbor, you can’t ask for a better finish to your first night in Copenhagen. Outdoor eateries also have blankets on the chairs that you can drape on top of you which is perfect for allowing you to soak in the ambiance for as long as you want without getting too cold (and remember this is Europe and they NEVER rush you).
Return to your hotel and now fall asleep.
Mid to late morning
Don’t sleep in too late so you can be sure to still see and do a bit in your final remaining hours. Since you’ll still be gone by the time checkout occurs, pack up everything and store it at the front desk.
While there are a bevy of castles to choose from in terms of visiting, I recommend walking the 20 some minutes to Rosenborg Castle. It’s a Renaissance castle that was originally built as a country summerhouse in 1606 and is another example of Christian IV’s (remember him?) many architectural projects. The castle offers self-guided tours although you can reserve guided ones in advance. I’d advise getting there as early as possible to opening as by the time we left, it was quite mobbed with visitors. You can spend as long as you want there, although I would think for most people an hour to 90 minutes would be sufficient for the castle, armory, and treasury. The castle is also home to enchanting gardens that once were the private gardens of Christian IV. Today, they are the oldest and most visited park in central Copenhagen.
Since you’re in the area, walk 10 minutes to nearby Torvehallerne market. Although it’s more of a modern thing (i.e. not as historic as Cleveland’s Westside Market), it’s still a fascinating and hunger inducing place to visit. Home to 60 stalls, it has just about anything a person could want.
Hopefully you didn’t overeat at your hotel’s buffet breakfast offering so you can partake in trying something here.
By now you’ll need to return to your hotel to grab your luggage and head off to your next destination. Although you’ll be sad to go, you’ll still feel pretty happy with all that you got to see and do even if it was for a brief period of time. And it just means that you’ll need to return, hopefully soon!
Note: For our one night in Copenhagen, we stayed at the Best Western Hotel City. I chose it for a variety of factors but mainly its quite central location and the fact that as Copenhagen hotel rates went (it’s an expensive city to visit), it was reasonably priced.
Is Copenhagen a place you’d like to visit?