Renowned as being one of the most costly European and global destinations, Denmark’s stylish capital Copenhagen is often regarded as somewhat bland and certainly pricey. Yes, the Little Mermaid makes for a great selfie, and the vibrant waterfront of Nyhavn Canal is gloriously colorful, but are there any fun things to do in Copenhagen?
That depends on what you’re looking for, but the answer is a resounding yes! Situated along the Baltic Sea in the island of Sjælland (Zealand), Copenhagen is surprisingly and prolifically green, boasting large, spacious parks and clean, picturesque lakes. The city is not the only attraction worth visiting, but the non-advertised surrounding areas on the island of Sjælland too!
Copenhagen in Winter
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If you’re concerned about what to do in Copenhagen in Winter (December – February), be forewarned that it is pretty freezing and windy, with temperatures ranging from -2 °C to 4 °C. There are brief spews of daylight (9:30 am – 16:00 pm) in the city due to Denmark’s northerly position in the hemisphere.
Despite the cold, there’s a surprising amount of activities. Whether you’re looking for that adrenaline rush or a cozy time by the fire, there’s a lot to do in the city of spires.
Board-game Cafes and ‘Hygge’
The Danes prepare well for the Winter, and despite these short days and icy temperatures, they constantly fluctuate between the top 3 positions for the World’s Happiest Countries over the past years.
And there’s a reason for this.
During the cold months, Danes achieve and manifest ‘hygge’, the Danish noun and adjective indirectly translated to ‘cosiness’. Be it with your friends at home drinking wine in the warmth of heaters, or dining in restaurants.
Many Cafes throughout the capital are designated for board-game players, which is one of the most typical free things to do in Copenhagen. Playing fun games with good friends is a fantastic way to spend the afternoon!
Although being outside may appear to be too chilly, the city applies aesthetically pleasing decorations to the barren trees in some parts of Nørrebro and in Byparken, a park in the new, lesser-known and modernistic suburb of Ørestad.
In compliance with this, the major attraction and theme-park in Copenhagen, Tivoli, alters its decorations to different themes in accordance with the Seasons.
In Winter, visit Tivoli at night and take a walk through the mystical and glowing buildings, as well as the lake. Yet, if you’re on a budget and looking for free things to do in Copenhagen, we recommend you to rather go to Bakken Theme Park, the world’s oldest theme park.
In this excursion, a 30-minutes train-ride from Copenhagen, you’ll be ticking three things off the ‘what to do in Copenhagen’ list. Bakken is free entry and the rides are much cheaper than Tivoli’s. The theme park neighbors Dyrehaven (Deer Park) where you can walk around freely, attempting to spot a Deer in its natural habitat. After you are finished at the park, make your way down toward Bellevue Beach and its beach-side cafe.
(Local tip: Tivoli is very expensive as you have to pay per ride, plus entry. The rides can also be somewhat boring, so rather go to view the spectacle in Winter and then during Summer visit Bakken/surrounding areas)
Museums and Castles
Finding the winter too cold in Copenhagen, but still want to tick things off your bucket list? Worry not! Copenhagen has and is in close proximity to world-renowned Museums and Castles that can be visited on any type of day. These make for a good, warm, indoor day-trip.
The beauty and convenience of Copenhagen and the greater Denmark is the extremely effective public transport modes. Denmark is also a small and flat country, which allows for accessible destinations that can be swiftly reached.
By train, you can easily travel to villages or towns such as Humlebæk (where Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is situated) and Hillerød (home to Frederiksborg Slot/Castle) in no more than 45 minutes by train from Central Station. And it’s a scenic train ride, at that.
Lousiana Museum of Modern Art
Not only is this one of the leading international museums in Denmark with absurdist installations, and even beds to lie down on and look at the art; Louisiana is primely positioned along the coast. The building itself is an architectural wonder, with panoramic views of the Baltic Sea.
Upon the completion of viewing all the exhibitions, you can get a meal from the Cafe and eat on the grass that looks onto the sea. The position of the museum is very intentional and intricately planned, hence you should go explore the gardens and the walkway that is adjacent to the sea.
Constructed in the 16th century by the Danish King Christian IV, this brick-faced castle is the largest Renaissance complex in the Nordic region. It was built to expand and display the King’s opulence and power. It is, therefore, garnished with the finest elements and exhibitions.
A chapel can be found within it that is home to historical treasures, and English-style, as well as Baroque-style Gardens bordering the massive building. If the weather permits, bring a picnic basket and sit in the gardens on the banks of the lakes.
The Castle is located in the small town of Hillerød, which is to the North of Copenhagen and also provides the possibility to escape the metropolis and gain insight into the more rural Danish lifestyle.
Copenhagen in Summer
If you’re wondering about the weather and what to do in Copenhagen in Summer (June – August), then you’ll be pretty satisfied with the diverse variety the city offers during the warm months!
Given Denmark’s Nordic position, there are long summer days with the sun rising at 3:30 a.m. and setting at 10 p.m. Copenhagen transforms entirely in its transition into Summer. Food-markets open, beaches get populated and the canals ignite with swimmers and boats.
Certain bars heavily rely on the Summer months to attract customers, such as Kayak Bar. The bar offers sun-beds and tables for customers to recline on that directly adjoin the canal with no cover.
Music festivals are abundant and clubs/venues on the canals offer ideal refrains from everyday life, situated in the city. If you’re interested in Copenhagen at night, we recommend Banana Club and Bølgen which are both ‘beach-style’ venues.
Yet, if you are looking for more relaxing and less urban, we suggest the most suitable, unexpected places for you below.
(Note: Summer will probably be cheaper than Winter in terms of spending money because eating out won’t be necessary and all the nature landmarks recommended below are free of charge)
Denmark is not famed for its beaches, especially Copenhagen due to its location on the Øresund Strait, which acts as the border between Malmö, Sweden and Copenhagen.
The strait varies in its length from 4km – 28km, which ultimately means that it is still and there are no waves in the Copenhagen region. The majority of the beaches are man-made, with no real sand. These beaches are typically small and also become overcrowded on the significantly hot days, whereas Brøndby Strand, even if full, is spacious and there are many spots where you can sit, including at the lagoon.
You’ll walk over a wooden bridge that passes over a lagoon wherein residents go canoeing. Thereafter, the natural white-sand beach with turquoise water is all that will be within your vicinity.
The beach stretches for a while and some parts are quieter where the water is less exploited than that of the inner-city beaches. The green shrubs over the miniature sand dunes isolate you from the suburb. There are still no waves here – but the water is not stagnant. Rather the water is very shallow and can be optimal for floating!
The limestone quarry Karlstrup Kalkgrav formed 145,5 million years ago during the Cretaceous Geologic Period. The lake spans 6 hectares and is acclaimed for its distinctive transparent blue water and white rock. To enhance its appeal, lush fauna and flora accompany the lake due to its remote location near Solrød Municipality.
We recommend you drive there as it is not very accessible via public transport – unless you don’t mind a 30-minute walk from the bus-stop. The drive will take 30 minutes from Copenhagen. The lake is an attractive site for divers as it is 14 meters deep. Ice-diving is offered as well, by booking only via the Danish Nature Agency. Their rules and regulations can be read here.
Duration in Copenhagen?
Tourists are often burdened with deliberating the length of their stay in Copenhagen. It is a difficult decision, considering it’s been rated by Monocle as the world’s most livable city in 2008, 2013 and again in 2014. Since then, it ranks within the top 10 consistently.
This means the city is more geared toward the locals’ needs instead of the tourists’ needs. Therefore tourists are urged to adapt to Danish lifestyle, rather than avoiding it with all-inclusive packaged deals.
We propose that if you visit Copenhagen in Summer, to spend around a week there. The daytime is roughly 20 hours long hence you can make day-trips to distant places, whether by car or by train. For most, the Summer is the best time to visit the city due to the numerous options one can choose from to bathe in; canals, lakes, sea.
By contrast, we suggest in Winter you spend roughly 4 days, because the city indeed has less to offer in the cold – you’ll predominantly be indoors. Visiting Museums and Castles can be achieved within these 4 days pretty effortlessly as they are either close to or within the city. The trip in Winter would entail you to instead gain insight into Danish cuisine and historic value, as well as ensure quality time with the person(s) whom you are traveling with.
It would be a crime not to mention this destination – an alternative and intentional community created in the 1970s by Hippies amid the most wealthy suburb of Copenhagen. It spans almost 8 hectares and contains a lake, restaurants and bars, as well as vendors selling weed and hash – its most defining factor.
Presently, upon visiting Christiana you’ll notice the manifestation of tourists. Yet, this influx marginalises the intent of the creators, so rather than going in to observe through the tourist lens, engage with natives who live there. Sit by the lake and eat the delicious food, whether or not you smoke weed.
Most do not know that Christiana is also a residential area with lots of trees, quirky houses and a lot of psychedelic graffiti/installations.
Something to do near Copenhagen Airport
The Airport is a 3-minute train ride to the suburb of Tårnby, in which traditional Danish houses can be found, or a 6-minute train ride to Ørestad where you can walk or ride to a nature reserve.
Rent a Bike
One of the best ways to explore the cities if here on a day trip or connecting flight. What Denmark’s flat landscape can be advantageous for is the fact that Copenhagen is the world’s most cycling-friendly city – due to there being no steep hills involved for riding, making it pretty easy and enjoyable.
The quintessential Danish tradition is bicycle riding, which is normalised throughout the country, and in fact, cycling is the most common means of transportation! Although there are numerous stores offering bike rentals throughout the city, we recommend Swapfiets due to their central location and quality bicycles.
Once on your bike, familiarise yourself with the rules of cycling on the road, and make your way through Christianshavn along the canals (very similar to Amsterdam). Find a quaint café along the canal to eat, and then cross over the bridge, riding into the island of Amager, which is the more residential and less touristy part of Copenhagen.
After a 20 minute rejuvenating ride, with the aid of Google Maps for directions, we recommend you ride to Kalvebod Fælled and its interconnected Naturcenter Amager, where you disappear into savannah, dense woods and salt marshes with bird-rich lakes.
The tall trees and widespread greenery conceal the city from the rider and completely detach you from the world. Tame wildlife roam freely throughout. Yet, this dense forest eventually alleviates, leading to the Baltic Sea whereby a path has been placed along the water.
So, next time you visit any city, keep in mind that the city was built around various landscapes that, along with the city deserve to be appreciated. In being the Capital, tourists often believe that Copenhagen will offer every type of experience. And it does, but they are primarily trumped by other sites such as The Little Mermaid as well as are not all within the city, but nearby.
There’s a reason the Danes are so happy, and it’s because they cherish any form of nature they possess. In return, the land permits them with diverse landscapes to splendour in. While indeed expensive for indoor activities, Copenhagen and more specifically Sjælland are abundant in undisclosed outdoor destinations that await for you to discover them, free of charge.