Though Copenhagen lacks the skyscrapers seen in other European cities, it is called the “City of Spires” for the church spires and palace towers that punctuate its skyline. Charming Danish fairytale scenes and grand palaces grace the cityscape. Royal Rococo buildings, majestic churches, and the historic city center complement the modern elements of Copenhagen.
Denmark’s capital city, Copenhagen, was the sixth stop on my two-week cruise to the Viking homelands. I saw Copenhagen’s royalty and religion celebrated by the Baroque Church of Our Savior, which invites visitors to climb the spiral stairway that hugs the exterior of its steeple. I saw Christian IV’s former stock exchange building, with its “dragon spire” resembling the twisted tails of four beasts. The Renaissance Rosenborg Castle, the regal reaches of City Hall, and Christiansborg Palace all struck their dramatic architectural poses.
Let’s explore 20 of my favorite experiences in Copenhagen, in no particular order.
Editor’s Note: A lot of these destinations can be reached by foot — Copenhagen, after all, made our list of walkable cities around the world.
1. The Little Mermaid Statue
My tour began at The Little Mermaid statue, Copenhagen’s most iconic tourist attraction. It is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale about a mermaid who makes a deal to become human and pursue the affection of a prince. (The same fairytale inspired the 1989 Disney film.)
In the early 1900s, Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen “was so captivated by the fairytale and the ballet performance” at Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Theatre that he commissioned Edvard Eriksen to sculpt the mermaid. She was smaller than I expected and almost seemed on the verge of slipping quietly into the water.
Pro Tip: Take advantage of the Copenhagen Card to visit all 89 attractions offered and take free public transportation throughout the region. Choose from a 24-, 48-, 72-, 96-, or 120-hour card for adults, juniors, and children, plus bring along two children up to age 11 for free.
2. Amalienborg Palace
In the heart of Copenhagen, Amalienborg Palace is the home of the Danish royal family, one of the world’s longest-standing monarchies. Amalienborg is made up of four Rococo palaces facing the square: Christian IX’s Palace (home of the queen), Christian VIII’s Palace (a guest palace for Prince Joachim and Princess Benedikte), Christian VII’s Palace (a guest residence), and Frederik VIII’s Palace (home of the crown prince’s family).
You can watch the daily changing of the guards at noon and participate in occasional guided tours.
A green oasis surrounds Amaliehaven park’s large fountain. It shelters the fountain from the noise and wind from the street on one side and the harbor on the other, boasting beautiful flowers and stunning geometrically shaped hedges. Close to the queen’s palace, Amaliehaven park was designed by landscape architect Jean Delogne and decorated with sculptures by Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro.
4. Gefion Fountain
Gefion Fountain, in Langelinie Park on the Osterbro harborfront, features four large oxen driven by the legendary Norse goddess Gefion, who plowed the island of Zealand out of Sweden. According to legend, Gefion transformed her four sons into powerful oxen who plowed so profoundly that they raised the land and pulled it into the sea. Lake Vännern in Sweden resembles the shape of Zealand, proving the story truthful. Danish sculptor Anders Bundgaard created the fountain in 1908.
5. Marble Church
The city’s most impressive church with one of the best views, the Marble Church (also known as Frederik’s Church), boasts a majestic copper-green dome. The church anchors the Amalienborg Palace and the equestrian statue of King Frederik V in the square in central Copenhagen’s Frederiksstaden area.
6. New Opera House
One of the world’s most modern opera houses and the most expensive ever built, the Copenhagen Opera House sits on the island of Holmen in central Copenhagen, across the harbor from Amalienborg Castle and Frederik’s Church.
7. City Hall Square
City Hall Square is one of Copenhagen’s main squares, and where the famous shopping street Strøget begins. An important gathering place for the city, people come together for demonstrations, big concerts, outdoor exhibitions, and events, including Copenhagen Pride.
Visit sculptures on the square, like a statue of Hans Christian Andersen and the Dragon Fountain that shows a fight between a dragon and a bull. You’ll find a metro station and a bus hub on the square, an important public transportation area.
8. Tivoli Gardens
The Tivoli Gardens amusement park offers seasonal sights, like colorful Easter eggs, summer landscapes, Halloween witches and pumpkin décor, and magical Christmas lights. Enjoy the lush gardens, iconic buildings, and amusement park rides, such as roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, a classic carousel, and vintage cars.
The Tivoli Food Hall is open year round with free street access.
Cakenhagen is a classic Danish pastry shop with a French influence. You can learn to make flødeboller (a chocolate-coated marshmallow treat) and petit fours. Enjoy cookies, coconut macaroons, Tivoli cakes, banana cakes, and more. You’ll find two locations: one inside Tivoli Gardens and one at Vesterbrogade 1. The Vesterbrogade location is open year round.
10. Christiansborg Palace
Visit Christiansborg Palace on Slotsolmen Isle in Copenhagen and see 800 years of Danish history. The palace, completed in 1928, hosted the queen for gala banquets and official events. You’ll see the Royal Reception Rooms, The Great Hall, The Tapestries, The Royal Kitchen, The Palace Chapel, The Royal Stables, and the ruins below the site.
Børsen (or The Old Stock Exchange) is a majestic structure built of red brick with a green copper roof. It dates to 1625. Three crowns, representing Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, sit atop four twisted dragon tails. Legend says the dragon tail protects the building against fires and enemy attacks. Today the exchange hosts conferences, parties, and other celebrations.
A waterfront entertainment district, Nyhavn (New Port) is lined with colorful 350-year-old townhouses. Hans Christian Andersen hung out here and wrote several stories, like The Tinderbox and The Princess and the Pea. Ships would load and unload their cargo along the canal, a gateway from the sea to the old inner city. We found an excellent place to sit at an outdoor cafe along the canal.
13. Rosenborg Castle
Constructed as a country summer house in 1606, Rosenborg Castle is one of Christian IV’s many architectural projects. It went through four stages of development and finished in 1633. You will find the Crown Jewels, the Crown Regalia, the Crown of the Absolutist Kings, and the Queens’ Crown on display.
14. Frederiksborg Castle
Built by Christian IV early in the 17th century, Frederiksborg Castle is the largest Renaissance building in the Nordic region. It is just north of Copenhagen, in Hillerød. Decorated with the Neptune Fountain and the Royal Wing’s marble gallery, Frederiksborg Castle has housed the National History Museum since the late 19th century. I loved the magnificent golden Place Church and the castle gardens showcasing nature’s beauty.
15. The National Museum of Denmark
Denmark’s National Museum is the country’s largest museum of cultural history, with the main building a short distance from Strøget. On specific guided tours, hear the heritage of Denmark, meet famous Vikings, and relate the past to today. Check for exhibitions, activities, and new information on culture and history.
Pro Tip: Don’t miss a tour of the Victorian Home, a hidden jewel nearby.
16. Kronborg Castle
In the town of Helsingør, a short drive north of Copenhagen perfect for a day trip, see 16th-century Kronborg Castle, with its banquet hall and royal chambers. It is known as the model for Elsinore in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
In its early years, the fortress controlled Danish waters and collected the Sound Dues, a tax of one English noble to the king for each merchant ship passing through the straight. Today, Kronborg is one of Northern Europe’s most important renaissance castles and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
17. Viking Ship Museum
The Viking Ship Museum features the five original Viking ships from Skuldelev and tells how the ships influenced the world. They sailed along the shores of Europe and throughout the North Atlantic area a thousand years ago, establishing the Scandinavian countries we know today.
Pro Tip: Eat a Viking lunch at Café Knarr, located on the museum lake with views of the beautiful wooden boats. Following the principles of the “New Nordic Vikingfood,” you’ll eat flatbread, angelica, sea buckthorn, and pearl barley, but you will not see potatoes, tomatoes, or cucumbers. Enjoy a seasonal lunch plate, salads, sandwiches, homemade cakes, hot drinks, organic must, soda, and beer.
18. Copenhagen Canal Cruise
Enjoy one of Copenhagen’s classic canal cruises around the harbor and canals. See Copenhagen from the water, including the castles, iconic churches, old houses, The Little Mermaid, Old Stock Exchange, the opera house, the Black Diamond, Christiansborg, Christianshavn, and more sights on an unforgettable canal tour.
A 17th-century star-shaped fortress, Kastellet is a citadel in Copenhagen and is one of the best-preserved fortresses in Northern Europe. The fort is a peaceful green oasis in the middle of the busy city, used as a military barracks for several hundred employees. The Monument for Denmark’s International Contribution Since 1948 was erected here in 2011, honoring deployed military and those who’ve died.
20. Royal Copenhagen
Founded in 1775, Royal Copenhagen was initially named The Royal Porcelain Factory and produced classic and modern hand-painted porcelain dishes. The Royal Copenhagen Flagship Store stands three stories high on Strøget in Amagertorv square. Royal Copenhagen has occupied the space, which was built in 1616, since 1911. Besides porcelain dishes, you’ll find figurines and gift items, plus the Royal Café, which serves traditional Danish food with a modern twist.