Families, couples and backpackers will all find things to do in Copenhagen, a harbor capital with charm, history and vitality

Something old, something new: Copenhagen offers visitors ultra-modern attractions and renaissance elegance. From hands-on museums and fairytale castles to elegant parks and visionary architecture, Copenhagen is perfect for sightseeing on a daytrip or longer.

Those travelling with children will find Copenhagen kid-friendly and packed with family-friendly attractions. Where else has a pleasure park in its downtown district? Tivoli Gardens makes our list with two centuries of old-world charm; more than nostalgia, Tivoli’s magic moves with the times and has concerts, rides and eateries to suit all age groups.

Copenhagen’s most famous icon remains The Little Mermaid: Her disappointingly small stature doesn’t stop hundreds of daily visitors from making the lovely harbor walk (or canal tour) up to her rocky perch.

Castles are plentiful in Copenhagen. While Amalienborg is the royal family’s residence, power base Christiansborg is shared between royalty and the state. Splendid Rosenborg Slot houses the crown jewels - also from the 1600s, the uniquely-designed Round Tower observatory provides one of the best views of Copenhagen.   

Copenhagen has an abundance of excellent museums and art institutions, making it hard to single out just one: We find the beautiful building of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, with its stunning winter garden, makes a hard act to follow. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art meanwhile makes an ideal day trip, located some miles north of Copenhagen.

For those who love to wander around, quayside street Nyhavn makes the ideal pit stop while free town Christiania is a must-see for those interested in alternative lifestyles.  


Freetown Christiania
Photo courtesy of Morten Bjarnhof

Copenhagen's pocket of autonomy and liberal ideology for more than four decades, the Free State of Christiania is one of Denmark's most visited sites. While strictly speaking Christiania is not an attraction and contains no actual sights, this hippy enclave is a fascinating example of self-determination and community activism and has provided inspiration for millions of idealistic visitors since it first started in an abandoned army barracks on the Copenhagen island of Holmen in 1971. Initially a squat on state property, the 'social experiment' was tolerated by the government. Christiania has survived drug wars, biker gangs and official attempts to close it down � though the free spirit isn't quite what it used to be: Pusher Street has been closed, police make regular checks and the state's hopes of 'normalizing' the district include renovating buildings not up to fire code and ensuring residents pay taxes. In summer 2011, Christiania celebrated 40 years by finally coming to an agreement with the government: Residents would buy back the area. In order to raise funds for this, supporters can now buy 'shares' in the Free State.

Local Expert tip: Worth visiting are concert hall Loppen (and adjacent restaurant Spiseloppen), vegetarian cafe Morgenstedet and the attractive lake area.

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City Centre
Photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis

Nyhavn may be a tourist trap, but with good reason: On a sunny evening, it's one of the loveliest spots in Copenhagen. With its pretty painted houses clustered around the canalside (most of them restaurants and cafes), it's hard to imagine that Nyhavn was a notorious neighborhood of lowlifes, drunks and prostitutes right up until 1970, popular with sailors on shore leave and littered with all-night bars and tattoo parlors. Only one of those original tattooists now remains, along with seaman's' hostel Hotel Bethel; these days, prices at Nyhavn's eateries are some of the highest in Copenhagen. You could always follow the lead of the other sun worshippers, buy a bottle of beer or an ice cream from a nearby store and dangle your feet from the jetty.

Local Expert tip: Nyhavn has two sides: While its northern side is the busy one, its southern side (by Charlottenborg) is considerably quieter.

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Outside the city
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

This modern art museum on the coastal road north of Copenhagen is not only one of Denmark's top three contemporary art institutions; it's also the perfect venue for a day out in the country. With no reference whatsoever to the US state, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art gets its name because the original owner of the villa it's housed in, Alexander Brun, had three ex-wives � all, bizarrely enough, called Louise. Since its creation in 1958, the original villa has been extended with modern wings and glass corridors, and is now a circular shape. In addition to its extensive permanent collection, Louisiana holds regularly changing exhibitions featuring internationally-renowned artists in all media. The art is packaged in a wonderful site right on the �esund coast and visitors are also free to wander around the museum's sculpture park. In addition, Louisiana's excellent restaurant supplements its menu with sea views.

Local Expert tip: Louisiana now offers late night opening right up until 10pm most week days.

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Christiansborg Palace dominates Slotsholmen, where it all started back in the 12th century when Bishop Absalon built a castle in the midst of bogland and herring fishermen. Christiansborg is shared equally by the Danish state and its monarchy and is the seat of Denmark's Parliament, Folketing. Within its walls are the remains of four other castles: two were destroyed by fire in 1794 and 1884 respectively; the present Christiansborg dates from 1907-28. In the vaults, the ruins have now been completely excavated and are open to the public. For those more interested in recent history, it's possible to take guided tours of Folketing as well as the Royal Reception Rooms. Surrounding Christiansborg are a number of other museums, including the Royal Arsenal, Danish-Jewish Museum and the Royal Carriages.

Local Expert tip: During certain months, it's possible to buy a Slotsholmen card that saves money with combined entrance to all the museums on the island.

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Rundetaarn (The Round Tower)
Photo courtesy of Morten Jerichau

The Rundetaarn dates back to 1642 and is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. Built on the orders of Christian IV, it forms one-third of the scholarly Trinitatis Complex, the other two being the university library and church, Trinitatis. As well as providing its visitors with a great view over the old city from its top, the tower possesses one unique feature: its spiral walkway. This lack of stairs provides the backdrop for one of Copenhagen's most well-known stories; in 1716, Catherine the Great was said to have ridden to the top of the tower in a horse-drawn carriage with her husband leading on horseback. There is a small admission charge for visiting the tower; whilst here, take a breather in the museum cafe and look at the changing exhibitions located the former university library. The Round Tower makes a great venue for wintertime star-gazing as well as chamber music concerts.

Local Expert tip: Kids will love the very old privy hidden in the wall halfway up the tower.

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Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
Photo courtesy of Kim Nilsson

Arguably Copenhagen's most beautiful museum, the stunning building of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, situated at the back side of Tivoli Gardens, was built at the end of the 19th century by Dahlerup to house the growing collection of brewery magnate and art collector Carl Jacobsen, who named it 'glyptotek' after the Greek word for a repository for sculpture. With its leafy winter Garden as an indoor oasis, the Glyptotek is the ideal rainy day destination. In addition to the changing exhibitions, collection of 19th century Danish art and rooms upon rooms of Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities, the Glyptotek's collection of French impressionist works, including important Gauguin paintings and sculptures by Degas and Rodin, is world class.

Local Expert tip: The Glyptotek is free on Sundays.

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Amalienborg Slotsplads
Photo courtesy of Klaus Bentzen

Amalienborg is actually a group of four Rococo palaces built around an octagonal square by royal architect Nicolai Eigtved in the 1750s. Of these, Queen Margrethe lives in Christian IV's palace with her husband, Prince Consort Henrik while Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary have lived in Frederik VIII's Palace since 2010, together with their children. Part of Christian VIII's Palace is open to the public as a museum (Amalienborg Museum). In the center of the square is the imposing statue of Frederik V on horseback, a costly commssion by French artist Jacques Saly. The public are free to walk around the square, though respect is expected; no sitting on the palace steps, for example. Changing of the guards takes place daily at noon.

Local Expert tip: For best savings, buy a combined ticket for both Amalienborg Museum and Rosenborg Slot.

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City Centre
Rosenborg Slot
Photo courtesy of

There aren't many castles that actually look like the trademark Disney one, with fairytale turrets raised high over Copenhagen's other rooftops, but Rosenborg does, and stone lions guarding the entrance, too. This castle was built as the summer residence of 'builder king' Christian IV in the 1600s, back when this part of the city was still considered countryside. The last king to live here was Christian IV's successor Frederik IV; instead, it has acted as a museum since 1838, making it one of the world's earliest. Its most viewed exhibits are the crown jewels, located in the basement, but don't miss out on other attractions, including the splendidly Baroque Marble Hall, a celebration of the era of Absolute Monarchy began in 1660. Surrounding Rosenborg is stately Kongens Have (King's Gardens), one of Copenhagen's most attractive parks.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Situated as it is in downtown Copenhagen, there is no excuse for missing out on the crown jewels and everything else Rosenborg has to offer.

Local Expert tip: Check out the ingenious speaking tubes in the Winter Room

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Den Lille Havfrue
Photo courtesy of Erling A

The small, unassuming figure in bronze of Hans Christian Andersen's tragic heroine sits patiently on her rock, her head bowed, climbed on by tourists and buffetted by the waves. You might want to hate her, this rather over-rated tourist attraction that's been the icon of all things Danish since she was first unveiled back in 1913, but you may leave Langelinie feeling sorry for her, she who has falled victim to graffiti, politcal actions and even her own beheading in a famous artist's happening of the 60s. Still, the walk up here from Nyhavn is pleasant, and the nearby Amaliehaven Park looks lovely on a warm summer's day. Alternatively, many people take in the landmark as part of a canal tour.

Local Expert tip: Whilst here, don't miss the Little Mermaid's mutant siblings just a few minutes' walk away in Bjorn Norgaard's sculpture, 'Paradise Genetically Altered'.

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The raucous cries that emanate from Tivoli Pleasure Gardens can be heard a few blocks away, and the fact that Copenhagen can support such a centrally-located funfair kind of sums up its resident's take on the work-play balance. Tivoli wasn't always in the middle of the city, however; when it first opened in 1843, it was situated just outside the city walls. With such a lengthy tradition behind it, it is hardly surprising that Tivoli has a refined dignity about it rarely found at any other funfairs around the world. It has always been a favorite with royalty and proved inspirational to Walt Disney when he visited with his wife. With some of its rides now almost a century old, Tivoli keeps up with the times with modern concert venues, gourmet restaurants and a recent focus on events, particularly its free Friday night rock concerts. Note that rides cost extra; you may want to buy a tour pass for the rides (worn as a bracelet) with your entrance ticket.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: World famous Tivoli Gardens are a Copenhagen must-see during opening season; packed with fun and thrills that will delight all ages.

Local Expert tip: More than a funfair, Tivoli boasts some of Copenhagen's best dining and concert experiences. Plan your visit to include a meal, a show, or both.

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Meet Jane Graham

After touring most of Europe in her twenties, Jane was charmed by Copenhagen's relaxed tempo and moved there from her native northern England in 1999. Four young children at home has meant...  More About Jane