As the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen is a very vibrant city that truly comes alive this time of year. Known for its strong coffee culture, romantic canals and endless bike paths, this bustling, cosmopolitan city has lots of things to do and see. But what if you only have one day in Copenhagen to explore?
What to Do with Just One Day in Copenhagen
Sometimes you’ve got to take a chance to visit a place, even if the timing is less than ideal. On my trip through Sweden down to its southern city of Malmö, the opportunity came up to fly out of nearby Copenhagen. With an evening flight, it was easy enough to cross over the Øresund Bridge to the Danish capital in the morning and have half a day in Copenhagen to go sightseeing.
Now I’m certainly not saying that just a day is the best way to visit this magnificent capital city. You can easily entertain yourself for days in this cosmopolitan destination.
However sightseeing with a limited amount of time means prioritizing attractions and places that can be seen both quickly and cheaply. Sure, you will likely miss some of Copenhagen’s main attractions, but isn’t that better than missing the city entirely? Also, you may be surprised how much you can see in just a day in Copenhagen.
A Copenhagen City Card provides free or discounted entrance to over 80 museums and attractions, plus transportation. Purchase ahead to save time.
Visit City Hall Square
Just a block from the main train station of Copenhagen, City Hall Square is a great first place to head for. To do so, you’re going to have pass around the famous Tivoli Gardens and potentially several of the city’s museums. With several days in the city, these are certainly spots you’d want to visit but they do take time.
Upon reaching City Hall Square, it should become obvious why you’d come here first. In front of you stands several grand brick buildings, each seemingly with its own unique tower. Hard to miss is the golden flourishes across the Copenhagen City Hall, office of Copenhagen’s Lord Mayor.
Besides the architecture here, two monuments will surely grab your attention. One is the overly expressive Dragon Fountain, oddly portraying a bull fighting a dragon. The other is the Lurblæserne, a towering sculpture of two men blowing a traditional horn called the lur.
Tour the Christiansborg Palace
A short walk from City Hall Square and a hope across a little canal and you’re in the grounds of the Christiansborg Palace. This colossal building not only packs a lot of history and grandeur, but also quite a bit of modern importance. After all, the palace hosts the National Parliament, Supreme Court and other government and royal institutions.
Its history is just as impressive, with the first castle built here in the 12th century. While it is possible to tour parts of the palace, with a half day trip you really only have time to enter through its stately gates into the central courtyard and admire the palace’s elegance.
Stroll around Nyhavn
Without question, one of the prettiest places to visit in Copenhagen has to be colorful canal harbor of Nyhavn. With scores of boats in the small waterway and brightly painted buildings along the waterfront, it makes for a brilliant scene. While plenty of boat tours and cruises go out from here (book your tour here), you’re bound to also enjoy Nyhavn when on land, especially if you take the time to stop at one of the many restaurants that line picturesque promenade.
Explore Kastellet Citadel
Continuing northeast alongside Copenhagen’s major waterway, you’ll eventually arrive another fantastic sight – the Kastellet. This vast fortress is in the shape of a pointed pentagram or star and nowadays is a historic site home to a huge park.
Not only is there a walking track at the Kastellet that follows the citadel walls and surrounding moat, but also a number of heritage buildings that were once barracks and the Commander’s House. Then there’s the Kastelsmøllen windmill that feels perfectly in place for somewhere like Copenhagen.
Visit Langelinie and the Little Mermaid
Between the Kastellet and Copenhagen’s waterways runs the narrow Langelinie waterfront promenade. It can be a little surprising when you realize just how much there is to see along this small waterfront strip.
Upon leaving the citadel’s northern gate, you’ll find yourself right by one of Copenhagen’s most famous attractions – The Little Mermaid. This small bronze statue of the well-known fairytale character pulls in hordes of tourists who all want their photo with the famous statue.
But there are other sights to the Langelinie as well. One that really stuck with me was the Angel of Peace statue in Langelinie Park, because of all the trees blossoming with the arrival of spring.
If you time it right, Copenhagen may be at its most beautiful when spring comes to town. The other spot you shouldn’t miss is the pairing of the Gefion Fountain and St Alban’s Church, which together make for quite a pretty spot.
Enjoy Amalienborg Palace Square
Returning back the way you came earlier will bring you through to another great sightseeing spot in the Amalienborg Palace Square. This circle is surrounded on four sides by different palace buildings of the Amalienborg Palace Complex, all centered around a statue of King Frederik V. Besides the royal palaces here, you also get a nice view from the square of the nearby domed Frederik’s Church and its design atypical of Copenhagen.
My interest in the square came from seeing crowds and crowds of people there, apparently waiting to see the royal family from a balcony as it happened to be the Queen’s birthday that day.
Other Places to Visit in Copenhagen
It’s no surprise that you can’t hope to see all of Copenhagen in half a day. Even given how much I saw, there were plenty more well-known attractions that I missed with my visit. That’s to be expected though of course.
With more time in Copenhagen, I know exactly the places and activities I’d want to add to an itinerary there. One would have to be the Tivoli Amusement Park, the vast park and fairground just across from the Copenhagen train station. The second oldest operating amusement park in the world, it’s said to be quite magical come winter. Save money and time by purchasing a Tivoli Gardens Skip-the-Line Entry Ticket.
Then there are all the palaces, castles and museums that you could spend days moving between. Rosenborg Castle in particular, with its architecture and museum would easily be a necessary inclusion next time. Other museums for fine art and cultural exhibitions with fantastic word of mouth include the National Museum of Denmark and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
In recent years, Copenhagen has become quite famous as a foodie destination, again something you can’t really experience in a single meal. While there are many Michelin star and highly lauded restaurants, the Torvehallerne food market seems more my speed with its different stalls and smørrebrød.
Looking for more European walking tour ideas? Try these:
- How to take a self-guided Antwerp walking tour.
- Tips for a self-guided walking tour in Amsterdam.
- Do-it-yourself walking tour in Strasbourg, France.
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