Two days in Copenhagen – things to see and do

Colourful buildings along canal in Nyhavn

Copenhagen was one of those cities that was fairly low down on my travel wishlist. One of those places I thought I’d get to eventually but not at the front of mind when looking for a city break. Now having spent a few days there I’m wondering why. What revelation the Danish capital turned out to be. 

Most of my travels these days revolve around going to concerts. I always try to pick countries and cities that I’ve never been to before so I can explore somewhere new. While planning travels around gigs is a great way to see the world it does sometimes limit the amount of time available to wander around and take in a city. So being organised is key to making the most of your time.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t followed my own advice on this trip and arrived in Copenhagen with only a vague idea of what to see and do. Thankfully Copenhagen turned out to be the ideal city to just stroll around.

My Copenhagen Itinerary 

I’m calling this a twoday itinerary as although it was three nights it was only two full days and if no concerts were involved I would probably have done all this (and more) over the two days. 

Evening one – A self-guided Copenhagen walking tour

Arriving early Thursday means hitting the ground running as it was the only free night. The plan was to head straight to The Little Mermaid (yes I know) but on foot, so we could see as much of Copenhagen as possible.  

Doing what was in effect a self-guided walking tour in the evening turned out to be a great idea. Copenhagen is a very walkable city and I saw many of Copenhagen’s main sites without the crowds and got a feel for the city. In just a few hours I visited Tivoli Gardens, City Hall, Nyhavn, Amalienborg Palace, Gefion Fountain and of course the Little Mermaid.

Tivoli Gardens

My first stop was Tivoli Gardens. One of the oldest amusement parks in the world, Tivoli is said to have inspired Walt Disney. I’m not sure if that is true but it gives you a little idea of what to expect. Thrilling rides, including a 100-year-old wooden roller coaster (not for the faint-hearted I suspect), beautiful lush gardens and plenty of restaurants and cafes to eat and drink your way around. There is something for everyone at Tivoli.

It also looks very pretty all light up at night. 

Sign on top of Tivoli Gardens entrance

Visit the official website for more information.

Copenhagen City Hall

Home to the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen and the municipal council, this imposing building is one of the tallest in the city. Around 300 steps will take you to the top of the 105.6 meter bell tower giving you a sweeping view and great photo opportunities over Tivoli and the city. 

Nyhavn

If you’ve ever seen a picture of Copenhagen in a guide book or holiday brochure you can pretty much guarantee it’s from Nyhavn. The waterfront entertainment district, with its colourful buildings lining the canal, is one of the most popular tourist spots in the city and it’s easy to see why.  

You might hear complaints about it being busy, loud and a bit touristy and yes it is a little but that doesn’t detract from this vibrant neighbourhood. It’s a great place for an evening walk or just to sit on the quayside and watch the world go by.

Man sitting on top of sing saying Nyhavn

Amalienborg Palace

Stumbling across this large square with four identical buildings on each side with guards you knew this place was something. Turns out, after a quick google, it is a Royal Palace. Home to the Danish Royal Family during winter. 

Although the museum wasn’t open visiting in the evening had its advantages. The grandeur of the buildings really stood out in the nearempty square.  

The Changing of the Guards ceremony takes place each day at noon. The guards march from their barracks near Rosenborg Castle through the streets to the palace for the ceremony.

Statue of King Frederick V of Denmark on a horse in middle of square at Amalienborg Palace

Gefion Fountain

This large, in footprint rather than height fountain, represents the creation of the island of Zealand, which Copenhagen is located. The group of animals are being driven by the legendary Norse goddess, Gefjun. 

Fountain Depicting a group of animals are being driven by a goddess

The Little Mermaid statue

Pretty much everyone says Denmark’s most famous tourist attraction is a little underwhelming. It’s much smaller than you think and gets very crowded. Yes, that’s kind of true but you can’t not go there on a first visit to Copenhagen, can you? 

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a mermaid, she was a gift from Carl Jacobson, a Danish brewer, to the city of Copenhagen. 

Walking up to the statue late in the evening, I was prepared to be pretty disappointed but that wasn’t the case at all, in fact, quite the opposite. Ok, so it is pretty small but crowded?  Not at 10 pm on a Thursday night. There was maybe 8-10 people there at most. With everyone hanging out in their own little areas and with enough time and space for as many photos as you’d like, it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

I’m not sure if I was just lucky or if it is always like that in the evening. I went past it the next day around lunchtime on a canal cruise and it was super crowded with what seemed like hundreds of people clamouring to get that money shot photo. So if you want a good shot with no crowds then it’s worth heading their early or late in the day.

The Little Mermaid at night

That sounds like a lot to cram into one evening but it only took a couple of enjoyable hours. You could easily stretch it out to be day walk and spend more time at each spot, visiting the museums at Amalienborg Palace or having lunch in Nyhavn.

Day Two – Unique towers, imposing castles and colourful gardens

The Round Tower (or Rundetaarn)

The oldest functioning observatory in the world and with an unusual way to get to the top. The Rundetaarn’s distinctive spiral ramp makes it a must-visit.  After seven and a half twists around the core of the building and a few steps (it’s not entirely step-free), you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view over Copenhagen.

View my post on my visit to the Round Tower for more information.

Botanical Gardens

In the heart of Copenhagen, the Botanical Gardens are the ideal spot to take yourself away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

There are different sections to explore with 600 species of Danish plants and rock gardens with plants from Central and Southern Europe. The historical glasshouses date from 1874.

Refreshments (including some great cakes)  are available from a cafe on the edge of gardens.

Glasshouses in the Botanical Gardens

Rosenborg Castle

You can experience 400 years of history at Rosenborg Castle. Built by Christian IV in the early 17th century, the well-preserved interiors offer a glimpse into royal life.

Denmark’s crown jewels including the crowns of Danish kings and queens are kept in special vaults here.

Day Three – A different perspective 

Stroget

People strolling down Stroget, a long pedestrian shopping street

One of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe, there was no way I was missing this. I know shopping is perhaps a slightly shallow past time but there is little I love more than a wander around the shops of a new city. 

From budget-friendly shops to highend luxury brands all budgets and tastes are covered here. You’ll probably end up passing through here at some point on your travels.

Canal Tour

Copenhagen is surrounded by water so it seemed only natural to take canal tour for a different perspective of the city.

I took one departing from Nyhavn but there are also tours departing from Gammel Strand. The tour was around an hour long and took in many of Copenhagen’s historical buildings and modern architecture including Amalienborg Palace, the Copenhagen Opera House and of course, The Little Mermaid.

Tours are in English and Danish although more languages may be available so it’s worth checking in advance.

People on boat on a canal tour

Two days in Copenhagen was just enough time to scrape the surface of the city. If I was do this trip again I’d book a couple more nights as there is just so much to see and do there. In fact, I’m already planning a trip back.

Where have you been that has surprised you? Let me know in the comments below.

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