Have only one day in Copenhagen to explore? There are a lot of things to do in Copenhagen. We can give you an excellent Copenhagen itinerary that lets you sample the highlights!
Central Copenhagen is surprisingly small for a European capital, so you can easily walk between all attractions. With only a day to explore, we recommend focusing on key Copenhagen attractions instead of museums to maximize your time. It’s Copenhagen sightseeing made easy!
10 a.m. Sensory Overload
Start out by by heading to Nørreport Station, a key commuter hub in the city. You can easily reach the station using public transportation. Ride either the Metro (M1 and M2 lines) or commuter train (all train lines stop in Nørreport Station). If you want to do Copenhagen like a local, rent a bike. Find one of the Copenhagen bike sharing programs and commute on two wheels.
Begin the Copenhagen itinerary at Torverhallerne, a covered marketplace filled with food and drink vendors. Walk around the two halls to see the meats and cheeses, oils and spices, desserts and beverages.
You can’t go wrong with any of your options, but we recommend getting your caffeine fix at Coffee Collective. There, you can sample the cutting edge in the barista arts.
For food, Grød serves the best porridge you will ever taste. This hearty start to your day will fuel your Copenhagen adventure!
11 a.m. Step Back in Time
From Torverhallerne we’ll walk to Kongens Have (“King’s Garden”, pronounced “Kon-ens How”). This is the unofficial playground of central Copenhagen. The beautifully maintained grounds are covered with locals relaxing throughout the year.
From the garden, take time to admire Rosenborg Castle. It’s a beautiful renaissance castle built by King Christian IV in the early 17th century. The garden originally served as the King’s private grounds, but has been open to the public since the 18th century.
The garden is on the way to Nyhavn, our third Copenhagen itinerary stop. So, take time to wander the park and see the various statues and the rose garden in front of Rosenborg.
12 p.m. Maritime Adventure
Scenic Kongens Nytorv
Exit the park and continue our Copenhagen itinerary by walking down Gothersgade to Kongens Nytorv. This grand square has received a major facelift after being boarded-up during the construction of the new M3 metro line. Now it has a cobbled expanse that allows for outdoor dining. We won’t stop here today, but you can admire some of the buildings facing the square. They including the Hotel D’Angleterre, Royal Danish Theatre, and the Magasin du Nord department store. The square was built in the late 17th century and was inspired by Paris. You can feel that inspiration as you look around the square.
Nyhavn Canal Tour
We continue across to Nyhavn possibly the most iconic sight in all of Copenhagen. Nyhavn literally means “New Harbor”, and is pronounced “New-hown”. Built in the late 17th century, Nyhavn was dug by Swedish prisoners of war. It was designed to provide a convenient gateway to the markets at Kongens Nytorv. For centuries Nyhavn was one of the most seedy parts of Copenhagen. It contained all the vices and characters associated with a working seaport. Today it contains colorful facades, outdoor cafes, and the best people watching in town.
We’ll walk over to the Stromma stand at the Kongens Nytorv end of the harbor. There we’ll get seats on their Canal Tour. You can take their hop-on/hop-off tour that lets you use the boat as your transport between key sights around Copenhagen. We recommend the one-hour Grand Tour. It sails frequently during the day, and operates year-round. In winter the boats are covered and heated. Tours are live-guided, and offer the best way to see Copenhagen – from the water. This is also the best way to see the Little Mermaid. The canal tour avoids the 20 minute each-way walk from Nyhavn. As a bonus, your pictures will capture all the ridiculous tourists climbing the rocks. That’s a nice bonus to our one day in Copenhagen itinerary.
2 p.m. Lunch on the Harbor
The Canal Tour will end back at Nyhavn. By now all this walking around probably has you good and hungry. You could stop and dine at any of the restaurants and cafes that line Nyhavn. However, they are universally expensive (even for Copenhagen) and unmemorable. Instead we recommend that you walk down Nyhavn, and head across the harbor on Inderhavnsbroen. The bridge is known by locals as “The Kissing Bridge”, since it is a drawbridge that retracts instead of lifting. When it returns to form, the two sides look like they are kissing. On the other side is Broens Gadekøkken or The Bridge’s Street Kitchen. It’s an outdoor food court filled with more than enough options to satisfy anyone’s taste.
4 p.m. Discover the Canal and Commune Life
As you walk down the main canal of Christianhavn (the same one you boated down on the tour), you experience a number of contrasts. Today, Christianhavn canal is filled with expensive boats and boasts views as pretty as the best canals of Amsterdam. However, for centuries it was a working-class neighborhood. Its residents were workers who supported the docks and naval base to the north. Within Christianhavn you can find one of the most unique parts of Copenhagen and the next item on our Copenhagen itinerary – Freetown Christiania.
The Free Town of Christiania
Christiania is essentially a modern hippie commune inside of Copenhagen. In 1971, counter-culture activists moved into an abandoned part of the military base that once dominated Christianhavn. In their manifesto, the founders stated that they wanted to build a self-governing and self-sustaining community. Today, that spirit remains with no individual home ownership, collective governance, and a general attitude of personal freedom.
Walk down Pusher Street, the main drag that is flanked by semi-legal stands selling hash and weed. As you explore, be sure not to take any pictures in the open. The entire community lives on the edge of legality as well as society. While Christiania residents welcome tourists, they also take measures to retain their privacy.
Feel free to grab a drink at Café Nemoland. It’s a nice cafe with outdoor seating. You can also walk over to the ramparts and get a view of “rural” living in Christiania. Some people will be comfortable just taking a look, and others could stay for others. For certain, Christiania is one of the most unique things you will ever find in a city. That’s why we add it to our Copenhagen itinerary, even if you only have one day in Copenhagen.
6 p.m. Walking through History
Walk out of Christiania and you can return to “normalcy” in Christianhavn. Walk down to Christianhavn Torv, the main square in the center of the neighborhood, This is where the Metro stops. We won’t get on the metro though, instead we will walk back across the harbor on Torvegade. You’ll cross over Knipplesbro, the site of the first bridge across Copenhagen Harbor. The current version is the fifth bridge to stand at this location.
A Famous Castle
You will then come onto Slotsholmen (literally “Castle Island”). This is the imperial core of Copenhagen. You’ll pass along Børsen, the 17th century building that housed Copenhagen’s first stock exchange It’s an excellent example of the Dutch Renaissance style that dominated Danish Golden Age architecture.
Next you will stand in front of Christianborg Palace, the center of Danish government. This is where Absalon, the founding father of Copenhagen, built the city’s first fortification. Today you see the fifth building to stand here and the third named Christianborg. The second version burned in 1884 and this one was completed in 1924. Christianborg houses the Folketing, which is the Danish National Parliament. It also houses the Royal Reception Rooms, which are used by the Queen for state dinners. Christianborg has a tower with the highest observation deck in Copenhagen (and one of the few with an elevator to the top).
As you keep walking along the canal, cross the Højbro bridge towards the large bronze equestrian of Bishop Absalon. Absalon is one of the most important figures in medieval Danish history. He was a skilled diplomat, warrior and churchman. He fortified Copenhagen as a key coastal city between the then-larger cities of Roskilde and Lund, in modern Sweden. His vision for Copenhagen took advantage of a natural harbor and established centuries of Danish power along the western Baltic Sea.
A Famous Pedestrian Walk
Keep walking and you may notice that you don’t see any cars. This is because you are now on Strøget, one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets. Turn left at Amagertorv, dominated by a fountain and likely some street performers. As you walk, enjoy the people watching and window shopping along the thoroughfare.
Feel free to wander a bit – Strøget is not the only pedestrian street in the area. Some streets run parallel and can be even more interesting than the bland chain stores that dominate the street. Our goal is to walk to the end of the street, where you will find Copenhagen City Hall. This plaza is Denmark’s front porch, as it hosts everything from political rallies to drag shows. It’s even the site of an anarchic amateur fireworks display every New Year’s Eve.
7 p.m. Rediscovering your Inner Child
No trip to Copenhagen is complete without a visit to the Tivoli Gardens. The second-oldest amusement park in the world is one of the inspirations of Disneyland. This Copenhagen attraction is incredibly able to balance timeless charm and modern attractions. Even if you don’t enjoy rides, there’s a lot to do. Tivoli is worth the trip to wander the grounds and sample the various food and drink options around the park.
Tivoli dates back to 1843, when the land just outside the city walls was becoming available for development. It is incredible to think that once this was the outer frontier of the city. Now, the park is flanked by the City Hall and Central Train Station, so you can view local residents parking as you wait in line.
What Tivoli lacks in space it makes up for in intensity, with rides that spin fast and drop far. One of the attractions we recommend include Dæmon, a roller coaster that packs a lot in a two-minute ride. Another is Star Flyer, a swing that climbs 80m to offer panoramic views of the city. You can’t miss Rutschebanen, one of the oldest wooden roller coasters still in operation. It actually requires a human brakeman to control speed. Lastly, you must ride The Golden Tower. It’s a 60m drop-tower that offers great views of the city – until the bottom drops out and you free fall.
There are plenty of food options around Tivoli as well. They range from the Tivoli Food Hall, with various international flavors, to the gourmet Danish cuisine in Grøften.
We recommend heading to Tivoli an hour or so before dusk. This insures you can enjoy the gardens in the daylight, and then see it come aglow with thousands of lights at night. There is also a good laser-light show on the lake, and in the summer. In the summer season, rides run until nearly midnight.
Friday nights in the summer are packed. That’s because Tivoli hosts concerts that include major Danish and international artists. The park is also as much a must-see in the fall when it reopens for Halloween. It’s fully-decorated with pumpkins and broom-sticks under the swings. It’s even more festive over Christmas, when it turns into a true winter wonderland.
For $31, you can get a combination ticket for the Nyhavn Canal Tour and a Skip-the-line Tivoli Admission HERE. It saves at least $5 per person.