By Jim Ferri
Despite it being one of the loveliest cities in Europe, many travelers give Copenhagen short shrift in their rush to more northern areas of Scandinavia or other areas of Europe.
While you should give the city at least two days to really enjoy it, don’t despair if you’re short on time – there’s a lot you can do in Copenhagen in a day or even less.
The key is to plan ahead.
Keeping Hotel costs down
Copenhagen is a city made for sightseeing since it’s easy to get around via foot or public transportation.
Whether you’re visiting for just a few 24 hours or longer, you’ll discover you can tour the city at a lower cost than you may expect.
If your 24-hour visit includes an overnight and you need an inexpensive hotel, you may want to try the Cabinn Hotel. It’s a relatively inexpensive Danish chain that I found to be clean, safe and fairly comfortable, although the rooms are fairly small.
One of its hotels, Cabinn City, is fairly close to Copenhagen‘s Central Station, which can make it hard to book in the high season. It’s currently full for the date I checked in late August although there is availability in September for $64 per night. (Cabinn Metro, its sister property three miles from the station currently has availability in late August for $58 per night).
Cut Transportation Costs
You’ll most likely arrive in Copenhagen at Central Station, even if you’re coming from the airport (a 13-minute metro ride that departs above Terminal 3).
Before you leave the airport, or at Central Station if you are arriving by train, be sure to buy a transit card that’s good for all buses and trains in the city before you board. The cost for a 24-hour card is DKK 80 (about $12 per adult) or DKK 130 (approximately $19) for 48 hours. By comparison, the red Hop On-Hop Off sightseeing buses cost more than $31 per adult for 48 hours. Check Copenhagen’s English-language transportation site for more info and where to buy.
You could also purchase the Copenhagen Card for approximately $53 per adult ($27 per child), which provides both free transportation and also free admission to 74 museums and other attractions. But it may not be worth it if you’re only staying 24 hours since you will not have a lot of time to visit museums.
If you’re only visiting for a few hours, there’s a luggage storage room in Central Station two levels down in the basement near the exit to Istedgade stret. Lockers cost DKK50 for the small and DKK60 for the large, and you must use Danish coins. There are also luggage lockers at the airport.
A Great Shopping Street, a Picturesque Waterfront
If you’re starting out from Central Station head towards Stroget, Copenhagen’s famous upscale shopping street that’s the longest pedestrian street in the world. Along the way, you’ll pass Christiansborg Palace with its copper-clad steeples, the seat of the Danish Parliament. When you reach stylish Strøget, window-shop for a little while, perhaps visiting the Royal Copenhagen store, the brand’s flagship.
It’s only about a 10-15 minute walk from Stroget to colorful Nyhavn where 18th-century gabled townhouses line a harborside promenade. Hans Christian Andersen lived in several houses along the promenade during his lifetime.
More a canal than a harbor, you’ll find Nyhavn lined with sailing vessels and a bevy of cafes and restaurants. It’s one of the most picturesque streets in Scandinavia and a good place to stop for lunch, dinner or an afternoon beer.
From Nyhavn continue to Amalienborg Palace, home of the Danish Royal Family. Only about a 10-minute away, the palace is actually four identical rococo buildings, quite stately and looking as palatial as any regal residence should.
When I visited I missed the formal changing of the guard at noon, which turned out to be a blessing since I then had nearly the entire broad cobbled square to myself. The lack of a crowd also provided an unexpected benefit in that I was able to have a conversation with one of the guards on duty as he stood at his post.
The Little Mermaid, and Another Beautiful Palace
The world-renowned 100+-year-old statue of the Little Mermaid sits on the edge of the harbor about a 15-minute walk from Amalienborg Palace. You can also reach the mermaid via Bus #26 (Langelinie stop), which also stops at Central Station, Nyhavn, and Rosenborg Castle.
Based on the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen, the statue has become such a symbol of the city it has been vandalized numerous times in social and political protests over the past 50 years.
When I visited, it looked even better than I remembered from years earlier, and I watched the canal tour boats slide in one right after the other with precision timing, giving passengers the ultimate Copenhagen photo op.
Rosenborg Castle is a 15-minute ride or a half-hour walk from the Little Mermaid and it’s well worth the trip. The former summer palace, it’s another step back in time in a city that sometimes seems lost in time.
Rosenborg is a beautiful castle, whose design was influenced by the Renaissance architecture of the Netherlands. It’s now the home to the Royal Treasury that contains both regalia and jewels.
Many Danes, however, are attracted to Rosenberg by the beautiful parkland about it, which includes a well-maintained moat around the castle, broad lawns, and a lovely rose garden. In the warmer months, amid the perfectly squared and trimmed hedges you’ll find people sunning themselves alongside the garden sculptures, reading books or viewing the majestic scene about them. It’s a beautiful panorama.
The Botanical Gardens
After you’ve left Rosenborg – be careful about not being lulled into spending too much time there – cross Oster Voldgade to the beautiful Botanical Gardens. There you can walk one of the pathways that parallel the street as you head back towards Central Station (go left exiting the castle grounds). You won’t be able to go too far in the park, but it’s a welcome respite; when you reach the street again just follow it all the way down to the station, a pleasant half-hour walk.
If you’re short on time, you may want to move your tour schedule ahead to leave time to visit famous Tivoli Gardens, directly across the street from the station.
A better option, though, if you’re overnighting in the city or have a late train or flight that evening, is to visit Tivoli in the evening. Then, when all of its twinkling lights give it a fairytale atmosphere, you can have dinner in the park and become part of the fairytale.
If you go:
DK-1165 Copenhagen K
Tel: +45 3325 7400
Tel: (888) 438-RAIL (7245)
1568 1568 København V
Tel: (+45) 33 46 16 16