Travelling to Denmark and looking for alternative things to do in Copenhagen? I tried to explore Copenhagen beyond the usual sightseeing and travel advice, and put together this list of the best things to do in Copenhagen. I hope my Copenhagen travel tips – featuring all the fun things to do in Copenhagen and how to explore the city like a local – will make you love the city too!
There are few cities in the world I’ve loved like I loved Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. The capital of all that is cool, eco-friendly and eclectic.
This is a city with more bicycles than cars on the streets; with streets that belong in the museum of modern art; with cute little bicycle traffic lights; with foot rails at bicycle traffic lights to rest your feet! This is a city where no one lives more than 8 minutes away from a green space; where cemeteries are as much for the living as for the dead; where the government has committed to all public transport vehicles being electric by 2020.
Flying direct on Air India, from the mind-boggling chaos of Delhi, Copenhagen felt too quiet at first. Too empty. Too sanitised. But getting on a bicycle, like every other local, changed the way I experienced it.
There are plenty of popular things to do around here – visit the museum of modern art, hang out at Nyhavn (the new harbor), take a boat cruise along the canals, catch a panorama of the city from the Round Tower…
But if you really want to get off the tourist trail, take my list of alternative, offbeat things to do in the city and fall in love with it like I did:
Chill along the sand dunes and windmills of Amager Strandpark
Cycling nearly an hour out of the city, towards the coast of Copenhagen, past colourful little settlements, watching planes landing at the airport nearby, we landed up most unexpectedly at Amager Strandpark (or Amager Beach Park). The low sandy dunes, with wild bushes swaying in the wind and windmills spinning hypnotically along the coast, made me feel like we had arrived in the Scandinavia of yore – where man was yet to settle.
That’s exactly what made me fall in love with Copenhagen – one minute, we were grabbing vegan food at a trendy cafe in town; the other, we were cycling along sandy dunes with nothing but the sound of the waves in our ears and the cool northern wind on our faces.
Tip: In early spring, we only shared Amager Strandpark with a couple of runners and dog-walkers, but rumour has it that it gets busier in the summer, and even plays host to eclectic music concerts!
Catch Japanese sakura across the city in spring!
I totally lucked out with catching the spectacular Japanese cherry trees in bloom a second time this year – across Copenhagen, in the third week of April (the first time was in Japan, where the sakura blossomed a few weeks earlier than predicted). At Bispebjerg Cemetery, a fifteen minute bicycle ride from the city centre, the cherry path, with cherry trees on either side, their flowers forming a canopy over the walking path, is truly a spectacle to behold – but also packed with people out to see this rare phenomenon. The good news is, many parks, gardens and walking paths throughout the city are planted with sakura trees, making the entire city feel alive in spring!
Tip: If you want to enjoy the most prominent sakura blossom sans the crowds, head to Bispebjerg Cemetery or the Little Mermaid Statue early morning.
Ride the Cykelslangen, connecting the old and new harbors of Copenhagen
I’ve heard that half the world is jealous of Copenhagen’s cycling bridges, but I had no idea why – or even what a “cycling bridge” really was. Turns out, over 60% of Copenhagen locals cycle to work, and trendy cycling bridges have been designed to connect the harbors better and shorten work commutes! The Cykelslangen – also called the Bicycle Snake – is one such bridge, and I can’t quite express in words the joy of riding our bicycles over it one balmy afternoon, with the water flowing below us.
The Circle Bridge, designed in circles by a Danish-Icelandic artist, who is said to believe that the bridge shouldn’t just connect point A to B but also give the cyclist or pedestrian space to slow down and take in the gorgeous surroundings, like the Black Diamond (a public library in the glass facade of which the water shimmers) too. Well, mission accomplished. I rode across the bridge twice, totally enamoured by the design.
Tip: If you’re short on time, curious to find local spots or not confident cycling by yourself, consider taking a bicycle tour with Copenhagen Cool, set up by a cool Copenhagen local!
Also read: The Blank Spaces on Our Maps
Sample local (and vegan) food at Torvehallerne Food Hall
Tivoli Food Hall is pretty popular among visitors to Copenhagen, but from what I hear, also pretty overpriced. On the suggestion of a local, we ended up for lunch (twice) at Torvehallerne Food Hall – split into two glass-walled halls, with an eclectic city ambiance, all kinds of cooked and raw food for sale, and packed with locals, expats and travellers.
While one of the halls focusses mostly on fish, I loved the food options in the other one – where I got an incredible avocado-hummus-pesto sandwich at Vita Boost and a skinny vegan raw cacao mousse at Fresh Market. Other vegan options included falafel and hummus sandwiches, salads and healthy vegan desserts.
Tip: Pack your food at Torvehallerne, cross the street behind and enjoy it at the urban picnic spot (with stairs and benches to lounge on) in the warm sun.
Hang out by the Baltic Sea at Bellevue Beach
Of all things I expected to be doing in Copenhagen, I hardly expected to be cycling on a nearly empty cycling track along the cobalt blue coast and idyllic countryside of northern Copenhagen, just forty minutes from downtown. Bellevue Beach is a long white sand beach, flanked by an old lighthouse and at the time of our visit, dramatic clouds in the vast skies above. At nearly 5 degrees celcius, the water was too cold for a dip, but come summer (and for the more hardcore ones, come winter), I hear locals plunge in, then warm up at a temporary sauna set up within a container! Copenhagen’s quirky like that.
Loose yourself in the night sky at the Tycho Brahe Planetarium
You can probably tell by the name of this blog how much I love the night sky! So on a rainy evening, we made our way to Tycho Brahe Planetarium, to catch some astronomy exhibits, a short but stunning 3D film about our galaxy and a Nat Geo documentary about the invisible things that happen around us. For those few hours, I felt transported into a different world – a world we’re surrounded by but often forget to notice. If you want to renew your love for our planet, or inspire yourself or your kids to think of the future differently, spare a few hours for the Copenhagen planetarium – I promise it’ll be a day well spent.
Tip: Entry to the Tycho Brahe Planetarium is free with the Copenhagen Card. Movies cost extra, but are totally worth it. The movies are in Danish but English translation is offered through headphone; carry your own or you’ll have to buy a pair. See the movie schedule here.
Check out the “modern art” street at Superkilen
When I saw a photo of Superkilen on Instagram, in the hep Nørrebro district of Copenhagen, I was really intrigued. This is an open urban space – its most striking feature a “modern art” street for pedestrians and cyclists – dotted with paraphernalia from around the world, signifying the cultural diversity of Nørrebro. Think Swiss drains, Iraqi benches, a Moroccan fountain and a Tanzanian manhole cover!
Tip: Cool or quirky, you decide, with the handy Superkilen App which has an interactive guided map to showcase its diversity of landmarks.
Also read: Quirky Ways to Discover Madrid
Introspect about life at Assistens Cemetery, the resting place of HC Andersen
The famous Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, gave us childhood classics like The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling and Thumbelina. And it is at Assistens Cemetery, in the heart of Copenhagen, that he was laid to rest.
As we strolled through the cemetery, under the warm spring sun, amid gorgeous cherry blossoms, alongside locals walking or cycling through, past barren trees slowly turning green, it struck me that the cemeteries of Copenhagen are not just for those who’ve passed away but also for those who live. At one of the graves, I noticed a small group of friends – there were tears in their eyes but also laughter on their faces, like they had come to see an old friend, to celebrate a life, not to mourn it.
I guess it’s quite apt that one of Andersen’s fairytales said: “Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
Tip: Assistens Cemetery is still used for funerals and burials; please be mindful of any in progress at the time of your visit.
Assistens Cemetery: Website | Google Maps
Cycle to the quirky Hermitage Palace in Dyrehaven
Without a map, we set out past Bellevue Beach towards Dyrehaven – once a private forest reserve with hunting trails and wild deer – and got quite lost on the quaint countryside. The only locals we spotted were two women, seemingly foraging for mushrooms, who set us on the trail to the Hermitage Palace amid the wilderness of Dyrehaven, with no other signs along the way. Built in the 18th century as a hunting retreat for the royal family, the palace is best known for having a dinner table that could be lifted on the click of a button, from the kitchen to the dining room upstairs, so the diners could eat in solitude… inspiring the name “Hermitage Palace”!
Tip: Guided tours of the palace are available on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from June to August, and tickets must be purchased online in advance. Keep some extra time at hand to cycle amid the wilderness and old trees of Dyrehaven.
Feel like you’re in the Caribbean at the freetown of Christiania
Copenhagen’s alternative neighborhood – with no cars, women blacksmiths, a street where hash is sold (illegal though it is in Denmark), organic eateries, urban kitchen gardens, houses with quirky designs, vibrant graffiti and a laid-back Caribbean-esque vibe – is certainly an interesting place to while away a few hours. Set up by a group of hippies in the early 1970s, it has evolved into an eclectic self-governing township, where decisions are made democratically and freetown shares are sold to generate revenue! I sure hope to go back to Copenhagen someday and learn more about the free-thinking residents of Christiania.
Tip: Consider taking a guided tour of Christiania with a local resident, to learn more about their governance and life philosophy. Note that photography is not allowed at Pusher Street.
Copenhagen travel tips:
When to visit Copenhagen: I absolutely loved spring in Copenhagen. The weather was cool, the wind chilly, the cherry trees in bloom, wildflowers in the forests, parties on the street, the day long with sunset post 8 pm; it felt like the city had just come back to life after a cold winter!
Schengen visa for Indian citizens: I applied at the Danish embassy for my Schengen visa this time – and while the process was short (4 working days) and seamless, I was surprised by the requirement to submit a colour photocopy of my ENTIRE passport; what a waste of paper and money. Read all my tips to score a Schengen visa.
Direct flights from India to Copenhagen: Air India now offers direct flights between Delhi and Copenhagen every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Where to stay in Copenhagen: I stayed close to the Copenhagen lakes and liked the location for being pretty central to everything. Next time, I would love to stay in the hep neighborhood of Nørrebro. I mostly use booking.com to find good deals for city stays; if you haven’t signed up yet, use my referral to get 10$ off your first stay!
Where to rent a bicycle in Copenhagen: We got a good deal for bicycles at Baisikeli – 80 DKK for 24 hours + 35 DKK for each additional day. It’s a bit of a walk out of town though.
Simple words to know in Danish: Hej = hello (pronounced like hi); tak = thanks; hej hej = bye bye!
Have you been to Copenhagen? What are your favorite things to do in the city – or what would you most like to do when you visit?
*Note: I travelled to Copenhagen in collaboration with Visit Copenhagen. Opinions on this blog are always mine.