With an airport pretty near the centre of town, and an extensive and reliable public transport network, there’s no reason that a Copenhagen day trip should be an uneventful one.
Here are five things I’d recommend if you’re just in town for a day. Maps at the ready…
1. Metro into the city and wander anywhere
The most ‘open to interpretation’ suggestion. Arriving at the airport? Well there are a variety of ways to get into town. The overground train is one, and the bus is another, but the best is the Copenhagen Metro.
Reasonably priced, and on a quick route into some of the main stations in the city, it is the most convenient option if you’re new to town. And with no driver on the Metro, you can always sit at the front and pretend you’re driving (come on, you want to do that, right?)
While the full route, split over two lines, goes to a range of places, I recommend either getting off at Christianshavn and wandering northwards towards the city centre (which focuses around Strøget and the canal), or getting off at Nørreport and wandering southwards into town. (Here’s the full route map of the Metro, if you’re interested.)
Unfortunately, there is no Metro station at Copenhagen Central Station (København H). There will be, but in 2020 or something. So for now, whatever stop you plan to get off at, arm yourself with a map and away you go.
2. Tivoli Gardens
It’s on postcards everywhere – quite rightly so. Nothing in the city centre of Copenhagen quite matches the magic of Tivoli (albeit a rather toursity magic).
Just across the road from Copenhagen Central Station, and costing just under 100 DKK to enter, Tivoli is the one place you should probably go if you have the time.
But beware – it is not for everyone. Personally, I don’t enjoy it all that much, and it is perhaps not top of the list for single adults, as the focus is very much on small, cute family rides and experiences.
However, if you want to marvel at a really old-fashioned theme park, slap bang in the middle of the city (how much is that land worth?!), then give it a shot. Good times to visit are Easter and Christmas when somewhat commercial symbols of these holiday seasons litter the park.
3. Nyhavn and the boat tour
If you want a one-stop solution to see everything on a Copenhagen day trip, here’s your best bet.
Nyhavn – or the ‘new harbour’ in English – is the wonderfully colourful area you see on every single postcard. Literally every single one. The problem? Every single bar, cafe, and restaurant around it is full of tourists just like you. And the owners know it.
So while I am not knocking the establishments, I feel there are places offering better value elsewhere. But what is offered, from many stalls lining the harbour, are boat tours. And all of them are actually pretty good.
Lasting somewhere between 60 and 80 minutes, and costing somewhere between 60-100 DKK per person, the boat tours typically exit Nyhavn, head towards the sea, show you the Little Mermaid (really not worth seeing by itself), and all the sights of the city from the Opera House, to the Marble Church, and more.
Then, with the sea section over, it’s time to float through the cramped canals of Christianshavn and Christiansborg, passing the twisting Church of Our Saviour (which you can climb!), Christiansborg Palace, the Old Stock Exchange, and much more.
The harbour tours are simple to reach, too. Nyhavn is just a two-minute walk from the Metro station at Kongens Nytorv (where you’ll encounter the wonderful architecture of Magasin).
4. Climb the Church of Our Saviour & explore Christianshavn
Alright, so the boat tour will give you a passing glance of this area, but there’s more to it. There’s an entire area behind the Church (that one with the spiral steps outside) to explore.
Let’s start with the climb, though. Costing around 40 DKK each, the climb begins easy enough with a few concrete stairs and so on. The stairs soon progress to wooden steps which get tighter and narrower. Passing tolling bells and old woodwork, you’re soon at the final few steps out onto the church spire. From there, take in the views or keep wandering around the outside of the spire to get to the maximum 90 metre height.
After you’re back down and your jelly legs have settled a bit, just head south-east and you’ll find Christiania: the famed freetown (which has rather a lot of weed). While I like the idea of the freetown, I don’t like the idea of drugs, and I never get the sense that Christiania is particularly benefiting anyone. But if you enjoy similar scenes in Amsterdam or Berlin, for example, then you’ll love Christiania.
If cannabis is not high on your list, then a Copenhagen day trip can always be spent exploring Christianshavn itself. Simply take a stroll along the main canal (where the boat tour will take you) and get lost in a few of the streets there. And, when you’re done, the city centre is only 10-15 minutes away.
Christianshavn is also on a Metro line, direct to the airport. So if you need a quick escape, you’ve got it.
5. Torvehallerne, the lakes, Nørrebro and the city centre
This is perhaps the best compact area for everything you need. Simply take the Metro or the overground train to Nørreport station, walk up to the ground level, and marvel at the open space around you.
Now, pick a direction. North of the station is the wonderful Torvehallerne – a vast glass food hall selling everything from cakes to caviar.
Further north still, you’ll find the lakes and, over the other side of them, Nørrebro – a rather odd but happening area, which is perhaps among one of Copenhagen’s most diverse neighbourhoods. There are cheap bars, cafes, restaurants and more, catering for most tastes and desires.
Back at Nørreport, head south and you’ll end up back on Strøget – the vast pedestrianised street I mentioned earlier. Going shopping? Here’s the place.
Starting from Nørreport again, head west and you’ll be wandering back towards Tivoli and the train station. This is perhaps not the nicest walk, but it’s quick to get back to the train station.
And finally, head east from Nørreport, and you’ll encounter the Copenhagen Botanical Gardens, Statens Museum for Kunst (the main art museum), and Rosenborg Slott (the castle containing the revered crown jewels). There’s plenty to do, all within walking distance.
One word of advice though: take a map. If you’re going to explore everything in this area, you can get a little lost in some of the narrow streets.
Heading west of the city centre?
But yes, if you want to go to a trendy, hipster scene, just head west. Vesterbro and the Meat Packing District is the hipster and small restaurant playground. Well worth a visit for a meal, especially as it is a 5-10 minute walk from the central station.
Finally, Frederiksberg – with just a small bus journey from the central station, you could be at Copenhagen Zoo, Frederiksberg Park, or simply wandering past some of the best (and most expensive) properties in the entire city. It’s a well-off area where you’ll find most of what you need, and it’s connected, once more, to the Metro.
Just a day
Whatever you decide to do on your Copenhagen day trip, be sure to pick up a map at the airport (or in any tourist destination), check the weather, and get going! Good luck!