One of the globe's greenest, cleanest and most sustainable cities, Copenhagen regularly tops world livability lists. Architectural beauty is everywhere you look, from the regal castles that house Denmark's nobility to the characteristically colorful buildings that line the canals. While the metro operates around the clock here, locals will tell you the best way to explore this gem is on two wheels. Hop on your virtual bicycle and let’s get started! First, enjoy this introduction from the current Chief City Architect of Copenhagen.
Home to one of the oldest monarchies in the world with an antiquity that traces back to the Viking Age, there’s no shortage of history on the streets of Copenhagen. Originally a simple fishing village, its position on the sea helped it grow into a flourishing town. In 1343, King Valdemar Atterdag declared Copenhagen the capital of Denmark and the official hometown of the Danish royal family, a tradition that exists to this day. But before it became a focus for European trade, the Copenhagen region was a Viking region. Between 750 and 1050, the Vikings set sail for then far-away lands like Greenland, North Africa and North America. Copenhagen served as an important outpost for these Vikings voyages in Europe and the rest of the world.
Let’s delve further into the city’s rich history with a visit to the National Gallery of Denmark. The National Gallery displays the country’s most prestigious royal collections, as well as a rotating schedule of special exhibitions and workshops. In Denmark’s largest art museum, you’ll find countless displays of captivating art from the 1300s until the present day, making it a wonderful place to learn about both Denmark and Western Europe. Lovers of architecture will enjoy a trip to the awe-inspiring Christiansborg Palace. Once home to kings and queens, this incredible building now houses the Danish Parliament, Supreme Court and the Ministry of State. As you wander along the Great Hall, stop to admire the Queen’s Tapestries, a series that depicts a thousand years of Danish history.
Back outside, let’s head next to Nyhavn, a neighborhood spread across a 17th-century waterfront (and one of my favorite places to walk!) The canal is lined with brightly colored townhouses and cafes from the 17th and 18th centuries, a vision straight out of a postcard. Historic restored wooden sailing ships line both sides of the canal, a treasure for anyone interested in maritime history. Be sure to stop in front of Number Nine, constructed in 1681 — by far the oldest building along Nyhavn Canal. You’ll find the world’s oldest functioning tattoo parlor in the bottom of Number 17, an establishment in operation since 1884. Famous Danish fairy-tale author Hans Christian Andersen lived in three of the Nyhavn houses over the course of his life, including Number 18, which now houses a Hans Christian Andersen-themed souvenir shop.
With its colorful cottages, winding cobblestone streets and palaces inhabited by real-life princesses, Copenhagen may be the closest thing to stepping straight into a fairy tale. It’s easy to see why Hans Christian Andersen spent most of his life in this enchanting city with inspiration around every corner. Let’s head next to one of Copenhagen's most iconic sculptures, The Little Mermaid. Inspired by Andersen’s famous tale, the bronze and granite figure was gifted by Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen in 1913 after attending a ballet performance based on Andersen’s work. According to the tale, the mermaid swims to the surface and perches on her rock in the water, hoping to catch a glimpse of her beloved prince on land. Positioned on a rock amid the glittering water, she’s welcomed travelers as they arrive in Copenhagen Harbor for over a hundred years.
If you’re traveling with grandchildren, Tivoli Gardens is not to be missed. Opened in 1843, this amusement park is the second oldest operating park in the world. With exotic architecture, historic buildings and lush gardens, you’ll find something for everyone to explore here. The park has enjoyed countless famous visitors over the years, including Walt Disney, who is said to have found inspiration for his own Disney World here. Looking for a thrill? Tivoli’s oldest and most popular ride, a wooden roller coaster from 1914, is one of only seven roller coasters worldwide that still has a brakeman onboard each train. Not into amusement rides? Explore the classic Japanese garden, spot playful species at the aquarium — you can even catch an open-air ballet in the garden during certain months!
Hungry from all that wandering? Denmark has been hard at work putting a fresh new spin on Nordic cuisine, which you’ll see highlighted in Copenhagen’s many Michelin-star restaurants, but the city’s gastronomy scene has another side worth exploring — hot dog stands. With so many street stands peddling local delicacies across Copenhagen, it’s not hard to notice locals’ love for sausage. Let’s stop to sample one of the most renowned sausage sandwiches in Denmark, the rød pølse (red sausage), usually served inside a fresh bun with ketchup and mustard on top. Another popular traditional street food is frikadeller (Danish meatballs). Fried with butter for a rich, savory flavor, enjoy these with boiled potatoes or on top of a smørrebrød (a buttery, open-face rye bread sandwich) like a proper Danish local. Enjoy!
Road Scholar has been leading educational trips to Copenhagen since 1997. We hope to see you there soon! Until then, you can browse our educational adventures here.
Road Scholar Recommends: The Beat of the Nordic Heart: Vibrant Copenhagen and Stockholm → Four Nordic Capitals → Odyssey at Sea: Tales of Baltic Capitals → Odyssey at Sea: Scandinavian Splendor → Grand Odyssey: The Baltics, Russia & Scandinavia →
About the Author JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President, Program Development and Strategy, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states. JoAnn’s extensive travel industry experience informs her expert insight on everything from where to find the world’s most charming streets to must-see hidden gems across the globe.
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