Explore Copenhagen, Denmark

What to see in Copenhagen, Denmark

Entrance to most museums is free once a week, mainly on Wednesdays. You can always count on the principal attractions to be well signed in English and German and for these places to be generally geared towards tourists. A good tip to see whether a smaller museum caters to non-Danish speakers is to check whether the website has an English section. If it does, this usually means the museum has at least some English information throughout its exhibitions. Of course if you have some interest in a particular subject, such museums can be interesting even if you don’t understand the sign-postings. As Danes are usually fairly fluent in English, you can always try to ask staff if they could give you a brief tour.

Art

København Louisiana – Museum for Moderne Kunst (Museum of Modern Art)

If you are into the arts Copenhagen has a lot to offer and the natural starting point is a visit to the Danish National Gallery where you can feast your eyes on blockbusters from the likes of Rembrandt, Picasso, and Matisse. There are a number of paintings by Danish artists from the “Golden Age.” For more classical art, visit Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. In addition to works by masters like Picasso, Leger, and Matisse, this spectacular building houses a large collection of classical statues and sculptures. The winter garden here is a beautiful place to rest your legs on a rainy day. Both of these museums are conveniently located in the centre, or Indre By area. Thorvaldsens Museum is dedicated to the 19th-century sculptor and the art of his days. He is buried in the courtyard. It has some interesting, colorful and unique interiors, dating from around 1844, by the architect M.G. Bindesbøll and his team. Don´t forget the lovely collection of paintings and the archaeological items and his preserved library upstairs. The museum is free on Wednesdays. Davids Samling (The David Collection) is an internationally renowned collection of Islamic art, with a bit of Danish treasures too. The entrance is free.

If you are hungry for even more classic art exhibitions, an excursion north of Copenhagen to the beautiful Ordrupgaard offers you a chance to enjoy Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Gauguin. There are several other options for classical paintings but if you are ready for a change, head south to the Arken Museum of Modern Art for a world class exhibition of contemporary art, mostly Scandinavian, as well as hugely popular temporary exhibitions. However the arguably best and most visited museum in Denmark is the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art located in northern Zealand with a panoramic view across the Øresund. The museum frames the sculpture park facing the sea and the interaction between art, nature and the museum architecture is quite unique. Louisiana is an international museum with a considerable collection of modern art, and hugely popular temporary exhibitions.

If you want to enjoy some local color on an art tour, The Hirschsprung Collection in Østerbro features the top-of-the-pops of Danish artists, with a particular focus on the Skagen painters. For something quintessentially Danish, breeze through the wonderfully quirky sketches of the much-loved local personality Storm P at the aptly named Storm P museum on Frederiksberg.

Science & Natural history

If you want your vacation to be educational, or if you want to sneak some knowledge into the kids during the vacation, there are several options to consider. The best choice for kids is perhaps the hugely entertaining, and well renowned hands-on science museum, the Experimentarium north of Copenhagen. Another popular and well-renowned institution is the Copenhagen Zoo on Frederiksberg, counting both among both the best and oldest zoos in Europe. If you prefer stationary animals, the Zoology museum on Østerbro offers a different perspective on the subject. Elsewhere on Østerbro, a little known attraction is a display of famous physicist Niels Bohr’s study room, along with a setup of his experiments (but as this is not a museum, you should have more than passing interest in the subject to bother with them). City Centre, the University of Copenhagen runs two adjacent science museums. The Geological museum where dinosaur fossils, moon rock, and glow in the dark minerals should spark some interest in the subject for even the most school-weary kid. The Botanical Gardens on the opposite side of the street is an excellent place for a stroll in the beautiful park, even if you are not botanically inclined, and the classical palm house is a nice place to relax if it is cold outside. In poor weather, Tycho Brahe Planetarium on Vesterbro is another option and is part planetarium with an interesting astronomy exhibition and part omnimax theatre where they usually screen science films. The aquarium Den Blå Planet (The Blue Planet) is a new place focusing on marine life, situated near the Kastrup metro station.

Architecture

Rundetårn is one of the city’s most iconic buildings

København Den Sorte Diamant – Det Kongelige Bibliotek (The Black Diamond – The Royal Library)

An excellent start to any visit to Copenhagen is to climb the unique 7.5-turn helical corridor leading to the observation platform of Rundetårn (the Round tower), one of Copenhagen’s most iconic buildings. It offers excellent views and is smack in the middle of the city. If that is not high enough for you head to Christianshavn for a climb up the circular stairs on the outside of the church spire of the Church of Our Saviour. It has always been regarded as something of a manhood test to climb up and touch the globe on the summit, nearly 100 metres up in the air. Now that you’re in the area, head over to the opposite side of the street to Christiania, a self-governing community that has been squatting on an old naval area since the seventies. Their inventive, brightly coloured, home built houses are spectacular, as is the relaxed atmosphere, albeit with some problems related to the selling of mild drugs in one street, the “Pusher Street” (no photography allowed there!). However, Christiania is overall one of Copenhagen’s most unique attractions. It is recommended to stroll away from the entrance area, such as along the northern moats parallel to Refshalevej and also across the Dyssebroen wooden bridge eastwards, to experience the rural aspects of the place. Due south of Christiania the old, crooked, brightly coloured buildings and soothing canals lined with masted ships make this an excellent place to continue a stroll. Other fine examples of architecture include the impressive City Hall (if visiting, check out the interiors, such as the small library. Also, the tower, Rådhustårnet, can be ascended at certain times of the day and has a great view). The massive dome of the Frederikskirken colloquially known as the Marble Church. This dome, with a span of 31 meters, is one of the largest in northern Europe. Both are in the Indre By area.

For real architecture buffs, the city’s main claim to fame is the modernist architecture and its native masters. Jørn Utzon (of Sydney Opera House fame) and Son is behind a trio of buildings on Østerbro’s northern harbor, known as the Paustian complex. There is a fine, but expensive restaurant in one of the buildings. You can enjoy Arne Jacobsen’s work by either sleeping at, or taking in the atmosphere (and great views) of the top floor lounge bar at the Royal Hotel which is one of the very few tall buildings in the inner city. Alternatively, head a good deal north to Klampenborg S-train station and Bellavista, a residential complex and theatre near the Bellevue beach, where there is even a restaurant featuring his famous furniture and his name. Lastly Henning Larsen, famous for his iconic buildings in Riyadh, is behind Copenhagen’s new Opera house overlooking the harbour in Christianshavn. The architect disagreed with the final realisation of the facade, though. From here you can also catch a view of Copenhagen’s latest iconic contraption, the Royal library known to locals as the Black Diamond, after its shiny polished black granite walls. Interior vault fresco by Per Kirkeby, and a nice enclosed garden area towards the Christiansborg Slot palace.

For more recent development, consider checking out the neighbourhood Ørestad on the island of Amager south of Downtown Copenhagen. It is a relatively young and still developing area, boasting several outstanding award-winning architectural projects along with an exemplary urban design master plan. The neighborhood is well connected through the Metro/Bus system, making all buildings very easy to reach.

List of notable buildings:

  • 8 House by BIG
  • Bjerget by BIG–
  • VM House by BIG
  • Bella Center by 3XN
  • Orestad Gymnasium by 3XN
  • Copenhagen Concert hall by Jean Nouvel

History

Visit the Nationalmuseet in Indre By for many exhibits relating to Danish history, Viking weapons, Inuit costumes and Stone Age tools. If you want something more local, the Museum of Copenhagen in Vesterbro has exhibitions on the city’s development since the middle ages. Another option is Frilandsmuseet in the northern suburbs of Lyngby — a huge and attractive open air museum with old buildings collected from all over the country. Or for a live version of old Denmark, you can visit the old town of the tiny fishing hamlet of Dragør on the southern tip of Amager with its fantastic old yellow buildings and cobblestone streets.

For something more off the beaten path, paddle up the small Mølleå River near Lyngby and next to Frilandsmuseet, through charming old eighteenth and nineteenth century mills. It is highly recommended to bring a rented bike from the city by train to Lyngby station and ride along the Mølleå river via Brede, Rådvad and Nymølle, all extremely pretty, towards the coast, the Dyrehaven park, and finally Klampenborg train station.

Royal Copenhagen

Amalienborg palace is Copenhagen’s royal residence

The four identical classicist palaces of Amalienborg make up the main residence of the Danish royal family. The octagonal courtyard in the centre is open to the public and guarded by the ceremonial Royal Guard. The relief takes place every day at noon and is a highlight for any royalist visiting the city. There is also a small royal museum on the premises. Rosenborg Palace is a small but pretty renaissance palace, surrounded by the lovely King’s Garden which is one of the liveliest parks of the city. The palace both serves as a museum of Royal history and as a home for the crown jewels which are on display in the catacombs beneath the castle. A closed-off wing of Rosenborg serves as barracks for the Royal Guard, and every day a detachment marches through the Copenhagen city centre between Rosenborg and Amalienborg for the changing of the guard. Unusual for a well-founded democracy, the palace that houses the parliament, Christiansborg, is also a royal palace. It is usually possible to visit the Royal reception rooms, stables and the old court theatre here. For entertainment of royal stature, you can try to arrange tickets to watch a play in the beautiful Royal Theatre facing Kings New Square. All of these sights are in the inner city. If you are hungry for more, head north, where the park around Sorgenfri palace is open to the public, or have a picnic on the huge open plains in front of the Eremitage Palace in the Dyrehaven park which formerly served as the king’s hunting castle.

Design

Denmark is world-famous for its design tradition, and while the term Danish design has been devalued over the years due to much misuse, it is still a world-recognized brand. The natural starting point is a visit to the Danish Design Center in Indre By, with temporary and permanent exhibitions, showrooms, and workshops relating to the world of Danish design, in a building designed by famous architect Henning Larsen. Not too far away, Design Museum Danmark, formerly known as Kunstindustrimuseet, is home to a nice collection relating to the study of design and its history in Denmark. Also in the same district, Royal Copenhagen runs a museum display of its famous porcelain from the early beginnings at its flagship store. Meanwhile Cisterne on Frederiksberg is an enticing museum showing modern glass art, in the intriguing catacomb like cisterns under a large park. Meldahls Smedie on Christianshavn is run by the Royal Danish School of architecture, which organizes exhibitions including final projects from students of the school here.