An easy guide for traveling to Copenhagen for the first time
A gorgeous city, rich in history, unique cuisine, completely walkable and on Norwegian Air route map. Traveling to Copenhagen is a must for anyone who has never been. And for repeat travelers, who can’t get enough of this Scandinavian city. Plus, it’s possible even if you only have one day in Copenhagen.
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Things to know for a first-time visit to Copenhagen
Once a Viking fishing village, Copenhagen is the most populous city in Denmark, the smallest country in Scandinavia. The language they speak here is Danish which is written with the Roman alphabet. I was grateful to find that almost everyone I spoke with spoke pretty good English. So, I had no problems communicating.
Once a Viking fishing village, Copenhagen is the most populous city in Denmark, the smallest country in Scandinavia. The weather here follows the seasons of the northern hemisphere. For example, June through August are the warmest months. Temperatures at this time will be around 20 degrees celsius or 67/68 degrees fahrenheit. On the flip side, if you’re traveling to Copenhagen in winter, December through February are usually the coldest months. Daytime temperatures will range from 2-4 degrees celsius or 35-38 degrees fahrenheit. Thankfully, when I visited Copenhagen in February it was not that cold at all and I had beautiful sunny days.
Public transportation in Copenhagen operates 24 hours a day! That includes the metro, train and bus. Having said that, it is also one of the most walkable cities I’ve visited. Since I only had one day in Copenhagen, this came in so handy for me. In addition to public transportation, the Danes love their bicycles. You will learn lots more about public transportation options further down.
Of course, one of the most necessary things when you’re visiting anywhere is money. The local currency in Denmark is called the Danish kroner (plural kroner; DKK) …and it has hearts on it! Denmark could you be any cuter! Presently, 1USD is equal to about 6,68DKK. Now, to give you an idea of how far that goes here’s a small list of prices for things you might need when traveling to Copenhagen. Many of these are things I mention in the article.
- bus/metro ticket: 24,00 DKK or approximately 3.60 USD
- small cappuccino in local cafe: 38,00 DKK or approximately 5.70 USD
- small espresso in local cafe: 27,00 DKK or approximately 4 USD
- frøsnapper (Danish pastry): 24,00 DKK or approximately 3.60 USD
- smørrebrød: 68,00 DKK or approximately 10.20 USD
- 1oz of snaps or irish whiskey in restaurant: 65-75,00 DKK or approximately 9.75-11.25 USD
- Danish hot dog: 37,00 DKK or approximately 5.50 USD
- Danish pancakes: 79,00 DKK or approximately 11.85 USD
- a beer in the grocery store: 12-30,00 DKK or approximately 1.80-4.50 USD
- curried pickled herring in the grocery store: 20-25,00 DKK or approximately 3-3.75 USD
- Tivoli Gardens entrance ticket: 130,00 DKK or approximately 19.50 USD
Planning a first-time visit to Copenhagen
If you happen to live in a city that Norwegian Air flies out of, that’s perfect for traveling to Copenhagen. Norwegian Air runs sales often to this Scandinavian city. And since it’s not a huge city you really don’t need a ton of time. For instance, my one day in Copenhagen was spent on my way back home from a week in Belgium. I was able to find a cheap ticket with Scandinavian Airlines from Brussels to Copenhagen. Therefore, I was able to spend the day in this fabulous city and take advantage of a seat sale from Copenhagen to LAX. And traveling carry on only with Norwegian Air will help to keep your kroner in your pocket.
That brings us to my first tip when traveling to Copenhagen- don’t be afraid to go in winter. I went near the end of a February on a great seat sale with Norwegian Air. Honestly, traveling to Copenhagen in winter couldn’t have been nicer. The weather was not at all the frigid winter temperatures that I feared and everyone was outside enjoying the sunshine. Of course, weather is unpredictable, so my Copenhagen travel advice is keep an eye on the weather and the seat sales.
Copenhagen travel essentials
The time of year you travel will dictate your travel wardrobe, but I find bringing layers is the best way to maximize your packing space. You’ll be prepared for cooler evenings and keep your carry on lighter. Also, if you do travel to Copenhagen in winter bring a hat, scarf and a jacket to layer with your sweater(s). As well, comfortable walking shoes are a must since you’ll most likely be doing a lot of walking. Sorry, Uber is not available in Copenhagen.
Like most other European countries (ie. France or Germany), Copenhagen uses the two-pin plugs, or Type C. And the power voltage is 220-240V.
Lastly, bring your appetite for all the fantastic Danish pastries and specialties you’ll be trying. Next time I travel to Copenhagen, I’ll hit the gym hard before I leave so I don’t bring back anything that I don’t want. 🙂
Getting from the airport
Once you arrive at Copenhagen airport, signs for the the train, metro and bus are clearly marked. These will lead you to the DSB kiosks (the Danske Statbaner or Danish State Railways) where you can purchase tickets. Again, the Danes really make visiting Copenhagen even easier because there are a number of customer service agents there to help. And as a kindness, they speak English. The fare from Copenhagen airport to Copenhagen Central Station is 36DKK, or a little over 5USD. Thankfully, this is payable by cash, Visa or MasterCard. Whether you take the train, metro or bus, the ticket is the same price and is interchangeable between all 3 means of transportation.
Then you can sit back and enjoy the quick 15 minute ride by train or metro to Copenhagen Central Station. Trains and metro cars both operate on the same line and your ticket is good for whichever you decide to jump on. There are plenty going, as often or more frequently than every 10 minutes.
Where to stay when traveling to Copenhagen
As I mentioned, the city is really not that big. Nonetheless, staying downtown will make your visit to Copenhagen that much easier. I generally like to stay at Marriott, Hilton, or IHG properties. However, there are no Hiltons in Copenhagen and the IHG and Marriott properties were not walkable. Hotels can be expensive in this city, especially in high season when the price may double or more. However, there are tons of hostels or hostel style hotels.
Consequently, we come to my second tip when traveling to Copenhagen- consider staying at a hostel. Even if you don’t generally stay in hostels like me, Copenhagen hostels are not your average hostels. Especially on booking.com were there are a lot of highly rated options that allow you to book a private room, some with a private bathroom. Since I visited in February or off-peak season, I found a great price. In fact, it was from half to a 1/3 the price of the summer rate.
For this reason, and because I wanted to see what these hostels were like after reading all the great reviews, I opted for a hostel style hotel. It was in the heart of Copenhagen just down the street from Central Station. I was a little trepidatious, since as I mentioned I am not one for staying in hostels. However, I had nothing to worry about. The Annex Copenhagen was what you might call a boutique hostel, if you will. It was spotlessly clean and fashionably decorated. In fact, it’s located in the same building as the Absalon Hotel and managed by the same owners. Therefore, the front desk, common areas, bike rentals, bar and breakfast are all shared with the Absalon Hotel. I was so pleased with this find.
I reserved a single room with shared bathroom, but was kindly upgraded to a double room. The shared bathroom was what I was most worried about in particular. I had stayed at a hostel in Barcelona which was nice, but the sinks and showers were, as stated, all in a shared bathroom. Then again, Copenhagen hostels are not your average hostels. The rooms at Annex Copenhagen have their own sinks, toilets and showers are private and everything was spotless. Suffice it to say, my stay was very comfortable and I would not hesitate to stay here again when I’m next traveling to Copenhagen.
Public transportation can take you anywhere you want to travel in Copenhagen, 24 hours a day! Trips within the city (2 zone tickets) are 24DKK or around 3.50USD, and a child’s ticket is half that. Not only are tickets good for the train, metro and buses, but also the water or harbour buses.
The Danes have thought of everything for those traveling to Copenhagen. For instance, the Copenhagen Card is good for public transportation in Copenhagen region, plus admission to 87 museums and attractions. And this includes things such as Tivoli Gardens, canal tours and Copenhagen Zoo. In addition, travel in Copenhagen is possible with a City Pass. It includes travel from/to the airport and unlimited travel on metro, trains and buses in either the centre of Copenhagen or the Greater Copenhagen area. Passes can be bought for 24, 48, 72, 96 or 120 hours and start at 80DKK (12USD) for 24 hours. Find more information about ticket prices, travel zones and free children travel with the City Pass here.
Without a doubt, what you will see a lot of in Copenhagen are bicycles. In fact, travel in Copenhagen is practically synonymous with biking. You can rent bikes all over the city and you can also bring bikes on public transportation. Read more about bike rentals and rules here. Nonetheless, since I love to walk, my preferred method of transportation was visiting Copenhagen by foot.
What to eat when traveling to Copenhagen
All that walking works up an appetite. Thankfully, Copenhagen doesn’t come up short in the culinary department. That said, the city is known for it’s decadent and dangerously good pastries. Not long after walking out of my hotel I fell upon a Lagkagehuset. No visit to Copenhagen should be without a visit to this Danish bakery chain. At the suggestion of the sweet cashier I tried the frøsnapper, a very traditional buttery poppy and sesame seed pastry. Do I dare say this traditional frøsnapper made my visit to Copenhagen?! I dare. Tip number 3 when traveling to Copenhagen- don’t leave without having a Lagkagehuset frøsnapper.
Equally important, another absolute Copenhagen travel must is smørrebørd. This is a classic but very popular Danish open-faced sandwich. Traditionally, it is made with dark rye bread and topped with anything from prawns to pickled herring to roast beef. I found an adorable place dripping with hygge on a little side street and aptly named Copenhagen Smørrebørd. The smørrebrød that caught my eye was the one made with Danish paté, cured meat, aspic, chives and fried onion. Delectable! If you’re looking to try this Danish delicacy on a visit to Copenhagen, this is an excellent place. They serve up smørrebrød that is fresh, homemade, and very reasonably priced for Copenhagen.
Other Copenhagen specialties that deserve an honorable mention and taste test:
- Pølse or the Danish hot dog. This is probably the most popular street food in Denmark. As a result, there are plenty of hot dog stands or polsevogn (literally “sausage wagon”) all over Copenhagen. Pølse are often dyed red and topped with spicy mustard, apple ketchup, remoulade, chopped onions, sweet pickles and fried onions. Not your New York hot dog!
- Karrysild or curried pickled herring. If you’re a fish lover this flavour deserves a go.
- Snaps. In Denmark this word means a small shot of an alcoholic drink, usually akvavit, taken with a meal or herring. Essentially, Akvavit is vodka infused with herbs and spices. The strongest flavour you’ll taste is caraway or fennel, so it may be an acquired taste for some. But it cuts the saltiness of Danish food perfectly.
- Danish beer. Danes love their beer, of which Carlsberg and Tuborg are the most popular brands. Actually, Carlsberg has a wide range of products including one I loved, the delicious Somersby Elderflower Lime Cider.
♥ Pro-tip: It’s actually quite expensive to drink in a restaurant in Denmark. Looking at that high price tag from drinking and eating out might be a little stressful. Instead, keep it stress free by trying these beverages and Danish specialties from one of the many grocery stores, like Fotex, Irma or Netto. For example, Fotex has great baked goods and Irma has an awesome curried pickled herring from their brand. And most of them are open until 10pm.
Things to do on a first-time visit to Copenhagen
If this is your first time traveling to Copenhagen the Copenhagen Card I mentioned earlier may be ideal. It can mean real savings since your transportation and admission to 87 attractions is included. On the other hand, if you’re more into exploring your own way you may want to go another route. Having said that, I found the city super easy to navigate on foot. I honestly don’t think I would’ve enjoyed my first visit to Copenhagen as much if it wasn’t for my pedestrian vantage point. But that’s just me.
On my first-time solo visit to Copenhagen, I only had one day in the city. I wanted to see as much as possible without feeling too tied down. For this reason, I made my own walking itinerary for the main sites I wanted to see. It took me on a perfect roundabout from my hotel, through the city and back. Even though I didn’t do any tours this time, I feel like I got to see so much. Albeit not comprehensive, here’s my list of things to do on a first-time visit to Copenhagen.
Stroll the Strøget
- This is one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe and goes on for over a kilometre. Since it is lined with shops and restaurants it is fittingly called Strøget shopping street. Be that as it may, with the Copenhagen prices I decided to save my shopping until I got home. Strøget street is actually made up of a collection streets that connect one to the other starting with Frederiksberggade at the City Hall. It ends with Østergade at Kongens Nytorv, the largest square in the city.
♥ Pro-tip: There are plenty of options here to get your Danish grub on. Right before you enter Strøget street, there is a Steff Houlberg hot dog stand in the City Hall Square. Then, not far down Strøget street is a Lagkagehuset where you can find the not-to-be-missed frøsnapper. Third, a few more blocks down is the Copenhagen Smørrebrød restaurant mentioned above. And lastly, there is a DØP (Den Økologiske Pølsemand) hot dog stand just a couple more blocks down Strøget street. It’s right in front of the Church of the Holy Ghost. They are known for their organic and even vegan and gluten-free hot dogs. Just don’t miss them- they are only open until 630pm and closed on Sundays. Needless to say, my fourth tip when traveling to Copenhagen- plan meals accordingly.
- This beautiful palace is in used by the Danish Parliament, the Danish Supreme Court and Her Majesty The Queen, among others. Several parts of the palace are open to tour for a fee, such as the richly decorated Royal Reception Rooms. You can tour on your own or with a guide for the same fee. However, even if you don’t take the tour, you can see a lot walking around and even through some parts of the building.
- Undoubtedly, this is probably the most iconic and photographed tourist spot in Copenhagen. And with good reason. Seeing these brightly colored 17th century buildings is a must when traveling to Copenhagen. These homes, restaurants and bars line the canal in colours that reminded me of what I might see in the Caribbean. When I was here in the month of February the weather was incredibly mild, so the patios were full of people soaking in the sun. This is a great spot to sit and take in the scenery with some Danish pancakes. Or perhaps stroll around with a glogg to go (hot red wine with spices) if it’s a little chilly.
- Kastellet means the Citadel in English. Take picturesque Esplanaden street all the way to the park Churchillparken and you have arrived. The Kastellet is a beautifully preserved fortress in the shape of a star that also hails from the 17th century. It presently houses military barracks and offices. A few rules are posted, but it is absolutely free to enter and walk around from 6am to 10pm (Oct-Mar 6am to 8pm).
♥ Pro-tip: Stroll through Kastellet with coffee in hand. There is a Lagkagehuset bakery right on Esplanaden before you enter Churchillparken if you still haven’t tried a frøsnapper. Also, a Føtex food grocery store is right across the street.
The Little Mermaid
- Would a visit to Copenhagen be complete without seeing this famous statue? Long before Ariel was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. This bronze statue is based on the character from this Danish author’s fairytale turned ballet. She is much smaller than I imagined and across from a less than picturesque backdrop, but lovely nonetheless. Plus, the statue is just a short walk from the Kastellet. Just continue walking along the Langelinie Promenade and she’ll jump out of the sea on your right.
Travel Copenhagen like a local
- There is a strong local community on social media that just loves this city and showcasing its beauty. Take a page from the locals and take some time to be mesmerized by all of the fantastic edifices, monuments, statues and architecture. This was absolutely one of my favourite things to do in Copenhagen during my short visit. I was captivated by all the history and culture everywhere I looked. So for me it was fabulous just to be able to walk at my own pace and soak it in.
- Believe it or not, Denmark holds the title for the oldest amusement park in the world. It’s about 25 minutes away from Tivoli Gardens in Klampenborg, Denmark and is called Dyrehavsbakken. Tivoli Gardens is the second-oldest. Unfortunately, during my visit to Copenhagen the amusement park was not open. So I definitely hope to coordinate my next visit to Copenhagen with Tivoli Garden’s seasonal hours. I had fabulous weather in February on this trip, so I guess you can’t have everything.
Copenhagen travel synopsis
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Copenhagen and just fell in love with the city. I love the Danish cuisine and I couldn’t get enough of the city scenery. On top of that, the hospitality of the people in general made me feel really at ease. Everyone I crossed paths was easygoing and personable. And this goes a long way for me in making a trip a success and ranking a destination high on my travel list.
If you’re thinking of planning a visit to Copenhagen, don’t hesitate. While many tend to say it can be quite expensive, I found it doesn’t necessarily have to be so. Granted, things can get pricey in this city. But with a little forethought and research, an itinerary for any budget can be planned.
I would love to hear your essential tips for traveling to Copenhagen. Mange takk! Many thanks!
Hi! I’m Rebecca. KwaFare is a play on the French expression quoi faire or what to do? Follow along with me as I share essential tips for various travel destinations and the best ways to get the most of your travel. I love to explore the world on points and I’m passionate about spreading smarter travel. Subscribe to my newsletter for valuable tips and reviews. When you know what to do you’re halfway there!
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