The Best of Copenhagen: 5 Highlights of the Danish Capital

Copenhagen is the bustling metropolitan heart of Denmark. It boasts a high quality of living, environmental consciousness, a rich history, and a thriving city center that is easy to navigate and filled with interesting attractions. It is a very walkable city and one can spend an entire day simply meandering along its pedestrian-friendly streets and signature waterfronts. While aimlessly wandering around a foreign city can be highly rewarding, you will want to make sure you see these five places if you visit Copenhagen.

1. Rosenborg Castle

While Rosenborg Castle does not look like the typical conception of a formidable stone fortress, its impressive collection of jewels, crowns, and thrones earns this 17th century landmark some serious “castle cred.” Rosenborg is packed with ornate artifacts and artworks, and was used throughout its early history by Denmark’s monarchs and royalty. The most notable pieces include the Crown Jewels and the Danish Crown Regalia, but my favorite item is the Throne Chair of Denmark. This stark white throne has symbolized the Kingdom of Denmark since 1671. It is decorated with sumptuous golden figurines and is guarded by life-size silver lions. But the most remarkable feature of this throne is the material it was constructed with—it’s made out of narwhal tusks! Aside from the treasures inside, the castle is located in very pleasant park with manicured gardens and a small canal. Furthermore, the nearby streets have plenty of good restaurants and bars, so the whole area is a generally worthwhile place to visit.  

2. Christiania

This small commune neighborhood in the borough of Christianshavn is the epitome of funky (and I mean that in a good way). Also known as Freetown Christiania, this little “hippy village” is filled with oddball houses, colorful paint, dirt pathways, and of course…ganja. Christiania’s fame mainly comes from the activities on Pusher Street, where weed and hash are sold openly in a market-like environment. Open-air vendor displays are packed with huge pre-rolled joints, cubes of hash, and all sorts of funny looking paraphernalia. You’re probably wondering, “is that legal?” The answer is a bit tricky. See, cannabis and psychedelic murals aren’t the only 70’s throwbacks present in Christiania—the mindset that gave rise to this small town-within-a-town was parallel with the American hippie movement. Christiania was founded in the 1970’s with a mission to create an autonomous community with collectivist ideals—and with that came all the other groovy stuff. While the neighborhood had self-proclaimed autonomy, the actual legal status of the area has undergone a few changes over the years and it’s a bit difficult to discern. The drug trade in Christiania has been a source of controversy and legal dispute, and some websites claim that the open selling of marijuana and hash on the streets was ended in 2004 by the government. But I was there in 2012 and let me tell you, it was still everywhere. But this isn’t just a place to go buy weed—it’s a very interesting and entertaining spot to visit regardless of whether or not you “partake.” For example, I had the pleasure of watching a great reggae band perform around a huge bonfire during my visit. Now, is watching a reggae band around a bonfire a little more fun after a few tokes? I’ll let you decide. 

3. Church of Our Savior

The Church of Our Savior offers something that extends far beyond its own characteristics: the best view in Copenhagen.  Its most notable feature is a bold black spire with a whimsical golden staircase spiraling around its outer edge. At a height of nearly 300 feet, this spire provides an unobstructed 360 degree view—surely the finest vantage point in Copenhagen. After scaling the 400 steps you will be instantly rewarded with a stunning panorama of the capital and its surrounding landscapes. This church is also very close to Christiania so you can easily see both in tandem. The hours and schedule of the spire’s availability can be limited, so do some research to make sure it will be open when you visit. Visitcopenhagen.com has posted a schedule here.

4. Nyhavn

The brightly painted townhouses that line the waterfront of this 17th century harbor are one of the most iconic images in Copenhagen. Each one is a different color, and the alternation of red, blue, yellow, and orange building fronts creates a pretty eye-popping effect (reminiscent of San Francisco’s Painted Ladies but with darker hues and less intricate woodwork).  There are a number of historic wooden ships docked in the canal and there is an unquestionably Scandinavian aura about the place. The harbor and ships have a great deal of historical significance—Nyhavn was even home to Hans Christian Andersen at one point. There are a number of good restaurants and bars along the canal, so kick back, order an Øl (beer), and soak in this charismatic little slice of Denmark.

5. Strøget

This car-free pedestrian shopping street is one of the main veins of central Copenhagen. At just over 1 km, it is touted as one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe. Now, I am not a fan of shopping while traveling, but you don’t have to be shopping to enjoy Strøget. Although it is filled with many uninteresting/expensive stores (like H&M and Prada), it is buzzing with activity. Since there are no cars the entire street is filled with people, including shoppers, tourists, street musicians, and various locals.  If you enjoy people-watching this is a great place to hang out—and even if that’s not really your thing, one stroll down Strøget is still bound to produce some intriguing sights and sounds. There are also a few old churches and unique architectural displays along the way, adding a touch of old-world Danish charm to this energetic modern shopping district. 

These five places rank highly on the list of must-sees in Copenhagen, but there are plenty of other things to do around the city as well. Regardless of what you end up pursuing, remember to do it with a smile—the Danes are a very friendly (and damn good-looking) people, so try to meet some locals along the way.