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Don’t worry, be Danish
Denmark has ranked first in the United Nations’ World Happiness Report for three out of the past four years; so Copenhagen, its clean, vibrant and energetic capital, is sure to boost your happiness.
Copenhagen is Scandinavia’s largest city and home to about 30 per cent of the Danish population. Its picturesque harbour is one of the cleanest you’ll ever find in such a large metropolis, thanks to an extensive clean-up campaign implemented over the past decade.
Copenhagen’s residents love the outdoors and cycling is a favourite mode of transport throughout the city. You’ll see tandem bikes, bikes with child carriers and three-wheeled bikes with large baskets in front for serious grocery shopping. The average Copenhagener cycles 1.2 kilometres per day and the city boasts 340 kilometres of well-maintained bike tracks.
Free things to do in Copenhagen
Copenhagen has a high standard of living, making it a fairly expensive city to visit. Fortunately, there are a number of activities you can do here that are completely free. Here are some of the best options if you’re low on Krones (the local currency):
Join a free walking tour
One of the best ways to see a new city is to walk its streets – and the best way to ensure you don’t miss any important landmarks is to let a local show you the best places. Copenhagen Free Walking Tours are in English, run year-round in any weather and only require a minimum of five guests to operate.
One tour, leaving from Copenhagen City Hall at 11am, takes in the city’s main attractions, including Nyhavn, Amalienborg Palace and the world-famous Tivoli. Another commences at 4pm from Hojbro Plads Square (near the equestrian statue) and explores the Christianshavn area, ending up at Freetown Christiania. Tips are appreciated but not obligatory.
Get a bird’s-eye view from The Tower at Christiansborg Palace
Copenhagen’s highest tower is 106 metres tall and won’t cost you anything to visit unless you choose to dine in the excellent restaurant at the top.
The open-air museum at Frilandsmuseet is one of the world’s largest and oldest, providing a fascinating glimpse into country life in Denmark in days gone by.
Christiansborg (also called Borgen) is the home of the Danish parliament and its tower has been open to the public only since 2014. Space is limited at the top so expect a queue, especially in summer. You can access The Tower elevator from King’s Gate, located at the centre of the palace. On a clear day, the views are mesmerising.
Stroll through the Open Air Museum at Frilandsmuseet
This is one of the world’s largest and oldest open-air museums. Its 86 acres contain houses, mills and dozens of farms dating from 1650 to 1940.
Enjoying the landscaped gardens and historical buildings makes for a relaxing day out, providing a fascinating glimpse into what country life in Denmark was like in days gone by. Virtually every region of the country is represented somewhere on the grounds.
Plant yourself in the Botanical Gardens
You’ll find the 10-hectare Botanical Gardens right in the heart of Copenhagen. It’s a perfect place to unwind and is separated into distinct sections, including rock gardens, annuals, perennials, Danish plants, conifers, etc. There is even a special air-conditioned greenhouse that houses Arctic plant life.
Within the garden grounds there are 27 historical glasshouses, including the 16-metre-tall Palm House dating from 1874. If you’re feeling energetic, you can climb a narrow spiral staircase to the top.
Swim with the locals
In the middle of Copenhagen, right along the waterfront, you’ll find the Harbour swimming baths at Islands Brygge. Outdoor swimming is an activity best reserved for warm summer days between June and August.
There are five separate pools (including two designed for children) and three diving towers, from one to five metres high. The baths are supervised by lifeguards and there’s a nice expanse of lawn nearby for sunbaking or enjoying a family picnic.
Treat your taste buds
Denmark has been called the gastronomic capital of Scandinavia and Copenhagen is home to some of the world’s highest-rated restaurants. From local seafood to traditional Smorrebrod (open sandwiches), Copenhagen has plenty of gourmet delights to choose from.
If you’re in a rush, stop at one of the city’s many hot dog stands and grab a hot dog with your choice of trimmings. You can also find tour companies that will arrange for you to share a meal in a Danish family home – an authentic way to interact with the locals.
Denmark’s official national dish is crispy pork with parsley sauce. If you feel confident about your pronunciation of ‘stegt flaesk med persillesovs’, go ahead and ask for it in Danish!
Tivoli Gardens – a must-see in Copenhagen
Tivoli is the world’s most visited seasonal theme park and the perfect place to soak up the culture, history and positive vibe of Copenhagen, no matter what your age. Opened in 1843, it’s a wonderland of thrill rides, fairy tales and performances that will fill your senses. There are roller-coasters, concerts and more activities and attractions than you can fit into a single day.
By day, Tivoli will keep the whole family entertained. Your kids will be enthralled with the Tivoli Boys’ Guard, a stirring Danish tradition. At night, Tivoli enchants with its colourful lighting and fireworks displays on weekends. It makes the ideal setting for a romantic dinner or a stroll under the stars.
Tivoli is open to the public from April through September as well as on Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Getting out of the city
Because Denmark is a fairly small country, organising scenic day trips from Copenhagen is a breeze. Whether you want to visit a secluded beach, an ancient castle or a beautiful national park, you can find plenty to do in the Danish countryside.
Travel to the islands of Lolland and Falster (don’t miss Aalholm Castle, a 12th-century royal residence). Visit the island of Fyn (or Funen), birthplace of writer Hans Christian Andersen.
Walk through the French Baroque gardens at the spectacular Frederiksborg Castle, the Danish royal family’s summer residence. Head over to Bornholm Island, hire a bike and enjoy a leisurely exploration of this laid-back summer retreat. You can even manage a quick trip to Sweden in a single day.