Doesn’t it feel so trivial to be writing about travel right now? With Ukraine being bombed and facing daily missile strikes and scores of civilian deaths, it puts life in to perspective. It’s also important to highlight that many other countries have also faced missile strikes this week too – including Yemen and Syria. The crisis’ currently facing our planet are truly terrifying, and my thoughts are with all innocent lives lost or changed forever as a result of war.
In difficult times, it’s also important to find normality and to appreciate life and how lucky we are. So whilst my trip to Copenhagen is far from important, it’s nice to reminisce on happy memories and times.
Copenhagen is a city which left its mark on me; not in a big way like when a place changes you or your outlook, but in a small, I can see myself living here and being happy, kind of way. The city is beautiful and its architecture stunning, there’s lots to do and the people are friendly, the food was great and the atmosphere felt calm and laid back. The only thing that is not so great is the prices, which of course are astronomical because it’s Scandinavia.
Visiting in winter means that quite a few of Copenhagen’s main attractions, like Tivoli Gardens, are closed. However, it also means there are far, far less people and you can virtually walk around crowd free everywhere. It does mean the weather is more likely than not to be grim, but it also means those astronomical prices aren’t quite so high and good deals can be found on hotels.
Visiting major cities in winter also means experiencing a bit more of local life rather than just feeling like a cog in the mass tourist wheel. And whilst it’s guaranteed you won’t get much sun in Copenhagen in winter, it’s still a beautiful time to see the city with lovely early morning light, cosy fires in restaurants, emptier hotels and no waiting lines. And of course, there’s still plenty to do!
You can do everything on this list in 2-2.5 days depending on how long you want in the museums, and putting it together makes for a perfect long weekend winter stay in the Danish capital. If you have longer, then maybe also think about visiting Roskilde, home to Viking ships and Danish Kings (post coming soon).
Nyhavn, or New Harbour, is one of the most famous areas of Copenhagen and a must see on a visit to the city. Built in the 1600s, it’s full of incredible houses all beautifully preserved and colourful. The famous author Hans Christian Andersen even lived in one during the 1800s. Today it’s a great spot to stroll around, and you can also catch boat cruises along the Nyhavn front. It’s great to visit in the winter as you may get the harbour frozen over with ice, and invariably the restaurants are quiet and the walkways not heaving with people. Just wear a coat and a hat.
2. Christiansborg Palace
Christiansborg is one of the most famous Danish palaces. Originally built in the 1700s, the current version was built in the early 1900s. It is the seat of the Danish Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court. Several parts of the palace are also used by the Danish Queen (Margrethe, who is 72 and celebrates 50 years as Queen in 2022), including the Royal Reception Rooms, the Palace Chapel and the Royal Stables.
Seeing the Palace is a perfect winter stop because the Royal Reception Rooms are indoors, and you can have them literally all to yourself which is incredibly special. We arrived at 2pm, and were the only people visiting.
3. Climb the Christiansborg Tower
Now this one’s a bit of a chilly one. The tower you see through the entrance gates to Christiansborg is open to climb. It’s also completely free, and there is a restaurant up there. So if you want to do something special on your visit, you could have lunch up the tower – or you could just climb up to get the beautiful views out over Copenhagen – just wrap up, it’s windy up there in the winter (but also deserted so great for the photos).
4. Gammel Strand and Hojbro Plads
Another lovely area of the city is Gammel Strand and Hojbro Plads, right outside Christiansborg Palace. It’s another outdoor one here though, as Gammel Strand (literally ‘Old Beach’) and Hojbro Plads (‘High Bridge Place’) are two architectural beauties. We walked around taking it all in, and then popped in to Nikolaj Kunstahl, a contemporary art exhibition in an old church, to warm up. We also ate lunch along Gammel Strand at a tasty burger and cocktail place called Cocks & Cows…..the cocktails definitely helped with the cold!
5. National Museum of Denmark
It’s time to warm up with something indoors again. The National Museum of Denmark is incredible, and if you’re a museum geek like me then you could easily spend the entire day in there. We had to limit ourselves to 3 hours but it wasn’t enough.
Inside, they have a whole exhibition on The Vikings, including Roskilde 6, one of the largest Viking ships ever found. They also have the whole history of Denmark documented through boards and objects from Pre-History to 2000. This includes the shift from Viking to Medieval times and conversion to Christianity, Renaissance, explorations to Iceland, Greenland, Antarctica and further afield, formation of the Monarchy and Kingdom of Denmark, including Norway, the many battles with Sweden, the colonies established overseas from India (who knew!) to the Danish West Indies and Denmark’s role in the slave trade, all the way through to industrialisation, the World Wars, the Cold War and the modern day. I mean…..like I say, could have spent all day in there.
6. Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg Palace
Amalienborg sits in the heart of Copenhagen, and is where you can visit the seat of Europe’s oldest Monarchy to go behind the scenes in a real royal Palace. This Palace is made up of 4 individual Palaces in a circle, and they are the homes of the Royal Family. When the Queen is in residence a Danish flag flies over her Palace.
And guess what? This is her winter residence, so she’s there for a winter visit. And this comes with some benefits. The main one is that every day at 12pm the Guards change in a ceremony, and when the Queen is in residence this comes complete with a band playing. You don’t get that in the summer! Plus, there’s not many people there to see it so it’s a great spectacle and even better if you can warm your hands up enough to get them out and take some photos!
The second benefit is you might even see her – as we did, along with some paparazzi. I haven’t seen my own beloved Queenie here in England, but I have seen the Danish Queen. Another bonus of a winter visit!
7. Marble Church
After the cold of the Changing of the Guard, it’s time to warm up again by nipping up the road and in to the spectacular Marble church, which was built in the 1700s and actually forms part of the Amalienborg complex. It’s free to enter and the ceiling is a must see (plus, there are lots of heaters).
8. The Little Mermaid
Another famous landmark to be seen when visiting Copenhagen is the Little Mermaid, a statue built to commemorate the fairytale by Hans Christen Andersen (and made world famous by Disney). It was ordered designed by a man who fell in love with a Ballerina he wanted to impress and base the statue’s face on her. However, she wouldn’t post naked for the top half so he had to use his wife as the model for that bit – I can only imagine she wasn’t too impressed.
9. Kastellet Fortress
The Little Mermaid is on the outskirts of The Kastellet Fortress. This is the coldest of the items on the winter list, but while you’re there you may as well visit it and the next stop is a warm one. The Kastellet Fortress is one of the best preserved fortresses in Europe, and is still used as a military base today. You can walk around and through it, and inside the Fortress walls are some lovely things to see – including a park, bright colourful military houses, 2 small museums (closed in winter) and even a windmill!
10. Danish Resistance Museum
Let’s warm up inside again with some history. During WW2, Denmark was occupied by the Nazis. This museum tells the story of how the Danish government took an approach of tolerance to Nazi occupation, but how over time actions of resistance began occurring until liberation in 1945. I always find it interesting how many countries were taken over by the Nazis (France, Hungary, The Netherlands, Denmark etc), and how quickly Nazism spread across Europe. Many saw Nazi Germany as undefeatable and didn’t have the power to stop them so allowed them in to their countries – I think it makes me even more proud to be British and part of the country that said no, absolutely not. I know Winston Churchill now has his critics and many are seeking for him to be ‘cancelled’, but as the Prime Minister who quite literally protected Western Europe from today being Nazi, I think his accomplishments well outweigh some of his now outdated views.
11. Rosenborg Palace
Rosenborg Palace is an old Royal Palace, originally built as a summer house. The Royal family no longer reside here, but it is home to Denmark’s treasury, and so the Crown Jewels of Denmark. It’s also situated in a lovely garden. Even in winter, this Palace was busy and the most people we had seen for all of our trip, so I dread to think how heaving it can get in summer. But at least it was warm and beautiful.
12. River boat trip
A nice way to see a bit more of Copenhagen is to take a boat trip. There is one downside to visiting in the winter and doing a boat trip – you’re basically guaranteed a high tide which means the boat won’t wiggle through all the city centre. The benefit – the boat will be almost empty, and with global warming, even in summer there is a high tide about 3 days out of 7 now. Also if you’re visiting in February as we did, the light festival is on so you can see some lovely illuminations on an evening cruise.
We chose to cruise with Stromma and our guide was brilliant – we learnt a lot about Denmark; from the Queen to the tradition of skinny dipping to the history of buildings and areas.
13. Cocktails at Nimb
One of the attractions that is closed over winter is Tivoli Gardens, one of the most established amusement parks in Europe, home to lovely wooden rides and traditional games. Within Tivoli is a gorgeous hotel called Nimb, which during the summer months is busy and full of tourists. But In the winter you can have it all to yourselves. We chose to stay at Nimb (taking advantage of those winter discounts) and you can read my full review of the hotel HERE (post coming soon).
If you don’t want to stay at the hotel though, it’s still worth visiting as it’s so beautiful and the cocktails are a Fairytale themed menu of delciousness – I had the Snow Queen. The bar is beautiful and the perfect place to curl up next to the fire with a drink or afternoon tea. There is also an on-site spa which offers incredible treatments including traditional hammam treatments and massages – another wonderful option for the winter.
14. Sample traditional Danish food
One of the absolute pleasures of visiting Copenhagen in winter is to have restaurant tables without time limits, without being cramped in, getting to talk to the staff alongside roaring fires and wonderful plates of delicious food. The food is a highlight of any winter trip to the city, and whilst you must sample some traditional Danish food at spots like Karla’s or Amalie or Sankt Annae, the whole food scene in Copenhagen is wonderful, with every cuisine imaginable on offer. We also particularly enjoyed Cocks & Cows, Sticks & Sushi and Nimb Brasserie to add some variety.
15. Town Hall & The Shopping Area
Copenhagen City Hall is the headquarters of the Copenhagen City Council as well as the Lord Mayor. The building is situated on City Hall Square in central Copenhagen, and is beautiful to admire….even in the rain!
Also just on from the Town Hall is the main shopping area in Copenhagen, which you can reach by walking up Stroget street. Here you can visit The Lego Store, which is a must when in Denmark as it’s the home of Lego. Also along the streets are some lovely independent shops, as well as The Church of the Holy Spirit, which again is nice to pop in to, especially when it’s raining!
So what do you think of Copenhagen? Would you like to visit, and do you like the sound of a cosy winter time stay there? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and as always, stay safe and happy travelling!