Forget about all the “hygge”, the fairy-tale castles, the old colonial buildings and even the red-light district. The real Copenhagen is much more interesting than that. It’s a city that never stops reinventing itself. Old factories become tech incubators, abandoned warehouses become art galleries, and derelict shipyards are transformed into bohemian havens for young creative types. It’s also a city with an acute awareness of its past — especially during October when its celebrations of witch trials and ghost stories reach peak spookiness. Copenhagen is so much more than just another pretty capital city. Here are 10 things you should do in Copenhagen to get under its skin; from underground bars to spooky cellars; from open-air cinemas to roving puppeteers:
Watch a classic Danish film at Cinemateket
Cinemateket is Copenhagen’s own free movie house. It was founded in 1962 as the first-ever public film archive in Scandinavia. Back then, it was located in a beautiful art-deco cinema in the centre of the city. It moved to its current location in an abandoned warehouse in the old meat-packing district in 2007 — but it hasn’t lost any of its arthouse allure. Cinemateket hosts a regular programme of classic Danish-language films, but it also features international movies, experimental shorts, and the occasional documentary. The schedule is published online, so you can always check what’s showing and plan your visit accordingly.
1. Go on a foodie tour
In a city where good food is almost a religion, it’s only fitting that Copenhagen has a thriving food tourism scene. More than a dozen foodie tours are offered on a regular basis, with everything from Nordic cuisine to Danish baking on the menu. The Copenhagen Food Tour is a great introduction to Danish cuisine. It pairs a culinary walk with historical anecdotes and plenty of recommendations for where to go for dinner later. Copenhagen’s Coffee Culture tour is ideal for people who love coffee as much as the Danes do — but who also enjoy the cultural context that goes with it. After all, it’s not just a beverage: drinking coffee is an essential part of Danish social life.
2. Visit the free museum cafe
Copenhagen’s museums are world-class, but the prices can be prohibitive for most people. The good news is that many of them offer discounted entry as well as free access to their cafe — or even a free cafe. The National Gallery of Denmark is one of the best places to start. Its cafe offers free wi-fi, and it’s the perfect place to sit and enjoy a coffee while checking out the exhibitions. The Trapholt is another great example of a free cafe. It’s the cafe of the Trapholt Museum of Asian Art in the city’s Northern suburbs. The Danish Architecture Centre also offers free entry and a free cafe. And then there’s the Copenhagen City Museum, which offers free entry and a free cafe that makes the perfect end-stop on a day trip around the city.
3. Walk the ramparts of the Fortification Ring
Copenhagen’s old city walls have long since been torn down, but the city’s ring of 19th-century fortifications still exists. They form a 5-km-long path that winds itself around the city centre. Copenhagen’s ring fortifications have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995. Walking along the ramparts provides an amazing view over the city centre as well as an insight into Copenhagen’s turbulent past. Enterprising locals have turned the fortifications into a great place for an outdoor workout. The path is popular with people who jog or walk with their dogs, and it’s also the setting for occasional running events. It’s a great thing to do if you’re visiting during the cooler months.
4. Check out Designmuseum Denmark
Designmuseum Denmark is Scandinavia’s largest design museum. It’s got a vast collection of everything from furniture to clothing to ceramics. It also hosts regular design exhibitions, walks through local history, and even has a free rooftop sculpture garden that’s open to the public. The museum is located in a beautiful 19th-century building in the city’s waterfront area. The building itself is a listed architectural gem — but the museum’s collection is what really makes it worth a visit.
5. Get spooky at the Old Police Headquarters
The Old Police Headquarters on the northern edge of Copenhagen used to be one of the city’s most notorious prisons. The spooky building is now home to the Danish Museum of Bad Art — one of the world’s silliest museums. The museum is dedicated to art that is so bad it’s actually good — and it has a permanent exhibition of some of the most questionable pieces from the last four decades. The museum also hosts regular special exhibitions on equally ludicrous topics, such as haunted houses, “bad” children’s books, and the art of “bad” pop music. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon laughing at the ridiculousness of the human condition.
6. Celebrate #hygge with friends
The Danish concept of “hygge” has recently become a global phenomenon. It’s all about spending time with loved ones while enjoying a warm atmosphere filled with candles, good food, and ample amounts of blankets. There are plenty of opportunities to celebrate hygge in Copenhagen. The city is full of bars that are great places to enjoy a drink or two with friends. There are a few great places to try out hygge in Copenhagen. You can visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art where you can admire the beautiful architecture and art. You can also visit the Tree Hotel where you can spend the night in a room with a view of the forest.
7. Go underground in Christian’s Cafe and Bar
Christiania is a neighbourhood in the city’s Northern suburbs that was born when a group of squatters occupied a military compound in the 1970s. It has since grown into a self-governing commune that is famous for its cannabis trade and hippie lifestyle. The neighbourhood is also home to Christiania’s Black Café and Bar — one of the weirdest places in Copenhagen. It’s a basement bar that’s located in a small, abandoned building just outside the main entrance to Christiania. The Black Café and Bar is a great place to experience Copenhagen’s edgier side. The drink prices are cheap, the atmosphere is friendly, the food is good, and you can experience a bit of the “bad” side of Copenhagen while enjoying a drink in a place that’s normally closed to outsiders.
8. Watch street performers in Nørrebro’s Ryemarket
Nørrebro is a mostly working-class neighbourhood in Copenhagen’s Southern suburbs that has a wild and edgy vibe — especially during the first weekend in October. Nørrebro’s Ryemarket is the city’s biggest and most interesting open-air flea market. It’s also a great place to catch some street performers. As many as 50 artists gather around the main stage at the market every weekend — with a variety of acts that includes everything from acrobats to jugglers to fire-eaters.
9. Bonus: Don’t miss Kongens Nytorv
Kongens Nytorv is Copenhagen’s biggest and most beautiful square. It was once the site of the city’s old Viking market, and it’s now home to the city’s main tourist office. The square is also home to the city’s main shopping street and a number of its most luxurious hotels. Forget about all the “hygge”, the fairy-tale castles, the old colonial buildings and even the red-light district. The real Copenhagen is much more interesting than that. It’s a city that never stops reinventing itself. Old factories become tech incubators, abandoned warehouses become art galleries, and derelict shipyards are transformed into bohemian