Copenhagen: compact and cultured

The Danish capital offers far more than you can pack into a long weekend explains travel writer, Michael Edwards.


Frequently ranked among the world's most desirable cities to live, with Danes sitting pretty in the higher echelon of the global happiness league, it is no surprise that Copenhagen's seamless transport system makes travel easy. Mix buses with trains and you will rarely be more than a short stroll from your destination – be it a tour of probably the best known in the world, the cutting edge Design Museum Denmark or a tranquil waterside walk. Of course, Copenhagen has everything you'd expect of a capital: palace, zoo, science museum, planetarium, great cuisine, aquarium, Natural History Museum etc, etc. 

With the pound as weak as it is, buying a Copenhagen Card can seem extortionate whether you buy it for 24 hours, 48 hours or the maximum of 120 hours. But it also provides trains to much of Jutland, not just Copenhagen. With free admission to over 70 museums, discounts at cafes, restaurants as well as unlimited admission for the essential evening visit, Tivoli Gardens, ultimately the card proves to be a bargain. Tivoli, with beautiful gardens, enchanting fairy lights and refined restaurants tempts most visitors, as well as many locals, night after night.

Copenhagen water

Taking a boat-trip is an ideal orientation exercise to get a feel for the layout of this city, sometimes called The Venice of the North, and to begin to understand the Danish character. You can opt for a canal trip or one of the Netto boats. Or both – that is the inclusive beauty of the card.

You soon sense that the old waterside industrial Copenhagen, of grimy docks and warehouses, is being replaced by the newer artsy Copenhagen of Opera House, National Theatre and the Black Diamond Library – call back later for both the exhibition on the library's history and a sophisticated coffee sat in a deckchair overlooking the busy canal junction. The "almost nearly perfect people", as writer Michael Booth labelled them in his book about the Nordic Miracle, generally know what they're doing.

From midday onwards you will see locals on foot, on bike and sometimes even in kayaks heading for the unmissable Street Food Market on PapirØen Island. Giant wooden spools, reborn as bar stools, are the giveaway clue that this was once home to Denmark's newsprint industry. 

In the land of the 28-hour working weeks, Danes will linger over a lengthy lunch, happily chatting in immaculate English to visitors sharing the long benches. Street food stalls provide snacks in the style of cuisines from China to Peru, from Mexico to Vietnam. 

PapirØen market

Beyond the city, the card, and trains will take you to Helsingør the inspiration for Hamlet's Elsinore Castle or to the Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde. Discover your inner Viking at a distinctly hands-on museum which disregards Health and Safety with all the scorn of a rampaging second century Viking warrior. Model a coarse-fibre Viking robe, hew timber for a ship's hull, smelt an arrowhead and row, if you dare, on chilly Baltic waves. 

Think of all of London's art galleries gathered together in Hyde Park, with surrounding sculpture garden, and you may begin to get a sense of the gigantic National Gallery of Denmark. It's seven centuries of art will require a day of your time. Even the Danish Open Sandwiches in the cafe, adorned with multicoloured cress, have all the creativity of an Art Installation. 

Copenhagen isn't just Denmark's capital; with its love of design, Scandi Style, edgy contemporary art galleries and a warm welcome for visitors – both short and long-term – Copenhagen stakes a strong claim to be Scandinavia's leading city. But whisper it quietly, Malmo and Sweden aren't too far away across "The Bridge."

Visit Copenhagen for more information

Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 2:22 pm Europe