What to Do in Copenhagen (When You Only Have One Day)

While Copenhagen isn’t one of the world’s largest cities, it has a lot of appeal as a tourist destination because it offers opportunities to satisfy a wide variety of interests.

If you only have a short time in Copenhagen, I recommend this recipe for the perfect day:

Start the day.

Europeans eat relatively light breakfasts, but it’s essential to start with some nourishment since you’ll be doing a lot of walking. A classic Danish breakfast of dense bread with cheese and jam, fresh juice, and tea or coffee will fuel your morning.A traditional Danish breakfast at a cafe in Copenhagen

Explore Danish design.

Satisfy your artistic side by heading over to Designmuseum Danmark. The museum is housed in the former King Fredrick’s Hospital but has been exhibiting industrial and furniture design since 1850.

Its permanent collections show both the history of Danish design and its modern state, including how Japanese art inspired Danish crafts, how trends towards sustainability have changed design goals, and how fashion and textiles have shifted (and remained ever similar). For example, the first person to create a single-piece chair was Danish, and shifted the idea that a chair has to have traditional components of a seat, back, arms, and legs.

I knew Danish furniture design was highly influential on other trends at home, but I didn’t realize how it permeates almost all of the furniture we see and use every day. Because of how universal Danish design has become, at first glance the collection doesn’t seem revolutionary. We see this stuff everywhere, from our living rooms to The Sims.

But then you consider what our world would look like without Danish design, and you literally can’t imagine a world without it. Suddenly the museum becomes incredible–it’s not just a random assortment of furniture, it’s a display of life.

Admission is free for students and people under 26, but the museum is surprisingly large and worth the entry fee if you don’t fall into either of those categories.

Get outside.

Now that you’ve explored the vast possibilities of interior design, explore some exterior beauty! Wander through the Botanisk Have (Botanical Garden), where you can picnic for lunch, take a calm stroll around an equally tranquil pond, or see the plants from around the world in the greenhouse. Best of all, it’s free!

Go back in time.

Right down the street from the botanical garden is Rosenborg Slot, a castle built in the early 1600s that now sits in the center of Copenhagen. It served as a residence for Christian IV and his son Frederik III until the 1700s until it became the fanciest friggin’ storage room ever. Kings began using Rosenborg Slot as a display for their finest and rarest objects so that their guests could admire the wealth of the Danish kingdom. It opened as a museum for the public in 1838.

From the ornate chandeliers, detailed portraits, plush furniture, and intricate porcelain dishes, the castle is a great opportunity to travel through the Danish lineage as if you’re a king’s guest in awe of his status symbols. I loved literally tracing the Danish-Norwegian line on the family tree in the main corridor, where you can see how each the royal family’s crests got more and more complicated as symbols merged upon marriage. It’s a unique look at the kingdom that I’m not sure you can get anywhere else.

Slow down.

My favorite type of traveling is more of a slow wander than an intense sightsee, so take the evening to roam through the neighborhood of Nørrebro and live like a Dane for a few hours. There’s not a ton to “see” around here, but I recommend starting near the river–perhaps enjoying a picnic and a Carlsberg (no open container laws in Denmark!)–and allowing yourself to get lost in the neighborhood’s parks and cemeteries as you check out the (occasionally English) graffiti before strolling home for a good night’s rest.Copenhagen at sunset

Spending more than a day in Copenhagen? I’ve got you covered. Here’s a guide to the perfect day trip from the city.  

8 thoughts on “What to Do in Copenhagen (When You Only Have One Day)

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