At the risk of stating the obvious, Copenhagen is pretty darn cold in the winter! Especially if you’re used to walking around outside most of the day. In the other places I’ve visited, I’ve spent large chunks of the daylight hours just walking around, getting to know the city, and taking pictures. In Copenhagen, I tried to do the same, but I just felt so cold all the time! So I came up with a list of things to do in Copenhagen in the winter. A lot of these things you can do after dark as well, which is helpful since in late November in Denmark, the sun sets as early as 4 pm. These are things that will still give you a taste of this fascinating Danish city, but will also let you take breaks inside warm buildings and trendy restaurants.
If you like museums, history, or architecture:
Try the Danish National Museum! Their collection of artifacts is extensive, and it would be easy to spend a whole day visiting it. I learned a lot in the few hours I spent there.
They had preserved people, clothes and artifacts from the Bronze Age. They had Nordic wind instruments, stones inscribed with Runes, engravings used as Reformation propaganda in the 16th century, and a huge collection of ancient Greek pottery. They even had a set of Hercules action figures, both ancient and modern! They had mummies, a temporary exhibition of handwoven Navajo rugs, and even a Japanese Purikura (photo booth), where I decorated pictures of my face. And, of course, they covered Danish history extensively. I would definitely recommend this museum to anyone visiting Denmark for the first time.
You can also pay a visit to one of the many palaces in Copenhagen. Christiansborg palace has a tower that you can go to the top of for free, which gives a beautiful view of the entire city. Amalienborg palace is the residence of the royal family of Denmark. Check their websites (which I’ve linked) for hours and tour information.
Church of our Lady – oh man, was this place beautiful. I’m not usually the biggest fan of Neoclassical architecture, but I thought this church was stunning. The highlight was the Christus statue behind the altar, with the inscription “come unto me,” in addition to the statues of each of the original twelve apostles lining the nave. The statues were created by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. Copies of his work can be seen throughout the world, for example in the visitor’s center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the United States, but the ones in Copenhagen are the real deal.
If you like to eat:
The possibilities are endless! Copenhagen has excellent food, though in general everything in the city is a bit expensive. My favorite places:
Papirøen – similar to Foodhallen in Amsterdam, it’s a social hangout filled with a variety of food stands in a warehouse next to the Copenhagen opera house. I made a list of all the options I saw and I’m still pretty sure I missed a few:
Gourmet hot dogs
Toast (grilled sandwiches)
Vegetarian Columbian food
Slow food pizzas
Gourmet pasta creations
Smørrebrod (traditional Danish food right here)
Cocktails and drinks
Fish and chips
A couple of different burger places
Korean street food
Indian street food
A couple of middle eastern places
Turkish street food
Crème brûlée doughnuts
and a juice bar.
I went with smørrebrod first, then had some cheesecake for dessert. My smørrebrod had potatoes, mayo, hard boiled egg and crispy onions, but there are hundreds of different ways you can get it.
Torvehallerne – On a slightly smaller scale, and on the other side of Copenhagen, is another food market. There are two indoor market halls, and in nicer weather, there are outdoor produce markets as well. I had lunch there while I was walking around, and it was a welcome retreat from the cold wind. The walls are all glass and lined with places to sit, which was absolutely perfect for people watching.
There are a number of different stands here, offering lunch items, produce, fish and meat. I got a sandwich from one of the organic food stalls, and some fresh pressed grapefruit juice, and it was delicious!
Pastries – Whatever you eat in Copenhagen, though, you have to try the pastries! I mean, there’s a pastry called a Danish for a reason. My first morning there, I stopped into a bakery near the hostel and got this amazing piece of culinary genius:
If you’re looking for fun activities to do with friends or family:
A trip to the Tivoli gardens is a must! I mentioned it in my post about European Christmas markets, but I’m going to talk about it again. It’s one of the oldest amusement parks in Europe, right in the center of Copenhagen. It was built back in 1843. During World War II, the Nazis burned a lot of the buildings in Tivoli, some of which were rebuilt. All year round, it’s a beautiful place to visit, open from April to September for summer and October to November for Halloween, but starting at the end of November, it opens for the Christmas season. That’s when they cover the entire place with lights and and Christmas decorations.
There is good food (ranging from outdoor stands to upscale restaurants), shopping (permanent shops and temporary market stalls), attractions and rides for people of all ages, music and activities for kids. The best part though is just the atmosphere. With all the lights and decorations, especially in the evening, it feels absolutely magical.
Yes, most of it is outside! But don’t worry, it seems way less cold in Tivoli than it does anywhere else in Copenhagen. Maybe it’s because they put out pans of hot coals every so often so you can warm your hands, or maybe it’s because there are so many people around, or maybe it’s because the festive lights just give the impression of warmth and happiness, but I wasn’t cold at all.
I saw a forum on TripAdvisor debating whether to see the Christmas set up during the day or after dark. The overwhelming response was after dark, and I completely agree! Plus, by November, the sun in Copenhagen sets around 4 pm, so it’s better to do your other sightseeing earlier and then go to Tivoli. If there is something you can do in the evening, do it in the evening, and save those precious daylight hours for the stuff you really need the sun for. Like, walking around, climbing the tower at Cristansborg castle, taking silly photos with your friends by the canals, etc.
If you really just want to walk around and see the city:
Bring lots of layers! Hats and gloves and warm scarves and the like. There are so many beautiful neighborhoods to visit! And, if you really feel like your fingers are going to freeze off (as I did quite a few times), just pop over to a shopping street and duck inside a store for a few minutes and you’ll be just fine.
Nyhavn – this is the famous area along the canal that shows up in all the postcards. It’s beautiful, with the water, the colored buildings all in a row and the cute cafés. Hans Christian Andersen once lived on this street.
The Opera House – From Nyhavn, walk past Amalienborg along the water until you’re just opposite the opera house. Go in the evening and you’ll get a beautiful view of the colors as it lights up.
Strøget – This is the longest pedestrian street in the world, Copenhagen’s biggest shopping street and the heart of the most popular shopping district in the city. Explore the smaller streets around for cool pastry shops, cafés and smaller boutiques. This was where I got my first pair of Nudie Jeans (Swedish, organic cotton, ethically made, free repairs for as long as you can wear the jeans), which I have absolutely fallen in love with!
Skip the transport – You might be a little colder this way, but if you really want to get a feel for the city and get to know some of Copenhagen’s most beautiful and underrated streets, use your own two feet to get where you want to go. Some of my favorite spots in Copenhagen were street corners I stumbled upon while walking from one neighborhood to another.
AKA, things that I didn’t get to see this time because I only had two days:
Church of Our Savior: I want to climb that famous spiral spire, too!
Christiania: Apparently this is a real-life hippie commune, and a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood.
National Gallery of Denmark: Also a really good museum option. Danish and foreign art from the 14th century to the present.
Ny Carlsberg Glypotek: Yet another museum that I really want to see. Two departments of ancient and modern art, and a winter garden.
Let me know what you like to do in winter in Copenhagen! I’m always looking for ideas for my next trip.