Words by Jim Bamboulis
Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of yearly lists of ‘best places to visit’ but this particular one struck a cord, in all the right ways. Personally, it was a huge dream of mine to visit Copenhagen, especially during the winter months. Considered by many to be the off-season, others a shoulder season, winter in Copenhagen was, for me, the best and most charming time to drop in.
For me, it’s the locals who make all the difference as to whether a place is worth visiting, much less whether it’s listed as one of the best places to visit. Daily life is a grind everywhere with varying degrees of happiness. It’s just natural, human nature. But unlike several other popular year-round cities I’ve visited, where locals look miserable and treat visitors likewise, Danes in the capital – generally speaking – seem to look at life differently. Am I looking at things in rose-coloured travel glasses, maybe. But the more time I spent here, a more plausible reason made itself all too real. That of the Danish “hygge” spirit – creating your own light and warmth that in turn produces peace and contentment both inwardly and outwardly.
How does that translate into tourism? Well, it seems like no matter your personality type, who you are, where you come from, conversations seem to start pretty easily between strangers. Before you know it, one realizes that Danes are pretty enthusiastic to go out-of-their-way to suggest itineraries and share tips. To make you feel safe, welcomed and content, including you in the social and cultural fabric, the soul of the society itself. In other words, outsiders in Copenhagen don’t stay that way long. These guys are downright decent, polite, friendly, uber casual and all-inclusive. Does that alone make this town one of the best places to spend some time in? Yes, but there’s so much more.
Here are 7 amazing ways to make the most of this glorious city, get yourself ingrained into the local heartbeat, and understand the true spirit of Copenhageners.
First thing’s first. As soon as you can, purchase and activate a Copenhagen Card. Keep it handy because you’ll be using it everywhere! Dubbed the all-inclusive city card, this bad boy gets you access into more than 85 attractions and museums, including several castles, free transport in the city region, canal cruises and even discounts at many restaurants, bars and even tours.
If traveling with kiddos, each adult card you buy gives you the chance to bring along two children under 10 years of age for free! That means free admission for kids at the National Aquarium, Copenhagen Zoo, infamous Tivoli Gardens among others.
Sure, winter in the capital is colder and rainy but if a city is walkable even at this time of year, then that’s a year-round magical town. Although public transit is obviously accessible, well connected no matter where you’re staying, and is a environmentally-preferred means of travel, Copenhagen’s charm can be experienced on foot. Once near or at the centre, pick a direction and go. Walkable, its stunningly regal, historically-rich attractions will hook you as much as its small nooks and crannies.
Be it the grandeur of Rosenborg Castle, eccentric Round Tower, or the beautiful Church of our Saviour to colourful Nyhavn, Snaregade and Magstræde, two of the oldest streets in the Old Town complete with original cobbling, walking Copenhagen gives you a sense of both its historic and modern beauty. Visit during the Christmas season and you have the added bonus of walking to several famous Christmas markets, each with its distinct backdrop and flare, when put together, elevate the city to new charming heights.
Among them of course, is the second oldest amusement park in the world, Tivoli Gardens. Founded in 1843, this fairy-tale experience inspires young and old year-round but at Christmas, its lights, festive aura and energetic atmosphere make it a truly memorable, even nostalgic experience. After all, if Walt Disney himself found his inspiration here, imagine what type of feelings may come over you!
Full disclosure – the safest I’ve ever felt while riding a bike has been here, period! If you’re willing and able, experiencing Copenhagen on two wheels can be an exhilarating, law abiding and super convenient thrill. Copenhagen = bike culture and vice versa. Here, bike lanes are wider than car lanes and come equipped with their very own traffic signals. They’re located on most city streets and surrounding districts which means you can pretty much cycle anywhere you want for as long as you can from as far away as 15km outside the city limits!
Health conscious and environmentally responsible, cycling here is a religion. So much so that city leaders worldwide continuously look “to Copenhagenize” and implement their own bike culture. With more than 380km worth of cycling tracks, it’s no wonder that cycling accounts for 49% of all commutes in the city. Take a bike tour, rent a bike or ask for one at your hotel. Several hotels have branded bikes for guests.
Considering also the fact that Denmark as a whole is a fairly flat country and the air quality is predictably amazing, it makes it easier to immerse yourself in the true pulse of the city, get a feel for local life and at the same time, see attractions that are both off-the-beaten-path and a fair distance from the crowds.
I wrote a piece – Grubbing Copenhagen – that gives you a pretty solid look into both new Nordic and Danish cuisine and what the food scene in the city is all about. But for this piece, we’ll delve a bit more into must eats around Christmas time, traditional Danish fare that make the holidays truly filling.
Mulled wine (glogg) is a must as is the roasted pork sandwich and of course, an extra large, tradition-rich, all-natural Danish hot dog topped with crunchy fried onions, raw onions, and pickles. Good for all seasons but there’s something about eating this during the colder months. For dessert, Klejner – a deep fried pastry sprinkled with icing sugar, Danish cookies which are known the world over, Flødeboller – chocolate-covered, marshmallow-filled teacake and Æbleskiver – a light and fluffy spherical Danish piece of heaven, served hot.
For another truly unique food experience, try sitting down to a three-hour long Julefrokost smørrebrød Christmas lunch. Yes, three hours – at least! That’s how long it will take you to enjoy three rounds of food and schnapps that pair with each round. Based on rye bread, this dining experience offers everything from herring and seafood to beef and eggs and although there are plenty of places to enjoy this traditional Danish food tradition, Christianshavn’s Ferry Café ranks way up there.
Around for more than 150 years and located on the waterfront of the city’s old, maritime Christianshavn district, this cafe is owned by Erik Frandsen who also happens to be the chef. Step inside and get greeted like family. Take your seat in this cozy, rustic and uber friendly timber-framed hot spot and get ready for a food experience like no other. Everything from salmon and duck to pork and Christmas rice pudding is served with home-made-from-scratch schnapps that Erik makes himself. Among his most popular include tarragon and fennel with liquorice and juniper berries.
To visit Copenhagen is to understand that the city is one with water. Be it the creation of the man-made lakes to canals that eventually lead into mighty Baltic, water plays a starring role when it comes to life in the city. So, why not enjoy the best Copenhagen has to offer from sea level.
Yes, canal tours are aplenty in this town but one company that takes up on a notch when it comes to providing memorable, engaging and fun experiences is Hey Captain. Offering three types of excursions daily, Hey Captain prides itself on a personal touch, making you feel like family as soon as you hop aboard. Their ‘Landmarks’ tour is an hour-long trip around the inner harbour, coasting by historical sites and buildings. ‘Hidden Gems’ is a two-hour cruise that includes sites and castles but adds some of the crew’s favourite, off-the-beaten-path spots and hangouts. Finally, ‘The Diana’ is the boat the company itself was founded on. This five-hour adventure covers all corners of the city, reveals secrets gems, includes lunch on land, and optional swim. All cruises offer complimentary drinks on board along with a cool and relaxed vibe.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Copenhagen on December 13, try to take the sunset cruise. St. Lucia’s Day sees hundreds of brightly decorated kayaks take to the water, float through the canals and congregate at several of the city’s iconic harbours. Thousands watch as kayakers meander through the canals around the city in what is a truly special annual celebration.
Ski it, kinda
What amazed me the most during my time in Copenhagen was hearing about – and witnessing firsthand – the proactive Danish approach to transforming buildings into multi-functional, vibrant centres of culture and recreation for everyone to enjoy. And doing so with the environment top of mind. A clear example is CopenHill, a power plant that now has an artificial ski and snowboard slope built on top of it. Yup, a recreational park located on the roof of the cleanest waste-to-energy power plant on earth! The plant burns waste instead of fossil fuel, and is in line with Copenhagen’s goal of being the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. In turn, tens of thousands of households in Copenhagen are provided with heat and electricity.
You’ve wined and dined, walked and biked, even skied. Time for a relaxed, outdoor soak. Enter CopenHot, an unforgettable hot tub experience. Inspired by the New Nordic Wellness concept, CopenHot features a blend of wilderness facilities in a city environment.
Led by a Captain, Sailing Hot Tubs fit five people and cruise around the harbour for 1 1/2 hours all in the comfort of clean, 104℉ salt water which is heated with firewood. If you prefer to stay on land, you can rent one of six stationary hot tubs that seats six overlooking the harbourfront while HotDays allows you to meet new people and enjoy both the stationary hot tubs and panoramic sauna together.
Seven reasons among many more. Find your adventure in Copenhagen and discover for yourself why it truly lives up to its reputation as one of the best places to visit on the planet!
A VERY big THANK YOU to Visit Copenhagen for taking care of us wholeheartedly while in Copenhagen. Your guidance, direction and sincere hospitality made us feel incredibly welcomed and eager to return! Thank you!
Hey y’all. I’m Jim. I spent 16 years in the broadcast media world before starting up Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to working with brands to promote travel, food, and cultural experiences.
I’ve created content and collaborated with everyone from Chevrolet, Lonely Planet, Trivago, Nevada Tourism and The Weather Network to New Brunswick Tourism, Yellow Pages, Tourism Toronto, and Airbnb. Safe travels, y’all.