Copenhagen isn’t necessarily the first thing people pin on their metaphorical Scandinavian travel map—most think of the Norwegian fjords, or an Icelandic getaway. But if you’re traveling to multiple destinations in Scandinavia, it should be a key component—especially if you’re hopping from Scandinavian capital to capital.
So why is Copenhagen on our shortlist?
Copenhagen is steeped in both modern and ancient history, and—as many of the photos below show—it’s got views that constantly remind you you’re in the heart of Scandinavia. Many historians believe that Copenhagen’s history stretches beyond the 11th century A.D.—there is evidence that it was once an early Viking fishing settlement by the name of Havn. Today it’s a thriving one million strong and counting, and it encompasses a fascinating set of landmarks stretching through the centuries to the present.
Here's what you can expect to see.
Stroll past the homes of Hans Christian Andersen (houses 20, 67, and 18, all for various years of his life): check. Grab a seat at one of the local restaurants at the end of the day, or make reservations and enjoy some jazz music at a local venue: check. Linger by the canal at night and watch the moon rise over the rippling water as ships bob next to the pier: check.
Really, does it get better?
To answer that last question: yes, it does. Built on top of at least two ancient castles (one of them from the Middle Ages), Christiansborg Palace is the third palace bearing that name to be built onsite since the 18th century. The current palace was built between 1907 – 1928 and houses—among other things—the Royal Reception Rooms, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Supreme Court, and the Folketing: the Danish Parliament.
You can actually step inside and visit many of the fascinating aspects of the landmark, including the underground ruins of Bishop Absalon’s Castle (1167 A.D.), The Tower—the highest in Copenhagen—the Royal Stables (1738-1745) and museum, and The Queen’s Tapestries.
Though they’re a fairly recent addition (began 1990, completed 2000), The Queen’s Tapestries are an exceptional example of artwork fairly teeming with historical significance. Originally the tapestries began as paintings created by influential painter and sculptor Bjørn Nørgaard, a longtime contributor to Denmark’s arts scene, and were woven afterward.
They encapsulate both Danish and world history in 17 separate panels: the Viking Age, the Middle Ages, the Aristocracy, the Absolute Monarchy period, the Reformation, World War II, and the present age (as well as a glance toward the future) are all feature exhibitions.
It took a team of 30 weavers 10 full years—working full time every day—to complete this fascinating exhibit!
At 169 years old, Tivoli effortlessly combines the new and the old. Located in the heart of Copenhagen about a 20-minute walk from Nyhavn Harbor and a 10-minute walk from Christiansborg Palace, Tivoli Gardens is simply a blast!
Over 30 restaurants, 25 rides, and 150 concerts a year grace the world’s second-oldest amusement park, and—as the 18th/19th-century name implies—the area is one large ‘pleasure garden’ with beautifully cultivated foliage.
Featuring rides such as The Demon (above), the Dragon Boats, and The Roller Coaster (one of the oldest running wooden roller coasters in the world from 1914!), Tivoli Gardens should definitely be on your radar when you visit Copenhagen.
Check out our Tivoli Gardens feature article for tips on visiting the park before you go!
The University of Copenhagen is the oldest university in Denmark, and has been in operation continuously since its inauguration in 1479. The University of the late 15th century was very much its own little community: it had its own laws, courts, and prisons, if you can believe it!
The original campus lies within the Latin Quarter. Here you can enjoy great scenery, cafés, and shops, and stroll through 500 years’ worth of history in the footsteps of ancient scholars.
There are still definitive traces of the University’s age, apparent from the facades of various architecture in the area, but there are a couple of new additions too: like the Royal Library, less than 15 minutes away by foot, which now houses both the University’s library and the National Library of Denmark.
Recently voted #2 on Travel + Leisure’s Most Beautiful Libraries in the World, the Royal Library (also known as the ‘Black Diamond’ due to its shape and the black Zimbabwean granite used in its construction) is a pretty epic building—you could spend days here, in fact, climbing all 7 stories!
If you’ve got a little time and you like what you see above, taking a grand tour of Scandinavia gives you the opportunity to see Copenhagen as well as some of Scandinavia’s other well-known cities—Oslo, Ulvik, Bergen, Flåm, Balestrand, Geiranger, Oslo, Stockholm, and Helsinki, as well as an optional add-on trip to St. Petersburg, Russia!
Investing in the extra money (and time) is worth the cost: 5 Scandinavian countries, 8 cities chock-full of history and intrigue, opportunities to see two of Norway’s most popular fjords and Stockholm’s archipelago, 6 independent cruises, and the list goes on…
You get the idea: visit Copenhagen, Denmark, enjoy the experiences above—and don’t miss out on making your larger tour of Scandinavia an exploration worthy of the region’s famous adventurers!