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After discovering my favorite Scandinavian capital of Stockholm, I moved on to Copenhagen, Denmark. I had heard about the strong bike culture in Copenhagen and was excited to rent a bike and explore the city. Similar to the other cities, I spent a little more than 24 hours in Copenhagen, but the majority of my sightseeing activities were done within a 24 hour period. My guide to 24 hours in Copenhagen includes a tour through Nyhavn (the painted houses), Christiania (the alternative district), and the Carlsberg Brewery.
When I was in Stockholm, I met a couple of travelers at my hostel who were also headed to Copenhagen, so we decided to meet up in Copenhagen and see some of the sights together. We met at my hostel in the morning and walked over to a bike rental shop nearby to rent bikes for the day. There are laws in Copenhagen regarding bike lights, similar to laws that apply to car lights, so make sure you rent a light to attach to your bike if you think you may be biking in the dark at any point. You may also be given the option of renting a bike lock – I would take it as you will end up having to pay a lot more money if your bike is stolen. It is generally very safe in Copenhagen, and your bike may be fine without a lock, but I would recommend taking this extra precaution just in case.
Once we were ready to go with our bikes, we headed first to Christiansborg Palace, where the Danish Parliament, the Danish Prime Minister’s Office, and the Supreme Court of Denmark are located. Thus, it contains the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. In fact, this is the only building in the world that houses all three of a country’s branches of government. This palace is located on Stotsholmen in central Copenhagen.
Christiansborg Palace was originally built in 1167 and has sustained two serious fires and three eras of Danish architecture. Today, the large courtyard in front of the palace is covered with a cobblestone layer (which was quite difficult to maneuver on our bikes) and features riding grounds, although we did not see any horses that day. Visitors are allowed to explore the inside of the palace for a fee, and guided tours are available. We chose not to pay for a ticket since we were trying to get a lot done that day and were traveling on a budget, but we were able to step into the main lobby area, which already featured beautiful architecture and art.
Panoramic view of Copenhagen
After marveling at the most elaborate and beautiful government building I’ve ever seen, we moved on to Christianshavn to check out Freetown Christiania. First, we stopped at Church of Our Savior, a baroque church with a winding staircase leading up to the top of the church and providing panoramic views of Copenhagen. We paid the 35 DKK ($5 USD) fee to climb up the spire, and the view was spectacular. Keep in mind that the spire is very narrow and winding and can feel quite precarious on a windy day like the day I was there, so if you have an extreme fear of heights, I would recommend that you consider alternative options to get your panoramic view. Also keep in mind that the tower is closed in January and February and has limited opening dates in December, so make sure you check the website for hours of operation before heading over in the winter months.
The spire was constructed in 1752 and contains 400 steps to the top. There is also a carillon that sits in the church, and this happens to be the largest carillon in northern Europe and plays a melody every hour from 8:00AM to midnight. Rumor has it that the builder of the spire fell from the spire to his death, but I believe this tragic account is nothing more than a rumor.
Freetown Christiania, or Christiania, is Copenhagen’s “hippie commune” and perhaps the most interesting part of Copenhagen. The residents of Christiania have proclaimed Christiania as an autonomous region that is separate from local or federal laws. Christiania even has its own currency (the Løn) and flies its own flag, which has a red background with three yellow dots in a horzontal line. There are currently around 850 residents living in this 84 acre neighborhood in the borough of Christianshavn. The location was formerly a military base that was subsequently abandoned and replaced by Christiania in 1971. Its original founders were squatters and artists that created the commune as a social experiment.
One of the main things Christiania is known for is its cannabis shops that are open 24 hours a day and sell 30-40 types of hashish. These shops operate on one stretch of road called Pusher Street and are constantly monitored and patrolled for tourists taking photos or conducting themselves in a suspicious way. This is because marijuana is technically illegal in Copenhagen, and police raids, although infrequent, do happen occasionally. You may take photos in other parts of Christiania, but if you are caught taking a photo on Pusher Street, you will end up causing a scene and be removed from the area.
UPDATE (10/28/16): As of September 2016, the cannabis shops in the Green Light District, or Pusher Street, have been demolished in response to violent crime involving gangs in the area. Although cannabis shop vendors are required to be Christiania residents, some outside gang members have infiltrated into Christiania and created this unsafe and hostile environment. In an attempt to restore peace and help the Copenhagen police officers control crime, the residents of Christiania have decided to shut down all cannabis vendors in Christiania.
One area where residents of Christiania like to “smoke weed everyday,” as Snoop Dogg does, is Nemoland. Contrary to what you may think, Nemoland has nothing to do with the little orange fish we all love so dearly. This is an open, although hidden, area where you can find a good view of Christiania’s natural beauty. Since the area is elevated, you can also get a good birdseye view of Christiania from Nemoland.
More memorable than the cool street art, the cannabis shops, or the fresh, organic food is the attitude and ambience of Christiania. The residents have a collectivist mentality, to the point where the residents refused to purchase land from the Copenhagen government when the government wanted to sell all the land in Christiania to its residents in 2012. Rather, residents of Christiania agreed to purchase the land “collectively,” as they are all about keeping the community-focused mentality.
We had lunch in Christiania as the prices there were significantly lower than the prices in the rest of Copenhagen. As a bonus, the food in Christiania is all locally sourced, organic food, so you are really getting a good bargain for your money here.
After leaving the hippie, alternative commune, we opted for a change of pace and biked toward Nyhavn, or the “painted houses,” the most iconic and beautiful area of Copenhagen. Before we reached Nyhavn, we saw a group of trampolines built into the ground on the side of the street. The inner child inside each of us came out, and we had to make a quick stop to play on the trampolines.
Nyhavn reminded me a bit of Amsterdam. There is a canal lined with colorful buildings. Many of these buildings are restaurants and bars, many with outdoor seating right along the canal. One thing that struck me about Scandinavians is that no matter how cold the weather is, the outdoor seating remains open, and there will always be people who choose to sit outside. Most restaurants/bars provide blankets for those who sit outside, but that didn’t make us feel any less wimpy or dramatic about running inside to get out of the cold as we saw groups of locals enjoying their meal or drink outdoors.
It started raining when we were in Nyhavn, so we ducked into one of the bars along the canal to escape the rain. The bar was underground and very warm and cozy, but be prepared to pay $10 USD or more for a beer here. It was probably not a smart idea on our part to get a beer in one of the most touristy areas of Copenhagen.
The Little Mermaid
After warming up from the cozy bar and our drink, we headed back out and biked toward the famous Little Mermaid statue. On our way there, we passed by Amalienborg, the palace where the Royal Danish family resides.The palace was constructed in the 1700s and is considered one of the greatest works of Danish Rococco architecture. Amalienborg consists of four identical buildings with a statue of King Frederik V in the middle of the plaza. The palace is also known for its royal guards, and you can see the changing of the guards here every day at noon. We did not walk around the palace, but from what we could see from the bike path, the palace is absolutely stunning.
We knew we arrived at the Little Mermaid when we saw a big crowd of people off to the side of the road. I was not able to actually see the Little Mermaid until I was much closer to the water because of its small size. I was quite surprised by how small this bronze sculpture is, and my personal opinion is that this sculpture is very overrated. The sculpture is only 1.25 meteres (4 feet) tall but weighs a whopping 175 kilograms (386 pounds). I would recommend seeing this only because it’s a popular landmark in Copenhagen and is close to other worthwhile sites, such as Amalienborg, but I would not go out of my way to return here on my next trip to Copenhagen.
Last but not least, we visited the Carlsberg Brewery. On our way there, we made a quick stop at the Copenhagen School of Business, as one of the travelers I was with had almost planned to attend when she was in college, so she wanted to see what she missed out on. The building was modern and beautiful. I had the chance to walk around some of the University of Copenhagen buildings the night before, and the architecture of some of the buildings is truly breathtaking. Anyone who attends university there is very lucky to be surrounded by such picturesque sights every day
We had a little bit of trouble finding the Carlsberg Brewery because there was some construction leading up to the road that it’s on, but once we did we were ready to learn about the history of the brewery and sample some beers. The admissions fee to the brewery is 95 DKK ($14 USD) and comes with two beers (or soft drinks for those under 18).
Carlsberg brewery was founded by a man named J.C. Jacobsen and named after his son, Carl. In the early 1900s, Carl adopted the swastika as the symbol for Carlsberg beer. Keep in mind that the swastika traditionally represented purity, and Carl wanted to show that his beer was pure. However, after the Nazis took over in the 1940s, Carlsberg Beer abandoned its swastika symbol as it no longer represented purity. However, the iconic gate leading to the brewery still bears the swastika symbol on the large elephant statues that border the gate, as that was never changed after it was built. So, if you see the swastikas as you’re approaching the brewery, know that there’s no reason to be alarmed as it is merely a sign for purity and not a sign that Nazi forces are behind the brewery.
Interested in exploring more of Scandinavia? Then you might want to check out these posts:
- How I Traveled Scandinavia for 6 Days With Less Than $1000
- Complete Guide to 3 Days in the Faroe Islands
- A Weekend in Oslo for Budget Travellers
- 5 Bucket List Things to do in Iceland in the Winter
- 25 Free Things to do in Copenhagen
Copenhagen is on my list to do next summer. Looks like a great place to visit and I look forward to reading about what else to do in the city. I think I would like to visit the palaces and definitely Christiania. Think I will give the brewery a miss though as I don’t like beer!!! 🙂
Yes – Christiania is a must-see! It’s really hard to describe the ambience there, so you really just have to experience it for yourself. Hope you get to visit soon 🙂
Wow Christiania looks so great!! How was the food on a scale of 1-10? Also, did not know Carlsberg comes from Copenhagen yet another reason to go visit!! Can’t believe you did all that in 24 hours!
I found the food there to be extremely fresh and organic! One great place to go for this are the markets. I walked around one of the indoor markets and saw plenty of delicious and healthy looking food. Even the gyro we had from a food truck/stand in Christiania was delicious. I’d give it a 7/10 overall. 🙂
Copenhagen is a lovely place! The harbor is nice place to sit outside and have a drink! The brightly colored buildings are amazing as well as the history and building architecture is stunning! Will have to make it back again some day! You captured Copenhagen well in your photos!
Wow seems like even 24 hours are very less to explore the city properly.I love how one can rent a bike and explore the city on their own.The view from the top of spire is just amazing.
Yes, I would definitely recommend spending more than 24 hours there if you’re able to! I also loved how convenient it was to get around everywhere on bike. There are special bike lanes everywhere, which makes biking in Copenhagen quite safe.
All this in 24 hours? Amazing! 🙂 Everything looks beautiful and scenic! I love the street art here. Oh and that Little Mermaid statue! I am a big Little Mermaid fan 🙂
You would love the little mermaid statue then, Nadine! I hope you get to visit and see it person soon 🙂
That 24 hours is really fully loaded. I think it is not enough as i want to spend more time in a place as lovely as this.
I would definitely recommend spending more than 24 hours in Copenhagen, if you can! But if you only have the luxury of spending 24 hours in Copenhagen, you should find plenty of activities to fill your time with this guide. 🙂
To be honest, seeing your post title, I did wonder about how one could cover a city like Copenhagen in a day. But I guess there are multiple ways to explore a city and all the information you have detailed seems perfectly possible in 24 hours. Loved the architecture and the waterfront pictures.
Thanks, Punita! I would absolutely recommend spending more than 24 hours in Copenhagen if you can, but if you only have the luxury of spending 24 hours there, this guide is a great start to getting to understand the city.
Copenhagen has been on my to do list for quite sometime. Cool that you went to Christiania! Thanks for sharing!
I hope you get to go soon, Sarah! I just found out that Pusher Street, or the Green Light District, has been shut down as of September 2016 due to increased violent crime from the drug sales. It makes perfect sense that the residents of Christiania would want to do that considering that they are all about community and peace. Nevertheless I’d still highly recommend checking it out as it’s such a lovely and unique neighborhood. 🙂
Copenhagen looks incredible and is high on our list. I love any city that embraces tourism by bike, and good to know about the lights law, I would not have known. And that spire, it is so unique!
The spire is amazing, isn’t it? I completely agree with you about the bikes – my main mode of transportation in Chicago where I live is by bike, but it is not nearly as safe as it is in Copenhagen because not all the streets here have bike lanes. Copenhagen has integrated its bike lanes so well into its infrastructure that it is just as safe to bike there as it is to take a car! I love that.
Thanks for the post. Another city to my list. I love the pictures you took. The place looks so artistic.
Thanks, Gokul! You will definitely feel an alternative arts vibe when you are there – it’s very cool. I hope you get to visit soon. 🙂
I have heard before that the little mermaid is small and over rated exactly as you have mentioned. I still think I would have to see it though if I was there, just to say I did. I had no clue that Copenhagen was such a pot heads paradise. I thought that was just Amsterdam lol
I feel the exact same way, Allison. I still recommend everyone to see the Little Mermaid even though I thought it was overrated. It’s just one of those things, if you’re in Copenhagen, you’ve got to see the Little Mermaid. And yea it did remind me of Amsterdam with regards to the weed. I actually just found out though (and updated my post above) that Pusher Street, or the Green Light District, where all the weed is sold, has been shut down since September 2016 due to an increase in violent crime there involving drug sales. The concept behind Christiania is community and peace, so it makes sense that its residents would want to shut everything down in response to the crime.
Copenhagen is one beautiful city. Your series is a great idea, it allows you to creat short trip reviews for side trips and highlight the best of the best. 🙂 good to know that tourists can bike around the city too. Did you witness the changing of the guards on your visit?
I unfortunately did not! I had seen the changing of the guards in several other cities, so I wanted to focus my short time in Copenhagen on other things. However, I would love to go back for the changing of the guards as it’s always a bit different in different countries. Have you seen the changing of the guards there?
Nice post. Really love the mix of a perfect town (Pleasantville) and then you have Christiania :), which is basically like a small version of Berlin.
It’s a nice city, we also enjoyed our stay. Thanks for the inspiration.
Thanks, Julian! Christiania does kind of remind me of east Berlin in the sense that there is street art everywhere and it has a more grunge feel. Glad you enjoyed your visit to Copenhagen as well. 🙂
Christiana looks amazing – I dream of going there from all the stories I’ve heard, and your photos definitely don’t help that craving!
Danielle – I hope you get to go soon! I just made an update to the Christiania section of my post, by the way. I found out that since September 2016, the cannabis stalls in Christinia have all been shut down by its residents in response to an increase in violent crime there involving drug sales. Who knows if that will change in the future, but if you visit soon, you will probably not see any drug related vendors on Pusher Street. Just a heads up. 🙂
Like Copenhagen a lot! The graffiti art is one of my favorites along with colorful buildings along the canal. Great place to fill your boots 🙂
Agreed! I love finding interesting street art when I travel, and there is plenty to see in Copenhagen! The painted houses are so beautiful, and I love that there are ample restaurants/cafes/bars to choose from if you feel like spending a few hours admiring the nice view there.
Copenhagen looks like such a fun place to explore!! I love your idea of doing it on bike too!
Thanks, Brianna! Copenhagen is so much fun. I love that the bike lanes there have been integrated so well into their infrastructure that it’s just as safe to bike there as it is to take a car since they have separate lanes for bikes along every street. I love it!
I enjoyed your story, I always think that 24 hours is quite good time to visit a city and get an overview of it. Your pictures of Copenhagen makes me wanna visit soon!
Thanks so much, Omar! I hope you get to visit soon. 🙂
You’ve certainly outlined some great places and I understand you obviously had a tight schedule. I’d love to take a week here and spend some time really getting to look at all the things you have mentioned. It looks totally amazing.
Thanks, Kerri! I would absolutely recommend spending more than 24 hours in Copenhagen if you’re able to. There is so much to see and do, and while you can have a great time and get some sense of the vibe there in only 24 hours, if you’re able to stay longer, I definitely would. Thanks for reading. 🙂
Look like you got a bit of the touristy + off the beaten path side of Copenhagen in a short amount of time!
That is always my goal, Susan! Thanks for reading. 🙂
This is awesome! I’m interested to go to Copenhagen now. You’ve highlighted some pretty cool places. Looks amazing!
Thanks, Bethanny! Glad this post piqued your interest in Copenhagen. It is a great city. I hope you get to visit soon. 🙂
Copenhagen looks breathtaking! And that done only within a day? Wow! The place looks significantly amazing and I am adding this one to my bucket. Such an interesting city.
Glad to hear it, Justice! Copenhagen is a beautiful and fun city. There’s such a variety of activities to do, and the city has so much character that you just cannot get bored. Thanks for reading! 🙂
Aw love this post, Copenhagen is one of my favourite cities in the world – I got married there last year so this brings back great memories. It is such a compact city and easy to get around, this is the perfect itinerary for 24 hours. Well done you guys for cycling though, I was too scared as they all went so fast!