Copenhagen is a beautiful city, rich with great sites, amazing museums, and fabulous food. But what if you only have limited time to visit? Seeing Copenhagen in a weekend is definitely possible, without feeling shortchanged. Here are some of my recommendations to get the most out of a short visit.
Photograph The Little Mermaid Statue
This is probably the most iconic and recognizable image of Copenhagen.
Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of the Carlsberg Brewery, commissioned the bronze statue in 1909. Carl asked Ellen Price, a ballerina who’d performed in the Little Mermaid play, to pose for the statue. She agreed, but refused to pose in the nude. So the sculptor, Edvard Eriksen, used the model’s face, but used his wife’s body to complete the sculpture. Eriksen unveiled the statue in 1913.
The statue has been vandalized and damaged numerous times over the years. It seems every time there is a political or social protest, the Little Mermaid becomes the target. Vandals have decapitated the statue, cut off its right arm, blown it up, and covered it in paint countless times.
A few tips for photographing this beauty:
Get up with the sunrise to get unobstructed photos. Basically anytime after 9am is too late. You’ll find yourself jostling for a decent photo with dozens of other visitors. But if you’re willing to get up early, you’ll be one of only a few early risers with the same idea.
You can also take a boat tour, which takes you past the Little Mermaid statue. But photography-wise, there are a few issues with this. Your photos will be too far away to appreciate the details of Eriksen’s work. You’ll also only get shots of the back of her, rather than her face. Plus, your photos will be full of tourists taking photos of the statue from the shore. So, take the boat tour to enjoy the views from the water. But if you want good photos of the Little Mermaid, this isn’t the best vantage point.
Address: Langelinie Promenade
Enjoy the Serenity at Gefion Fountain and St Alban’s Church
While you’re exploring along the harbourside promenade, you should also swing by the Gefion Fountain and St. Alban’s Church. This is a quieter area of Copenhagen, and it’s nice to get away from the crowds now and again.
Gefion Fountain is a large fountain featuring the Norse goddess Gefion. It was donated by the Carlsberg Brewery to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Sculptor Anders Bundgaard created the figures in 1897-99. The fountain was first activated on July 14, 1908.
The fountain depicts the mythical story of the creation of Zealand, the island that Copenhagen was built upon. According to legend, the Norse god, Odin sent Gefion north to seek out more land beyond Funen, the third-largest island in Denmark. She encountered king Gylfi, who gave her the plough-land needed. Gefion had four sons with a jötunn (a rather complex nature spirit) which she then transformed into oxen. Gefion hooked up the oxen to a plough and moved the land westward to create Zealand.
St. Albans Church
St. Albans Church is an Anglican church next to Gefion Fountain. It was built between 1885 and 1887. The church is dedicated to St. Alban, the first martyr of Great Britain. It’s the only Anglican church in Denmark.
Arthur Blomfield, an English architect designed the church in the Gothic Revival style. The church was built using a combination of limestone and flint. Flint was an unusual building material for Denmark, but common in England at the time.
As you can see, it’s a strikingly beautiful church from any angle:
The combination of the Gefion Fountain and St. Albans Church are an easy 2-for-1 attraction within a short walk of the Little Mermaid statue.
Address: Churchill Parken, Langelinie
Grab a Beer at the Carlsberg Brewery
Of course, Denmark is also famous for Carlsberg beer. The historic Carlsberg brewery is located in Copenhagen, and it’s a really fun site to explore.
J.C. Jacobsen founded his brewery back in 1847, so there’s plenty of history in which to immerse yourself. Here, you can explore the old Brewhouse, learn the history of the company, and even take a horse-drawn carriage ride!
The self-guided tour of the brewery includes some fun interactive components. Don’t miss their extensive beer bottle collection – it is really impressive.
This replica of the Little Mermaid sits in the back garden of the brewery. Why do they have a replica here, you might ask? Because Carl Jacobsen himself donated the original Little Mermaid statue to the city of Copenhagen in 1913!
And, of course, you can try some Carlsberg beer at the end of your tour:
Address: Gamle Carlsberg Vej 11
1799 Copenhagen V
The brewery conducts optional historical guided tours every hour between 11:00 and 5:00 pm.
Walk Around the Round Tower (Rundetårn)
The Round Tower is an astronomical observatory, inaugurated in 1642 by King Christian IV (1577-1648). Astronomy was quite popular in the 17th Century, since it was used as a means for oceanic navigation. The observatory was one of three university buildings known as the Trinitatis Complex – a library and student’s church completed the complex.
The interior of the tower is especially interesting. Although the tower is only 36 meters tall, the path to the top is 209 meters in length, due to its spiral walkway.
This gently-sloped, 7.5-turn spiral path is called an equestrian staircase. It allowed scientists to cart heavy, delicate equipment easily to the top of the observatory, as well as books to the adjacent Library Hall. And yes, a horse and carriage was used to transport many of those items up the tower. In fact, in 1716, Czar Peter the Great climbed the staircase on horseback, while his wife, Catherine I rode behind in a carriage!
The staircase has also been the site of many bicycle races over the years. The city still holds the annual Rundetaarn Unicycle Race here every spring!
Over time, light pollution in the city and the growing size of astronomical instruments made the tower outdated for use as an observatory. The University of Copenhagen decommissioned the tower in 1860. In 1928, it was reconstructed for amateur astronomers and opened to the public.
The view of Copenhagen from the top deck is worth the climb:
Address: Købmagergade 52A
1150 Copenhagen K
01/05/2018 – 30/09/2018 Monday – Sunday 10:00 – 20:00
01/10/2018 – 30/04/2019 Monday, Thursday – Sunday 10:00 – 18:00
01/10/2018 – 30/04/2019 Tuesday, Wednesday 10:00 – 21:00
Explore Tivoli Gardens at Night
Tivoli Gardens is a historic amusement park built in the heart of Copenhagen. It opened in 1843, and is the second oldest amusement park in the world. It features one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters, as well as carnival games, restaurants and concert halls. Even Walt Disney paid a few visits to Tivoli, before creating his very own amusement park in 1955 – Disneyland.
Although you can certainly choose to visit Tivoli in the day time, it becomes quite magical at night.
Once the sun sets, Tivoli Gardens takes on a whole different vibe. The park transforms into an electric wonderland:
Tivoli Gardens covers approximately 83000 square meters, so you might want to get here before dark, then stay until closing. Otherwise you may feel a bit rushed for time. Especially if you want to check out all the rides!
Tivoli Gardens also has a hotel on site. This is the Moorish Palace, which houses the Nimb Hotel and Restaurant:
The gardens also contain an aquarium, shops, and a pantomime theatre. Every Saturday from 5 May to 22 September at 23.45 there’s a fireworks display.
Address: Tivoli A/S
1630 København V
Opening Hours: Summer in Tivoli:
March 24, 2018 – September 23, 2018
Sunday – Thursday
11 – 23
Friday – Saturday
11 – 24
Admission Prices: Entrance Ticket and Unlimited Ride Tickets website
Discover Christiansborg Palace, the Seat of Denmark’s Parliament
The first castle built on the site that is now Christiansborg Palace was built in 1167. Bishop Absalon of Roskilde built the original castle. After his death, the castle remained in the hands of the bishops for a little while. But it wasn’t long before a power struggle broke out between the church and the monarchy as they fought over ownership of the castle.
In 1389, the castle was demolished, stone by stone, by stonemasons from the Hanseatic League. Years later, Copenhagen Castle was constructed on the ruins of Bishop Absalon’s castle.
By 1417, King Eric VII of Pomerania took control of the castle from the bishops, turning it into the primary residence of the Danish kings, and the seat of government.
Over the years, the castle was demolished and rebuilt numerous times. Demolition of Copenhagen castle began in 1731 to make room for the first Christiansborg palace. By the time the palace reached completion in 1745, it was the largest palace in Europe. Unfortunately a fire in 1794 destroyed the palace.
Construction of the second Christiansborg palace began in 1803. But by the time construction ended in 1828, King Frederick VI didn’t want to live there anymore. Instead, he used the palace for entertainment. In later years, his son, King Frederick VII lived at the palace. That is, until it too, burned down, in 1884.
The third, and current Christiansborg Palace dates between 1907-1928. The palace is the only building in the world to house all three of a country’s branches of government. This is where the Danish Prime Minister holds office, as well as the Supreme Court of Denmark. The Danish monarch also uses parts of the building. The executive, legislative, and judicial powers all share this enormous space.
Many areas of the palace are open to the public, including the ruins of Bishop Absalon’s Castle and Copenhagen Castle. The palace is worth a visit, if only to marvel at the tenacity of a people who refused to let anything or anyone stop them from holding their political ground on this site.
Address: Christiansborg Slot 1
1240 København K
01/04/2018 – 30/09/2018 Monday – Sunday 09:00 – 17:00
01/10/2018 – 30/04/2019Tuesday – Sunday10:00 – 17:00
The Copenhagen Card
As a side note, you may want to consider getting the Copenhagen Card. This is an all-inclusive city pass that gets you free admission to numerous sites, as well as free public transportation. The cards are good for 24, 48, 72, or 120 hours.
This blog post is now on GPSmyCity! Find it here: Copenhagen in a Weekend- What to See and Do