Explore Copenhagen’s Arts and Culture
Copenhagen prides itself on bikes, park life, iconic architecture, and delicious smørrebrød, but did you know they also have rich and diverse arts and culture scene just waiting to be explored? This is a city where 50% of residents cycle to work every day. This means that there’s such an emphasis on pedestrianisation and lack of pollution. There’s a purity, a cleanliness, and a natural beauty to Copenhagen. It feels like this city, and only this city, could have been the place to give birth to the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen. In so many ways, Copenhagen is a fairytale. So, in this fairytale city, let’s take a look at the very best of its arts and culture scene.
If you want to see more of the bookish side to this literary city, check out our Bookish Guide to Copenhagen or if you’re wondering which Copenhagen neighbourhood to be based in then head over to our district guide.
Here are some of the best things you can do in Copenhagen, from food to museums, and quirky areas.
Explore Christiania – Free Town
An entirely free city within the city. Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood, was born in 1971 when a group of homeless squatters occupied the abandoned military barracks and, simply, never left! Despite government attempts to shut Christiania down, the area has become a pseudo-communist haven for hippies and anyone seeking a life free of traditional work, rent, and tax. Anyone can join Christiania – homeless there are given a home, and from there they can build what they want: a life, a business, anything.
You’ll find art shops, DIY lifestyle, gardens, delicious eating spots. Of course, this place has a reputation for its weed; and you can absolutely buy weed and smoke to your heart’s content here (though they have strict rules against any other kinds of drugs) but head straight past the famous ‘green market’ and you’ll find a thriving and fascinating community of free people. Get coffee at Manefiseren and eat at Spiseloppen or Morgenstedet.
Climb Rundetarn, The Round Tower
The iconic 17th-century spiral tower can be found in Copenhagen’s Latin Quarter. Climbing up the tower is part of the fun as you follow a 209-metre spiral pathway, commissioned by King Christian IV for stargazing. This is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe, was featured in The Journey to the Centre of the Earth and offers a fabulous view of the city from its very centre.
Learn at The National Museum of Denmark
What’s a guide to arts and culture without a recommendation to visit Denmark’s biggest museum of cultural history! Found within the 300-year-old Prince’s Palace, the National Museum has exhibits both permanent and temporary which showcase all of the food, fashion, engineering, architecture, art, and science that defined each period of Denmark’s history. Much of the National Museum’s greatest splendour comes from its collections of Viking artifacts: coins, weapons, ships, clothing, and more.
Check out the Music at Sort Kaffe & Vinyl
The owner’s dual passion for music and coffee come together in this shop, where staff – mainly local musicians – play records while serving excellent coffee and pastries. Their vinyl collection is second to none, boasting both new releases and reprints of classic vinyl. Located in the heart of Vesterbro, Copenhagen’s hipster district, this is a fantastic place to see the passion Danes have for good music while also experiencing Denmark’s impassioned coffee culture for yourself.
Wander Nyhavn, Home of H.C. Andersen
Nyhavn (or New Haven) is the most photographed and recognisable part of Copenhagen. At first glance, Nyhavn simply looks like a row of prettily-painted houses cuddled up together by the water, but it’s a lot more than that. Nyhavn’s most famous resident is Hans Christian Andersen himself, who was born in Odense and travelled the world extensively but spent twenty years of his adult life living in no. 67 (today Café H.C. Andersen can be found on the ground floor). The rest of Nyhavn is comprised of really really great restaurants that serve up the best seafood in Copenhagen.
Shop on the Longest Pedestrian Street in Europe – Strøget
Strøget is perhaps the most darling street in Copenhagen. You won’t even hear the sound of cars here, and the gently winding street is always packed with happy, smiling shoppers enjoying a crepe or an ice cream cone as they window shop. Buskers play violins and accordions outside the Disney Store and the Lego Store. Along here you can also stop for a pint at The Dubliner – Copenhagen’s Irish pub. And certainly don’t miss out on the Guinness World Record Museum, which is exactly what you’re picturing.
Eat at TorveHallerne Market
An easy experience, right next to Norreport station, you’ll find two huge glass buildings next to each other joined in the middle by a fruit and veg market and some outside food stalls. Inside the first, you’ll find everything from gourmet coffee and chocolate to the largest pastries you’ll have encountered in your life. Homemade ice-cream, tea houses and fresh juice bars sit next to fantastic Mexican food. There are delis, spice shops, tea shops, all with a bustling market atmosphere. It’s perfect if you’ve come together as a group and can’t decide which food to go for first!
Check out our walking guide to the food hall to have a look at what’s there.
Play a Board Game at Bastard Café
This isn’t some weird translation error; it’s just the perfect example of Danish humour. Bastard Café is a fantastic open-plan room full of long benches on which to play one of a massive selection of board games. When you go and order a drink, you’ll find a selection of muffins and cookies for sale, as well as bar snacks like fries and nachos. The guys who work there come from all over the world and have all wound up in Denmark for different reasons (they even each have a little flag on the counter – it’s adorable). Once you’ve settled with some food and coffee, grab yourself a board game – anything from the charming and simple Ticket to Ride to something more hardcore that may take you deep into the evening.
Look Up at Glyptoteket Sculpture Museum
A beautiful museum created in 1888, situated right next to Tivoli, you’ll find an impressive collection of ancient busts, sculptures, artwork, and artefacts from all over the Mediterranean – including Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. You’ll also find French and Danish art upstairs.
The brewer Carl Jacobson (of Carlsberg fame) built the Glyptoteket to provide fellow citizens with rich cultural experiences they may not be able to get without having a lot of money and free time of their own, and also have a place for his world-renowned collection of art to live in all its splendour.
Top tip: If you’re in the city on a Tuesday, the museum is free! It’s also closed on Mondays. They have a gorgeous cafe set in a Winter garden and a particularly tempting book and trinket shop inside.
Explore Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
As you drive in up the path, you’ll see that the Louisiana looks like a traditional Louisiana plantation house, with white walls, columns, a balcony, and creeping ivy. And that’s all true, until you get inside and all that traditional facade falls away to reveal wide open halls and spaces filled with incredible modern art. And we’re not talking modern art like the stuff that’s often so divisive amongst not only art lovers but your average person. We’re talking really great, moving, politically-inspired artwork from visionary artists, photographers, and filmmakers. The gardens overlook the open ocean and are dotted with strange and surreal sculptures that you’re free to wander and photograph. Then, inside, you’ll discover 20th-century artwork from some of Europe and the USA’s true visionary artists.
Discover Format Artspace
Opened in 2013, this space focuses on Danish artists and designers and showcases their work in bi-monthly exhibitions which focus on experimentation with different mediums and materials. You’ll find it on Nansengade, a tucked-away street full of wine bars, cute cafes, and restaurants. You can also buy prints from the artists so it’s worth just popping in for a unique souvenir.
Step Back in Time at Kronborg Castle
This magnificent castle on the northern edge of Denmark is a 30-minute drive north of Copenhagen. It’s an easy afternoon trip from the city, and one of the best things to do with a free day in Copenhagen. The castle is perhaps most famous, ironically, not for its real Danish history, but for its fictional British history. The castle, you see, was the setting inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And because of that, performances of Hamlet take place at the castle each summer, there’s a carving of Shakespeare’s face in one of its walls, and the gift shop offers as many Hamlet-related trinkets as Viking ones. For more details about our own visit to Kronborg Castle, click right here!
Sweat at Copenhot- a Scandinavian Sauna Experience
One of the things that all of Scandinavia is known for is saunas, and this kind of natural relaxation and healthy living has been further reinforced by the popularity of the Danish philosophy of Hygge. Copenhot feels like the culmination of all of this. Located at the eastern edge of the city in Refshaleøen, Copenhot offers unique outdoor hot tubs filled with clean seawater and heated with firewood. They blend the rugged rural atmosphere of traditional saunas with a modern urban setting. You can sit in a quiet wooden steam room or a little round tub at the edge of the open ocean. A very unique experience that celebrates Danish tradition in a clever way.
Eat at Veggie Hero, an Indian and Nepalese Buffet
Although not synonymous with Danish cuisine, this tucked-away eatery is certainly too good to miss. Denmark is very very good at setting trends and riding their waves, so of course, Copenhagen would be the city to have an all-you-can-eat vegan Indian buffet. Meals in Copenhagen are, in general, a little on the pricey side, so this buffet is not only fantastic value for money but also something totally unique and delicious. All the food is vegan and made to behave as perfect meat substitutes, keeping the authenticity of the Indian cuisine going strong.
Get Lost in the Designmuseum Denmark
Honestly, the restaurant and cafe at the Designmuseum is well worth a visit alone, and you don’t even need a ticket to access it. The wifi is great, the open-sandwiches are to die for (try the mushroom pate), and the gift shop next to it is one of the most dangerously tempting I’ve ever come across, with fantastic gifts that range from art and photography books to prints, furniture, handmade jewellery, lego lunch boxes… I could go on. As for the museum itself, it is a fantastic showcase of the minimalist beauty of clever Danish design and architecture.
Have a Day of Fun at Tivoli Theme Park
Copenhagen is one of those special harmonious cities. One that’s so beautiful, filled with people so kind, that it can house a theme park in its centre and it only makes sense to be there. Tivoli is the world’s second-oldest theme park (the first, Bakken, is also in the Copenhagen area, a little outside the city). Tivoli opened when H.C. Andersen was still alive, and he himself fell deeply in love with its charm and design. Visits to Tivoli, in fact, actually inspired his fairytale The Nightingale. Tivoli behaves like a miniature planet Earth, with different areas being inspired by the aesthetics and history of different places around the world, from Europe to India to China. When you visit, you can either buy a day-pass that covers all rides, or a reduced ticket that gets you entry only, and then each ride costs extra. This is ideal for people who love the atmosphere of theme parks but have a fear of the rides. Well done, Copenhagen!
You can learn even more about Andersen and Tivoli in our Bookish Guide to Copenhagen.
Bakken and the Deer Park
Bakken is the world’s oldest theme park, and you can find it just a little ways outside Copenhagen. Entry is free and though most of the rides aren’t particularly daring or state-of-the-art, it’s oozing with charm. The restaurants are also surprisingly varied and serve some excellent European cuisine. If you drive in and park at Bakken carpark, you can wander through the park for free and pop out the other side in the deer park. This huge expanse of green land is home to thousands of wild deer, as well as the Hunting Lodge, a gorgeous 19th-century building stood strangely alone at the heart of the park.
Take a Day Trip to Malmö, Sweden
This is one of the coolest but often-missed things to do in Copenhagen. Denmark’s capital is sat right on the border to Sweden, with only a tiny strip of water separating them. You can take a bus or a train across a massive bridge and be in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, within ninety minutes. Once there, you can visit the oldest castle in Scandinavia, a stunning library, and some great boutique shops. If you want to know more, we covered Malmö in even greater detail in this guide to the city.
If you’re interested in more day trips, then consider traveling to the fairytale town of Odense. Check out our guide here.
If you’re travelling across Scandinavia, check out our Arts and Culture Guide to Oslo!