The last time I was in Copenhagen, I was nine years old: I clearly remembered visiting Tivoli, and seeing the (very) Little Mermaid, and not much else. This time, I returned with my very own nine-year-old and some really high expectations to love this city. And you know what? Copenhagen actually exceeded these expectations!
If you’re headed there any time soon, then I hope our recommendations help out. We didn’t set out to see every sight but to enjoy an immersed week and do a few things we really wanted to, and we loved every minute of it. (Okay, except the minute I fell off my bike. More on that later!)
Cruising Copenhagen with Hey Captain
I knew I wanted to take to the water somehow in Copenhagen and it didn’t take long until my research unearthed a small tour company called Hey Captain and I quickly figured they were exactly what I was after! We only had nine people in our boat – my son and I, plus an extended family of seven – and it doesn’t get much bigger than that. Drinks are included – we adults enjoyed our rosé while the kids had Danish Fanta (I can’t remember it’s name, but that’s how my son described it!).
We took the two-hour Hidden Gems trip, leaving from the lovely Ofelia Plads, and our “captain” was Victor, an economics student and son of a naval officer. He steered us around the harbour and beyond with lots of informative chat and clearly the intent to make sure this was tailored to his current passengers – nothing formulaic about it. Victor had so many good stories to tell us: one I especially remember was his tale from his childhood when he often walked the family dog in the park near the Little Mermaid. One time a tourist came up to him and asked where he could buy tickets to the Little Mermaid “I want to go right up the top of it for a view over Copenhagen”! Yeah, it’s not quite Statue of Liberty size … or even human sized! With kids and teens on board, Victor had us stop in a neighbourhood with a special playground built on top of a parking lot (one of many examples I came across of clever Danish ideas in action).
Anyway, whether it was the great company, the tasty wine, the fun stories, or the sunshine, the Hey Captain outing proved to be my favourite activity in Copenhagen.
Fun in Tivoli Gardens
I guess that Tivoli was actually the very first amusement park I visited in my life. I’d forgotten how central it was – on our first full day in Copenhagen, we “accidentally” cycled past it on our way into the centre, because basically, it is right in the centre – yet once you step inside, it’s so beautiful and gently colourful that you feel you’re somewhere quite different.
We spent most of a day there and started out on the ferris wheel to get a good look over the park (and much of Copenhagen – beautiful views!) We negotiated some not-too-scary rides including The Mine (we really thought we were going to get saturated at one point on this!), an original (well, no doubt slightly modified and well-maintained since!) wooden rollercoaster from 1914, to name a couple of favourites. At Tivoli you can either pay per ride or get an all-day pass – we had the latter which is so much more fun, you don’t really want to be thinking about whether you should or shouldn’t or if a particular ride is “worth it”.
Surprisingly the food options in the park were both delicious and not overly pricey (or at least no more expensive than Copenhagen in general – compared to eating out in Perth, it was still cheaper!). We stayed for an early dinner and splurged in a really nice restaurant there, and I turned full-Danish and had my first ever smørrebrød (open sandwich) with pickled herring. Much yummier than I’d imagined!
Danish bakery treats
Before I went to Iceland, I learnt from Helen Russell’s book The Year of Living Danishly that Danish bakeries were going to be my friend and that the simple treat to look out for was a snegle – basically a cinnamon bun.
Well, let me tell you, even my first snegle from Aldi was amazing. We experienced all manner of Danish bakery treats while in Copenhagen though, not just my daily snegle. On the very day we arrived, our delightful Airbnb landlord gave us amazing baked goods from the famous La Glace because she works there part-time! We were so spoilt.
Luckily we did lots of walking and cycling (see below …) to at least partly offset our calorie intake.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
This is not strictly in Copenhagen but is a very common day trip, being a half-hour train ride north of Copenhagen in the small town of Humlebæk. My travel blogger friend Erin first mentioned the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art to me a couple of years ago when we first recorded a chat for the podcast and I’ve kept it in mind ever since.
It is much more than just an art gallery … Louisiana is just a total destination! It’s one of those art museums where even if you took the art off the walls it would still be a fascinating place to visit, with lots of interconnecting buildings and even an amazing cafe with views to Sweden. In fact, it’s probably best described by this quote from founder Knud W. Jensen:
That’s exactly how it comes across. (A rich eccentric uncle though, as it’s a vast area with multiple buildings and lots of garden space.) There was so much we loved, including when we were there the Pippilotti Rist, colourful and quirky, and of course the Yayoi Kusuma room because I think she’s just awesome! But our favourite part was the children’s wing, with three floors of very welcoming hands-on activities for kids (and in this case their parent …!) – we made TV collages and tiny furniture connected to Pippilotti Rist exhibition, played with the all-yellow Lego, and could barely tear ourselves away to go and experience some of the rest of the art, including Picassos and more.
Renting bicycles from Baisikeli in Copenhagen
You know I love to try and do local kind of things when I travel, and so the more I read about Copenhagen the more I realised that although we could very easily use their excellent public transport, the real Danish way from our Airbnb in a neighbourhood not far from the city centre would be to rent bikes. Given that my son loves hopping on his bike it seemed like a sensible move (and would make me feel we could visit the bakery more often!).
Once I googled a little I found a great place named Baiskeli which not only rents bikes at a very reasonable cost (we paid 630DKK for two bikes for a week including helmets) but is also a social enterprise, which ships bicycles down to Mozambique and also trains locals there to work as bicycle mechanics, creating a useful job for them.
Now, we learnt a lot about being locals in Copenhagen while riding our bikes. It didn’t take us long to get the hang of the road rules, even though when we first set off we actually rode down one bike lane the wrong way – never again, we were quickly told off by an older Dane riding towards us! We also learnt how to correctly make a left turn, and how to make sure we could find our bikes again after locking them up in a bicycle parking area filled with literally hundreds of bikes. I also learnt not to try to look at my phone while riding … I know, it should be something I already know but I was trying to navigate and … well let’s just say I had some very bruised knees, and a bit of bruised pride too. Let this be a lesson to you all!
Lego Store (and the Strøget)
The Strøget is the main pedestrian mall area in central Copenhagen and it’s a vast area which is cut off to cars. We explored here on our first full day, proudly cycling in and locking up our bikes before heading to my son’s most important destination there, the flagship Lego Store! It was actually great, I loved the enormous Lego mosaic straight out of a Copenhagen street view, and the fun and helpful staff there.
We strolled further, investigated a few more shops (as promised, I bought my son a soccer ball so he’d have something to kick around for the rest of our two weeks in Denmark – it was well used but has also come how with us!) and then we stopped for hotdogs. They were (kind of to my surprise) organic hot dogs, very reasonably priced (comparable to Perth anyway) but tasting amazing. I wasn’t surprised by this quality of food for much longer though – I soon learnt that Denmark is all about high quality and that their food was certainly no exception. So good!!
Aquarium life at Den Blå Planet
I actually hadn’t planned a trip to Den Blå Planet, Copenhagen’s aquarium, but then we arrived early in the morning and couldn’t meet our Airbnb host until mid-afternoon, and it was walking distance from the airport, so we threw our luggage in a locker there and off we went. In case you do something similar, it’s actually a very reasonable fifteen-minute walk through suburbia, quite a nice introduction to Copenhagen!
We were there on a Sunday and lots of Danish families with young kids were there too, and I was impressed (a theme that continued throughout our stay) with how much thought was given to what kids would enjoy. As well as the usual aquarium kind of displays, there was a water playground out the back (overlooking the harbour no less) with various taps to pump and buckets to fill, and then there was a huge pond or swamp area and nets and buckets for kids to use to collect up tadpoles or other creatures, with microscopes set up on tables nearby so that they could have a good look at them.
I laughed when I heard them announcing a dissection; Helen Russell’s aforementioned book had said this was a common thing in Denmark but I guess I’d almost not believed it and yet there we were, our first hours in Denmark and we got to see Lise the educator give a squid dissection demonstration. It was very educational, I must say!
So, are you going to Copenhagen now?
I hope I’ve helped convince you Copenhagen is a brilliant place to visit – for both adults and kids. More detailed posts to come soon on these experiences and more!
Thanks to Hey Captain, Tivoli Gardens and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art for their support and sponsorship. As always, all my views are my own.