Copenhagen is a popular Scandinavian city and with regular discount flight deals through the winter months it’s a perfect spot to explore. Visiting Copenhagen in winter does come with a few challenges but here’s our three day Copenhagen itinerary to help you plan your visit!
We travelled to Copenhagen in January and arrived on a Monday. We had a two-night stay but three full days in the Danish capital with our flights arriving at 9 am on our arrival day and departing at 10 pm the day we flew home. For ease of travel and best value we also purchased the city’s tourist pass known as a Copenhagen Card which we picked up on arrival at the airport and gave us access to a range of attractions as well as public transport. While in the Danish capital, we tried to pack a lot in to our short time so hopefully our itinerary will give you an idea of just some of the things to do in Copenhagen in winter.
Day 1: Exploring Copenhagen in Winter
Our arrival was an early morning one and with our accommodation not available until three in the afternoon we had to stash our luggage somewhere. While we only had hand luggage for our three days in Copenhagen we still had a large cabin bag in tow so we didn’t want to be trekking that around the city. Luckily, there are lockers at Copenhagen Central train station. If you need to keep luggage somewhere and your hotel or accommodation is not an option this is a really helpful place. Small lockers cost 65K for 24 hours and can be paid by card or cash but just remember once opened you will need to repay to lock again.
Stroget and City Hall
So, stuff stored, we went off on a self-guided tour of the city and headed to the main shopping area first. Walking from Copenhagen Central towards the main precinct area of, Stroget we first pass the wonder that is Tivoli Gardens. While a must see on everyone’s Copenhagen visit, the amusement park – complete with one of the oldest roller coasters in the world, was actually shut during our stay which was quite disappointing. Luckily, this seems to be quite a rare occurrence but sadly one of the downsides to visiting Copenhagen in January.
Next door to Tivoli, is City Hall which sits in the big open square. The architecture and surrounding statues are certainly worth a quick look. During summer months you can also visit inside but if you visit Copenhagen in winter this will unfortunately be closed. From here, you can join the end of the shopping area Stroget where you will find outlets for all the major international brands, lots of eateries and even the Lego flagship store! While famous as one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets, we found that first thing on a Monday morning was pretty busy with delivery vans and cars so don’t blindly assume it will be traffic free and keep an eye out for vehicles.
Our general heading was towards Amalienborg Palace for the changing of the guard which occurs every day at 12 noon. We arrived a little early but watching the palace guards on site do their patrol as well as checking out the palace buildings was quite entertaining. The weather did start to get to us after a little while as the area is very exposed, so make sure to wrap up warm. Those that have been to other changing of the guard ceremonies or encountered palace guardsmen elsewhere in the world might be a little surprised by the informal manner of the guards. We watched as they chatted and laughed while making their rounds, quite different from the stern and silence guards at places like Buckingham Palace. As it approaches 12 noon the new guards march from Rosenborg Palace to Amalienborg Palace through the streets of Copenhagen so you can follow them or watch out along the route if you know it.
We opted to stay at the palace square and take a few picture from here. The inside of the palace is also open to the public when the royal family are not holding events onsite but is closed on Monday’s throughout Copenhagen’s off-season (roughly January to April).
Copenhagen Canal Boat Tour
By this point we were getting a little tired mainly from the fierce icy wind so we headed back to Gammel Strand to give our little cold legs a rest and see more of the city by water instead. We joined a canal boat tour with Copenhagen Canal Tours which runs multiple times a day. These guys were fantastic as the live guide managed to give details in several languages per tour, commentating in four different languages at one point. Our tour lasted an hour and was actually included in the city’s tourist card scheme so was our first attraction on our Copenhagen Cards.
Some of the main stops on our canal tour include Copenhagen’s most famous neighbourhood, and Instagram hotspot, Nyhavn where you can take photos of all the colourful buildings from the water, Christiansborg Palace and The Little Mermaid. The tour also gives you a chance to see some of the city’s less well known attractions including the Royal Library, Royal Danish Playhouse and The Opera House which all face onto the water. One thing to note is winter in Copenhagen can get quite windy so watch out for choppy waters and spray when you head a little further out.
We had brought some lunch with us for our first day so we had the freedom to eat anywhere so we actually opted to eat lunch on the boat while seeing Copenhagen. Our canal boats was covered so it was certainly warmer than sitting outside and kept the rain off us but if you wish to take any pictures you can slide the large window up to get a clear shot.
Hans Christian Anderson Museum
Even after our canal tour we still weren’t at our 3 pm check-in time so we were on the hunt for somewhere warm to spend the remaining time before we could get in for a little kip in our accommodation. We opted for the near by Hans Christian Anderson Museum which was also included in the Copenhagen Card. It’s worth noting that we were a little confused as to whether we were in the right place or not as for some reason this attraction seems to have several names including the H.C. Andersen Fairy-Tale House and is actually housed within the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum (which is not included in the card).
Hans Christian Anderson is one of the great sons of Denmark and if you love fairy tales (or have seen the odd Disney film) you will certainly know his stories. The exhibits tell the story of his life as well as plenty of interactive animations which focus on individual fairy tales such as The Little Mermaid, The Princess and The Pea and The Emperor’s New Clothes. There were also a few oddities thrown in there too with less well known stories and a rather scary animated rat (well, I thought he was scary!). After we had warmed up a bit and had finally hit check-in time we headed off to our accommodation to get 40 winks before dinner and our evening activity.
National Denmark Aquarium, Den Blå Planet
One of the great things about Denmark is that even if you visit Copenhagen in winter many of the attractions have a late night opening once a week. On Monday nights the National Denmark Aquarium, Den Blå Planet, stays open until 10 pm so after catching up on some missed sleep we jumped on the train out to Kastrup to see some fishes.
We found the aquarium quite spectacular and much bigger than we had expected. Choosing to go in the evening there are fewer shows and talks on but we decided to stop in for one of the tank feeding shows but while there were some sections in English, the presentation didn’t really add much to the experience. Depending on your interests, the aquarium also does dissection shows and cooking talks so maybe be careful which ones you go to if you’re a little squeamish or don’t want to directly connect swimming friends to food. As well as wide array of sea creatures, there are also rain forest sections and a large otter enclosure to look out for too.
Day 2: Winter Day Trips from Copenhagen Central
While planning my winter trip to Copenhagen there was one place I knew I wanted to visit: Frederiksborg Castle. The problem with this, as well as a lot of the other attractions during winter in Copenhagen, is opening times. In the off season, Copenhagen museums and royal palaces are typically reduced to midday openings and are often only open a few days a week. For Frederiksborg, this meant the palace was only open from 11 am to 3 pm each day and being a 40 minute train journey from the city centre, this means a visit takes up most of the day. We decided it would be worth it and, boy were we right! If you could only visit one attraction in Copenhagen, this would be my recommendation.
We took the train from Copenhagen Central out to Hillerod allowing plenty of time to wander from the station up to the royal castle and we were glad we did as before you even enter the castle there are so many fabulous photo spots and such amazing architecture, it’s difficult to know where to focus.
Also a Copenhagen Card attraction, we simply scanned our cards and headed in to the most exquisite royal palaces I have ever encountered. Room after room of the finest furniture, ornate wall fixtures and ceilings which simply defy gravity!
Each room more spectacular than the next, you can’t stop thinking “what on earth did they use all these beautiful spaces for?”. Of course, there are a few that are clearly labelled. Two of the big attractions of Fredericksborg include the Castle Chapel – there’s no humble decor even here, and the Great Hall
Even once you’ve finally finished exploring the three floors of mesmerising beauty inside, you still need to venture outside to the royal gardens to take another hundred photos of the palace over the gardens and the lake! We spent until late afternoon here before finally heading back in the direction of town.
NOTE: On maps and guides Frederiksborg Castle is also known as Frederiksborg Slot or Palace and often listed as Det Nationalhistoriske Museum or The Museum of National History as the entire interior is classed as a museum exhibit.
As there wasn’t much open past 3 pm in the city centre we didn’t think we would have another activity for the day but a quick search online and we discovered the Experimentarium in Hellerup would be open until 5 pm. Basically, a giant exhibit hall full of science-based shows, activities and puzzles, this attraction might be more aimed at kiddies but ignore that, this place is awesome.
We only really decided to head here are is was on our train route and included in our Copenhagen Card but it turned out a really fun way to spend the rest of the day and it was so toasty warm after our chilly walk to get there that it is a perfect activity to stick on your itinerary for Copenhagen in winter. If you’re visiting on a Thursday, the Experimentarium is open until 9 pm.
Day 3: A Busy Day of City Attractions in Copenhagen
We packed most of the attractions of our three days in Copenhagen into our final day. With a late night flight home we had a whole day to fill so after another trip to the trusty central station lockers we were ready to face our busy day.
Trying to make the most of our time, we hopped on a bus to arrive for Copenhagen Zoo opening and after a short wait out in the chilly rain, we headed in to explore. We had heard plenty of mixed reviews on Copenhagen Zoo from the size and how long to spend there to the range and “wow factor” of the animals on site. We found the zoo pretty good. As well as many big zoo staples such as the lions, tigers and elephants, one of the zoo’s biggest draws is its polar bear exhibit.
On our visit the polar bear was very active and we got to see him both in his enclosure and swimming underwater which was pretty beautiful to see. The zoo is split into themed sections but we did get a little confused at some points as much of the zoo is under construction while they build new enclosures for the arrival of giant pandas in 2018. Copenhagen Zoo is also split into two areas with the main road dissecting the two sections so make sure you don’t miss half the zoo by not following the underpass to the other side.
One thing that is quite evident is an abundance of baby everythings. While this is very sweet it is also part of why Copenhagen Zoo gained fame or should that be infamy around the world in recent years. In 2014, Copenhagen Zoo hit the headlines for euthanizing a healthy male giraffe as it was surplus to requirement not finished there they opted to use the body as an educational tool and put on a dissection for the public before finally feeding it to the lions. I’ll make no comment on the ethics or how common such practices in zoos are, but feel free to do your own research.
Moving on from that, and the zoo, our next planned activity was just across the road. Located on the edge of Sondermarken park, The Cisterns, is an intriguing underground art space. As a former water reservoir there is an eerie atmosphere to a visit here but every experience may be different depending on the event or exhibition in residence at the time.
During our visit in January 2018 the exhibit in place was by Japanese architect Hiroshi Sambuichi and simply known as “the Water”. The themes were to do with darkness and light and so it was indeed very dark and a little disorientating exploring the underground space.
UPDATE: The Cisterns is currently closed for exhibition construction but is due to reopen in April 2018. You can find the latest exhibit details here.
After our wander around in the dark, we headed back on another bus to catch our next Danish royal palace before it closed for the day. Rosenborg Palace is much more central and found in the museum district. We were finding that exploring Copenhagen in winter certainly meant poor weather conditions so with outside turning quite horrible as we got off the bus we didn’t spend too much time outdoors but did wander through the gardens in front of the palace before entering the castle building.
As another card attraction, we had no entrance fee to pay and so did not mind that we didn’t have long to explore. Yet another amazing example of royal grandeur but very different style from Frederiksborg Palace in Hillerod. However, one of the main attractions of Rosenborg is hidden within the basement level – the crown jewels.
Within the treasury vault and under constant surveillance you will see some of the most prized jewellery of the Danish royal family, still used in special occasions to this day. If this isn’t enough glitz the site also holds the historic crowns of the absolute monarchy dating back to the 1500s and these amazing items truly dazzle under the lights.
With daylight short during winter in Copenhagen we were keen to complete our last couple of stops before sunset. While we had briefly visited the Little Mermaid on our canal boat tour, we felt it was only right to visit her a little closer and maybe see her face. After another short bus journey and a quick walk we found the most famous statue in Denmark and despite what lots of people say about her size or being underwhelmed, we just though she was exactly as expected – standard statue size.
Located just near by is the Citadel or Kastellet which is easily spotted on any map due to it’s unique star shape. To get into the Citadel you need to cross one of several large gatehouse bridges to get over the moat that surrounds the fortress. The site is currently an active barracks and houses military personnel but actually dates back to 1662. Even if you’re visiting Copenhagen in winter, this place is sure to add some colour to your photos. Also make sure to look out for the historic windmill in the centre too.
The Round Tower
The Round Tower was our final stop of the day and of our Copenhagen visit and we had planned for a sunset view from the top but it turned our pretty cloudy so there wasn’t much of a sunset to be seen. Nevertheless, we made our way to the 17th century tower to get a view over the city. One of the unique things about the tower is that there are no stairs to get you to the top and instead simply a spiral path until the final section.
On the way up (though we chose to look on the way down due to failing light) you can stop in at several little exhibits including a display of finds from an excavation of the tower and some viewpoints into the former library space which was once housed on the site. If you are brave enough, which we certainly weren’t, you can enter one section of the central wall and find a glass floor so you can look right down to the bottom.
During winter, Copenhagen’s famous tower closes at 4 pm most days but is open into the evenings on Tuesday and Wednesday and actually holds astronomy nights in the Rundetaarn Observatory area several nights a month. I have no idea the level of English language included in these evening but it if you get a clear night this might be a great place to head even just for a night view over the city.
After our mammoth day we headed out for our last dinner in Copenhagen before collecting our bags and heading out to the airport thoroughly tuckered out!
Things to Note About Copenhagen in Winter
Our own itinerary was limited somewhat by arriving on a Monday which is typically a closed day for museums. Limited opening hours and shut attractions rather than our own efforts did hamper our plans somewhat but as you can see we still managed to fit a lot in while visiting Copenhagen in January. We opted to use the Copenhagen Card during our stay which was very useful and turned out cheaper for us in the long run. It also gave us the option to jump on public transport if the wet and windy weather got a but much for us. While still great value, if you’re considering the card check carefully what attractions are actually open during winter in Copenhagen and specifically at time of your visit. While there may be 70 attractions included in the card during summer this number is reduced during off season and many locations will only have reduced hours which occasionally are Saturdays or Danish school holidays only.
All that being said there is still plenty of things to do in Copenhagen in winter and with reduced accommodation prices and discount flight deals this is a great place for a winter city break!
Have you visited Copenhagen in winter? How much did you pack into your visit?
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