How to Spend the Perfect 72 Hours in Copenhagen

Known for its bike-friendly streets and minimalist design, Copenhagen is one of Europe’s hippest cities. With roughly three-quarters of a million residents, the Danish capital has all the trimmings of a bustling big city: world-class museums, abundant boutiques, and a vibrant nightlife scene. At the same time, Copenhagen maintains an unpretentious and cozy atmosphere. There’s plenty to occupy a few days, better yet a week. To get a sense of all that Copenhagen has to offer, read on for our perfect 72-hour itinerary.

Getting There and Around

Fortunately, Scandinavian and Norwegian Airlines offer direct flights to Copenhagen from several North American cities, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, and Toronto. The flight from New York is a mere seven-and-a-half hours, while the journey from L.A. takes 10.5 hours. If you’re arriving by air, the connection to the city from the airport is essentially effortless on the automated metro. Trains run virtually on the dot and throughout the night, too. Although the trains lack any operational personnel, officials will periodically check tickets, so be sure to consult the zone map when purchasing a ticket for longer journeys. The system consists of nine zones, and your fare is determined by the number of zones you pass through on you trip.

Avid walkers and cyclists can bypass the metro system except for the trip from the airport. The compact city center and its outer neighborhoods can be explored by foot or bike. Over 40 percent of Copenhagen residents report using a bicycle daily, so do as the Danes do and get some wheels. Two convenient options -- Donkey Republic  and Bycyklen -- allow short-term rentals and have over 100 bike stations each around the city. Both operate their own mobile app and have added perks, like touchscreen navigation to find points of interest around the city. The electric, all-white fleet of Bycyklen bicycles is hard to miss. 

Where to Stay

A former department store, the Skt. Petri now offers stylish accommodations on a quiet street just outside the Indre By neighborhood, which comprises Copenhagen’s city center. Attractions like the Tivoli Gardens amusement park and Rosenborg Castle are a short walk away. The hotel also boasts a trendy bar and lounge, which makes for an ideal starting point before heading out to one of the many nearby cozy cafes or innovative bars. Try Ruby for cocktails and Next Door Cafe for brunch or coffee. 

Heading a bit southwest, the Bertrams Guldsmeden – Copenhagen is situated outside the touristy city center in Vesterbro, one of Copenhagen’s most dynamic neighborhoods. The boutique hotel offers affordable comfort with tastefully modern decor, clawfoot tubs, and a hard-to-beat location that’s within walking distance of the train station and a wide array of cultural offerings. Vesterbro has transformed from a seedy strip club haven into the pinnacle neighborhood for art, progressive counterculture, and haute cuisine. Head to nearby Dia’legd to sample beer brewed on the island of Funen, or try the vino at Paté Paté, a wine bar housed in a former paté factory. 

Another option, the Phoenix Copenhagen is a stone’s throw away from the Amalienborg Palace, the Danish royal family’s residence. The hotel is conveniently located in the Indre By neighborhood, but a bit out of the way from the most bustling commercial sections. Folks flock here for the English-inspired cafe and brasserie as well as the lovely outdoor terrace with seating.

Day One

First things first: Head to one of Copenhagen’s charming cafes for a Danish pastry and coffee. To support a sustainable outfit, try Wecycle, which doubles as a boutique selling upcycled bicycles and quality bike gear. Whether traveling by bike or foot, start in the Indre By neighborhood to get a lay of the land. How better to accomplish that than by scoping out an aerial view of the city? Climb the Round Tower, a 17th-century structure that is the longest-functioning observatory in Europe. It’s only 136 feet high, so a relatively short climb is all it takes to be rewarded with gorgeous vistas. Other nearby sites include the Royal Danish Library, the Børsen former stock exchange, Christiansborg Palace, and the National Museum of Denmark. Even if museums and historic landmarks aren’t your thing, it’s well worth strolling past these magnificent structures along the city’s canals. 

From here, head north along the waterfront past the Nyhavn canal, which is lined with colorful townhouses dating back to the 17th century. The canal area has become one of the most touristy parts of the city, but the quaint setting merits a visit. Continue north from here to the Langelinie promenade. On the way, you’ll pass two iconic landmarks: the Kastellet and the Little Mermaid statue. The former is an impressive star-shaped island fortress crisscrossed by walking trails, while the latter’s notoriety continues to baffle visitors who pass the underwhelming sculpture.   

Where to Eat:  After a full day of sightseeing, treat yourself to a night of cutting-edge Danish cuisine. Copenhagen is home to an impressive 15 Michelin-starred restaurants, but getting a table requires planning ahead and having a big budget. Another option that rivals the elite group is Radio, a New Nordic restaurant known for its organic and locally-sourced ingredients. The restaurant’s name comes from its former life as a broadcasting center. After that, head over to Vesterbro, where options range from underground music clubs to intimate cocktail bars, like Curfew. 

Day Two

Now that you’ve spent a day exploring Copenhagen’s historic treasures, it’s time to head to contemporary Freetown Christiania, a separatist commune on the eastern portion of the island of Christianshavn. Before becoming a bohemian enclave, the site was an abandoned military camp. Squatters and police clashed over use of the area, with the anti-establishment side ultimately winning out. The self-governing experiment continues today and has plenty to offer visitors. Explore the walking paths that go past a smattering of quirky homes, public spaces, vegetable gardens, cafes, and outdoor beer gardens. It’s pretty easy to spend an entire afternoon in Christiania, if weather permits. On an especially nice day in the spring or summer, join the locals and head out on the water. There’s water everywhere in Copenhagen, from the canals to the harbor. Believe it or not, the harbor water is clean enough to swim in. Top choices include Islands Brygge bath and Fisketorvet bath in Vesterbro. To top it off, sand beaches are reachable with just a little more effort. Amager Beach is less than four miles from the city center and is the top swimming spot for locals.  

Where to Eat: The Michelin-starred restaurants might dominate many itineraries, but there are some tasty Danish staples worth sampling as well. Take the smørrebrød, for example. The open-faced sandwich is a simple concept, but toppings like curry herring, meatballs, and smoked salmon make it mouthwateringly good. If you’re visiting during the holiday season, head to Restaurant Kronborg, which is only open seasonally for dinner and offers Christmas dishes. Otherwise, check out Grøften, which has been around for over 130 years in Tivoli Gardens. 

Day Three

A visit to Copenhagen wouldn’t be complete without discovering the independent shops, cafes, and galleries in Norrebrø. The neighborhood is known for its mixed crowd of students, artists, and immigrants. Thrifty and retro-minded shoppers should head to Ravnsborggade, where you can rummage for hidden gems at the Loppemarkedet flea market. Meanwhile, Elmegade is home to many trendy clothing boutiques, such as Fünf.

Early risers might want to consider making the 30-minute train ride out to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Though it’s technically outside of Copenhagen, the museum is a must for contemporary art lovers. Exhibitions rotate regularly and include works by internationally renowned artists. The permanent collection features masterpieces by American artists, such as Warhol and Rauschenberg, as well as many Danish works. A favorite of many visitors is the “Gleaming Lights of the Souls” installation by Yayoi Kusama. The walls and ceiling of the 16-square-meter space are adorned with mirrors, while the floor is a reflecting pool with a platform for viewers to stand upon. Small hanging lights change color, which creates stunning reflections off the mirrored surfaces.

If the museum seems like a stretch, the Fotografisk Center for fine art photography and a score of smaller galleries in Vesterbro are also great options. Being in Vesterbro means you’re already in the right place for a final night out at some of Copenhagen’s coolest spots. For a post-dinner drink, head over to Mikkeller for local brews or Lidkoeb for cocktails. Later, move on to the dance floor at Ideal Bar. 

Where to Eat: Seafood lovers should prioritize a visit to Kødbyens Fiskebar, a raw bar that serves up the best of the local catch, including razor clams, oysters, and langoustine.  

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