Copenhagen Insider Secrets – How to Explore Denmark’s Capital Like a True Local
Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Rent a Bike for the Day to Cover More Ground
One of the best ways to explore Copenhagen like a local is to rent a bike for the day. Copenhagen is known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, with dedicated bike lanes running throughout the city. Renting a bike allows you to cover more ground than walking and gives you the flexibility to stop and start as you please.
Biking is an integral part of daily life in Copenhagen, with over 60% of locals commuting by bike. Copenhageners use their bikes for everything - heading to work, running errands, meeting friends for coffee, or just enjoying a relaxing ride. As a visitor, renting a bike puts you right in the mix with locals and gives you a fun way to experience the city.
Renting a bike for the day is easy and affordable. You can find rental shops all over the city, especially near popular tourist sites and transport hubs. Prices are around $15-20 for a basic city bike for 24 hours. Some hotels and hostels also offer bike rentals right on-site.
Once you've got your set of wheels, you'll be surprised by just how much ground you can cover. Key sights like Nyhavn waterfront, Rosenborg Castle, and the hip Norrebro neighborhood are all within a 30 minute ride from downtown. Having a bike makes it easy to explore farther flung neighborhoods like Christiania and the beaches of Amager.
Riding a bike allows you to stop spontaneously and enjoy little moments that you might otherwise miss, like stumbling upon a hidden garden courtyard or tiny cafe. Don't worry about getting lost - Copenhagen is very navigable by bike. Just make sure to use bike lanes when possible and follow basic traffic rules.
What else is in this post?
- Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Rent a Bike for the Day to Cover More Ground
- Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Wander the Colorful Streets of Nyhavn Harbor
- Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Visit Christiania, Copenhagen's Alternative Neighborhood
- Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Explore the Gardens and Parks for a Peaceful Escape
- Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Take a Free Walking Tour for Insider Tips
- Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Eat Open-Faced Sandwiches and Sample the Pastries
- Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Check Out the Lively Nightlife and Jazz Scene
- Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Escape the City to Nearby Beaches and Castles
Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Wander the Colorful Streets of Nyhavn Harbor
With its rows of brightly painted townhouses and wooden ships bobbing in the canal, Nyhavn is one of Copenhagen's most picturesque spots. The old harbor exudes a festive, maritime atmosphere and gives you a vivid glimpse into the city's history as a bustling port town. Wandering Nyhavn's vibrant streets for an hour or two is one of the top things to do in Copenhagen for first-time visitors.
As you stroll along the quay, take time to appreciate the heritage buildings lining the waterfront. Nyhavn literally means “New Harbor” in Danish, but the area dates back to the 17th century when King Christian V built it as part of his ambitious plan to expand shipping and trade. Back then it was notorious for its seedy bars and brothels catering to sailors after months at sea.
Today, Nyhavn's row houses have been restored to their bright, welcoming glory. Built in the traditional Dutch architectural style, they now house cozy cafes, restaurants and bars on the lower levels with charming residences above. Each building is painted a different bold shade, making for a lively rainbow effect when viewed from a distance.
Popup stalls and live music give Nyhavn an energetic vibe in summer. Grab a bench on the quayside to soak up the atmosphere and watch boats maneuver in and out of the canal. Treat yourself to beer and traditional open-faced sandwiches at one of the old taverns - some have been in business for over 300 years!
As the day winds down, watch the colors of Nyhavn intensify as the low sunlight illuminates the facades. And don't forget to peek at the iconic Little Mermaid statue just offshore. Commissioned in 1913 as an homage to Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale, this bronze landmark draws visitors from around the world.
Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Visit Christiania, Copenhagen's Alternative Neighborhood
One of Copenhagen's most fascinating areas to explore is the unique district of Christiania. Established in 1971 when a group of hippies and squatters occupied an abandoned military barracks, Christiania operates as an autonomous community within greater Copenhagen. This car-free, creative neighborhood has a distinctly bohemian vibe that makes it a must-visit for anyone looking to experience a different side of the city.
Wandering through Christiania's winding, graffiti-covered streets feels like stepping into another world. The avant-garde architecture includes DIY homes made from recycled materials and alternative energy sources like solar panels. You'll pass artisans' workshops, jazz clubs, cheap eateries, and quirky boutiques selling handmade goods and New Age paraphernalia. There's even a homebuilt electric car charging station!
At the heart of Christiania is Pusher Street, lined with colorful stalls selling hash and marijuana. While technically illegal in Denmark, cannabis has been openly sold in this neighborhood for decades. Visitors can stroll through and experience the marijuana culture firsthand. However, do not photograph or film anything you see on Pusher Street, as the dealers are very sensitive to any documentation. They will not hesitate to forcibly delete any photos or videos taken there.
Beyond Pusher Street, Christiania has much more to offer. Don't miss the photogenic lake area, home to cute houseboats and the popular Cafe Nemoland. The Den Gra Hal concert venue, built inside an 18th-century ammunition warehouse, hosts live music nights in a raw, industrial setting.
For a unique modern art experience, check out the semi-abandoned Bådsmandsstræde Barracks displaying strange installations like the controversial Baby Bunker. You can also climb the wooden tower of Christiania's tallest building for panoramic views across central Copenhagen.
Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Explore the Gardens and Parks for a Peaceful Escape
After pounding the pavements sightseeing in central Copenhagen, one of the best ways to recharge is by seeking out an oasis of green space. Copenhagen boasts some truly magnificent gardens and parks where you can escape the bustle, get a breath of fresh air, and reconnect with nature without venturing too far from the city center.
The must-see is King’s Garden, located right beside Rosenborg Castle. Dating from the early 17th century, this regal landscape was opened to the public in the late 1960s. Now anyone can enjoy wandering through immaculately manicured flowerbeds, shady avenues, statuesque fountains, and tranquil ponds. In summer, local bands perform free concerts adding to the celebratory atmosphere. Don't miss the romantic Three Graces Fountain crafted from Italian Carrara marble.
For a more informal, sprawling park experience, head to Fælledparken in the lively Nørrebro district. At 58 hectares, this is Copenhagen's largest park, affectionately nicknamed “the people’s park.” On a sunny day you’ll find the lawns dotted with sunbathers, picnickers, and frisbee players. There's plenty of space for joggers and cyclists to zoom around the perimeter paths as well. Historic monuments like the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial add intriguing eye candy along the way.
If you continue northwest, you’ll soon reach the grounds of Kastellet, one of the best preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe. While you can admire the geometrically pleasing earthwork walls and moat from outside, venturing in rewards you with quiet walks beneath mature trees and photogenic vantage points like the Little Mermaid overlook. The Gefion Fountain depicting the Norse goddess Gefion is a stunning centerpiece.
For horticulture lovers, a pilgrimage to Copenhagen Botanical Garden is a must. Dating from 1870, this scientific garden affiliated with the University of Copenhagen has an impressive array of 27 glasshouses showcasing global flora from arid succulents to steamy tropical palms. The outdoor grounds are meticulously laid out too, with thematic sections like the Romantic-style garden and Danish landscape designs.
Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Take a Free Walking Tour for Insider Tips
One of the best ways to uncover hidden gems and insider secrets when visiting a new city is to take a free walking tour. In Copenhagen, several excellent guided walking tours are offered completely gratis by knowledgeable locals. These tours provide a fantastic orientation to the city and allow you to ask tons of questions to get tailored recommendations from your guide.
I'm a huge fan of kicking off any trip with a free walking tour. Not only do they help get your bearings geographically, they give you a crash course in the city's history, culture, and character. The passionate guides offer a wealth of area knowledge you'd never uncover on your own. They know all the coolest sights beyond the tourist brochures and are happy to offer personalized tips based on your interests.
In Copenhagen, a top rated walking tour company is Copenhagen Free Walking Tours. Their enthusiastic, highly-trained guides lead small groups on 3-hour loops covering all the highlights. Even after living in Copenhagen for years, I learned so many fascinating nuggets from my guide Katja. She gave little-known insights into famous landmarks like Amalienborg Palace, the epicenter of Danish Royal history for generations.
Katja also provided useful advice tailored specifically for my travel style and preferences. Since I was traveling solo, she suggested some great social hangouts where I could mingle with locals. I love street art, so she pointed me towards the hipster enclave of Nørrebro with colorful murals around every corner. As a fan of innovative Nordic cuisine, she recommended a few off-beat restaurants doing amazing things with local ingredients.
By the end of the tour, my pages of notes were full of ideas for how to spend my time. I discovered wonderful small museums, quirky shops, Danish sweets to try, live music venues, where to find the best smørrebrød open-faced sandwiches... way more than I could possibly tackle in one trip! The customized pointers from my guide ensured I could prioritize the experiences that truly appealed to me.
Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Eat Open-Faced Sandwiches and Sample the Pastries
No trip to Copenhagen is complete without indulging in two quintessential Danish culinary treats – open-faced smørrebrød sandwiches and decadent pastries. As a self-proclaimed foodie who loves experiencing local flavors everywhere I travel, gorging on authentic Danish cuisine was high on my Copenhagen must-do list.
Open-faced sandwiches, known as smørrebrød locally, are an institution across Denmark. Typically served on dense, dark rye bread, smørrebrød showcases a variety of Nordic toppings like pickled herring, smoked salmon, roast beef, curried chicken salad, or fried fish. Traditional recipes date back centuries and pay homage to the country’s fishing heritage and agricultural bounty. Danes eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
I headed straight to Restaurant Schønnemann, acclaimed for serving Copenhagen’s best smørrebrød since 1877. Tucked away on a narrow side street, Schønnemann oozes old world charm with its wood-paneled dining room full of locals. I went all out and ordered the parade of open sandwiches, letting the waiter select a tasting platter of 10 best-sellers.
Bite after bite revealed new combinations of flavors and textures – tart pickles, velvety smoked trout, crispy fried cod, pungent blue cheese, sweet marinated herring.... Each tiny open-faced masterpiece was exquisitely prepared, perched atop the heartiest, most flavorful rye bread I’ve ever tasted. It summed up everything I love about smørrebrød – a celebration of quality ingredients and pride in tradition.
Beyond Schønnemann, nearly every restaurant and cafe in Copenhagen serves smørrebrød. I grabbed an easy herring sandwich from a street kiosk for a quick, satisfying lunch on the go. Laidback cafes like Brød focused on organic, artisanal ingredients for a lighter take on classics. For a contemporary twist, trendy eateries use smørrebrød as an appetizer or entrée, playing with non-traditional bases like potato rösti or tomato focaccia. However you experience them, do not leave Copenhagen without trying open-faced sandwiches!
My taste buds were also craving something sweet, and Copenhagen’s historic bakeries did not disappoint. In Denmark, pastries are elevated to high art with master bakers known as konditors specializing in the craft. I set out to sample two quintessential treats – the cinnamon-swirled kanelsnegle (cinnamon snail) and decadent cream cakes layered with fresh fruit or chocolate.
A perfect kanelsnegle from Lagkagehuset hit the spot for my morning coffee break. The glistening pastries beckoned from street front displays all over the city. With a crispy sugar crust and gooey cinnamon interior, it was love at first bite. For an elegant afternoon tea experience, I visited Conditori La Glace, founded in 1870 and hailed as Denmark’s finest confectionary. The sublime atmosphere of antique woodwork and chandeliers is rivaled only by the nuanced flavors of their housemade cakes and tortes. Their signature Kronborg layer cake with marzipan, nougat, and chocolate left me swooning.
Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Check Out the Lively Nightlife and Jazz Scene
After a busy day exploring Copenhagen, the nighttime is when the city really comes alive. From world-class jazz clubs to boisterous beer halls, Copenhagen's nightlife offers an exhilarating mix of local color, quality drinks, and eclectic entertainment.
One essential Copenhagen nightlife experience is catching some live jazz. Copenhagen has an internationally renowned jazz scene that attracts top talent from across Europe and beyond. This rich legacy stems from influential Danish jazz pioneers like pianist Bent Fabricius-Bjerre and multi-instrumentalist Papa Bue. Venues like Jazzhus Montmartre, which opened in 1959, have hosted jazz icons from Dexter Gordon to Stan Getz.
For an intimate jazz club with old school flair, check out La Fontaine in hip Nørrebro. Relax in the velvet lounge or grab a table in the music hall to hear both leading Danish performers and promising new acts. If you visit in July, don't miss the annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival held at venues across the city. We Jazz, held each December, is another must-attend event for jazz fans.
Looking for something livelier? Then head to the Meatpacking District, Copenhagen's buzzing nightlife hub. Bars and clubs have moved into the converted meat factories and warehouses, making for a gritty-chic vibe. Kick off your night at Mesteren og Lærlingen, a beloved dive bar since 1867. After a few craft beers, head to Curfew for dancing and DJ sets spinning into the wee hours.
If you want a uniquely Danish night out, find a traditional bodega pub. At these casual, low-key watering holes, wine and snaps (aquavit) flow freely as locals unwind after work. Grab a spot at the bar to chat with fellow patrons, tuck into hearty comfort food, and sing along to live music performances later in the evening. Popular spots include the nautically themed Det Lille Apotek and Hviids Vinstue, located in a 1723 townhouse.
During summer months, outdoor harbor parties are ideal for soaking up the long daylight hours. Every Wednesday, a raucous crowd descends on Havnebadet Islands Brygge harbor bath for dancing, drinking, and even swimming. On weekends, locals flock to Halvandet on the lively Refshaleøen waterfront for craft beer, cocktails and food stands. The fun goes until midnight or later.
Copenhagen Insider Secrets - How to Explore Denmark's Capital Like a True Local - Escape the City to Nearby Beaches and Castles
After a few days exploring Copenhagen's countless urban delights, you may feel the urge to escape the city bustle and get back to nature. Luckily, Denmark's beautiful beaches and storybook castles are just a quick day trip away, offering the perfect change of pace.
One sensational sandy escape I highly recommend is Bellevue Beach, located about 45 minutes north of Copenhagen on the Bellevue strand. This pristine stretch of golden sand feels blissfully remote yet is conveniently accessible by train from the city center. Sink your toes into powder-soft sand, breathe in the crisp sea air, and soak up some sun without hordes of other beachgoers crowding your personal space. The beach slopes gently into the Øresund Strait, creating calm, swimmable waters that average around 68°F in summer - brisk but refreshing!
After a revitalizing dip, dry off and climb the grassy dunes behind the shoreline. Find a sheltered hollow nestled among the marram grasses and wildflowers for an ideal picnic spot. Unwrap your smørrebrød sandwiches, pop open a Danish beer, and relax completely while looking out over the sea - you may even spot Denmark's coastline along the horizon. Before heading home, stroll down the beach and admire the gleaming white Bellevue Spa architecture, which resembles a thrilling modern seaside palace.
For a delightful dose of history and fairy tale charm, plan a day trip north of Copenhagen to UNESCO World Heritage site Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød. This spellbinding Renaissance palace was the royal residence of King Christian IV and is considered a masterpiece of early 17th century Danish craftsmanship. Wandering through the opulent halls, you'll feel transported back to the intriguing era of castle balls, royal banquets, and the ambitious Builder King.
Don't miss touring the lavish Baroque garden oasis just behind the palace. With its geometric hedges, surprise fountains, and blooming parterres, these regal grounds are considered among Europe's finest formal Baroque gardens. Spend an afternoon getting lost in the curved shrubbery walkways, ducking into hidden groves, and photographing the princely pavilions. Hundreds of years later, Frederiksborg's gardens still feel like a secret royal refuge and are the perfect romantic setting to end your castle excursion.