Copenhagen is one of those less traveled to cities in Europe compared to the giants like Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Rome but don't let this fool you as a place not worthy of visiting. Not only is there a rich historical culture filled with amazing Nordic food, beautiful old (and new) architecture, there is a city filled with the happiest people in the world who are eager to help those who are unfamiliar with Copenhagen.
I want to warn my readers that I am half Danish so this particular post may be biased based on your own experience with Copenhagen, however I think that due to my close relationship with this city you will have an advantage in making the best experience possible while visiting the Danish capitol.
Airport to CPH
I think 99% of those reading this will arrive in Denmark via Copenhagen's lufthavn (airport). You are in good hands because it couldn't be easier to get from the airport to the center of town. My preferred method of travel in DK is train. Head straight out of the exit from baggage claim (wave at all of the excited Danes waiving their flags and signs waiting for their loved ones) and head straight past the SAS check in counters until you find the train kiosk machines / teller area. The machines are very intuitive, can provide you a selection of languages and indicates Copenhagen Central Station as an easy 1 click option. Expect to pay a couple dollars / euros for the ticket into CPH; they accept card, Danish coins or Danish cash money. You will have 2 or 3 stops along the way on this 15 minute or so ride. Congrats. You made it to the center of Copenhagen.
AirBnB has caught on massively in København and I can say from experience it is a good option. Everyone I have encountered has communicated effectively (almost every Dane speaks English) and the places have been very clean and tidy. I always try to find one that has some older flair to it in order to experience the older style of Danish living. As with any city, the more central you go the more it will cost, but some of the surrounding neighborhoods pictured above are also great places to stay on a more friendly budget. This will allow you to submerse yourself in the daily Danish lifestyle: sipping coffee with a rundstykker (round Danish bread with butter and cheese) in the mornings while the Danes cycle to work or hitting up some of the new hipster places to grab a drink.
Vesterbro will be the best option if staying close to the Central Station (hovedbanegård) is important. Not only is it close to the train station, but it is also where the hipster kødbyen (meat town) is located with all sorts of great food and beer. If you are into Crossfit, Butchers's Lab is also located here and is arguably the best and unique Crossfit box I have ever been to; to each their own. Not that I do or condone this (clears throat), but if marijuana is your thing then perhaps staying near the infamous Christiania in the beautiful Christianshavn (Christian's harbor) would be your cup of tea. In Nørrebro you will find a very diverse area with many young Copenhageners and immigrants the further you get away from the central city (Centrum). There is a collection of three man-made lakes that separate Nørrebro and Frederiksberg from the city center which serve as a great place for jogging and a late afternoon beer during the summer. My advice would be to book a place around these lakes if that area interests you.
There are many options for many types of personalities to keep entertained. Like history? They have tons of it. Like food and drinking? The Danes have perfected it. Like design and architecture? Yes, both of those are in their blood. No matter what you are into, more than likely the Danes can provide it in Copenhagen. I find myself choosing to walk when I am visiting CPH, however they do have one of the best bike share systems I have encountered. All it takes is a credit card, a quick setup of an account and you are off to go on electric-assisted bikes that are fitted with iPad-like screens with navigation to guide you turn by turn to your next destination. Just like Amsterdam, keep your whits about you and stay in the dedicated bicycle lanes.
The following are only a few things to do in Copenhagen. If you choose to walk it will give you a couple days of entertainment. Make sure to stroll along strøget which is the shopping street. Here you will find things like Illums Boglihus for the highest end Danish furniture, lamps, blankets and trinkets for your home, Royal Copenhagen which is the Danish china appointed by the Queen of Denmark and many other shops.
Nyhavn (Noo-hown) was built a long time ago by King Christian the IV when trade by sea was dominant. It was lined with bars and brothels where brave seaman could relax with a drink and a woman after a long trip out to sea. Now it is lined with beautiful multi-colored buildings housing over-priced meals of traditional cuisine consisting of herring, mackerel, fried cod on delicious heavy grain rye-bread for the cruise-shippers. If you are tight for time, fork over the extra dough and give these sandwiches a try here. Make sure you get a shot of the Danish spirit akvavit with your nice big Carlsberg. Snap a few pictures of this area, breath in the beauty and move on.
Little Mermaid was not created by Disney. Hans Christian Anderson was a Danish author in the 1800's who wrote the fairy tales we all commonly know today: The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling and Thumbelina to name a few. I personally have never seen this statue (which is a replica, the original is in a museum) but if you are in the area then it is worth seeing.
Amalienborg is the current residence of the Royal Family, specifically Queen Margerette of Denmark. You can pay to go on a guided tour or just marvel at the beautiful square of 4 identical homes where the family lives and the giant statue of Frederik V in the middle.
Rosenborg Slot was built in the 1600's in Renaissance architecture by King Christian IV. This is great tour option to see how the king lived long ago and to see the Danish Royal Jewels.
Carlsberg is "probably the best beer in the world." The Danish beer can be found everywhere around Denmark, but it is worth to go see the original brewery which was founded in 1847.
Tivoli is said to be the second oldest park in the world. This is where H.C. Anderson strolled to gain creativity for his fairy tales. Now, it is a modern park with rides for the kids and beauty that is enjoyed during the summer as well as winter. If you want a definition of 'hygge' visit Tivoli during December when the Christmas decorations are up.
Børsen is by far my favorite building in the city due to its unique architecture and is just to the left of Christiansborg Palace which is the current home of the Danish Parliament. The building, which was built in 1625 (whoa), was built by King Christian the IV (yeah he was busy!) due to his understanding that trade was every important for the kingdom. At the top of the building, there are 4 dragons with intertwining tails with 3 crowns on top representing the kingdom of Denmark, which at that time comprised of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Yeah...Denmark used to be a powerhouse. Now it's tiny. Moving on!
Kødbyen is the hipster area of Copenhagen that also flaunts some really good restaurants and breweries. Broken down, kød means meat and byen means the city, translated to the meat city because this is the area all of the cows were slaughtered for meat in Copenhagen. The cows are gone but now serves as a great place to hangout for food and beer. If you are hungry check out the brewery Mikkeller's War Pigs and Kul to name a few. Good to know: I always try to find my AirBnB here because of the food options, Crossfit gym Butcher's Lab & proximity to the central train station.
Church of Our Savior is a great place to stop on your way to Christiania. Climb the 90 meter tower (more than 400 steps) to get THE best view of Copenhagen. There is a fee to climb the stairs but the view (and exercise) is worth it.
Christiania is the green light district of Europe. Formally a military compound, it was deserted only to be inhabited by hippie squatters in the '60s. Now it is its own community disconnected from the taxes of the Danish government. They are responsible for their own trash collection, taxes, utilities, you name it. You are free to be who you want in Christiania with no negative perceptions of one another. Head down pusher street, pick up your preference of marijuana or hash and head to Nemo's for a beer and enjoy a seat outside. Hopefully your perception of the architecture and food in CPH is slightly altered and enjoyed on a different level :-p
Copenhagen has made huge waves in the culinary scene over the last decade, mostly due to Rene Redzepi the founder of Noma; which has been named the best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011, 2012 and in 2014. Now you can find a significant amount of restaurants creating their own style of Nordic food. I found the travel blog Eater had a great list of new restaurants to try in Copenhagen. To simplify your options, there are two things you absolutely have to try in Denmark which are as traditional as they get.
The first is having a Danish frokost (lunch) with smørrebrød (open faced sandwich). This Danish style of eating lunch includes their hearty rugbød (ryebread) as a foundation of the open faced sandwich with many variations of toppings. Note: start with fish then move to meat based sandwiches and make sure you are drinking a Danish beer and some akvavit. Finally, and this one is easy to find (see pølsevogn below), but you must have a Danish hotdog: the Danish fast food.
Cafe Dyrehaven is a hip morning spot in Vesterbro (near Meat Packing District) to grab breakfast. This place is normally packed, so anticipate a little wait. Here you can find great coffee options and some of the best avocado toast in town.
Papirøen or Paper Island, is an island in Christianhavn (go to the end of Nyhavn near the ocean, cross the awesome pedestrian bridge and boom you're there!). Here you can find a great collection of different styles of food to choose from. If it calls for it, grab a beer with your food and head outside to enjoy for a cool view of Copenhagen.
Pølsevogn is something you can find anywhere in Copenhagen. They will be in the heavy traffic areas, especially around strøget, but this is a must try when you are in Denmark. I am of course biased, but the snap of the red Danish hot dog as you bite into it's delicious pork center is going to change your perception of hotdogs. If you want a traditional Danish dog, then order a ristett hotdog with everything (what you see in the video below). A must try, if you haven't had it before, is the Danish remoulade, which is the equivalent of how dependent Americans are with putting ketchup on everything.
Grisen or The Pig, is a street food take on a traditional Danish meal, commonly served during Christmas, called flæskesteg. Here you can find the normal ingredients, pork with crispy skin, red cabbage and brown sauce served sandwich style with a side of fries.
Madklubben Vesterbro is a great place to grab dinner. My friend is the manager of this place so I have visited frequently. This unique and very well decorated restaurant takes the approach of providing a selection of higher end meals at an affordable price, with the sacrifice of having a younger more energetic staff who may not be snobbish sommeliers and a larger restaurant to fit more people. I would highly recommend this place and if you are there during the weekend, make reservations. Madklubben is one of many different themed restaurants in Copenhagen under the same ownership. I have tried a few others and would recommend checking them out based on your location on their website.
City Kroen is not something I would typically recommend unless you are in Copenhagen during Christmas. They do have a great Jule (Christmas) frokost (lunch) buffet where you can try the traditional food that is served during this festive lunch. All of December is filled with Danes having these lunches with their friends, family and co-workers in private homes and in public places. Don't be surprised if you find a huge table of Danes getting happy from beer and akvavit if you visit this restaurant during Christmas. Just remember to skål (pronounced skol) and clink your glasses together before taking a sip. That is the proper way to say cheers in Denmark!
Manfreds is a smaller establishment but making big waves in Copenhagen, especially for their tartar, which I can attest is the best tartar I have had anywhere in the world. I would recommend going with the preset multiple course meal on the menu, but in addition order the tartar. I would also suggest doing the wine pairing as well. This restaurant is a little on the pricey end, so for two people expect to pay in excess of $180. Also because of its popularity and small size, I highly recommend making reservations a few days in advance.
These are only a few options of many in Copenhagen, but I hope they serve you well during your visit. Please do not hesitate to post in the comments section with questions and I will do my best to answer. Safe travels and enjoy!