24, 48 or 72 Hours in Copenhagen

boats and colorful buildings along Nyhavn Canal, a top recommendation for what to see in Copenhagen in 3 days or less

Copenhagen offers a compelling blend of old world fairy-tale charm and modern, cutting-edge culture and design. The city is often a jumping-off point for other destinations in Scandinavia or around the Baltic Sea. Whether you’re on a Baltic cruise that starts, stops, or ends in the city, or visiting Copenhagen as part of a longer land-based itinerary, it’s easy to pack a lot into a short time in this compact city. Here’s my advice on what to see in Copenhagen in 3 days or less.

The best of Copenhagen in one day

If you only have a day, this itinerary will give you an excellent overview of the city. All of these sites are within walking distance of each other. The map at the bottom of this page gives you the lay of the land.

Morning: get your bearings

  • If your hotel doesn’t offer breakfast (or maybe even if it does!), start the day with some delicious Danish pastries at the nearest location of Lagkagehuset, a local chain of bakeries. Most locations are open daily from 7:30 am onwards; some locations open even earlier.
  • Get oriented with an hour-long narrated canal tour in an open-top sightseeing boat. You’ll float past churches, castles, landmarks old and new, and of course the famous (but underwhelming) Little Mermaid sculpture. Tours start running around 9:00 am.
  • Head over to the Stroget (pedestrian street) and browse Danish Design at Hay House and Illums Bolighus. If you’re a Lego fan, the Danish company’s only retail store on home soil is also on the Stroget, and there’s always an interesting window display.

Afternoon: fairy tale finds

  • Have a hearty lunch of smorrebrod (open-faced sandwiches) washed down with aquavit (the spirit of choice in Denmark). Restaurant Schoenemann is the classic spot, but smorrebrod is on the menu at many other restaurants too.
  • Visit Rosenborg Slot, Copenhagen’s most famous fairy-tale castle. The Danish crown jewels are on display in the Royal Treasury in the basement, and the main floor features beautiful painted ceilings, tapestries, and lots of marble, gold and silver.
  • Climb to the top of the 17th century Rundetarn Observatory for panoramic views of the city.
  • If it’s summer, Halloween, or Christmas, end the day with a visit to Tivoli Gardens, the 170-year-old amusement park that inspired Walt Disney. In the evening, the park is lit up with thousands of lights, so plan  your visit to include time after dark. It’s open until midnight during the week.

Evening: dine and drink

  • You can eat dinner at one of the restaurants within Tivoli (which tend to be expensive), or get a re-entry pass if you want to dine elsewhere and come back. A budget-friendly option popular with locals is to bring in your own food for a picnic.
  • If it’s off season for Tivoli, or if you’re still full of energy after the park, enjoy some modern cocktails at one of Copenhagen’s many chic lounges.
examples of what to see in Copenhagein in 3 days: Rosenborg Castle, Rundetarn Tower and Tivoli entrance

Rosenborg Castle, Rundetarn, Tivoli entrance

Day 2: more Danish depth

A second day gives you time to see some of the monuments up close and visit one or more of the city’s excellent museums.

Morning: monuments

  • Make your way to the Gefion Fountain, Copenhagen’s largest monument. Unveiled in in 1908, it features a team of oxen being driven by its namesake Norse goddess.
  • If you’d like to get a closer look at the Little Mermaid statue, it’s just a few minutes walk north along the waterfront. It’s not all that impressive, but not out of your way if you’ve come this far already.
  • Less than a 10 minute walk south of the fountain is the imposing Marble Church (Marmorkirken in Danish). Its massive dome is one of the largest in Europe and offers great views from the top. Opens at 10 am on most days, but not until noon Fridays and Sundays.
  • Towards the waterfront, you’ll find Amalienborg Palace, home of the Danish royal family since 1794. Of the four connected mansions surrounding the courtyard, one is open to visitors. There is a ceremonial changing of the guard at noon.
  • Walk five minutes south to colourful Nyhavn and have lunch at one of the canal-side cafes. Or, do as the locals do and buy beer and snacks from a nearby store, find a spot on the quay to sit, and enjoy the people watching.

church dome and courtyard with equestrian sculpture

Afternoon: museums

Unless it’s Monday, pick one or two museums for the afternoon, depending on your interests. Top recommended options include:

  • Nationalmuseet – Danish history through the ages, including Viking artefacts and weaponry. Open daily except Mondays; entry is free.
  • Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek – Art history lovers will appreciate their large collection of 18th and 19th century European paintings and sculpture, including works by Gaugin, Rodin, Monet and Van Gogh. There are also antiquities from Egypt, Rome and Greece. Closed Mondays.
  • Louisiana Museum of Modern Art – A top pick for those whose taste in art runs to the more contemporary. Picasso and Warhol are two of its more famous contributors. Located 40 minutes north of the city by train, it’s open daily except Mondays.
  • Designmuseum Danmark – Located just 2 blocks north of the Amalienborg Palace, this museum for serious design fans offers a look at Danish design through the decades. Open daily except Mondays.
  • Consider attending a performance at the Copenhagen Opera House. In addition to opera, they often stage other dance, theatre and musical performances, and the modern building itself is a sight to see.
  • If the Opera House bill isn’t up your alley, splurge for a leisurely dinner at one of the city’s top restaurants: Noma (Scandinavian, 2 Michelin stars), Kodbyens Fiskebaren (Danish/seafood) and Relæ (Nordic-Italian fusion) are all highly rated.

Copenhagen church tower and view

Day 3: neat neighbourhoods

With 3 days, you can explore one or two interesting and vibrant neighbourhoods in more depth.

  • Visit Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Saviour’s Church), a 17th century church with a baroque altar and elaborately carved pipe organ. The real attraction though is the 95 metre-high spiral tower with its 33-bell carillon. The last few spirals of the 400-step staircase wind around the outside of the tower. If you can brave the climb, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Copenhagen, and even across to Sweden. Church open daily 9:30 am to 1:30 pm; closed for services. Tower open 10:30 am to 5 pm in summer; closed in winter.
  • Explore the neighbourhood around the church – free-spirited Christianshavn. It was once a hippie commune, and still has a very bohemian feel. Find a café for lunch if the timing is right

To fill out the rest of your day, options include:

  • Exploring the city on two wheels like the locals do by renting City Bikes found at stands all over town
  • Strolling through the Latin Quarter around Copenhagen University with its narrow streets and lively squares full of half-timbered houses, cafes, beer gardens, independent shops, flower stands and street performers
  • Touring the Carlsberg Brewery. Open 10 to 5 daily except Mondays
  • Heading back to the Stroeget for last minute shopping.


Remember to bring comfortable walking shoes, and you’ll be well-armed to maximize your time in Copenhagen. For  practicalities like transportation and accommodation, refer to this Copenhagen planning post.

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