Copenhagen is a fantastic European capital and offers a lot to visitors. You could spend days or weeks there, but even just one day in Copenhagen can be a great trip. There are so many things to do in Copenhagen that fitting them all into one day can seem daunting. Still, with a little planning, one can come up with a perfect itinerary to hit the highlights and must-see attractions.
The Best Location to Spend One Day In Copenhagen
Like most cities, the best place to spend one day in Copenhagen is the city center. If you have a longer period to visit, you can explore the other neighborhoods. You can also travel to other cities and look into day trips. From Copenhagen, you can even visit southern Sweden in a half-day trip. However, for this post, we’ll focus on the things you can do with just one day in Copenhagen itself.
Copenhagen Canal Tours
One of the first things you should do during your one day in Copenhagen is a canal tour. Copenhagen canal tours are typically 90 minutes long and cover more ground in the city than you could do in one day. It’s a perfect way to see the best of Copenhagen with a live guide to tell you about each attraction. You’ll also have the chance to view the city from a unique angle – below street level. Some of the best and most interesting photos of Copenhagen are captured from boats floating through the canals and harbors. You’ll have a great view of some buildings that aren’t easy to get to in one day like The Royal Opera House and Amalienborg Palace, the residence of the Danish Royal Family.
Canal tours can be picked up in two very scenic and often-photographed locations in Copenhagen. The first is Nyhavn (New Harbor), the idyllic waterway lined with pastel houses and cobblestone streets. It’s full of tourists all year long, so arriving early in the morning can give you lower crowd levels and favorable lighting. The best angle to photograph the pastel buildings is from the bridge that crosses the center of Nyhavn harbor. There are also some tremendous photo opportunities in the square that’s located just off of Nyhavn. It’s called Kongens Nytorv (The King’s New Market) and there are some gorgeous buildings surrounding the square. From the square at Kongens Nytorv, you can capture images of the stunning Hotel D’Anglettere, The French Embassy building, Magasin du Nord (the oldest department store in Scandinavia) and the Royal Danish Theatre.
The other place to get a canal tour, or use as a hop off and then hop back on point, is the canal in front of the Danish Parliament building. That structure is actually a castle called Christianborg and it’s stunning to see in person. If you exit the canal boat you can wander the ground and snap a few pictures around the castle island. One of the best places to photograph is Bertel Thorvaldsens Plads on the castle island. It has a gorgeous reflecting fountain where you can capture amazing photos from every direction.
On the canal tour, you will also view Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue. It’s honestly not worth visiting if you are only in town for one day. It’s smaller than you think and rather unimpressive and unmemorable. Still, tourists flock to the statue daily for the photo and Instagram opportunity. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the city center if you do decide to trek to the statue. The photo you can take from the canal boat is actually a unique take on the statue. You can photograph the tourists climbing over each other to pose in front of the tiny little mermaid.
After the canal tour, it’s a good idea to walk through Christianhavn. That’s a canal you’ll recognize from the boat tour, but it’s beautiful to stroll down yourself. It was built by King Christian IV after he traveled to Amsterdam. The canal is lined with sailboats and colorful buildings which makes it extremely picturesque and quintessentially Copenhagen. You’ll also see plenty of majestic swans that make the canal home. This is because Copenhagen has spent the last 15 years cleaning and revitalizing the waterways in the city.
In the Christianhavn neighborhood, you’ll find a gorgeous church with a helix-shaped spire that’s visible around most of the city. It’s called Church of our Saviour and it’s the most photographed house of worship in the Danish capital. When you see it in person you’ll understand why! Best of all, it doesn’t just photograph well from the ground. You can climb the church for a small fee and reach the top of the spire. The gold trim of the spire can be hard to make out from ground-level, but it’s actually a staircase that wraps around the tower. The vantage point from the heights of the spire is amazing and provides a gorgeous 360° view of Copenhagen. You can even see Sweden from the top!
In Christianhavn you’ll also be able to step outside of Denmark and the EU and enter the Freetown of Christiania. This is a “hippie” commune located in an abandoned military barracks. It was taken over by activist members of the counter-culture in 1971 and still operates “off the grid” today. There you will find semi-legal stands selling hash and marijuana as well as really cool street art. There are also cafes and beer gardens and it’s pleasant to walk through.
Another attraction that’s located conveniently in the city center is Rosenborg Slot (Castle). The Renaissance castle is home to the Danish Crown Jewels and is a modern-day museum. You can tour the building and see artifacts from centuries of royal Danish history including the coronation thrones, crown, and jewels of Queen Margrethe II.
Other Copenhagen City Center Attractions
If you don’t have time to tour the building, you’ll be happy to just walk around the castle grounds. The garden that surrounds Rosenborg Slot is called Kongens Have (The King’s Garden). It’s the most visited park in Denmark and is always peppered with locals enjoying a picnic or playing games. The landscaping is immaculate and you can capture some incredible photos of the castle and the grounds from inside the garden park. You can even bring some take-away food and have your own picnic – you won’t be the only one.
Near the castle and gardens, you can walk a short distance to The Round Tower. It’s a 17th-century tower and Europe’s oldest functioning observatory. The building is characterized by a long spiral ramp leading to an observation platform. The Round Tower was another project of King Christian IV, who also built the canal that shares his name. The interior of the tower makes for interesting photos and the views from the top are very Instagram-worthy. As you climb there are some neat points of interest like the bell loft and the library hall, a large room which hosts temporary exhibitions. You’ll even pass a toilet shaft that was used over the centuries but stick to the public toilets instead.
No trip to Copenhagen would complete without visiting Tivoli Gardens, the historic amusement park in downtown Copenhagen. The old-world charm of Tivoli jumps out from the moment you approach the ticket stands. There is a gorgeous, peacock-designed, baroque theatre. You’ll marvel at the detailed landscaping and gardens. At the center of Tivoli Gardens is a lake formed out of the old city moat that once protected Copenhagen from invasion. The entire park is a giant photo opportunity in addition to the obvious entertainment of an amusement park. Tivoli is periodically closed in order to perform ride maintenance and change the theme of the park for the seasons. In the Fall, Tivoli is transformed into a spooky Halloween park. During November and December, Tivoli is a festive Christmas wonderland. It’s a must-see attraction all year long but check before your visit to make sure they’re open for your trip.
Eating in Copenhagen
Copenhagen has excellent food, even though you probably don’t order Danish take-out in your hometown. They’re known for their unique open-faced sandwiches called smørrebrød. A more refined way to try Danish food is with dinner at a New Nordic restaurant. The New Nordic cuisine originated in Copenhagen’s world-famous restaurant, Noma, and has spread around Scandinavia. The concept is meals that use traditional Danish techniques and cooking methods with modern gourmet techniques. It also involves using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients to highlight the tastes of the region. The result is incredible and it’s highly recommended to try New Nordic cuisine while in Copenhagen. Wherever you decide to eat, you should make a reservation in Copenhagen. At better restaurants, you will not be able to walk in and get a table.
Getting Around Copenhagen
Copenhagen is an incredibly easy city to navigate by public transportation or on foot. It’s very clean, safe and walkable. Locals are helpful and most Danes speak English. Vendors in Copenhagen normally prefer credit and debit cards to cash. This all makes Copenhagen a very tourist-friendly city. Even less-seasoned travelers will have no problem visiting Copenhagen. When is the best time to visit Copenhagen? It’s actually a great destination at any time of the year. It can even seem like a different city from month to month, and there is always plenty to do and see.
With luck, this itinerary will get you around the city and deliver the best sites during your one day in Copenhagen. It covers a lot of ground, but it’s very possible to see all of these attractions in just 24 hours. If you have more time, you should, of course, add in some museums, day trips, and tours. Whatever you do during your one day in Copenhagen, you’re sure to love the Danish capital and have a lot of great photos to remember your visit.
Derek Hartman is a native of Philadelphia who has been living in Copenhagen, Denmark since 2017. He loves to travel, watch and play sports and experience new cultures. Derek writes about experiencing Copenhagen as a tourist in his new hometown on his site Everything Copenhagen. You can follow Derek on social media at: