Summer in Copenhagen is a time for the locals to come out and enjoy the short but sweet Scandinavian summer beside the water, whether it’s the harbour, the beach or the Copenhagen lakes. Although I’ve been to Copenhagen a number of times with Guy, this time I wanted to show one of my favourite cities off to my kids, so I was on the look-out for those Scandi-cool things that would impress a hard to please teenager. Here is my guide to the cool things we enjoyed on our 4 day summer break in Copenhagen;
1. Rent an apartment and live like a local
Yes I know that ‘live like a local’ tag is overused by every apartment rental company, but hiring an apartment in the centre of Copenhagen through Airbnb really did give us a different perspective on the Danish way of life. Filled with books, quirky art and kids’ toys our apartment felt like the owners had just popped out for the day – which in fact they more or less had. The family who lived here had temporarily re-located to their summer house further up the coast to make the most of the sunny summer days and being laid back Danes had left most of their belongings behind, trusting us to take good care of their home. Hiring an apartment meant that we could shop at the local supermarkets dotted around town and nod a Danish “Hej” to our neighbours as we parked our bikes in the internal courtyard and lugged our shopping up to the 2nd floor. The kids thought the apartment was super-cool, especially the table football which led to many fiercely contested world cup replays. This is the apartment we booked in case you’re interested.
2. Hire bikes to get around town
On previous visits to Copenhagen we walked everywhere but with the family it made sense to hire bikes so we could get effortlessly around town. We hired ours just around the corner from our apartment (Gammelholm Cycler at 12 Holbergsgarde) and it cost 100 DKK (around £11/€14/ $18) per person per day with a bit of a discount as we were hiring for the whole family. Cycling around Copenhagen is easier and safer than in most other cities since there are separate cycle lanes everywhere and the car drivers are bike-aware and slow down to let you by.
You do still need to take care since local cyclists will whizz past you as you bimble along and at busy junctions we found it was safer to get off and cross at the pedestrian lights. In Copenhagen cyclists own the road and will get annoyed if you accidentally step into their path. They even take their kids in the Christiania style bikes that have a carriage on the front and have perfected the art of cycling nonchalently, talking on a mobile while wearing a flimsy dress and high heels. Did you know that you can also take your bike on the train in the special carriages that are marked with a bike symbol, which makes sense if you head out of Copenhagen on the coastal train to Helsingor, Klampenborg or any of the other interesting things to see along this route? My kids effortlessly got into the bike vibe and really enjoyed the freedom of the city.
3. Go swimming in the harbour
The harbour baths at Islands Brygge are justifiably popular as soon as the sun comes out and you do have to trust that the harbour water really is THAT clean (there is an oyster farm in the harbour after all!). There’s a shallow kid’s paddling pool, a longer pool for serious swimmers (spot those training for a triathlon) and a high jumping off point which my kids tested out multiple times. It’s free, open to all and there are lifeguards on duty, but if it gets a bit too crowded, remember that there are plenty of other unofficial places that you can swim in the harbour in summer. Just look for a stretch of harbour wall where there’s a ladder and not too many boats and you’ll probably see a local already having a dip. Our favourite spot was the stretch of harbour near our apartment between Nyhaven and the harbour bridge near the Parliament building where there’s a deck at the bridge end and plenty of benches and tables to sit out. Perfect if you want to bring your own beers and have an evening swim while the sun is setting. The Havnebadet Islands Brygge is open 7am-8pm 1 June-31 August.
4. Rides and more at Tivoli
Tivoli is a Copenhagen institution where you could take your granny or your teenagers and they’d all find something to enjoy (although probably not the same things). The gardens and fountains were beautiful, with roses blooming in the sunken garden and plenty of grassy areas where you can let the kids run around or sit on the grass. There are just enough rides to keep the adrenalin junkies entertained and although I braved The Demon loop the loop with the kids I enjoyed the old fashioned Alpine themed roller coaster much more. There are endless restaurants and food kiosks within Tivoli but I love that you can also bring in your own snacks or picnic and enjoy them in a shady area of grass under the trees.
We bought the PULS package bookable in advance for 329 DKK per person (£35/ €44/ $59) which gave us entrance to the park, a multi-ride pass and a snack and drink from one of the fast food vendors. As night falls the park takes on a more adult feel with glowing Chinese lanterns and people enjoying dinner with outdoor musical, pantomime or ballet performances in the different theatres. Best of all Tivoli has a high quality Danish feel and a lovely relaxed atmosphere that appeals to all ages. Tivoli Gardens are open April-end September and also at Halloween and Christmas. Entrance 99 DKK, Multiride ticket 199 DKK with other packages available.
5. A gourmet bite to eat at Torverhallerne
When I stayed nearby at the Ibsens Hotel a couple of years ago, the Torverhallerne market halls were under construction but now they are a buzzing place to stop and buy fresh food and deli-delicious lunch-time delicacies. The outdoor paved areas around the hall are full of fruit and veg stalls with benches and tables to sit down, while most of the food vendors inside also have some seating space. Guy and I tried a lunch of smorrebrod, the Danish open sandwich, served at the bar of Hallernes Smorrebrod on Royal Copenhagen plates. The kids eyed up the Thai food trailer outside but settled for sandwiches made with nutty Danish brown bread and we finished up with coffee at the legendary Coffee Collective and a strawberry tart from Laura’s Bakery opposite. If you prefer to pick up a picnic there are stalls selling artizan bread and cheeses or deli stalls selling different salads and dips, then head for the nearby Botanic garden or the Kings Garden to stretch out on the grass. Torverhallerne is between Frederiksborgadde and Vendersgade close to Norreport Station and is open 10am-7pm most weekdays with slightly shorter hours at weekends.
6. A picnic in the Kings Garden
And spreaking of the Kings Garden or Kongens Have, this is where locals like to go in summertime to laze on the grass in the shade of the trees. In the centre there’s a romantic formal garden while on one side of the moat from the Rosenborg Castle there’s the rose garden which in summer blooms with scented roses and lavender, watched over by a statue of Queen Caroline Amalia. Ok, so the rose garden is more likely to delight your mother than your teenagers, but the Danish Crown Jewels in the Treasury of Rosenborg Slot are pretty impressive too. The Rosenborg Castle is also delightful if you enjoy a walk through Danish history but the Treasury really is packed with jewels and despite the soldiers on guard outside, it feels pretty laid back despite the considerable bling on display. The Kings Garden is free entry, the Rosenborg Castle and Treasury is open 10am-4pm (closes 5pm in summer) and costs 90 DKK to visit (children up to age 17 free)
7. A smoothie on the deck by the Copenhagen lakes
From the Kings Garden it’s a short bike ride to the Copenhagen Lakes, the stretch of water that snakes through the centre of Copenhagen and borders the residential neighbourhoods of Norrebro and Frederiksberg. We met my new blogging friend and Copenhagen expert Alex Berger from VirtualWayfarer for a coffee at the floating deck of KaffeSalonen where you can drink a smoothie or coffee or hire a brightly coloured or swan shaped pedalo to get out on the water. Alex advised me that the lakes are not quite as clean as the harbour, so best not to swim, but it’s a fabulous spot to relax overlooking the water. There are paths to walk or jog that run beside the lakes and benches to sit down and admire the view plus you could also try the Den Frankse Cafe or Cafe 22 as an alternative to KaffeSalonen.
8. Copenhagen Street Food on Paper Island
This new food venue on Paper island opened in April just along from the Royal Opera House in a large warehouse that’s filled with street food stalls and trailers and a stretch of harbour front lined with deck chairs and benches to sit outside. It’s a cool place to gather with friends on a sumer evening with DJ sounds, overlooking the harbour to catch the last rays of the sun with a beer in hand. The concept is to give small food vendors a place to do business, offering great food at reasonable prices, where you can get a snack from around 50 DKK. When we visited for a Friday night street-food-fest, we loved the atmosphere but I felt the food vision hadn’t quite been realised, with some vendors seeming a bit overwhelmed by the popularity of the place.
The pulled pork wrap I tried was outstanding, but required a 25 minute wait once my name had been added to their list – not quite fast food! The pizza slice I had in the meantime was burnt on the bottom and couple of other stalls had closed early or run out of food, but my kids enjoyed their spicy chicken stew from the Cuban stall. If you adjust your foodie expectations and don’t expect a gourmet experience just yet, Copenhagen Street Food gets a big tick as a cool place to chill with a bucket of beer overlooking the harbour. Copenhagen Street Food can be reached on the waterbus from Nyhaven to the Opera House and is open 12am-10pm for food and from 10am to late for coffee and drinks.
9. Modern art by the sea at Louisiana
Louisiana modern art museum is well worth the 30 minute train ride from central Copenhagen at any time of year but in summertime it offers the perfect day out for those who enjoy art in a natural setting overlooking the sea. The original seaside villa has been enlarged with purpose built galleries housing changing exhibitions of art and sculpture. When we were there, there was a colourful Emil Nolde exhibition plus a sureal collection of paintings by American artist Philip Guston as well as modern art by some of the big names such as Giacometti and Danish painter Asger Jorn.
The gallery is surrounded by lawns and trees dotted with sculptures by Henry Moore and others, overlooking the sea. The large cafe serves excellent smorresbrod, pretty cakes and a lunchtime or dinner buffet with tables inside and outside or you can just bring your picnic and find a grassy spot overlooking the sound. When you’re done with the art, leave through the gate at the bottom of the hill and go for a swim off one of the jetties along the stretch of beach and shingle outside, my idea of a perfect artistic summer’s day. Louisiana is also magical in the evening when it’s open until 10pm Tuesday to Friday.
To get to Louisiana we took the coastal train from Norreport station in the direction of Helsingor and got off at Humlebaek station, then you can walk 15 mins or take a short bus ride down the road following the signs to get to Louisiana or alternatively take your bike on the train as we did with a 5 minute cycle at the other end.
10. Have a drink by the harbour as the sun goes down
The Copenhageners love to make the most of the short Scandinavian summer by spending as much of it outdoors as possible and we enjoyed warm summer evenings on our holiday just sitting by the harbour with a sundowner. Close to our apartment we found the deck of the Royal Danish Theatre at the end of Nyhaven had set up an outdoor summer cafe with a DJ to welcome the weekend. From here we could watch the lights come up in the Opera House opposite and the harbour buses going back and forth. Being delightfully democratic Denmark there are plenty of places like this along the harbour where you can just sit and enjoy a summer sunset, such as the deck by the ‘Black Diamond’ Royal Library or the Toldboden cafe near the Little Mermaid, but if you prefer you can bring your own wine or beers and find a place to sit along the harbour for the sunset.
More cool things to do in Copenhagen
Cool places to stay in Copenhagen
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