Copenhagen has always been one of my favourite European cities. It’s packed with gardens, museums and palaces, yet small enough to cross on foot in an afternoon. It’s easy to get to with boat and train connections to all the major cities in western and northern Europe, yet just a bit off the beaten track for many tourists. It’s safe and convenient and almost everyone speaks English, yet it is unapologetically Danish in style. I first visited as a backpacker in 1997 and immediately started to wonder how hard it would be to learn Danish and stay forever. I wasn’t quite able to manage that, but 20 years later I returned with my husband and children and had a great time introducing them to one of my favourite places on earth.
We arrived in the city on an overnight ferry from Olso, which is more like a mini cruise than a ferry, with snug little cabins, a great buffet and lots of duty free shopping. From the ferry dock it was an easy train and bus connection to our cute little Air bnb rental just outside the town centre. From there we could easily walk 20 minutes or so into the centre of town or catch one of the many buses that came by every few minutes.
Copenhagen is a fantastic town for walking and nearly the entire city centre is a pedestrian only zone. On a sunny day you can explore for hours without every worrying about traffic. We checked out the Lego store on the main shopping street and came across small side street where they were filming a scene for a Danish television show set in the 19th century. It was amazing how little it took; a few lines of laundry strung overhead, a horse drawn carriage and some actors in period costumes, and the little alley looked just like a scene from a Dickens novel.
In order to make the most of our time, we purchased Copenhagen cards on our second day there. These cards cover almost all of the city sights as well as public transit. The 72 hour cards were about 90 Euro each, but children under 10 were free and with the steep price of individual admissions in Scandinavia we felt that the cards were great value. We were able to use them for a one hour harbour tour, the city museum, two royal palaces, the Carlsburg Brewery tour, the zoo, an art museum, the largest aquarium in northern Europe and the world famous Tivoli Gardens as well as several bus and metro rides each day.
The only downside of using the Copenhagen pass was that pass holders had to wait in lines at each sight with the rest of the people buying tickets, dedicated lines were only available for people with season passes or pre-printed tickets for that specific sight. Entrance lines were one thing that Copenhagen seemed to do poorly for some reason and it was very frustrating to have to wait 30 minutes or more for dozens of people to purchase tickets at a single open counter using slow credit or debit machines knowing that we would just have to show our passes and get waved right through when we got to the front of the line. A minor thing really, but still it’s frustrating to spend an hour or so in line every day when your time is limited.
But once we got in we found that Copenhagen did an amazing job of making almost every sight family friendly and fun. The Royal Palace at Christianburg had a kids guide that could be downloaded onto your phone with led the kids on a detective hunt through the palace. You had to look for clues in the artwork and furnishing to solve a mystery and prevent the royal treasures from being stolen. In the royal kitchens there were models of children hidden here and there who would tell kids stories in Danish and English about how they helped their parents in the kitchen.
The National Museum was another favourite. The main museum had Viking treasures, bog mummies, medieval armour and lots of other interesting exhibits but the real highlight was the children’s area, which took up about half of the ground floor. In this hands on area the kids could try on period costumes, climb around a model ship, build walls with blocks and do lots of other fun activities. It was the perfect place for a seven and eight year old to run off some energy.
We had one only one really rainy morning in Copenhagen on our third day, so we decided to head out to the aquarium that day. Unfortunately, it seemed like everyone else in the city had the same idea and we ended up experiencing the worst crowds of the entire trip that day. Still, the exhibits were excellent and it would have been a great place to spend the morning if it weren’t for the crowds. We had much better luck at the Copenhagen zoo, which we entered at about 5pm, two hours before closing. Most of the visitors were heading out by the time we arrived and we were able to see the animals without any crowds. We especially liked the wallaby exhibit that let you walk right in with the animals.
Tivoli Gardens was another favourite, a 100 year old pleasure garden right in the heart of the city. It’s an interesting place, half garden, half fairground with thrill rides set amongst fancy restaurants and music halls next to playgrounds. Our Copenhagen cards gave us access to the grounds and we enjoyed exploring for a few hours. Rides were extra and quite costly but we let the kids pick one ride each and they chose to go on a fascinating antique roller coaster that had an operator sitting on a seat at the back of the coaster controlling the speed of the ride with an enormous brake handle as it whipped around the curves.
The adults in the family enjoyed the visit to the rather gloomy 17th century Rosenburg castle and viewing the amazing sculptures in the gorgeous Ny Carlsburg Glyptotek, but those were probably the only two sites we visited that weren’t particularly kid friendly. The Carlsburg factory tour, however, was surprisingly enjoyable, with a stable full of Clydesdale horses for the kids to visit and a foosball table for the kids to play with while the adults enjoyed their complementary tasting. The kids did, however, vote down our suggestion of going back for a second visit the next day.
Overall Copenhagen was a big hit with our family. It seems tailor made for families with young kids and we could have probably filled a full week with great activities if we had a chance. On our next visit we may head out of town to visit some of the many palaces nearby or the Viking museum in nearby Roskilde. There’s just too much to do in Copenhagen to only visit once.