According to a recent World Happiness Report, the Danes are the happiest people in the world. Whether it's the high wages and low unemployment rate or something magical in Copenhagen's salty sea air, a cruising visitor will feel the positive vibe -- and no doubt bring a little extra "happy" back to the ship.
Sitting on the east coast of Denmark, Copenhagen has been the country's capital for 600 years, and it's the largest city in Scandinavia, with a population of 1.9 million people. It's home to the world's oldest monarchy (King Erik VII set up permanent residence in 1417), and its present Queen, Margrethe II, currently lives at Amalienborg Palace.
A country rich in Viking history, grand castles and lush green countryside, Copenhagen is a charming city of 17th- and 18th-century buildings, beautiful parks and gardens, pretty promenades along canals, and ancient winding streets made for walking and biking. During the longer days and warmer weather of summer, outdoor cafe lounging and outings to magical Tivoli Gardens are highlights.
To many, Copenhagen is synonymous with Hans Christian Andersen. Born in 1805, he's the author of such beloved fairy tales as "The Little Mermaid" and "The Princess and The Pea." Andersen's childhood home (now a museum) is located in Odense, about an 1.5-hour drive away, reachable by train.
Getting your bearings in old Copenhagen is easy; it's a warren of pedestrian streets, bound by Norreport Station, Town Hall Square and the Central Train Station. Stroget, which is an amalgamation of five streets -- Frederiksgerggade, Nygade, Vimmelskaftet, Amagertorv and Ostergade -- runs practically smack-dab through the center of the city between Radhuspladsen and Kongens Nytorv. Pistolstraede is chock-a-block with galleries, restaurants and boutiques; Fiolstraede offers old bookstores; Straedet (parallel to Stroget) is lined with antiques stores; and Nyhavn is a popular restaurant zone.
It's a pricey city, but a visit there is worth the splurge. You might want to consider getting the COPENhagen CARD, which offers unlimited free access by bus and rail throughout the metropolitan area for 24 hours (multiple-day cards also available), as well as complimentary admission to more than 70 attractions and museums. Up to two children younger than 10 are allowed free with each adult card.
You can take a short walk from Langelinie Pier to see the Little Mermaid statue or Amalienborg Palace. Langelinie's promenade is lined with shops, casual cafes and more.
There's no reason to hang around the Freeport Terminal; the same is true of Ocean Quay.
Sightseeing Tours: An excellent option for general sightseeing is any one of several bus or canal tours. The nearly three-hour Grand Bus Tour that departs from Town Hall Square includes drive-by views of Tivoli, the Carlsberg Visitor Centre, Christiansborg Palace, the Danish Royal Theater, Nynhavn, Gefion Fountain, Grundtvig Church and Rosenborg Castle. There are short stops to see the Little Mermaid, the changing of the guard at Amalienborg Palace and the Church of Our Lady. The 1.5-hour-long hop-on, hop-off bus tour includes much of the same, but it offers an on/off option for those who wish to linger a bit longer at some of the stops. Tickets are good for 24 hours or 48 hours of use. For those who prefer to tour on foot, Copenhagen Free Walking Tours (three hours long) meet every day at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the steps of Town Hall Square and end near Amalienborg Palace.
Little Mermaid: The coyly reclining statue is quintessential Copenhagen, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen and sculpted by Edvard Eriksen in 1913. She has been decapitated three times and painted red by vandals, but she happily survived all this, due to the fact that her original mold exists, so body parts can be replaced if necessary.
SMK, The National Gallery of Denmark: The biggest museum in the country, this is where art from the 13th century to the present is exhibited. Works by Rubens, Rembrandt and Hals share the walls with Eckersberg, Kobke and Hansen. French 20th-century art includes 20 works by Matisse. Works by younger Danish and international contemporary artists are featured in the x-room. (Solvgade 48-50; free admission; open Tuesday and Thursday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed Monday)
Tivoli Gardens: Since opening in 1843, this 20-acre park has delighted visitors. Set in the heart of the city, this charming park was said to be Walt Disney's inspiration for DisneyLand. More than 400,000 flowers (and almost as many sparkling lights after dark) are a colorful setting for amusement rides (including a high-speed roller coaster), live music, 40 restaurants and a fireworks display on Saturday nights. Don't miss the Pantomime Theater's evening performances of ballet and acrobatics, a beloved tradition since 1844. Tivoli is closed from mid-September until April, but opens for a few weeks prior to the Christmas holidays with a terrific Christmas market and the chance to channel your inner Hans Christian Andersen by ice-skating on the lake. (Vesterbrogade 3; open Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Amalienborg Palace: The four 18th-century French Rococo-style mansions that make up the palace grounds have been the homes of the Danish royal family since 1794. Watch the changing of the Royal Danish Guard at noon, when the royal family is at home. (You'll know they're home if the swallowtail flag is flying above the palace.) Capped in black bearskin busbies, the guards begin marching at 11:30 a.m. from the barracks by the Rosenborg Palace; the route varies depending upon which royal is in residence. For the Queen, it goes along Rosenborggade, Kobmargergade, Ostergade, Kongens Nytorv, Bredgage, Sct. Annae Plads and Amaliegade. When the princes are residing at the palace, but not as regents, the parade route is along Gothersgade, CHr.IX's Gade, Kr. Bernikowsgade, Kongens Nytorv, Bredgade, Fredericksgade and Amalienborg. After the change, they return along those same routes back to Rosenborg, accompanied by a band. Visitors have access to Christian VIII's Palace, since Queen Margrethe lives at Christian VII's. (Kobenhavn 1257; open daily from May to September, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays from October to April)
Christiansborg Palace: Home to the Danish Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Royal Reception Rooms, the palace is a must-see. Take one of the guided tours (daily, noon to 4 p.m.) to see the Reception Rooms, the Royal Stables, the Great Hall (with the Queen's Tapestries) and Parliament. Also check out the ruins (daily, May to September, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays October to April) of the 1167 castle of Bishop Absalon (founder of Copenhagen), located under the palace. (Christiansborg Slotsholmen)
Kastellet: A citadel constructed by King Frederik III in the 1660s and still with some of its original ramparts, this was the city's main fortress until the 18th century. During the Nazi occupation, it served as the Germans' headquarters. Though the Danish military occupies its buildings today, visitors can stroll the lovely grounds, including the five-point moat. (Langelinie; open daily, 6 a.m. to sunset)
Our Savior's Church (Vor Frelsers Kirke): If you're up for some exercise, trek the 400-step spiral steeple of the Baroque church to take in an amazing city view. Urban legend says the architect jumped from the steeple when he realized the winding staircase curved the wrong way. Save enough time to see the carved organ case. (Annaegade 29; open daily from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.)
National Museum of Denmark: Jam-packed with anthropological artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic period to the mid-19th century, the museum houses the largest collection of cultural artifacts in the country. The Viking stones and helmets are amazing, as are the 3,000-year-old Lur horns (among the oldest musical instruments in Europe) and the 3,500-year-old Sun Chariot. We recommend seeing the Royal Collection of Coins and Medals, too. (Ny Vestergade 10; free admission; open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Rosenborg Castle: The 17th-century Renaissance-style castle was built as a summer home for Christian IV, who ruled from 1588 to 1648. Wait until you see the ivory coronation chairs and Frederik VII's baby shoes. Three silver lions guard the thrones of the king and queen, surrounded by tapestries that depict historic battle scenes between Denmark and Sweden. Rooms, chronologically arranged, feature royal family artifacts, including Christian IV's crown -- atwinkle with gold, diamonds and pearls -- and the crown jewels still worn by H.M. the Queen on special occasions. (May: daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; June to August: daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; September to October: daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; November to April: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Vor Frue Kirke Church: Be sure to see Bertel Thorvaldsen's statues of Christ and the 12 apostles at the neoclassical 11th-century church. Visitors are not permitted to enter during religious services or other events.
Copenhagen Amber Museum: Apart from the largest chunk of amber in the world, the museum has an excellent collection of amber embedded with insects, plants and other prehistoric material. There's a shop downstairs where you can buy high-quality amber jewelry. (Kongens Nytorv 2; open daily, May to September, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; daily, October to April, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.)
Visit Carlsberg: Got beer? Beyond a brewery tour, this stop pays homage to the famous Danish beer (launched in 1847) with a sculpture garden, horses in harness and the world's largest collection of unopened beer bottles from around the globe. Of course there are beer samplings and tastings; the brew house is also a popular place to have lunch. (Gamle Carlsberg Vej 11; open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Mondays from October to May)
Danish Jewish Museum: Designed by Daniel Libeskind (who also designed New York City's Freedom Tower at the site of the former World Trade Center), the museum is located in the former Royal Boathouse built by Christian IV in 1598. Exhibits highlight Jewish life in Denmark, including culture, art and history, extending back to the first Jewish immigration 400 years ago. (Access through Proviantpassagen from Christians Borg and Christians Brygge; open June to August: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; September to May, Tuesday to Friday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.)
Kronborg: Some say Kronborg is the greatest castle in the country; it's located about 40 minutes from Copenhagen (reachable by train). The "Elsinore Castle" of Shakespeare's Hamlet, this UNESCO World Heritage monument was built between 1574 and 1585. With its soaring towers and grand ballroom, Kronborg is one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe. In August, it hosts a Shakespeare festival. (open daily April to May, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; June to August, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; September to October, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Open Air Museum: Head to Lyngby, on the outskirts of Copenhagen, to see this lovely reconstructed village, spread out on nearly 90 acres. Consider it good exercise to stroll the two miles around the compound. Don't-miss exhibits include a half-timbered 18th-century farmstead from one of Denmark's tiny islands, a primitive longhouse from the Faroe Islands and thatched fishermen's huts from Jutland. (Kongevejen 100, Lyngby; open daily May to June: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; July to mid-August: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; mid-August to mid-October: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed mid-October until Easter, but open weekends during Christmas season)
Royal Stables: At what have been the actual stables of the Royal Family since 1778, you'll see riders exercising the royal horses on your visit. Check out the Harness Room to see old uniforms, an ornate eight-horse harness and the Royal Family's carriage. Inside the Coach Hall are old but well-preserved state coaches and carriages. (Christiansborg Ridebane 12; open daily, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.; in July, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m; closed Mondays from October to April)
On Foot: Copenhagen is a great walking city, with most of its wondrous sights within a square mile of its center. A good place to begin a city tour is Town Hall Square; the Tivoli Gardens are across the street, and just north of Tivoli is Radhuspladsen, the central city square and the main terminal for the local bus network. To the east is the city's waterfront, including the canal district of Christianshavn.
By Taxi: There are more than 1,700 government-licensed taxis that service Copenhagen, and most accept credit cards for trips of any length. Just make sure you tell the driver at the onset of your journey. Ask in advance to be sure your driver takes a credit card without a pin if you're using a magnetic strip card (common in the U.S.). You can hail taxis easily enough, and most drivers speak English. Taxi fares increase during the evening hours and on holidays. Drivers round up to the next krone, but no other tip is necessary. We recommend that you only ride in metered taxis.
By Bus: From the cruise facility at Langelinie Pier, bus #26, which runs every 20 minutes, will take you to the city center. A waterbus near the polar bear statue at the end of the pier can also get you to the center of the city. (A one-day ticket lets you get on and off all day.) Taxis are plentiful for the 10-minute ride in. If you've disembarked at Freeport Terminal, take bus #27 to Kongens Nytorv or Radhuspladsen (town square). Taxis are generally available, as well. If you're at Ocean Quay, the best bet is to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city. A couple of competing outfits operate these tours, and the cost is roughly $20 to $25 USD. The tour itself lasts about 90 minutes and includes all the major highlights like Amalienborg Palace, Tivoli Gardens and the Little Mermaid, but you can jump off to explore at your leisure and pick up the next bus at the stop. You might also find a taxi at Ocean Quay that will take you to town, but that's not a sure thing, and you might spend almost as much on taxi fare as you would for the narrated bus tour.
By Bike: Copenhagen has more than 1,000 white "City Bikes" that anyone can use within central Copenhagen, year-round, by inserting a coin into the bike's locking mechanism (one hour for 25 DKK). Designated bike lanes snake through town, and you won't be alone -- there are nearly two bikes for every resident of Copenhagen, they say, and it's one of the most bike-friendly cities in Europe.
By Car: Car rental companies like Budget, Hertz and Europcar have offices in the city, as well as at the airport. (Europcar is discounted for holders of the Copenhagen Card.) Check their websites for exact locations and prices. The cost of parking weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. is determined by zones (red, green and blue), and each has its own pricing. The farther away, the cheaper it will be. (The red zone is 30 DKK per hour, the green zone is 18 DKK, and the blue zone is 11 DKK.) Other times are free. Parking away from the city center is free for up to 2 hours. Tickets are purchased from coin-operated meters in the parking areas.
From the Airport: Copenhagen Airport is 6 miles (9 km) from the city's center. Shuttle buses are generally available to cruise ships, but contact your cruise line for more information. If you arrive at Terminal 3, there are trains to town departing every 20 minutes; take the train to Osterport station. A taxi to Langelinie Pier takes about 25 minutes. Ocean Quay is also about 25 minutes from the airport.
For travelers debarking or embarking there, Copenhagen has one of the most convenient rail services between downtown's main terminal (Kobenhavn) and the airport. The ride takes about 15 minutes. For travelers with a day to kill before flying, the rail station offers baggage storage.
North Zealand: For chilly dips, sunsets and sand beneath your feet, head about 38 miles out of town to the beaches of North Zealand. They include Gilleleje, Liseleje and Tisvildeleje. The easiest way to get to the North Zealand beaches is first by train to Helsingor, then by bus. If you've got time, check out any of the little resort towns along the coast. As a side note, North Zealand has more castles and palaces than any other region in Denmark. We highly recommend checking out at least one. Our favorite is Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod, near Lake Slotso. It's as beautiful inside as it is from the outside; you'll tour dozens of rooms filled with magnificent tapestries, paintings and antiques.
Copenhagen Street Food Market: Denmark's best fare is arguably its open-face sandwiches or smorrebrod and its legendary hot dogs, which can be bought from the many carts scattered throughout the city. Dining at a sit-down restaurant can be expensive there, so you might want to consider grabbing a bite at Copenhagen Street Food Market, a former warehouse and docking area now lined with food trucks for frugal and fun dining.
Torvehallerne: Another possibility is Torvehallerne, the city's covered food market, where food stalls and snack bars offer fresh fare and a lively atmosphere.
Nimb: Try Nimb, a beautifully restored historic structure at Tivoli Gardens that houses an upmarket boutique hotel, deli, market, restaurant and brasserie. Aim for the latter, which, although a bit pricey, offers fantastic views of the grounds. (You might even catch a performance while dining on the terrace.) The food is traditional Danish with a contemporary flair.
Fru Nimb Flaeskestegsbod: Looking for something a bit more basic and quick during your day at Tivoli? Pop into Fru Nimb Flaeskestegsbod for one of its tasty, inexpensive pork sandwiches.
Spcafeen: Another option at Tivoli is Socafeen for Danish sandwiches and cold beer, overlooking Tivoli Lake.
Restaurant Schonnemann: Our pick for the ultimate smorrebrod experience, this local favorite offers a medley of Danish open-face sandwiches, featuring a dark rye base with toppings like silky gravlax with mustard and dill or curried herring. They suggest you try three or four of these tapas-sized sandwiches and, of course, an aquavit. They've been doing this since 1877, and they've gotten it right. We suggest lunching on the late side to avoid crowds. (Hauser Plads 16; +45 3312 0785; open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Sundays)
Noma: Of course you've heard of this one. It's considered one of the top restaurants in the world and has been rated the absolute best in the world four times. Be prepared to have your taste buds challenged by Chef Rene Redzepi, who brings local cuisine to an elevated level, incorporating ingredients like forest ants (sprinkled atop steak tartar with celery oil) into his 20-course tasting menu. You might encounter squid and fennel served in an ice bowl, rhubarb creme fraiche and sorrel, as well as other creative pairings. Service is flawless. After your meal, tour the kitchens, including the fermentation lab. Yes, it's pricey -- currently 1,700 DKK (about $255 USD), including 25 percent VAT -- but if you're a committed foodie, you'll agree the splurge is worthwhile. Reservations are accepted three months in advance online at www.noma.dk/reservations/ or by phone from Mon to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (local time). (Strandegade 93, Christianshavn; +45 3296 3297; open Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 1 a.m.)
Copenhagen offers three port facilities. Langelinie Pier, about 1.5 miles from the city's center, is a delightful port area with a series of shops and cafes, located a short 10-minute walk from the city's center. Taxis are also available. Look for a nearby Copenhagen Information Center with money-changing services and ATMs.
The Freeport Terminal, located about two miles from town, has no nearby services or ATMs (although all taxis take credit cards); the nearest train into town is a 15- to 20-minute walk away.
Designed for the largest ships, the newest terminal, Ocean Quay, is in Copenhagen's North Harbour, Nordhavn. This sprawling industrial zone is too far from town to walk, and there are no services nearby. Fortunately, tour bus companies line up there at the cruise dock to take passengers into town to explore. You might also encounter a taxi or two if you're simply looking for a lift.
Note: Don't arrange for a taxi in advance to take you from the airport to the ship if you're arriving in Copenhagen because you'll pay for waiting time, which can run up the fare quickly. Take a taxi that's already waiting instead.
Be mindful of bike lines as you walk around the city or board tour buses. Fast-moving cyclists won't necessarily go around you if you're in their way.
Denmark is one of Europe's hold-outs in terms of embracing the euro, so be prepared to master the krone. Beware of sticker shock at restaurants, hotels and shops.
Currency exchange can be made in most banks, post offices and train stations. Banks are open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. There are several exchange offices in the central station across from Tivoli Gardens that stay open late. For the best exchange rates, use ATMs, found almost everywhere.
Note: Many European ATMs display only numerals on the keypad. For pin codes that include letters, commit to memory or jot down the translation to numbers.
Danish, which is a bit difficult to master, is the language spoken. Generally, English is spoken and understood.
Royal Copenhagen porcelain or Georg Jensen silver are the two most notable souvenirs.
If you're visiting from outside the European Union, you can get back some 18 percent of the 25 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) you paid on certain goods. You must spend a minimum amount per store, and items purchased must remain sealed and unused while you're in Denmark. You will need to carry your passport with you and fill in a form at the time of purchase. Present the forms to Customs at the final departure from the European Union, but keep in mind the agents most likely will ask to see the goods.