Although we were going to Copenhagen mainly to visit Tivoli Gardens, we still had a long list of other things we wanted to see and do while we were there, so we woke up on our first day in the city ready to hit the ground running on a self-guided walking tour of Copenhagen.
The weather, on the other hand, had a completely different plan for us. Rain, below freezing temperatures, and surprisingly strong winds were what we had to look forward to all day long. We made the best of it, though, and saw everything we wanted to see; we just didn’t linger at each place as long as we normally would have. We learned our lesson and wore an extra layer the next day, but on our first day, we endured one very freaking cold tour of Copenhagen landmarks.
FYI – If you only have one day in Copenhagen, completing this free walking tour would be a great way to spend your time!
10 Places to See on a Walking Tour of Copenhagen
The following is our list of top ten places to see in Copenhagen on a city walk. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom for a map you can download to your phone, practical information about this walk, plus a helpful list of things you might want to bring. (Particularly if it’s cold out!)
The Little Mermaid
We started the day off at one of the most beloved symbols of Copenhagen – the Little Mermaid. This famous statue by Edvard Eriksen of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous mermaid has been resting on the shore of Copenhagen’s harbor since 1913 and is visited by no less than three million people every day.
Just kidding. I’m exaggerating, of course, but when you’re there, it sure feels like it.
We made it to the Little Mermaid around mid-morning just as a tour bus was arriving, and very quickly afterwards even more people began to arrive. It took quite a while to grab a photograph in between the steady stream of selfie-takers, but our patience eventually paid off.
As overhyped as it may be, visiting the Little Mermaid on your first trip to Copenhagen is sort of like a right of passage. It just has to be done. I highly recommend making it your first stop, though, simply because it’ll improve your chances of avoiding the crowds.
- Find the Little Mermaid on a map here.
Almost right next to the Little Mermaid is Kastellet Park, a beautiful public park and historic fortress constructed by King Christian IV.
It was a welcome relief to walk around in the park where far less people were jockeying for the best spots for photos. In fact, there weren’t many people here at all except for runners making laps around the lake and just a handful of other tourists.
My favorite thing about Kastellet Park were the tree-lined walking paths lined with bird feeders where scores of birds, far prettier than the pigeons we’re used to in London, were busy eating their breakfast. (Random fact: I used to hate birds, but in my old age, have become a little fond of them. No bird-watching trips on the horizon just yet, though.)
- Find Kastellet Park on a map here.
The Gefion Fountain
Within Kastellet Park, or at least very close to it, is the Gefion Fountain beside St Alban’s Church. This fountain is the largest monument in Copenhagen and – when it’s not negative degrees outside and the water is actually flowing – it’s also a wishing well.
At the top, Norse goddess Gefjun guides a chariot pulled by oxen, and beneath her, spread out over multiple levels, human and animal forms deliver water into the fountain. Even in its current state of drought when we visited, it was a pretty magnificent thing to see.
- Find the Gefion Fountain on a map here.
A bit further in distance than the previous Copenhagen sights are from each other, our next stop was Amalienborg Palace. This palace complex is the winter home of the Danish royal family and is made up of four separate palaces surrounding a courtyard in front of Frederick’s Church (the building with the green dome that you can see from all over the city).
We arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard, which was cool, but also carries on for what feels like forever because they change in six or so different places every time.
For a fee, visitors are allowed inside the Amalienborg Museum and the Royal Chambers, but as we didn’t stop in for a visit, I can’t really say whether it’s worth it to go in or not. You can find out more at the website below, though, if you’re interested.
Our next stop was Nyhavn, where the previous night we had watched 200 brightly lit kayaks enter the canal for a Saint Lucia Day celebration – what was stunning at night was even more beautiful in the daytime.
I love this iconic stretch of waterfront with its colorful houses and old boats oozing with nautical character. Like Hans Christian Andersen, this is where I’d want to live if I were a Copenhagen resident (and a gazillionaire).
Besides the many ancient wooden ships docked here, there’s also the Memorial Anchor to see, honoring the Danish Naval officers and sailors who died during WWII. The anchor is from the Frigate Fyn, and until I saw it in person, I had no idea anchors could be that big. Pretty cool.
- Find Nyhavn on a map here.
After Nyhavn, we walked over to Christiansborg Palace. (There are a surprising number of castles and palaces in Copenhagen considering its small size!)
Christiansborg Palace is a fairly important place. Besides being used by the Danish royal family from time to time, it’s also the only building in the world that houses all three of its country’s branches of government in the same place – Danish Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Prime Minister all take care of business here.
This was the only one of the three palaces we saw on our Copenhagen walking tour that we decided to come back to later to check out the inside. (Totally worth it, by the way, because the rooms inside the palace are gorgeous.) If you’ve got time, at least stop in to go to the top of the Christiansborg Palace tower. It’s free, and the views are amazing!
Across from Christiansborg Palace is the Borsen, the old stock exchange building built by Christian IV.
FYI – You will hear this guy’s name nearly everywhere of historical importance in Copenhagen. (The only other name you will hear as often is Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg Brewery, because beer.)
Anyway, one of the things the Borsen is famous for is the steeple on top, formed by the tails of four dragons twisting together. Legend has it that under the protection of these dragons, the Borsen will never burn, which sounds like hogswash until you learn that Christiansborg Palace, right across the street, has burned down several times, as well as many other neighboring buildings. But what hasn’t? That’s right, the Borsen.
- Find the Borsen on a map here.
While you’re in the area, you might as well take a stroll down Stroget, (almost) the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe.
Many of the roads leading off of Stroget are also major shopping streets, so if you’re the materialistic type (kidding!) you could easily spend all day here.
The shops are a mixture of high end international brands like Louis Vuitton and Burberry with the occasional budget clothing store thrown in for good measure. Shopping isn’t really my cup of tea, but the street looked awfully pretty during the holidays!
- Find Stroget on a map here.
The Round Tower
After we gladly removed ourselves from the holiday shopping crowds, we wandered over to the Rundetaarn, or Round Tower, another of Christian IV’s creations. (I told you this guy gets around.)
Attached to the Trinitatis Church (originally a university chapel), the Round Tower was added to the complex for the purpose of having an astronomical observatory for scholars to use.
Today, for a small fee, visitors can climb the spiral ramp on the inside and enjoy the view from the top and, on certain days of the week, use the observatory for a little late-night stargazing.
And finally, the last stop on our walking tour of Copenhagen – Rosenborg Castle. The Rosenborg was another of Christian IV’s projects, ultimately for use as his summer home.
I believe there is a museum inside the castle that is open to visitors, but since we max out at one palace per trip, we didn’t go inside.
Christian IV also designed the adjoining castle gardens, known as the King’s Gardens, which were beautiful even in the dead of winter. In addition to the lovely flower garden growing next to the castle, the King’s Gardens encompasses a large 30-acre green space surrounding the castle. (This garden also wins the award for oldest in the city which is pretty cool.)
Map of Copenhagen Sights
To make it easier for you to plan your own self-guided walking tour of Copenhagen, I’ve plotted all the sights above on a map which you can print or download to your phone from Google Maps here.
Important Things to Know
- The total distance of this Copenhagen walking tour comes to a little over four miles (or seven kilometers).
- If you’re taking pictures and spending time at each place, it’ll probably take 4-5 hours to complete the entire walk.
- If you plan to go inside the palaces or watch the changing of the guard, be sure to check the websites linked above for opening times first.
- It’s a good idea to plan for a starting time of 8-9AM if you want to avoid the crowds.
- If you’re visiting Copenhagen in the winter, keep in mind that the sun sets at like 3PM, so it gets dark early.
- Also, it is cold in the winter here, so dress appropriately. (My body was aching after this walk, not because of the distance, but because I’d been bracing myself against a cold wind for almost five hours!)
Things to Bring on a Copenhagen Walking Tour
- When it’s cold out, these hand warmers are our favorites to travel with. After you activate them, you can tuck them inside your gloves – they’re a lifesaver!
- These Yeti tumblers are perfect for carrying around hot drinks, or even just water so you don’t have to purchase plastic bottles while traveling.
- The only downside to a self-guided tour of a new city is that there’s no official guide to explain the significance of what you’re seeing. If you’re interested in learning more of the history behind the things you’ll see in Copenhagen, this Lonely Planet guide book is small enough to carry with you. (I still prefer paperback copies, but they do offer a Kindle edition as well.)
- Alternatively, if you want a local guide to take you around Copenhagen, you can book a tour for that right here.
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