Europe

The Ultimate Self-Guided Walking Tour of Copenhagen

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!

Read More: An Epic Christmas Holiday at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen

The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen

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.

Walking trails inside Kastellet Park in Copenhagen Hanging bird feeder in Kastellet Park in Copenhagen

Kastellet Park

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 in Copenhagen

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.

Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen

Amalienborg Palace

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.

Colorful houses along Nyhavn canal in Copenhagen

Nyhavn

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.

Read More: Christmas in Copenhagen: A Saint Lucia Day Celebration

Statue in front of Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen Dark passageway inside Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen

Christiansborg Palace

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!

Read More: 5 Things to See at Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen

The Borsen in Copenhagen

The Borsen

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.

Busy Stroget shopping street in Copenhagen at Christmas

Stroget

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 in Copenhagen

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.

  • Find the Round Tower on a map here.
  • Visit the official website for the Round Tower.

Statue of a girl beside Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen The King's Garden at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen

Rosenborg Castle

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 Garden, which were beautiful even in the dead of winter. In addition to the lovely flower garden growing next to the castle, the King’s Garden 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.

Read More: Copenhagen on a Budget: 10 Money-Saving Travel Tips

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This self-guided Copenhagen walking tour covers the city's famous landmarks, iconic sights, historic royal palaces, and more. This is a great way to spend your time if you only have one day in Copenhagen! A self-guided walking tour of Copenhagen covering the city's famous landmarks, iconic sights, historic royal palaces, and more. This is a great way to spend your time if you only have one day in Copenhagen!

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Lena Ameri
    December 9, 2017 at 7:24 PM

    Super helpful for my upcoming trip, thank you! Pinned it for later.

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      December 9, 2017 at 11:33 PM

      I’m so happy I could help! Enjoy your time in Copenhagen! It’s so lovely this time of year!

  • Reply
    Emmymom
    February 13, 2015 at 5:30 PM

    Your pictures make me just want to go somewhere to just take pictures of everything!

  • Reply
    Jennifer @This Off Script Life
    February 12, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    Copenhagen looks beautiful, even in the winter. I’m hoping to visit this year (trying to see as many European cities as I can while I’m on this side of the pond), but I think I’ll wait until the weather improves. I’m not sure I’d be able to brave the cold :)

  • Reply
    rorybore
    February 12, 2015 at 2:50 AM

    the Little Mermaid is so beautiful. I would definitely brave the crowds to get a shot of her. Again I say, I think I could really enjoy walking around this city. Maybe the bracing cold won’t even bother me. it would be pretty much like being home. ha.
    so many castles. how many castles do Royals really need to live in? or did I misread?

  • Reply
    Sammy @ Days Like This
    February 10, 2015 at 10:58 PM

    There is nothing worse than being outside freezing your arse off. I just spent a week in Berlin, Munich and Prague and I couldn’t believe how much the cold wore me out!!

  • Reply
    Jo
    February 10, 2015 at 9:40 AM

    Oh my word Lexi looks so cold in the picture! Shame!

  • Reply
    Melanie Fontaine
    February 9, 2015 at 10:12 AM

    Your pictures have taken me straight back to Copenhagen! I pretty much went on exactly the same walk on the one day that I spent in Denmark, but I started at the Rosenborg Palace and ended at the Little Mermaid. :) But wow, 3 Million visitors a day? That really does sound insane, especially considering that it’s kind of an underwhelming sight…

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      February 9, 2015 at 10:28 AM

      Haha! I was totally kidding! That was an exaggeration on my part because of how busy it was when we visited! :) How funny that we took the same route! I guess it just makes sense since it covers just about everything in the city!

  • Reply
    Miwa
    February 8, 2015 at 11:02 PM

    Looks freezing but you got some amazing shots! What a beautiful city. I really love how Europe is full of history, everywhere you go. Japan has lots of history too, but big cities like Tokyo have become so modern… It’s cool but also such a shame.

    PS Lexie looks taller every time I see a picture of her!

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      February 9, 2015 at 10:32 AM

      I haven’t been to Tokyo, but I have been to other countries in Asia and know what you mean about the big cities becoming so modernized. It can be a shock going from the more traditional, smaller towns to that. It’s almost like you’re not even in the same country anymore! (Although, when Cory was in Tokyo, he mentioned how he never once forgot he was in Japan. As opposed to Singapore where English is more visually prevalent – walking through parts of that city sometimes made us feel like we were in NYC!)

  • Reply
    Katrin
    February 8, 2015 at 3:51 PM

    That clearly does not sound like my kind of weather at all. I would have frozen to death I guess. I can imagine how happy you were when you got back to the hotel. I would not have lasted that long. :) How come you hated birds? I like the legend that says that the Børsen will never burn under the protection of the dragons. Seems like the dragons are doing a great job. I love legends like that!

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      February 8, 2015 at 6:02 PM

      It’s actually kind of a funny story. Growing up, I lived with my grandparents off and on. My cousins were always over at their house, too. Because a lot of us grandkids liked playing basketball, my grandfather poured a cement court in his backyard for us to play games on. The thing was, it was right next to two gigantic bird houses, so every time we went out to play, the birds felt threatened and would dive at us until we gave up. Eventually we got too scared to go play, but because we didn’t want my grandfather to think we didn’t appreciate his gift, we would force ourselves to go anyway, even with the birds attacking. So I think at my young age, I was just a little traumatized. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s when we started raising chickens that I was able to get over my fear of birds! :)

      • Reply
        Katrin
        February 8, 2015 at 6:15 PM

        Oh wow, that really sounds traumatizing! I totally understand that you were scared but did not want to disappoint your grandfather. I mean, that was very nice of him! And I never thought that birds actually start to attack you but one time I went for a hike and came by a bird’s nest and the mama bird would not leave me alone either until I was far away from the nest. That was pretty intimidating! But glad the chickens made you start liking birds again!

  • Reply
    Amanda Kendle
    February 8, 2015 at 11:56 AM

    I haven’t been to Copenhagen since I was nine years old, and fortunately then the Little Mermaid was an exciting attraction to me, and I adored the Tivoli Gardens. But I do want to get back one day (with lots of layers on by the sounds of it!).

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      February 8, 2015 at 5:57 PM

      Tivoli is just as fun as an adult, I can assure you! :) I’ve got a post set to to publish tomorrow about our day there, actually. One of the best I’ve had traveling yet!

  • Reply
    topchelseagirl
    February 6, 2015 at 5:47 PM

    Well done for persevering, what is the point of visiting somewhere if you don’t see as much as possible?! I was half expecting to see Rapunzel at one of the windows of the Rundetårn!

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      February 7, 2015 at 11:23 AM

      That is exactly how I feel! I’d have been disappointed in myself if I let the cold ruin our plans. LOL at the Rapunzel comment – I think she’d feel right at home here!

  • Reply
    Zainab R
    February 6, 2015 at 2:51 PM

    Love the pictures! I did not get to see the mermaid :(
    I did love the cream & icecream at Tivoli though…& that tall swing..

  • Reply
    Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    February 6, 2015 at 7:16 PM

    Cold & rain can be such dampeners, but to see The Little Mermaid…!

  • Reply
    Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    February 6, 2015 at 12:55 PM

    Looks beautiful, although freezing! Not sure I could have lasted as long as you!! =)

  • Reply
    Jamie | The Healthy Passport
    February 6, 2015 at 12:36 PM

    Looks super chilly :) Copenhagen really looks like a wonderful place to visit and I just love the guards tall, fuzzy hats….I want one!!

  • Reply
    Lizzie @ Wanderful World
    February 6, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    I think I did exactly the same walk as you when I was there! What did you think of the Mermaid? I was completely disappointed… I could see it appearing (tiny small) in the distance and I was like, “oh”. But I think walking around Copenhagen is one of the best things to do – it’s such a small city with loads of cool stuff within a small perimeter. I loved Nyhavn and the castles, but I would definitely wear more layers next time, too!

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      February 7, 2015 at 11:16 AM

      You know, because everyone had mentioned to me before we went how small the Little Mermaid was, I really wasn’t all that disappointed. I thought she was beautiful! The only thing I’d change is how many people were there. That was madness! I was afraid someone was going to push me into the water!

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