The land of Carlsberg, mermaids and Hans Christian Andersen offers more than enough for a weekend getaway.
With bohemian Christiana, Amsterdam-inspired canals and literally some of the World’s Best Restaurants – including no less than 70 restaurants in the Michelin Guide – Copenhagen is small, but mighty. You come here once and think about coming back before you leave.
When to visit
As with many European cities, you must choose your time of year wisely. The summer’s gloriously long evenings and warmer temperatures make for an ideal time to navigate this very walkable city on foot. Those looking for the charm of Christmas and the nip of cold will also have lots to see and do as Copenhagen comes alive with Christmas markets. So why not do both?
It is easy to get to Copenhagen from the Middle East by plane with direct flights from Dubai with Emirates or indirect flights from various cities across the region with Turkish Airlines. With budget and full-service airlines available, Copenhagen is approximately seven hours away with only a one or two-hour time difference.
You do not have much time with short staycations, so you want to stay close to all the action. Choose your neighbourhood wisely. The good news is that Copenhagen is very walkable and relatively compact, so few things are far away. The Vesterbro/Kongens Enghave lies in central Copenhagen near the Nyhaven River. It is about twenty minutes by taxi or metro from Copenhagen’s airport. This district comes alive during the long summer evenings with sunbathers, swimming, and kayaking. For those looking for a chic city escape, the Radisson Collection Royal Hotel offers a comfortable stay in the heart of the action.
Day One: Of bakeries and boating
Copenhagen is famous for its plethora of Danish bakeries. Start the day with intention at Alice Ice Cream and Coffee, one of the city’s best bakeries, turning out buttery, flaky almond croissants, pain aux chocolat and tebirkes. This carb loading prepares you for the day’s exploring. Walk over Torvegade to Christianshavn and – specifically – Freetown Christiania, a pseudo-autonomous pedestrianised comune. The hippy vibe makes for great people watching – but not everyone likes having their photos taken around here.
Head to Hey Captian’s dock near Ofelia Beach and the Royal Danish Playhouse for a guided boat tour along the Nyhaven River for either the Landmarks or Hidden Gems tour as you pass the city’s Opera House, Circle Bridge and more.
After the tour, head to Juju’s, a casual, modern Korean restaurant by one of the city’s most celebrated chefs, Kristian Baumann. Munch on the chilled green tea noodles or nori vinegar fries. You’re on holiday, after all.
Waddle towards Rosenborg Castle through some of Copenhagen’s leafy parks and consider a detour through the National History Museum for actual Viking helmets and preserved bodies found in Danish bogs or Statens Museum for Kunst (an art museum).
Copenhagen is a fine dining lover’s paradise, but it requires methodical planning. Many fine-dining restaurants are booked three months in advance! Treat yourself to a table at Noma or Geranium. Both hold three Michelin stars. Restaurant Alchemist is the “World’s No. 1 in waiting” (in my opinion) and an unforgettable dining experience with 50 “impressions” (aka courses) served over six hours. You will eat most impressions under a giant dome that dramatically changes scenes before plunging into a ball pit. Alchemist is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Day Two: Grab a bike
It would not be a Copenhagen city break without cycling around the city. Do not worry, there are spacious dedicated cycle lanes. Download the Donkey Republic app to help you easily rent a bike in the city.
Cycle over to Juno the Bakery for their famous knotted cardamon buns or Hart Bageri for cherry-filled croissants and sausage rolls. These should keep you going for a while! It’s time to cycle over to Tivoli, a Danish amusement park from the mid-1800s. The smart money is on getting a wristband for unlimited rides (and avoid wasting time queuing up for tickets). The Tivoli Gardens also come to life with Christmas markets if you are considering a Copenhagen brisk winter break. You can check out the Hans Christian Andersen statue, dedicated to the famed author who wrote children’s classics like Thumbelina and The Little Mermaid.
You should cycle or walk over to the main Nyhavn waterside canal district, where you may recognise its 17th-century colourful buildings lining the harbour. Meander around this area at your leisure. This waterfront locale is littered with restaurants and bars where, in the warmer months, Danes will drink alfresco along the waterside, rent a boat from Friendships or a hydrobike (for the athletic among you) to ride down the river.
There are many options for lunch in this area. Harbourside in Nyhavn, there’s Restaurant Carl Nieslen or the casual Told & Snaps, a traditional Danish restaurant for the local favourite, smørrebrød (a Danish open-face sandwich, like a tartine). Selma, a celebrated local restaurant just north of the harbour, serves contemporary twists on a classic smørrebrød.
Alternatively, opt for a grab-and-go via The Original Hot Dog Stand for an enormous hot dog with all the pickles en route to Copenhagen’s main shopping area along the famed and pedestrianised Strøget. Stop off in the LEGO Flagship Store (LEGO is Danish, after all) or Pandora jewellery (also Danish), among others.
The original Carlsberg Brewery is due to re-open in December 2023 after a long renovation project. It promises to have interactive exhibitions and tastings. Probably the best one in the world (see what I did there?).
Heading back to Copenhagen Airport, make time for some last-minute shopping. Also, check out the city’s famous Gasoline Burgers at the airport.
Copenhagen may be small, but it packs a punch.
GO: Visit https://www.visitcopenhagen.com for more information.