What NOT to do in Copenhagen
This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy through those links, I may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. You can read the full disclosure here.
Copenhagen is a very relaxed, casual city with a down-to-earth atmosphere and a great work-life balance. The city’s population is a mix of those who were born and raised in Copenhagen, Danes from outside Copenhagen, and internationals. As a result Copenhagen is a pretty forgiving city. However, there are a handful of things you shouldn’t do. So before your next visit to Copenhagen familiarize yourself with the following:
Here’s What NOT to do in Copenhagen
After having lived in Copenhagen for a year, I’ve come to learn there are a few things you shouldn’t do here. Some of these are pretty benign such as not being offended by dismissive service, while others can get you into serious troubles like riding a bicycle on the car lane. For the sake of simplicity, I divided what not to do in Copenhagen by the following categories: dining & shopping, etiquette, and cycling & transit.
Dining & Shopping
Wherever you’re coming from, you may perceive the service in Copenhagen to be unfriendly and there are two main reasons for that:
- Danes are reserved people and don’t make small talk. This also extends to those who work in the retail and hospitality sectors. They will do what they’re paid to do and move on without asking you about your day or any other personal questions.
- Danes receive a living wage and they are also members of unions, which hold a lot of power when it comes to negotiating salaries and working conditions. Therefore, there’s no incentive for workers to bend over backwards to impress you in an attempt to receive a tip or not get fired.
So don’t feel offended by the services you receive, no one has anything against you personally. That’s just how things work in Copenhagen.
Another important thing not to do is leaving your credit card at home. There are many stores and restaurants in Copenhagen that do not accept cash at all, not even Danish cash.
As a result of living wages, tipping isn’t a big deal in Denmark. Tipping culture does exist and people do leave tips but they are very small and not mandatory. Thus don’t feel obligated to tip; it’s a nice gesture but not necessary.
When it comes to beer, don’t be shocked how expensive it is to drink it at bars or restaurants. It is much cheaper to buy it at the grocery store.
Furthermore, eating or drinking on Nyhavn is extremely overpriced and I would recommend against it. Instead, do what the locals do. Buy something to eat and drink from the grocery store, sit on the side of the canal and enjoy your meal with a view. Or just grab something more affordable like a scoop of ice cream and eat it as you stroll around.
You can find both beer and wine on the shelves of grocery stores. Anyone (young and old) can walk in, grab a can/ bottle and proceed to pay for it at the checkout. The cashier is unlikely to ask for your ID to check your age. Thus, don’t be shocked if you see young teenagers buying alcohol. It is a normal thing in Copenhagen.
And speaking of the grocery store checkout, the cashier will most likely be sitting down and won’t interact with you too much. Don’t be surprised if they do not say hello, or bag your items. You have to bag your own shopping in Copenhagen. Sometimes the cashier won’t even tell you how much you have to pay. Just look at the screen, pay and off you go.
Furthermore, if you’re buying fresh produce, don’t forget to inspect the scale carefully. At least look at what the other shoppers are doing. In some grocery stores you have to weight your produce and print a label for them before going to the checkout. But not all grocery stores do this and it’s easy to forget which grocery stores require you print a label and which do not.
And lastly, don’t be shocked by the state of the grocery stores in Copenhagen. They are often messy, lacking products, and short-staffed.
Danish people tend to be quiet and keep to themselves. Despite being the capital and largest city, Copenhagen is no exception to this rule. Thus, don’t be too loud when you’re speaking or chewing. Don’t yell after children or dogs.
On that note, don’t intrude on someone else’s privacy. If there is enough space around you, don’t stand too close to someone else when waiting for transit, or in the checkout line at the grocery store. If there are multiple seats on the bus, don’t sit next to someone else.
And if you’re taking the train during your stay in Copenhagen, don’t talk in the Stillezone (quiet zone)! It is very rude and disrespectful to do so.
Furthermore, don’t feel offended if Danish people come off as rude. They’re not rude at all, they’re just reserved people and don’t show emotion. So don’t take it personally.
Moreover, I would also recommend against bringing an umbrella. Sidewalks in Copenhagen are quite narrow and people will hate you if your umbrella bumps into their heads. Pack a rain jacket instead.
Additionally, do not swim in the canals outside of the designated swimming areas. While the water is clean enough for swimming anywhere in the Copenhagen harbour, there is traffic.
And speaking of swimming areas, don’t be offended by nudity if you see any. It is acceptable to sunbathe topless in Copenhagen. Also on that note, it is perfectly acceptable and very common for girls and women to go out and about braless. Don’t stare or make them uncomfortable.
Lastly, if you’re venturing into Christiania, do not take pictures. Keep your phone and camera in your bag/ pocket at all times. If you want to take a picture of something always ask first, then take out the phone/ camera once you have permission.
Cycling & Transit
When you’re out and about walking in Copenhagen, always be aware of where you’re walking. Never ever jaywalk on the bicycle lane! Locals cycle very fast and you can get seriously hurt. It also doesn’t help that you can unknowingly cross from the sidewalk to the bicycle lane. So always pay attention where you’re walking and if in doubt, walk as closely to the buildings as possible.
If you attempt to ride a bicycle, do not just hop on and ride away. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with how the locals do it. Pay attention to how they signal left and right turns. Observe that cyclists stay on the bike lanes at all times. Never ever ride your bicycle on the car lane!
Additionally, keep in mind that there are actually two lanes on the bike lane. Do not hog the bike lane; always keep right.
Also pay attention to bus stops and always stop for pedestrians getting on and off the bus. The bus will stop on the vehicle lane and as pedestrians get on and off the bus they will have to cross the bike lane to get to the sidewalk. Pedestrians have the right of way and you must always stop for them!
And most importantly, do not attempt to cycle in Copenhagen if you’re not experienced when it comes to riding a bicycle. Locals won’t have much patience with you at the best of times. And at the worst you may be involved in an accident given that some people cycle very quickly and aggressively.
If you’re borrowing a Rejsekort, make sure it’s an anonymous ones. Don’t ever use someone else’s Rejsekort because you will get a very large fine.
Furthermore, remember to always tap in and then tap out at the end of your journey. Failure to tap out will result in you paying an exorbitant amount of money for the journey.
Lastly if you’re buying tickets, always make sure you buy tickets for the right number of zones you’re travelling to. For example if you go from zone 1 (city center) straight to zone 3 (airport) you need a 3 zone ticket even though you only cross 2 zones. If in doubt, ask a local. Fines are too large and it’s not worth risking it.
And there you have it, what NOT to do in Copenhagen. Remember, Copenhagen is a fairly casual and accepting city. Just be mindful and respectful towards those around you and everything will be fine.