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Copenhagen is one of the most popular cruise stops in Scandinavia. In 2019 almost 800,000 passengers passed through the port of Copenhagen, which exceeds the city’s population. And it’s easy to see why. Not only is Copenhagen the gateway to Scandinavia, but it’s also a relaxed, historic yet modern city. And best of all, Copenhagen is a fairly compact city, and a lot of attractions are close to each other. Ideal for exploring on a short trip.
Having lived in Copenhagen, I decided to put together this article on how to maximize your time and what’s worth seeing during a short stop in the city. But before we get into what to do on a cruise stop in Copenhagen, let me first answer some questions you may have:
Actually, Copenhagen has three ports: Langelinie, Oceankaj and Nordre Toldbod.
If you stop at the Langelinie Cruise Terminal, you’re in luck. You’re only a short walk away from the Little Mermaid and tons of other attractions. This is not so much a terminal, but more of a long quay with plenty of shops nearby.
Oceankaj is the terminal you’re most likely to dock at and it is located in Nordhavn, near the UNICEF warehouse.
And finally there’s the Nordre Toldbod Terminal which is also steps away from the Little Mermaid. However, this port is small and if you’re arriving on a large cruise ship you definitely won’t dock here.
The fastest and easiest way to get into Copenhagen from the Oceankaj Terminal is to take the metro. Take bus 25 to the Orientkaj metro station, then take the M4 line towards Kongens Nytorv. However, hop-on hop-off buses are my number one recommendation, and I’ll explain why below.
If you arrive at Langelinie or Nordre Toldbod Terminals the easiest and best way to get into Copenhagen is to take a tour bus from Langelinie Street near the Little Mermaid. Additionally walking is also an option. It is only a 10-15 minute walk to reach popular attractions like Nyhavn or Amalienborg.
No. Cards are widely accepted, even for small purchases. In fact, I recommend everyone bring a card with them wherever they go to Copenhagen as there are many establishments that do not accept cash at all, not even Danish cash. Thus if you’re only in Copenhagen for a few hours, it makes no sense to drag cash with you and potentially lose to the exchange rate.
However, if you plan on buying a bus ticket on the bus, you will need exact change in cash. Additionally, if you’re visiting the Rosenborg Castle and need to leave your bag in the locker, you will need coins for the locker. For these things, perhaps you may want to exchange 20-30 USD to Danish Krone at home. Make sure they give you coins!
Here are the best things to do in Copenhagen on a short trip.
Tours don’t always have the best reputation, but let me be honest with you. A few hours to one day won’t do Copenhagen justice. In this case, tours are the best way to see as much as possible of the city. In fact, I recommend cruise passengers against going to museums, and just seeing the sights instead. Copenhagen is a very beautiful and colorful city.
Here are the tours I recommend:
There are multiple hop-on hop-off bus options in Copenhagen, the most popular one being Stromma. Most people are not fond of such tours, but they are worth it in Copenhagen on a short cruise stop. Not only are they great for sightseeing and learning some interesting facts, but they’re also a great way for you to get around.
These buses stop at the most popular attractions, where you choose whether you wish to get off and explore, or not. If you get off, you can just hop on the next bus and continue the journey at your own pace. And if you arrive by cruise ship, they have transfer buses at the pier.
Just be aware that tickets for one company won’t be valid for another. However, tickets for one company may be valid on different lines run by the same company.
If you’ll be in Copenhagen for at least one full day and plan on visiting one or two museums and a canal tour, you may wish to consider the Copenhagen Card Hop. See the end of this article for more details.
After spending many days on a ship, a boat tour is probably not at the top of the things you’d want to do right after disembarking. But I promise you, it’s worth it in Copenhagen.
Regardless of the duration of the trip, a canal tour is something that I recommend to everyone during their visit to Copenhagen. They are affordable, short in duration but packed with interesting sights, and get perspectives you cannot get from the ground. For example, the best views of the Black Diamond can only be seen from the water.
Most canal tours come with a tour guide. If you want to hear the interesting facts, I recommend sitting near the front of the boat. The water currents can make it difficult to hear in the back.
If you’re interested in both bus and canal tours, I recommend checking out the Copenhagen Card. I’ll go into more details at the bottom of this article.
Walking tours are a great way to see central Copenhagen. When you’re out and about you can stop to look at interesting things, you can hear the local language, feel the sun on your face, and most of all stretch your legs after being on a ship of many days.
However, scheduling a walking tour in advance can be tricky if you don’t know how long it will take you to get off the ship and reach the city center. Unlike the bus and canal tours, you cannot buy walking tours on the spot. They have to be scheduled in advance. And for that reason, I recommend self-guided walking tours. Not only can you start and complete them at your own pace, at whichever time works best for you, but they’re also quite affordable.
I don’t suggest visiting any museums on your cruise stop in Copenhagen as you won’t have enough time to fully enjoy them, and so it’s better to save your money. However, if you want to visit a historical place, I fully recommend the Rosenborg Castle. The castle itself is small and you can easily see it in about one hour. Plus in the basement of the castle you will find the crown jewels.
Please note there are a few stairs in the castle to climb, which may not be ideal for you if you have limited mobility. Additionally, due to the compact size of the castle and artefacts being so close to each other, you are not allowed to enter with large bags. They have lockers next to the ticket counter, but you need Danish coins to use them.
There is a hop on hop off bus stop about 200 meters from the entry, which makes getting to and from the Rosenborg Castle a breeze. Entry is included with the Copenhagen Card, see more bellow.
The 17th Century Round Tower is located steps away from the Nørreport Station. At around 5 USD, tickets are quite affordable and you can easily climb and descend the tower in about 30 minutes. The climb is easy. There are no steps, just an upwards, winding slope. There are also windows, which bring natural light in so it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. Once you reach the top, you get amazing views of the Copenhagen skyline. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset. Entry is included with the Copenhagen Card, see more bellow.
Copenhagen has a few food halls and you should visit at least one, considering how good street food is in this city. I recommend Torvehallerne since it is the most centrally located one, right next to Nørreport Station. If you can only try one thing go for the Smørrebrød, the traditional Danish open-faced sandwich. I would also buy some chocolates from Summerbird, either for yourself or as a souvenir for a loved one at home. And if weather permits, take your food to go and eat it at the botanical garden. It is free to enter and open year-round. Sit on a bench or on the grass.
Another food market is Reffen. But given its location on Refshaleøen Island, it takes a bit too long to get there and back. Thus I would recommend against visiting it on a short trip because you’ll miss out on other attractions.
Just steps away from Nyhavn you will find Amalienborg Palace and Square. Although it is the official residence of the royal family, part of the Amalienborg Palace is also open for visitations. You probably won’t have the time to visit it on a short trip, but I recommend stopping by to admire the square. It is large and imposing, with fantastic views. Due to its large size, it’s never too busy at any one time, which is great for photography enthusiasts.
Also at Amalienborg Square you can also see the Royal Life Guards who have stood guard since 1658! If possible, make sure to be there just before noon to watch the changing of the guard ceremony, which takes place daily.
La Glace is Denmark’s oldest (and best) patisseries, and the Sports Cake is the house specialty and most popular item on the menu. It is made of nougat bits, a macaron base, and lots of whipped cream. I recommend buying a slice (or more) at the end of your day, just before heading back to the ship. Don’t buy it too far in advance because the whipped cream could go bad in the summer heat.
Located at Kongens Nytorv Square, Magasin du Nord has been a staple in Copenhagen since the 1800s. You can find all sorts of Danish and international fashions, home goods and accessories. But the best part of this department store is the food market in the basement. During the summer months, they have a seemingly never ending supply of traditional butter cookie tins. And for some reason, all the tourists seem to be buying huge quantities of these cookies.
If you’re looking to buy souvenirs, Magasin du Nord is a great place. From a Danish scarf or bag, to some edible treats, you’ll likely find something for everyone on your list.
Additionally, in the basement Magasin du Nord is also connected to the Kongens Nytorv metro station, which makes it a great last stop on your day trip to Copenhagen. Once you’re done shopping, you can easily jump on the metro and head back to the ship. And if you didn’t come by public transit, there are hop-on hop-off bus stops just outside the store as well.
If you’re in the area and you have some time left before having to go back to the ship, you may want to stop by the Little Mermaid. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, the bronze statue has been sitting on that rock at Langelinie Pier since 1913. Throughout the years she has faced multiple acts of vandalism, but was always restored. Although she is one of the most popular attractions in Copenhagen, don’t get your hopes up! The Little Mermaid is tiny, and always surrounded by tourists.
And if you still have some time left after visiting the Little Mermaid, you may also want to see Kastellet. This 17th century pentagon-shaped fortress is one of the best preserved in Northern Europe. Kastellet is located just steps away from the Little Mermaid, and it is free to enter the grounds and stroll around. However, you can’t go inside the buildings as they are currently used for military purposes.
If you’ll be in Copenhagen overnight, you may consider purchasing the Copenhagen Card. There are two options to choose from:
For cruise passengers, I recommend the hop version as it features the hop-on hop-off buses. However, both cards have a canal tour included, and are similarly priced.
It is important to keep in mind that you can only have one admission per attraction. For example, you can only go on a canal tour once. If you enjoyed it, you do not have to option to forgo entry to a museum for a second canal tour.
If you’re using the hop-on hop-off buses, make sure to check the company name on the bus. Tickets for one company won’t allow you on another. However tickets for one company may allow you on different lines run by the same company.
When it comes to the canal tours, the Copenhagen Card only gives you access to the Stromma tours. Make sure to look for the Stromma boats as you won’t be able to board boats from other companies, and there are numerous companies operating canal tours in Copenhagen.
These have been my tips on what to do on a cruise stop in Copenhagen. If you found them useful, bookmark the page for later reference. Additionally, I also have this related article on Things not Worth Seeing in Copenhagen on a Short Trip.