Home of Hans Christian Anderson, the Little Mermaid, Lego, Schnorrbrod, and Vikings, Denmark is known for being one of the happiest countries on earth, and for good reason! It's full of history, culture, and beauty, but it's also a fantastic, kid-friendly destination which makes it the perfect place for the entire family on a European vacation!
When we were planning our big European roadtrip, Denmark was high on the list because it is a big part of my ancestry. After driving through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, we dropped off our car and took the train the rest of the way to Denmark.
I'm so glad we included Denmark on our itinerary for our big Europe trip! It is such a beautiful, interesting country with so much to do and see. We wish we had had more time there, but at least got to see some of the more popular sites and some that are maybe not as well known.
I have Scandanavian ancestry, so when we were planning out our big European roadtrip, I really pushed to be able to go and visit Denmark. It was such a wonderful experience and very unusual to visit a place where so many of my ancestors came from.
It is a beautiful, interesting country with lots to offer and we enjoyed exploring it with our girls while they were so young! These are some of our favorite sites and experiences!
When is the best time to visit Copenhagen?
Generally speaking, the best times to visit Copenhagen is during the spring and summer months from late-March to August. Later in the summer you will experience more crowds and higher prices, but there are festivals and other things to entice you.
We visited Copenhagen in the late Spring and it was just about the perfect timing for us. It was on the chilly side most days, but not too bad. And even later in the summer you will need jackets since the wind from the Baltic Sea can be cold and the temperature can still be in the mid-60's.
We enjoyed the trees that were in blossom and other signs of spring everywhere, especially on the days when we got outside of the city and into the countryside. Aside from one day of sprinkles, we had beautiful sunny weather most of the time.
What to See & Do in Copenhagen
We tried to balance our precious few days in Copenhagen between seeing some of the highlights that the capitol had to offer and getting outside of the city.
This postcard-perfect 17th-century waterfront district has a canal filled with bright and cheery buildings in all the colors of the rainbow. The buildings house restaurants, cafes, townhouses, bars, and small shops. Hans Christian Andersen, the famous Danish author of fairytales like "The Ugly Duckling", "The Little Mermaid", "The Little Match Girl", "The Emperor's New Clothes", and "Thumbelina", lived here for 18 years!
Nyhavn was the most crowded spot we saw in Copenhagen, but that's a function of it being both interesting to look at and having a narrow space to walk since the canal goes right down the center between the buildings.
There are many historical wooden ships along the canal that are almost as interesting to look at as the buildings themselves.
And of course you have to stop for ice cream and treats! There are actually lots of great eateries around with plenty of food options. We tried a variety of schmorrbread, which is a very Danish dish that is basically an open-faced sandwich on really, really hearty rye bread that can be topped with almost anything from herring to vegetables. It wasn't my favorite food ever, but we liked it all the same!
The historic center of Copenhagen has loads of great attractions, restaurants, cultural sites, and other fun and interesting things to see. Even just wandering around you will spot beautiful fountains, sculptures, and buildings to look at.
Parts of the city center are filled with narrow streets and crooked houses. We were even able to find a really interesting and fun AirBnB on the 4th floor of one of those old crooked houses to stay in, which we loved because it meant we were right in the heart of things and could walk almost anywhere we wanted.
Another great way of seeing the city is to take a bike tour. We didn't book one for this part of our trip, but wished we had after having great experiences with bike tours in Paris and the Netherlands.
The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid statue is one of Copenhagen's most iconic landmarks. It is made of bronze and depicts her in the process of becoming human while sitting on a granite rock overlooking the harbor.
The statue was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's famous fairy tale that was the loose basis for Disney's version. It's a well-known spoiler that in the original fairy tale the little mermaid doesn't get a happy ending and instead sacrifices her life for the human boy she loves who leaves her for another woman.
There is actually a replica of the statue in California in a town called Solvang, which was settled by a number of Danish families.
Copenhagen is the home of the Danish royal family and the Amalienborg Palace, where they still live. You can watch the changing of the guard every day at 12:00 noon.
The palace is actually made up of four identical buildings, including one that houses the Amalinborg Museum.
Other sites of interest
- Hans Christian Anderson Statue -- This can be found at the Copenhagen City Hall Square. Hans Christian Anderson is one of the most famous Danes ever and a big part of not just Danish culture, but worldwide because of his fairytales. We picked up a book and read a few of them to the girls each night during out trip, which felt extra special.
- The Old Stock Exchange -- This massive and impressive building is directly across from Christiansborg Palace and is one of the oldest in Copenhagen, dating back to the early 1600's. It has a distinctive spire of four dragons with intertwined tails, topped by three crowns representing a united Scandanavia of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
- Christus Statue -- I really wanted to go visit The Church of Our Lady where this beautiful statue is located, but we just ran out of time. But my parents went when they visited Denmark and they said it is worth the stop. It was made from carrara marble in the 19th-century by the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and it has been widely replicated, but this is the original.
Castles & Palaces
I already mentioned Amalienborg Palace and Christiansborg Palace, both of which are in Copenhagen itself. But Denmark has a number of other castles that are easily reached from Copenhagen as day trips. We rented a car for a day so we could explore a little further afield and it was well worth it!
You can also take a train from Copenhagen to any of the towns the castles are in and walk to each of them, although you will need to plan extra travel time to do so.
We spent the better part of a day exploring the castle and grounds of Frederiksborg Slot ("slot" means castle in Danish). It's a beautifully situated castle only 40 minutes from downtown Copenhagen, built on three small islands in a lake. The castle itself is home to a vast collection of portraits.
We spent at least two to three hours slowly working our way through the inside of the castle enjoying the beautiful artwork and architecture before heading outside to walk around the grounds. This is a great location to spend half a day getting away from the hustle of the city.
Frederiksborg Castle was built in the 17th century and is the largest Renaissance castle in all of Scandanavia. A fire broke out here in the mid-1800's and burned much of the castle interior, which had to be rebuilt. Only the castle chapel, pictured below, survived intact and looks the same as it did when the castle was first built, and that chapel is where Danish kings and queens are still anointed today.
There is a children's department in the basement of the castle that is open on weekends and during school holidays. I wished so badly that it had been open when we visited because kids can dress up in renaissance gowns or practice writing with ink and quill pens, which both of our girls would have loved, but unfortunately we didn't plan our timing very well and happened to visit on a weekday.
There was still plenty of interesting things to see inside though, like suits of armor, coats of arms, "princess bedrooms", and more. It's nice to be able to learn about Danish history and culture in a setting that is also interesting for our children to enjoy.
The exterior and grounds of the castle are just as interesting and beautiful as the inside. There is a large landscaped area with fountains, decorative shrubs, and trees. There are also smaller outbuildings like the Bath House, with an English garden around it.
To get here, you can either rent a car and drive (definitely an adventure!) or just take the S-train to Hillerød Station, then walk 15 minutes to the castle. There are also local buses that will get you here, if you prefer that approach.
- Kronborg Castle -- This UNESCO World Heritage site is a castle that is perhaps most famous for being the setting for Shakespeare's "Hamlet". It dates back to the 1420's, but was rebuilt into more of what it looks like today after a fire in the early 1600's. Kronborg Castle is a Renaissance style castle that was used as a fortress to defend Denmark and the entrance the Baltic Sea.
- Rosenborg Castle -- This castle, like others, serves as a museum and currently houses the crown jewels, as well as family portaits, the throne chair of Denmark (which, according to legend was made from unicorn horn, although it was actually made from narwhal tusks), and other important art and artifacts. Rosenborg Castle looks like something straight out of a fairytale and was originally built as a summer escape to the countryside by King Christian IV in 1606.
- Fredensborg Castle -- This castle is used as a Spring and Autumn residence for the royal family and is done in an 18th-century Baroque style. It is often used for state visits and events and has a garden called "The Valley of the Norsemen" with around 70 statues depicting Norwegian and Faroese farmers.
Tivoli Gardens is right in the heart of Copenhagen and is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world, having opened in 1843! It was part of Walt Disney's inspiration when he was creating Disneyland.
Tivoli has rides (both more modern roller coaster, but numerous older, vintage rides), game areas, restaurants, and is a venue for hosting concerts, musicals, and ballets. It's a beautiful setting with lovely architecture and beautifully cared for greenery.
There is a kids area that is more playground than what we typically think of as amusement park, but our girls loved it! They would have happily spent the entire day playing and exploring this part of Tivoli Gardens.
Our very FAVORITE thing we did while in Denmark was to spend half a day (after visiting Frederiksborg Castle) driving around to find all six of the Forgotten Giants. I don't remember how I stumbled upon this activity, but the Forgotten Giants are sculptures made completely from scrap wood in hidden locations around neighboring communities just outside of Copenhagen by an artist named Thomas Dambo.
Dambo has provided clues to finding the location of each, which are scattered on hillsides, under bridges, and in small copses of trees. We found some very helpful posts at the time that got us closer to where we needed to be, but since our trip No Home Just Roam has shared a much more detailed post about finding them, if you are trying and find yourself stuck.
The first one we found was Little Tilde, and she might have been over favorite of all. It was magical to be walking around a park, only to duck into some trees and discover her there! The grownups were just as enchanted as the kids were.
Sleeping Louis was fun because the kids can climb on top of him and crawl inside his open mouth while he slumbers on his side.
We passed a small farm with sheep and had to climb up a hill to get to Hilltop Trine. The girls enjoyed sitting in her open palms and didn't want to leave. Rose would sit on Trine's shoulder and give her kisses on her rough cheeks.
Teddy Friendly lends his arm as a bridge to help you walk across a stream to where he sits. He was my second favorite forgotten giant because I just love his design and the beautiful spot next to the lake where he lives.
There was a swan right by him though that was decidedly NOT friendly. It kept hissing at us and didn't want us to come close. I think she must have had a nest nearby that we couldn't see.
Thomas on the Mountain
Thomas on the Mountain is actually pretty close to Little Tilde, but was a little harder for us to find. Unfortunately, someone had defaced Thomas with some bright paints, but hopefully that has been cleaned off by now.
Oscar Under the Bridge
This giant was so fun to find because of his location right below a bridge! We actually almost gave up and missed him because it started sprinkling on us while we were walking around the park area where he is located.
Other Places of Interest
We didn't make it to either of these because we just didn't have enough time, but when we go back we would love to visit Billund, which is the home of Lego and go to Legoland there.
We would also love to visit the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. During warmer seasons, on certain days you can sign up to actually go out on a replica viking ship on the water and experience what that would have been like!
And that was how we spent our time in Denmark! Have you been? What spots are at the top of your list to visit in this beautiful Scandanavian country? Let me know in the comments below!
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