Before I set off on my cruise to Scandinavia, the Baltic Sea & St Petersburg, I didn’t know much about Copenhagen. Like most children, I had been enchanted by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. As an adult, I had eaten the occasional Danish open sandwich and tried to recreate hygge in my London flat with varying degrees of success. But what’s not to like about children’s stories and candlelit cosiness?
What I discovered is that with its historic city centre, complete with cobbled streets and candy-coloured gabled houses, and a cutting-edge design scene, one day in Copenhagen is not enough. Its city streets are crammed with effortlessly cool shops and bars, a thriving restaurant scene – 15 Michelin starred restaurants no less – and world-class museums. There is enough to keep even the most restless visitor occupied for a good week.
But if like me, you are visiting Denmark’s capital as part of a Scandinavia & Baltic Sea cruise itinerary and have only 24 hours or less to discover its treasures, you will need to make some tough choices. To help you make the most of your day in Copenhagen and hit the ground running, here are some essential practical tips, including how to get from the cruise terminal, and my pick of what to see and do.
How I visited Copenhagen on a cruise
- Cruise operator: Celebrity Cruises
- Cruise ship: Celebrity Silhouette
- Time in port: Berthed at 2 pm; left at 3 pm the following day
Getting to central Copenhagen from the cruise terminal
The good news is that, with the exception of the underwhelming Little Mermaid, most of Copenhagen’s highlights are scattered over a relatively compact, and therefore walkable, area. The bad news is that you are not going to stumble across these attractions straight off the ship.
If you are lucky, you will disembark at Langelinie Quay just north of the Little Mermaid. However, most ships park up at the Ocean Quay (Oceankaj) Cruise Terminal which is 6 km north of Copenhagen city centre. Therefore, unless you fancy over an hour’s walk into town, you will need to take some form of transport. Here are your options.
Option 1: Use public transport
Bus #25 will bring you to Norreport in 15 minutes, which is walking distance or a short metro ride to Copenhagen’s main attractions. Alternatively, bus #27 takes you to Osterport where you can jump on bus #1a to take you the rest of the way.
You can buy tickets from the bus driver or from the ticket machine at the bus stop at the cruise terminal.
But my top tip is to purchase a 24-hour travel ticket online before you leave home, which will be delivered to you as an e-ticket via text and email. Buy a City Pass Small, covering Copenhagen’s public transport in Zones 1 – 4, which will cost you DKK 80 (12 USD).
Option 2: Use the cruise terminal shuttle service
A local tour operator has thoughtfully provided a shuttle service. This cost USD 20 for one day; USD 35 for two days. Journey time 25 mins.
Option 3: Use the hop-on-hop-off buses
Even before we disembarked the Silhouette, a convoy of hop-on-hop-off (HOHO) buses were waiting to take her passengers around Copenhagen.
Their Mermaid Tour covers 16 sights in its open top double-decker buses. The duration of the entire route is 1.5 hours and buses are timetabled to arrive every 10 – 30 mins. A separate Orange Line route explores Christianshavn and the Opera House.
This HOHO bus ticket costs DKK 210 (31 USD) for up to 48 hours. Note that at 40 USD, it was more expensive to purchase these tickets on board the ship.
A cheaper alternative is green HOHO bus service run by Stromma. A 48-hour ticket costs DKK 175 (26 USD). Discounts may be available if you book online.
Also operated by Stromma, this is not a HOHO bus. Instead, it is a traditional sightseeing tour with a guide, a half-hour stop at the Amalienborg Palace and a few photo stops.
Feedback from a few fellow cruise passengers I chatted to was not favourable. This sightseeing tour is expensive at DKK 345 (52 USD).
How to spend one day in Copenhagen
So now you know how to get from the cruise terminal to central Copenhagen, let’s take a look at how you could use your precious time onshore.
1. Take a Copenhagen Harbour Tour
I recommend doing this early in your cruise stop in Copenhagen. Not only does it allow you to see the city from a different perspective, but it is also an excellent way to get an overview of Copenhagen and identify places that you would like to return to. Also, if you do not have time to visit The Little Mermaid, the harbour tour takes you there by water.
The boats leave regularly from Nyhavn and Ved Stranden. This cost me DKK 95 for the one-hour tour. A pre-recorded audio commentary is available (headphones provided). Although there was a guide on board, she didn’t say much.
2. Pay your respects to The Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue)
Yes. The Little Mermaid is underwhelming but the poor old girl has had a bit of a rough time.
Sculpted from granite and bronze, she is just four-feet tall and is based on the beloved Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale about the mermaid who forsakes all to be with her handsome prince. A gift to the city from Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen, the statue was unveiled in 1913.
However, over the years she has fallen foul of vandals. She has had an arm sawn off, lost her head twice and has been doused with paint several times.
Although there are better things to during your precious day in Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid is an iconic sight and that is a good enough reason for visiting her. Unless you visit early in the day, expect it to be busy.
Top tip! To reach the Little Mermaid from the Oceankaj cruise terminal by public transport, get off the #25 or #27 bus at Osterport from where it is a 10 to 15-minute walk through the lovely Kastellet.
If you have time, it is worth taking a quick look at the Kastellet. The star-shaped fortress dating from the early 17th Century is set within a tranquil park and you will also find a windmill and church.
After you’ve taken your obligatory photo of the Little Mermaid, rather than get back on the bus, follow this harbour-side walk to reach Nyhavn.
3. Take a Copenhagen self-guided walking tour from the Little Mermaid to Nyhavn
From the Little Mermaid, take this lovely self-guided walking tour along Larsen Plads that shows Copenhagen off to her best.
Copenhagen walking tour map
To help you on your way, here’s my Copenhagen walking tour map. Zoom and scroll on this map to pick out the walking route if necessary.
Now, let’s take a look at the highlights.
St Albans Church
I stumbled upon this church completely by accident but was glad that I did.
Also known as the English Church, St Albans Church is the only Anglican church in Denmark. In the 19th Century, as Denmark started to welcome open worship by non-Lutherans, there was a need to accommodate these groups of worshippers. Until then, these groups congregated in various rented halls in Copenhagen and Elsinore. A 30-year project, led by Princess Alexandra of Denmark, daughter of the king of Denmark and wife of Edward, Prince of Wales, culminated in the consecration of the church in 1887.
Designed by the Victorian church architect Sir Arthur Blomfield, St Alban’s is a fine example of Early English Gothic architecture. But whilst the church looks very English, most of its building materials are Danish. Its interior is gorgeous with a beautiful altar, organ and stained glass windows.
In front of St Alban’s is the Gefion Fountain. Nothing to do with the church, this represents a group of four oxen driven by the Norse goddess Gefjon and is based on the mythical story of the creation of the island of Zealand, on which Copenhagen is located.
When you exit the church, take a look at the striking modern sculpture on the waterfront. Constructed from scrap metal, this ‘thinking man’ sculpture is part of the zinkglobal initiative.
The Design Museum (Design Museum Danmark)
Continue walking along the harbourside path, and the next landmark that you will come across is the Design Museum. My one regret is that I could not fit in a visit to this museum during one day in Copenhagen.
Housed on one of the fine 18th Century rococo buildings that are typical of this area of Copenhagen, this museum offers a crash course in Danish design.
Opening hours: 10am – 6 pm (until 9pm Wednesdays); closed on Mondays
Entrance fee: DKK 115 (17 USD)
With its crayon-hued houses, Nyhavn is the poster child of Copenhagen.
The quayside of the Nyhavn canal was once a rough sailors’ district and a favourite haunt of writers including Hans Christian Anderson. He lived at No. 20 – look out for the plaque – and also at No. 18 and No. 67.
4. Walk along Copenhagen’s oldest street
Now veer inland to check out cobbled Magstraeda, which is the city’s oldest street.
En route, you will pass the home of the Danish Parliament, Christiansborg Slot, which is open for tours (DKK 90).
If you have more than one day in Copenhagen …
Are you tired yet? Can you fit in another of the city’s attractions? If you have more a little bit more time in Copenhagen, then you will have a chance to visit the Tivoli Gardens or Christianshavn. Of course, which one you pick will depend on your preferences but I plumped for Christianshavn.
Once a firmly working-class area, today Christianshavn is a super-trendy area of Copenhagen with cool cafes, hip restaurants and charming 19th Century houses lining its canals.
Christianshavn’s main landmark is the Vor Freisers Kirke (Church of Our Saviour) and its striking 18th Century spire with steps spiralling its exterior. The spire is crowned with a gilded globe and a figure of Christ keeping watch over the city.
If you have a head for heights – not me! – you can climb the tower’s 400 steps for panoramic views of Copenhagen. Entrance fee DKK 35 – 45.
For a different side of Copenhagen, on the eastern edge of Christianshavn is the hash-perfumed community of Freetown Christiana. Established by squatters in 1971, this area has attracted non-conformists from across the globe.
Although it was an interesting place to wander through, I found the main drag, the aptly named Pushers St, unpleasant. Populated by drug-dealers, who adopt a zero-tolerance approach to filming, it was not exactly a welcoming environment. I was challenged purely because my camera was slung around my neck. I moved quickly on.
Enjoy Wonderful Copenhagen!
With its townhouses splashed with more colour than a box of crayons, its flair for design and the opportunity rub shoulders with the happiest locals on Earth and to experience true hygge, Copenhagen is a great port of call on your Scandinavia and Baltic Sea cruise itinerary.
Don’t let the short time you have in the city deter you from making the most of your visit. Whilst you will need to accept that you can’t do it all, it is possible to explore quite a bit of Copenhagen before your cruise ship sets sail. And as for the city’s other attractions? Well, you can look forward to seeing them on your next visit.
Copenhagen – Essential tips for cruise passengers
- Language – Danish. English is widely spoken.
- Currency – Danish Krone (DKK). However, cards are widely accepted, even as payment for small purchases such as a cup of coffee. Therefore, I did not bother getting local currency and used my card instead.
- Tipping – As a 10 – 15% service charge is added to your bill, tipping in restaurants is not expected. However, if you feel that the service was exceptional, you can leave a small tip.
- Getting around Copenhagen – As most of the main sights are grouped close together, your best bet is to get around on foot.
- The Copenhagen Card – This is a discount card that gives you reduced or free admission in 87 of Copenhagen’s most popular tourist attractions as well as free public transport. At 54 EUR for 24 hours, it is expensive, and as I was spending just one day in Copenhagen I felt that I would not get value out of the card.
However, depending on how long you are in port for and where you plan to visit, you might arrive at a different conclusion. Think about where you might be able to visit and how much individual tickets and transport will cost compared with the price of the Copenhagen Card.