Winter in the City: Copenhagen

The latest installment of Winter in the City highlights one of Europe’s great northern cities: Copenhagen. Copenhagen, or Kobenhavn, as it is known to the Danes, is known for its impressive royal palaces, the fairytale delights of Hans Christian Andersen, amazing food, and being home to some of the happiest people on earth. It is also known for its cold and harsh winters.

Winter in Copenhagen can at first seem unwelcoming. January is typically the coldest month, with average temperatures between 28 and 36 degrees Fahrenheit (just on either side of 0 degrees Celsius). Located in the far north, daylight hours are limited in the winter. Days are shortest in late December near the solstice, when the sun rises around 8:30am and sets around 3:30pm. By mid-February, however, the sun is up about an hour earlier, and sets around 5:00pm. In winter months, rain is as common as snow, and snow cover does not last too long.

But don’t let the cool temperatures and limited sunshine keep you away. Copenhagen has so much to offer that a little cold air shouldn’t stop you from experiencing the warmth and coziness of the city. The Danes even have a word for this: hygge. Pronounced “hoo-guh,” this word is defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” The word has no equivalent in the English language, and is really more of a feeling than any tangible “thing.” This word embodies the Danish spirit that thrives during winter. Think about sitting by a cozy fireplace with warm cashmere socks on your feet and a hot cup of cocoa in your hands surrounded by friends and family happily chatting about nothing in particular in the glow of the crackling fire. This is hygge.

The news about hygge has been spreading. Indeed, in 2016 the New Yorker published an article about hygge and its growing international appeal. Dozens of books have been written about the subject, and the notion of hygge as a way of living is taking hold around the globe. There is nowhere better in the world to experience hygge than during winter in Copenhagen. So pack your warmest socks, an adorable winter hat, and your passport, and let the feeling of hygge wash over you as you explore this amazing city!

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View down Strøget, Copenhagen’s pedestrian shopping street.

Before your visit you should check out the Copenhagen Card. With this pass you can get free access to over 70 museums in the city as well as free transportation. In addition, the Visit Copenhagen site is a great resource for planning your trip. It houses a plethora of information about things to see and do in Copenhagen, including guides to seasonal favorites and other time-of-the-year-specific activities.

Tip: While Denmark is a member of the European Union, it is not part of the eurozone, meaning that it does not use the Euro but retains its own currency, the Krone.

Copenhagen is a visual feast for fans of European history, art, and architecture. Copenhagen is home to the world’s oldest monarchy, and it shows. Denmark boasts an impressive number of castles and palaces (or slots, in Danish), three of which sit inside the city of Copenhagen itself: Christiansborg Slot, Amalienborg Slot, and Rosenborg Slot.

Christiansborg Slot

Christiansborg Palace is the largest of the three palaces in Copenhagen, and the most prominent. The Danish Queen, the Prime Minister, and the Parliament all operate out of Christiansborg.

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Christiansborg Palace.

The palace offers a variety of things see, including the royal reception rooms, the royal stables, the royal kitchen, and even ancient ruins. Depending on your interests you can choose to visit one or all of these sights. A combination ticket for all sights for adults is 150 Krone (about $25 USD). Entrance to all sights is free with the Copenhagen Card. Guided tours in English (included in the price of your entrance ticket) are offered once a day. Check the website for accurate times.

The palace that currently occupies this site is not the first to have existed. The site has actually been home to several different palaces over the nearly 1000 years of the Danish monarchy. Indeed, the ruins of some of these prior palaces can be seen in the depths below the current palace. Stroll back through time in this underground cavern of ancient ruins.

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The ruins of two prior palaces: Bishop Absalon’s Castle from 1167, destroyed in 1369, and Copenhagen Castle, which was built on top of Absalon’s Castle.

Once back out in the sunlight, head to the royal stables. At first you may think that a visit to a fancy barn housing large quadrupeds may not be that interesting, but the stables are really a must-see. In addition to lots of hay and horses, the stables are also home to the royal family’s ornate carriages, which are quite beautiful and a rare sight to see nowadays.

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Golden royal carriage in the Royal Stables at Christiansborg Palace.

After your visit to the stables, head into the palace itself. The grandeur is immediately apparent as soon as you step through the massive entrance doors. Upon entry you will be given little cloth booties to slip over your shoes to avoid dirtying the floors. The palace is massive, and you can easily spend hours looking at all of the splendid rooms. Each room seems to be decorated with a specific color-scheme, and is replete with ornate finishings, wall hangings, and classic decor.

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The King’s Staircase, and your entrance to the royal reception rooms.
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The Great Hall, where the Queen hosts gala dinners and events.
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Thrones in the aptly named Throne Room.
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The Queen’s Library with over three kilometers (nearly two miles) of shelves.

Rosenborg Slot

After experiencing all that Christiansborg has to offer you might wonder what else there is to see at Copenhagen’s remaining palaces. The answer is: quite a lot. Indeed, while Christiansborg is the largest, the smallest of the three palaces has some of the biggest attractions. Rosenborg palace is home to the royal treasury, which houses not only the royal wine cellar, ceremonial weapons, and beautiful artifacts made of amber, porcelain, and ivory, but is also home to the Danish crown jewels.

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The Queen’s Crown.
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Christian IV’s Crown: gold with enamel, table-cut stones, and pearls.

This small castle is a royal hermitage nestled in the King’s Garden in the center of Copenhagen. It was built in the early 17th century (planning began in 1606) by one of the most famous Scandinavian kings, Christian IV. What began as merely a summer palace soon became Christian IV’s favorite. Rosenborg served as a royal residence until 1710 when Frederik IV, Christian IV’s great-grandson, turned it into the home of the royal collections. Its status as such is why its interiors are so well preserved. After its transformation, Rosenborg was only used as a royal residence during emergencies: once after the fire at Christiansborg in 1794, and a second time during the English attack on Copenhagen in 1801.

Entrance to Rosenborg is free with the Copenhagen Card. Regular price for entry is 110 Krone (approximately $18 USD). You can also purchase a combination pass to visit Rosenborg and the next palace on our list, Amalienborg, for 155 Krone (about $25 USD).

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The King’s Garden with Rosenborg Palace in the distance.
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Rosenborg Palace.
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Coronation chairs in the Knight’s Hall, guarded by the three silver lions.

Amalienborg Slot

Amalienborg consists of four identical traditional Danish Rococo palaces. Rococo is a style noted for its elaborate ornamentation. The palaces, built in 1750 as residences for four high-ranking aristocrats, became the royal family’s permanent residence when the old Christiansborg Palace burned down in 1794. It has been the home of Denmark’s monarchy ever since.

As the home of the royal family, most of the buildings are not open to the public. One of buildings, however, houses the Amalienborg Museum, which is home to 150 years of Danish royal history, and is open to visitors. Many of the rooms here were occupied by previous monarchs and are kept in the exact condition that they were in when they were in use so you can really see what it would have been like to live here.

Also at Amalienborg you can experience the changing of the royal guards, who march from Rosenborg Castle through the streets of Copenhagen to Amalienborg every day. The guards arrive in the Palace Square at noon and the changing ceremony takes place.

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One of Amalienborg’s four buildings viewed from the central plaza.
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One of the sitting rooms at Amalienborg.

Entrance to Amalienborg is free with the Copenhagen Card, or 95 Krone (about $15 USD) for regular individual entrance. As noted above, you can also purchase a combination ticket to visit Amalienborg and Rosenborg for 155 Krone (about $25 USD).

The Marble Church

Located just behind Amalienborg is one of Copenhagen’s most impressive sights, the Marble Church. The Marble Church gets its official name, Frederik’s Church, from King Frederik who presided over the laying of the foundation stone in 1749. However, in 1754 the architect died. The project was picked back up by another architect, but things crawled to a slow pace, and the project halted completely when the king died in 1766. The church was not actually finished until the late 1800s, and was finally inaugurated in 1894. The Marble Church takes its moniker from the many tonnes of Norwegian marble from which it was built.

The church is open to the public daily, and guided tours up to the dome, which boasts amazing views of the city, can be taken on the weekend during the winter (daily in the summer). The tours are led by one of the church clergy, and I highly recommend it. Not only will you get amazing views from the top, but our guide was quite personable and funny. Entrance to the church itself is free, but admission to the dome is 35 Krone (about $6 USD), and can only be purchased with cash. The Marble Church is not one of the Copenhagen Card’s attractions.

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View of the Marble Church from inside Amalienborg Palace.
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The Marble Church’s impressive dome, the third largest in terms of width in Europe, after St. Peter’s in the Vatican and St. Paul’s in London.
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Looking up at the inside of the dome of the Marble Church.
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View of Copenhagen from atop the Marble Church.

Nyhavn Canal

A visit to Nyhavn Canal is a must for any trip to Copenhagen to be complete. Traditionally a busy commercial port, today Nyhavn is a place to stroll along the canal taking in the beautiful and colorful houses. These wonderfully restored old houses have been transformed into fabulous restaurants and cafes where one can step out of the cold to enjoy a warm drink or a meal by the fire. Fairy tale fans will also want to look out for house no. 20. Hans Christian Andersen lived and wrote some of his works here, including The Princess and the Pea. In December, the annual Christmas market sets up stalls along the quay selling seasonal gifts, souvenirs, and treats, epitomizing Danish hygge.

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Colorful houses along Nyhavn Canal.
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Cafes and restaurants lining the street along Nyhavn Canal.

Strøget

Strøget is a 1.1 kilometer (nearly three quarters of a mile) long pedestrian street in the heart of Copenhagen. The street is lined with shops for every budget, from H&M to Gucci. Strøget is also home to street performers, and dozens of places to rest your feet and get a cup of coffee after a long day of sight seeing. In fact, just off Strøget is Conditori La Glace, a world-famous confectionary founded in 1870. Stop in for a delicious morsel and a hot cup of coffee, and bask in the glow of hygge! Lines can get long so get here early to find a seat.

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Long lines at La Glace.
Chocolate cake and coffee at La Glace.

Visit their website to see a selection of their mouthwatering treats!

Nationalmuseet

Finally, a winter visit to the land of the Vikings requires a stop at the National Museum. The National Museum houses collections from the Stone and Viking Ages, through the Middles Ages, and into the Renaissance and Modern Danish history.

Entrance to the museum is free with the Copenhagen Card. Regular adult admission is 85 Krone (about $14 USD). Note that the museum is closed on Mondays.

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Viking artifacts at the National Museum.
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Unique Viking helmets at the National Museum.

I hope this inspires you to brave the cold and continue traveling to amazing snowy cities during the winter!

Do you plan to visit a cold-weather locale this winter? Do you have any favorites from previous trips? Let me know in the comments below!

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Winter in the City_ Copenhagen

<– See Previous Winter in the City post: Montréal

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