Rick Steves Snapshot Copenhagen & the Best of Denmark


By Rick Steves

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With Rick Steves, Copenhagen and Denmark are yours to discover! This slim guide excerpted from Rick Steves Scandinavia includes:
  • Rick’s firsthand, up-to-date advice on Copenhagen and Denmark’s best sights, restaurants, hotels, and more, plus tips to beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps
  • Top sights and local experiences: Visitthe Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, the Moesgård Museum in Arhus, and the isle of Ærø. Ride the rollercoasters at Tivoli Gardens, eat at one of the best restaurants in the world or grab a snack from a streetside pølsevogn, and toast to the Denmark national football team with a triumphant skål!
  • Helpful maps and self-guided walking tours to keep you on track
With selective coverage and Rick’s trusted insight into the best things to do and see, Rick Steves Snapshot Copenhagen & the Best of Denmark is truly a tour guide in your pocket.

Exploring beyond Denmark? Pick up Rick Steves Scandinavia for comprehensive coverage, detailed itineraries, and essential planning information.



This Snapshot guide, excerpted from my guidebook Rick Steves Scandinavia, introduces you to one of Europe’s most modern and progressive, yet traditional and welcoming nations—Denmark. To put it simply, this country is cute. It feels like a mini-golf course inhabited by happy blond gods. Danes heartily embrace the concept of hygge, which means enjoying the cozy simplicity of everyday life—such as walking along a beach or sharing a picnic of smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches) with a friend.

When you visit Denmark, you’ll discover that there’s a lot more to this happy country than just Hans Christian Andersen stories, sweet breakfast pastries, and rolling farmlands. Start with the livable Danish capital, Copenhagen. This vibrant city hosts the Little Mermaid sculpture, the old-time Tivoli Gardens amusement park, and Renaissance King Christian IV’s Rosenborg Castle. Wander down the irresistible, shop-lined pedestrian street called Strøget to the colorful little harbor of Nyhavn. Gawk at the eye-opening hippie enclave at Christiania and get an earful of the city’s thriving jazz scene.

Beyond the capital, make time for the rest of Denmark—rugged islands, salty harbors, and windswept sandy coasts. From Copenhagen you can easily side-trip to nearby Roskilde to see millennium-old Viking ships, or head to Frederiksborg Castle to tour Denmark’s Versailles. Farther afield, the isle of Ærø is a time-warp experience, transporting you back into a pleasant 18th-century town where you can unwind in an utterly authentic Danish environment. To complete your visit, check out Hans Christian Andersen’s house in Odense and stop in Denmark’s “second city”—Aarhus—with its open-air folk museum and wildly contemporary art museum.

To help you have the best trip possible, I’ve included the following topics in this book:

Planning Your Time, with advice on how to make the most of your limited time

Orientation, including tourist information (abbreviated as TI), tips on public transportation, local tour options, and helpful hints

Sights, with ratings and strategies for meaningful and efficient visits

Sleeping and Eating, with good-value recommendations in every price range

Connections, with tips on trains, buses, boats, and driving

Practicalities, near the end of this book, has information on money, staying connected, hotel reservations, transportation, and other helpful hints.

To travel smartly, read this little book in its entirety before you go. It’s my hope that this guide will make your trip more meaningful and rewarding. Traveling like a temporary local, you’ll get the absolute most out of every mile, minute, and dollar.

God rejse! Happy travels!




Denmark is by far the smallest of the Scandinavian countries, but in the 16th century, it was the largest: At one time, Denmark ruled all of Norway and the three southern provinces of Sweden. Danes are proud of their mighty history and are the first to remind you that they were a lot bigger and a lot stronger in the good old days. And yet, they’re a remarkably mellow, well-adjusted lot—organized without being uptight, and easygoing with a delightfully wry sense of humor.

In the 10th century, before its heyday as a Scan-superpower, Denmark was, like Norway and Sweden, home to the Vikings. More than anything else, these fierce warriors were known for their great shipbuilding, which enabled them to travel far. Denmark’s Vikings journeyed west to Great Britain and Ireland (where they founded Dublin) and brought back various influences, including Christianity.

Denmark is composed of many islands, a peninsula (Jutland) that juts up from northern Germany, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. The two main islands are Zealand (Sjælland in Danish), where Copenhagen is located, and Funen (Fyn in Danish), where Hans Christian Andersen (or, as Danes call him, simply “H. C.”) was born. Out of the hundreds of smaller islands, ship-in-bottle-cute Æro is my favorite. The Danish landscape is gentle compared with the dramatic fjords, mountains, and vast lakes of other Scandinavian nations. Danes (not to mention Swedes and Norwegians) like to joke about the flat Danish landscape, saying that you can stand on a case of beer and see from one end of the country to the other. Denmark’s highest point in Jutland is only 560 feet above sea level, and no part of the country is more than 30 miles from the sea.

In contrast to the rest of Scandinavia, much of Denmark is arable. The landscape consists of rolling hills, small thatched-roof farmhouses, beech forests, and whitewashed churches with characteristic stairstep gables. Red brick, which was a favorite material of the nation-building King Christian IV, is everywhere—especially in major civic buildings such as city halls and train stations.

Danes are mainly of Scandinavian descent, with immigrants—mostly Turkish, Polish, Syrian, German, and Iraqi—making up 13 percent of the population. Greenland is home to the indigenous Inuit, and the Faroe Islands to people of Nordic heritage. Most Danes speak both Danish and English, with a small minority speaking German, Inuit, or Faroese.

The population is 75 percent Protestant (mostly Evangelical Lutheran), but only a small minority attend church regularly. The majority are ethnic Danes, and many (but certainly not all) of them have the stereotypical blond hair and blue eyes. Two out of three Danes have last names ending in “-sen.” The assimilation of ethnic groups into this homogeneous society, which began in earnest in the 1980s, is a source of some controversy. But in general, most Danes have a live-and-let-live attitude and enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. Taxes are high in this welfare state, but education is free and medical care highly subsidized. Generous parental leave extends to both men and women.

Denmark, one of the most environmentally conscious European countries, is a front-runner in renewable energy, recycling, and organic farming. You’ll see lots of modern windmills dotting the countryside. Wind power accounts for 47 percent of Denmark’s energy today. By 2030, the country hopes to free itself completely from its dependence on fossil fuels. About 60 percent of waste is recycled. In grocery stores, organic products are shelved right alongside nonorganic ones—for the same price.

Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II is a very popular and talented woman who, along with her royal duties, has designed coins, stamps, and book illustrations. Danes gather around the TV on New Year’s Eve to hear her annual speech to the nation and flock to the Royal Palace in Copenhagen on April 16 to sing her “Happy Birthday.” Her son, Crown Prince Frederik, married Australian Mary Donaldson in 2004. Their son Christian’s birth in 2005 was cause for a national celebration (the couple now have four children).

The Danes are proud of their royal family and of the flag, a white cross on a red background. Legend says it fell from the sky during a 13th-century battle in Estonia, making it Europe’s oldest continuously used flag. You’ll see it everywhere—decorating cakes, on clothing, or fluttering in the breeze atop government buildings. It’s as much a decorative symbol as a patriotic one.

You’ll also notice that the Danes have an odd fixation on two animals: elephants and polar bears, both of which are symbols of national (especially royal) pride. The Order of the Elephant is the highest honor that the Danish monarch can bestow on someone; if you see an emblematic elephant, you know somebody very important is involved. And the polar bear represents the Danish protectorate of Greenland—a welcome reminder to Danes that their nation is more than just Jutland and a bunch of flat little islands.

From an early age, Danes develop a passion for soccer. You may see red-and-white-clad fans singing on their way to a match. Despite the country’s small size, the Danish national team does well in international competition. Other popular sports include sailing, cycling, badminton, and team handball.

The Danish language, with its three extra vowels (Æ, Ø, and Å), is notoriously difficult for foreigners to pronounce. Even seemingly predictable consonants can be tricky. For example, the letter “d” is often dropped, so the word gade (street)—which you’ll see, hear, and say constantly—is pronounced “gah-eh.” Luckily for us, most Danes also speak English and are patient with thick-tongued foreigners. Danes have playful fun teasing tourists who make the brave attempt to say Danish words. The hardest phrase, rød grød med fløde (a delightful red fruit porridge topped with cream), is nearly impossible for a non-Dane to pronounce. Ask a local to help you.

Sample Denmark’s sweet treats at one of the many bakeries you’ll see. The pastries that we call “Danish” in the US are called wienerbrød in Denmark. Bakeries line their display cases with several varieties of wienerbrød and other delectable sweets. Try kringle, snegle, or Napoleonshatte, or find your own favorite. (Chances are it will be easier to enjoy than to pronounce.) To learn about two of Denmark’s great cheap eats, the open-faced sandwich (smørrebrød) and the hot dog (pølse), see here.

For a selection of useful Danish survival phrases, see the next page. Two important words to know are skål (“cheers,” a ritual always done with serious eye contact) and hyggelig (pronounced HEW-geh-lee), meaning warm and cozy. Danes treat their home like a sanctuary and spend a great deal of time improving their gardens and houses—inside and out. Cozying up one’s personal space (a national obsession) is something the Danes do best. If you have the opportunity, have some Danes adopt you during your visit so you can enjoy their warm hospitality.

Heaven to a Dane is returning home after a walk in a beloved beech forest to enjoy open-faced sandwiches washed down with beer among good friends. Around the hyggelig candlelit table, there will be a spirited discussion of the issues of the day, plenty of laughter, and probably a few good-natured jokes about the Swedes or Norwegians. Skål!

Danish Survival Phrases

The Danes tend to say words quickly and clipped. In fact, many short vowels end in a “glottal stop”—a very brief vocal break immediately following the vowel. While I haven’t tried to indicate these in the phonetics, you can listen for them in Denmark...and (try to) imitate. Three unique Danish vowels are æ (sounds like the e in “egg”), ø (sounds like the German ö—purse your lips and say “oh”), and å (sounds like the o in “bowl”). The letter r is not rolled—it’s pronounced farther back in the throat, almost like a w. The d at the end of a word sounds almost like our th; for example, mad (food) sounds like “math.” In the phonetics, ī sounds like the long i sound in “light,” and bolded syllables are stressed.

Hello. (formal) Goddag.    goh-day
Hi. / Bye. (informal) Hej. / Hej-hej.    hī / hī-hī
Do you speak English? Taler du engelsk?    tay-lehr doo eng-esk
Yes. / No. Ja. / Nej.    yah / nī
Please. (May I?)* Kan jeg?    kahn yī
Please. (Can you?)* Kan du?    kahn doo
Please. (Would you?)* Vil du?    veel doo
Thank you (very much). (Tusind) tak.    (too-sin) tack
You’re welcome. Selv tak.    sehl tack
Can I help (you)? Kan jeg hjælpe (dig)?    kahn yī yehl-peh (dī)
Excuse me. (to pass) Undskyld mig.    oon-skewl mī
Excuse me. (Can you help me?) Kan du hjælpe mig?    kahn doo yehl-peh mī
(Very) good. (Meget) godt.    (mī-ehl) goht
Goodbye. Farvel.    fah-vehl
zero / one / two nul / en / to    nool / een / toh
three / four tre / fire    tray / feer
five / six fem / seks    fehm / sehks
seven / eight syv / otte    syew / oh-deh
nine / ten ni / ti    nee / tee
hundred hundrede    hoo-nuh
thousand tusind    too-sin
How much? Hvor meget?    vor mī-ehl
local currency (Danish) crown (Danske) kroner    (dahn-skeh) kroh-neh
Where is...? Hvor er...?    vor ehr
…the toilet ...toilettet    toy-leh-teht
men / women herrer / damer    hehr-ah / day-mah
water / coffee vand / kaffe    van / kah-feh
beer / wine øl / vin    uhl / veen
Cheers! Skål!    skohl
Can I have the bill? Kan jeg få regningen?    kahn yī foh rī-ning-ehn

*Because Danish has no single word for “please,” they approximate that sentiment by asking “May I?,” “Can you?,” or “Would you?,” depending on the context.



Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, is the gateway to Scandinavia. It’s an improbable combination of corny Danish clichés, well-dressed executives having a business lunch amid cutting-edge contemporary architecture, and some of the funkiest counterculture in Europe. And yet, it all just works so tidily together. With the Øresund Bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark (creating the region’s largest metropolitan area), Copenhagen is energized and ready to dethrone Stockholm as Scandinavia’s powerhouse city.

A busy day cruising the canals, wandering through the palace, and taking an old-town walk will give you your historical bearings. Then, after another day strolling the Strøget (STROY-et, Europe’s first and greatest pedestrian shopping mall), biking the canals, and sampling the Danish good life (including a gooey “Danish” pastry), you’ll feel right at home. Live it up in Scandinavia’s cheapest and most fun-loving capital.


A first visit deserves a minimum of two days. Note that many sights are closed on Monday.

Budget Itinerary Tip: Kamikaze sightseers on tight budgets see Copenhagen as a useful Scandinavian bottleneck. They sleep heading into town by train, tour the city during the day, and sleep on a boat or train as they travel north to their next destination. At the end of their Scandinavian travels, they do the same thing in reverse. The result is two days and no nights in Copenhagen (you can check your bag and take a shower at the train station). Considering the joy of Oslo and Stockholm, this isn’t all that crazy if you have limited time (and can sleep on a moving train or boat). Consider taking a night train to Sweden with connections to Stockholm, or cruise up to Oslo on a night boat (see “Copenhagen Connections” at the end of this chapter).

Day 1

Catch a 9:30 city walking tour with Richard Karpen (Mon-Sat mid-May-mid-Sept). After lunch, catch the relaxing canal-boat tour out to The Little Mermaid and back. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon tracing Denmark’s cultural roots in the National Museum and visiting the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek art gallery (Impressionists and Danish artists). Spend the evening strolling with Copenhageners as you follow my Copenhagen City Walk.

Day 2

At 10:00, go Neoclassical at Thorvaldsen’s Museum, and tour the royal reception rooms at the adjacent Christiansborg Palace. After a smørrebrød lunch, spend the afternoon seeing Rosenborg Castle, with Denmark’s crown jewels. Spend the evening at Tivoli Gardens.

Christiania—the hippie squatters’ community—is not for everyone. But it’s worth considering if you’re intrigued by alternative lifestyles, or simply want a break from museums. During a busy trip, Christiania fits best in the evening.

Orientation to Copenhagen

Copenhagen is huge (with 1.3 million people), but for most visitors, the walkable core is the diagonal axis formed by the train station, Tivoli Gardens, Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square), and the Strøget pedestrian street, ending at the colorful old Nyhavn sailors’ harbor. Bubbling with street life, colorful pedestrian zones, and most of the city’s sightseeing, the Strøget is fun. But also be sure to get off the main drag and explore. Doing things by bike or on foot, you’ll stumble upon some charming bits of Copenhagen that many travelers miss.

Outside of the old city center are three areas of interest to tourists:

To the north are Rosenborg Castle and Amalienborg Palace, with The Little Mermaid nearby.

To the east, across the harbor, are Christianshavn (Copenhagen’s “Little Amsterdam” district) and the alternative enclave of Christiania.


On Sale
Aug 31, 2021
Page Count
200 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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