With only 7 hours of daylight, an average temperature of 3 degrees Celsius and plenty of rain, visiting Copenhagen in winter can make for quite a cold and wet adventure.
Fortunately for you, though, I recently made the test and visited Copenhagen in December to find out what Denmark’s cosy capital is really like during winter - and, more importantly, how you can make the most of your visit even if it’s grey and rainy!
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But first, have a look at my copenhagen vlog:
What to see and do in Copenhagen on a rainy day
I was a bit unsure whether there’d be enough for me to do in Copenhagen as the weather forecast predicted rain for 3 of the 5 days I was visiting, but turns out, there’s actually plenty you can do to stay dry and warm - and some of the following sights are actually better on a cold and rainy day anyway, I’d argue!
1. The Black Diamond - Royal Library
The Black Diamond as the royal library of Copenhagen is called, is perfect for a rainy day! Not only does the library offer a stunning panoramic view of its upper floor, but you can also find interesting art exhibitions down in the basement.
And if that isn’t enough, there’s a super cosy cafe on the ground floor that allows you to sip your cup of coffee with a view on the canal and Copenhagen’s scenic old buildings - in other words, the royal library makes for the perfect refuge when it just gets a little too cold and wet outside!
2. a Free-ish Boat sightseeing Cruise
Sitting inside the warmth and comfort of a boat, shielded from the rain and wind, while you’re cruising on Copenhagen’s canals, seeing all those sights and colourful buildings pass by?
You could go on a “proper” sightseeing cruise which cost between 40 and 85 DKK, or, you could simply go on a ride with Copenhagen’s harbour bus-boat which cost nothing at all - that is, if you have a valid ticket for public transport, for example the Copenhagen Card .
The harbour busses run twice an hour in winter and go from Refshaløen to Teglholmen, passing the little mermaid, Nyhavn, the royal library and the opera house along the way. Basically, they function as a hop-on-hop-off bus - but as a boat! They cost the same as a regular bus ticket or nothing at all if you have a multiple day pass - meaning, they're perfect for when you're traveling on a budget and for when it's raining and you don't fancy walking that much!
Pro tip: Download the app "Rejseplanen" to check bus, metro, S-train and harbour bus departures on the go!
3. Tropical feeling at the Botanic Garden
How does a visit to a balmy palm house in the middle of Copenhagen sound?
To be honest, I’m more a plant killer than a plant hoarder and I pretty much never know the answer when my tour guests ask me about the name of a particular plant they’re seeing. I just never really cared for plants all that much.
However, the palm house of the Botanical Garden in Copenhagen blew my mind!
I actually spend more time than I expected there, enjoying the greenery (and warmth!) and getting out of the rain. The palm house is actually a glasshouse and right in the middle of it, you’ll find this gorgeous spiral staircase that you can climb to take in all the plants from above. Needless to say that I spent the majority of my visit up there!
4. views from above at Mærsk Tower
Typically, viewing platforms on towers mean standing outside while the wind is blowing in your ears, right?! Well, not so at Mærsk Tower!
This tower is actually part of the University of Copenhagen and hosts the bio-medicine department - meaning, the tower isn’t typically used for tourism purposes. However, the 15th floor of Mærsktårnet is free to visit and open to anyone. Part of the upper floor is used as a conference room but the other half basically functions as a cosy meeting hall for students with a view on the entire city centre of Copenhagen from above.
While the views might not be as great on a rainy day as they’d be on a clear day, I much prefer a warm and cosy viewing platform with seating options on a rainy day over an open bell tower of a church, that’s just cold and wet.
What do you think?
5. danish design at Hay House
Are you like me and could spend hours browsing Scandinavian interior design on Pinterest? I absolutely love the Nordic style of furnishing homes and while I originally only intended to quickly pop into Hay House for the amazing view of Amagertorv, I actually spent quite some time browsing those cute cushions, dreaming of the day I’ll be able to afford one of those dreamy sofas they have at Hay (which, let be honest, might never come).
So in short, going shopping is always a good idea to spend a rainy day, but if you can combine that with Danish design and fabulous views from above? Win-win!
6. Arken - Museum of Modern Art
I love love love art but I can also understand if you don’t. Art isn’t for everyone, but, I would argue that Arken is for everyone!
Situated in scenic Ishøj at the seaside, about a half an hour’s drive from the city centre, this modern art museum will keep you busy for at least half a rainy day. It features so many different exhibitions - at the time of my visit, they had a Van Gogh exhibit, those clowns by Ugo Rondinone, as well as a really impressive video installation about refugees with actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore.
“Vocabulary of solitude” by Ugo Rondinone
I guess what I liked most about Arken is that they have something for everyone. Even if you’re not into art at all, chances are that you will enjoy at least one of the exhibitions.
Side note: They’ll have a Picasso exhibit coming up in 2019. I know as much about his work as anyone but I, for one, would surely enjoy admiring all those super colourful works!
7. the National Museum of Denmark
You probably don’t know this about me, but I wrote my MA thesis about the representation of Inuit culture and thus, spent quite a bit of time doing research at the National Museum of Denmark (a history/ethnography museum).
While I could spend hours telling you what I liked and disliked about the different exhibits, let me just tell you two things: you could spend hours in there to take it all in and it’s completely free to visit! Whether you’re a world explorer who loves to learn more about other cultures, or a history buff with an interest in medieval times or the Viking age - chances are that you’ll really enjoy this place!
8. christmas magic at Tivoli
When I asked you guys on Instagram about the best places to visit in Copenhagen on a rainy day, Tivoli was an answer that came up. Honestly? I didn’t quite see the appeal at first as Tivoli is a fun fair - outside! Surely, that must feel very uncomfortable visiting in the rain, right?
As fate would have it, I did end up at Tivoli when it was raining cats and dogs, but I still really enjoyed my visit!
Tivoli during the Christmas season is just magical - from all the Christmas decorations to all the fake snow (which, let’s be honest, is always better than no snow at all), there hardly is a place in the city that spreads more festive cheer.
And the best thing about Tivoli on a rainy day?
There are plenty of opportunities to head inside, whether you’re looking to buy Christmas gifts or having a bite to eat. Tivoli offers lots of small stores, especially during the Christmas season, where you can buy everything from Danish candy to homeware and interior decor, or gifts. Of course, there are also plenty of restaurants and cafes around, serving everything from Danish pastry (I’ve been told æbleskiver are a must to try!), to Italian pizza and Asian ramen.
9. all the Christmas Markets
Of course, no city trip during the Christmas season without heading to a Christmas market to sip some mulled wine, right? In Denmark, mulled wine is called gløgg and can be found at literally every corner of the city centre!
There really are so many Christmas markets to choose from, but my favourite market was the one at the Greenlandic House as it was just so unique and different to all the commercial markets elsewhere. Unfortunately, the market at the Greenlandic House is only being held at one weekend in December, which means that I totally booked my Copenhagen trip accordingly - it was worth it, though!
The Greenlandic House functions as a meeting space for Greenlanders living in Denmark and provides information on the country, as well as gorgeous art exhibitions. At their Christmas market, you’ll find authentic Greenlandic handicraft from sealskin bags to musk ox armbands or earrings made from reindeer horns. It’s definitely a market unlike any you’ve ever seen!
10. a different Cinema experience
I never really go to the movies in the summer as I always fear that I miss out on sunshine and daylight but a grey and rainy December afternoon is the perfect excuse to head to the cinema! Now, seeing as this is Copenhagen, I wouldn’t recommend just any boring commercial cinema showing the latest blockbuster.
Instead, I’d highly recommend you to check out the program of Gloria Biograf and Grand Teatret. Both focus on independent movies and will surely have something on their program that will brighten up a rainy day. I even considered heading to the movies myself during my visit to Copenhagen but the movie I wanted to watch (Tea with the Dames - anyone seen it?) was scheduled for 9.30 AM on a Saturday morning and I didn’t quite make it out of bed in time to actually watch it…
PS: Movies aren’t dubbed in Denmark so you’ll have no problem finding an English one.
11. and last but not least, Embrace Hygge!
Denmark is the land of hygge, so of course, a rainy day is basically just a good excuse to find the nearest cafe, order some pastry and enjoy the cosiness of it all!
I didn’t eat out at all as it was my first trip after being diagnosed with colitis, but The Copenhagen Tales has loads of fabulous recommendations for cafes and restaurants around town!
What to see and do on a sunny day
Fortunately, winter in Denmark doesn’t necessarily mean that it rains all the time! The sun will come out eventually and even if she doesn’t stick around for very long, I’d argue that sunny days should be spend outside - even in winter!
After all, that saying about bad weather vs. bad clothing is definitely true for Scandinavia and you’ll see the locals frolicking in Copenhagen’s parks and at the beaches even if it’s freezing outside - that is, as long as it’s not pouring down.
1. The forgotten giants
One of the things you should totally do if you’re lucky enough to visit Copenhagen on a fair day, is to go for a treasure hunt to find the forgotten giants. Okay, maybe not all the giants as there are currently 6 spread out over town and they’re all quite tricky to find/reach by public transport…
They’ve been designed by the artist Thomas Dambo in order to make people appreciate the often overlooked but still scenic spots of the city more, so that’s why the giants are placed in locations outside the touristy areas where you wouldn’t necessarily expect them.
One of the giants that I personally found very easy to reach, though, is Oscar under the bridge. This giant is located just a short 15min walk (along the beach!) from Arken Museum in Ishøj and makes for the perfect activity for a Sunday when you’re taking things at a slower pace.
2. Rosenborg Castle
You would think that a castle visit would be perfect for a rainy day but honestly, I would leave a visit to Rosenborg Castle for a sunny day. The castle isn’t heated so it can feel quite chilly. Plus, you’ll be outside quite a bit going from the ticket counter to the cafe, to the castle, to the crown jewels, to the garden, to the restroom - and so on!
Rosenborg is kind of weirdly laid out (at least when it comes to tourism purposes) as the ticket counter, cafe and restrooms aren’t situated in the castle, but in its own little building - meaning that if it’s raining, you’ll have to face the rain again more than once.
Also, the garden at the castle is just so stunning that it’d be a shame if you couldn’t see and enjoy it properly because of the rain so, if you have the chance to save the castle for a clear day, definitely do so!
Nyhavn is an absolute must when visiting Copenhagen and while there are a lot of cafes and restaurants where you can spend some time if it’s pouring down, those colourful buildings are best enjoyed when looked at from the outside - when it’s not raining!
Lucky for those of you who visit Copenhagen during Christmas, Nyhavn also has its own Christmas market, so you can drink some mulled wine to keep warm.
4. Explore Kastellet
No visit to Copenhagen without a trip to see the little mermaid, especially if it’s your first time in town, but have you heard of Kastellet before? This citadel from the 17th century is actually a military barack, but the green spaces are free to visit for anyone - and visiting you should!
Personally, I just love winter walks in the crisp air and trust me, Kastellet is the perfect place for that!
5. Go for a stroll at the beach
While beaches might shut down for the winter in other countries, Scandinavian locals will still go for a stroll at the beach even in winter. After all, Copenhagen has so many beaches to choose from!
I visited stunning Ishøj beach which is just a stone’s throw from both, Oscar under the bridge and Arken. Trust me, as long as the sun is out and you're wearing the right clothes, you’ll enjoy some winter beachtime in Denmark just as much as you would during the summer.
Or maybe even more as the summer crowds aren’t there!
6. Visit the deer park
I’m sure you’ve noticed how Norwegian I’ve become by now, but I can’t help it: I actually really love going for a walk in winter. Another, but the last one - I promise, spot for a winter walk is the deer park in Klampenborg. The area is actually 11 square kilometers big and hosts around 2000 deer who live there freely, so you can actually spend quite a bit of time walking through the woods there.
If all the greenery and wildlife isn’t making it enticing enough for you to visit, though, you might fancy seeing The Hermitage from up close? Granted, the building is closed during the winter but it’s equally fascinating to admire it from the outside!
What to pack for Copenhagen in winter
I’d say Copenhagen in winter definitely feels a lot colder than it actually is. As I said in the beginning, the average daytime temperature in December is 3 degrees Celsius, but as the city is situated at the coast, the air is quite moist which makes it feel a bit colder.
Plus, the breeze from the coast definitely doesn’t help either.
Then again, there’s no point in bringing your down jacket and snow boots as the city rarely experiences snow and if it does, it doesn’t last very long (and it’s not like we’re talking about lots of snow here - more like a little coating). Instead, woolen sweaters and a good wind- and waterproof jacket will be your best friends.
So here’s everything you should bring for a visit to Copenhagen in winter in detail:
- a woolen headband or hat to protect your ears from the wind
- a woolen scarf
- woolen gloves
- a wind- and waterproof jacket that’s slightly insulated but not as warm as a down jacket - I love my parka at this time of year!
- woolen sweaters
- warm and comfy ankle boots - Copenhagen is super walkable so it’s important that you bring comfy shoes
Where to stay
I stayed at an Airbnb in Copenhagen, mainly because I wanted to prepare all meals myself and I’m just not a fan of hostels and having to share common rooms with loads of people. This was my second Airbnb stay in Copenhagen and while there are a lot of flats and rooms to choose from, I found finding the right place to stay in quite difficult.
Obviously, Copenhagen is a really popular destination - even in winter - which means that all the good flats and rooms book out quite quickly. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find a great Airbnb in Copenhagen, though. This time around, I took a leap of faith and booked a place without any prior reviews (which I normally never do) - and it actually worked out just fine!
So, if you haven’t tried Airbnb yourself yet, have a look around and feel free to email me if you’d like the links to the places I’ve stayed at. Also, if you’d like to save a couple of bucks, you can use this link to sign up to Airbnb and get $41 in travel credit as a gift from me!
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