Why we loved Copenhagen with kids
City breaks and kids don’t always mix: lots of walking, busy streets, confusing transport, too much culture and not enough play time. Not so in Denmark’s capital. Copenhagen has some key ingredients which make it a very family-friendly city break. Copenhagen is compact, flat and easy to navigate so it’s possible to walk between many of the key sights, even with young children. There are relatively few vehicles on the streets compared to London and other UK cities so what makes a visit to Copenhagen with kids particularly enjoyable is the ability to explore the city by bike.
Copenhagen has a beautiful, clean harbour and elegant streets filled with enticing shops and restaurants. Stylish architecture, brilliant design and environmentally focused planning have made Copenhagen a city which many other capitals should consider emulating. It also has some wonderful museums, castles and parks and some BRILLIANT play spaces.
The best thing to do in Copenhagen with kids: hire bikes
This is my number one recommendation for a family trip to Copenhagen. I would happily return to Copenhagen with kids simply because it’s possible to explore the whole city by bike. I hadn’t realised how liberating this would feel until I actually did it.
I had hoped to hire bikes for our kids (aged 5 and 7) but I was unable to find any bikes small enough. However, this turned out not to be a problem as I think my boys may have struggled dealing with the volume of bikes on the city streets, they’re used to cycling along country lanes at home with few other road users around.
Instead, we hired a city bike (with a handy basket) and a family bike from Copenhagen Bicycles in Nyhavn. The family bike has space for two children in the “cargo” area at the front and it comes with seat belts, a rain cover and a blanket. We took the advice of Erin from Oregon Girl Around the World and cycled along some of the Harbour Circle, an impressive sign-posted bike route next to Copenhagen’s waterfront.
Highlights included stopping for coffee and an impromptu game of footie outside Cafe Nöa’h in Islands Brygge. Newly built homes spill on to a pedestrianised area with a sandy beach and swimming harbour. We sat in the sun and marvelled at the idea of being able to step out of your city-centre home and go for a swim in the surprisingly clean looking water. After coffee, we continued past old fishing shacks at Nokken and through Amager Fælled nature reserve and over the bridge to the new building developments at Sluseholmen before pedalling north away from the harbour circle to the city centre and on into Nørrebro. It was a brilliant day out, really safe and easy, even for an inexperienced road cyclist.
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Take a boat trip on Copenhagen’s waterways
If you arrive into Copenhagen on an early flight as we did, you probably won’t feel like doing a great deal on your first day. We hopped onto one of the boats which regularly ply the harbour and enjoyed a relaxing hour exploring Copenhagen from the water. Our trip took in Copenhagen Opera House, the independent community at Christiania and the Danish royal home of Amalienborg among many other highlights, and it was a great way to tick off the Little Mermaid sculpture without actually having to trek round to see it (it’s quite a walk from other attractions in the city). The statue is rather small and underwhelming.
As an aside, for a far superior Hans Christian Anderson-related sculpture experience, I’d recommend a visit to Odense (one hour 40 minutes from Copenhagen by train) where you can follow a sculpture trail around the city. Odense is currently undergoing some major changes to make the most of its famous son but in the meantime it’s a fun place to visit for the day or overnight. It’s a useful place to stop if you’re heading west to Billund, home of the Lego brick. Of course, my children’s favourite sculpture in Odense was the Emperor admiring his “new clothes” in a mirror held up by the naughty weavers.
Visit some great Danish play spaces
So good and plentiful are the playgrounds in Copenhagen that I’m worried we’ve set a dangerous precedent for future city breaks. Our children will expect to be wowed daily by amazing play spaces wherever we go. This is thanks to the brilliant Danish play engineers Monstrum. Take a look at this review detailing some of Monstrum’s best creations if you’re heading to Denmark or elsewhere in Scandinavia with kids.
Heading into the old town area of Copenhagen, we came across the rather industrial looking Hauser Plads which sits behind Kultorvet square. It’s a convenient spot for a quick bit of energy burning a short walk from where we were staying at the Generator Hostel. Our kids loved trying to run up the metal domes.
Ice creams and aperitifs at Ny Havn
There’s a reason why Nyhavn (New Harbour) is packed with visitors: it’s beautiful. Lined with brightly coloured 17th and 18th century townhouses, Nyhavn is the scene you’ll see on countless postcards and Instagram posts. Originally a vibrant port with ships from all over the world plying its waters, Nyhavn is now predominantly used by tourist boats and floating restaurants. Interestingly (or depressingly), there is a lap-dancing bar stubbornly taking centre stage in a beautiful building amid the classy hotels and eateries, a nod to the port’s seedier past.
We didn’t eat at Nyhavn but did find ourselves there on more than one occasion for an ice cream and a drink: there’s an excellent ice cream parlour, Vaffelbageren and plenty of bars for enjoying an aperitif before heading somewhere a bit cheaper for dinner.
Eat at a food market in Copenhagen
Although food was pricey in Copenhagen, it was extremely good quality. We enjoyed Sunday lunch at the Bridge Street Kitchen. This food market, located over Inderhavnsbroen (inner harbour bridge) not far from Nyhavn, consists of a series of food and drink stalls. This is a great concept for families like mine who all want to eat something different. The boys enjoyed hot dogs, my husband had curry, while I tried the Danish open sandwich smørrebrød with fried cod on one side and pickled herring on the other.
There are food markets all over Copenhagen, some with live music (there was a blues band playing when we ate at Bridge Street). The Visit Copenhagen website has more information.
The National Museum of Denmark and the Children’s Museum
If you want to see some of the main collection at the National Museum (or Nationalmuseet), ensure you do so before visiting the Children’s Museum section. I had hoped to explore some of the other parts of the museum and to come across the “boredom button” with my kids: an ingenious way of livening up what can be a stuffy experience. There are some incredible artefacts on display and of course a very good Viking exhibition. However, we very quickly found ourselves in the Children’s Museum, a wing of the main museum but an altogether different experience.
We had a really hard job extracting our kids from the Children’s Museum. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to take my kids to a normal museum again. There’s a Viking ship to sail, a castle to explore, medieval kitchens to cook in and wooden swords to fight with plus plenty of dressing up clothes. The National Museum is open every day BUT the Children’s Museum is shut on a Monday (as are many other museums in Denmark).
Enjoy coffee and cake at Illum
I have Erin from Oregon Girl Around the World to thank again for this tip. Instead of going up one of the towers in Copenhagen, we took the elevator to the top of the Illum department store and enjoyed coffee and croissants overlooking the city. It’s a great spot. There’s a narrow terrace around the cafe with tables and chairs from which to admire the view.
Take the kids to Tivoli Gardens
We hesitated on visiting Tivoli, it costs a lot to get in and we’re not big fans of fairground rides. Tivoli is a strange place: I felt like I’d stepped on to the set of Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Copenhagen is such a stylish city with incredible design that Tivoli feels at odds with the rest of the capital. Even my seven year old said “I feel odd” without any prompting from me.
Luckily, we visited Tivoli on a sunny day so we relaxed in deck chairs while the very talented Tivoli Youth Guard band marched past and the kids enjoyed the playground (another brilliant one). However, I think it would be rather underwhelming on a grey day. The restaurants are expensive and the one we ate at charged us for tap water (which came in cartons), an anomaly in an otherwise environmentally aware city.
Copenhagen for children: rainy day activities
The weather was incredible during our visit to Copenhagen with kids so we were outside from dawn until dusk aside from a morning in the Children’s Museum. However, there are plenty of indoor activities in Copenhagen.
Closer to central Copenhagen and voted last year by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best places to visit, Experimentarium is a brilliant science and technology museum with plenty of hands-on exhibits for kids. There are science demonstrations, sea-related experiments at The Beach and bubble play in the Bubblearium.
Denmark’s national aquarium, Blue Planet is worth a visit for its architecture alone. However, as northern Europe’s largest aquarium it does a very good line in all things fishy. And there’s plenty of child-specific attractions: my kids would love the water playground, even in the rain.
Day trips from Copenhagen
There are endless fun things to do in Copenhagen with kids but if you fancy a day out, there are plenty of adventures to be had close by. A train trip over the 7.8km Øresund Bridge to Malmo in Sweden is great fun. Our kids loved the concept of nipping over the border to another country in just 40 minutes. Malmo is an enjoyable, compact and walkable city which also boasts some pretty good play spaces and food markets but more on that in a separate post.
We visited the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum by car from Copenhagen on our way to Billund further west. However, Roskilde makes an easy 30 minute day trip by train from Copenhagen. The beautifully designed Viking Ship Museum explores the history of the Viking settlements in the area and details how a collection of 11th century ships were scuttled to prevent enemy attack.
One of my children has a very low tolerance to museums so I love anywhere that allows him to learn a bit of history in a less formal environment. Denmark’s Open Air Museum (or Frilandsmuseet), a collection of farms, mills and houses from 1650 to 1940 sounds perfect for children who prefer to be outdoors.
If your trip to Denmark doesn’t include a visit to Legoland and you’re keen for more thrills after a visit to Tivoli, you can experience the oldest theme park in the world by heading out to Bakken, half an hour by train north of the Copenhagen. Unlike Tivoli, it’s free to get in and you can wander through the huge deer park as well as hop on a roller coaster.
Where to eat in Copenhagen with kids
We ate really well in Copenhagen and elsewhere in Denmark. As I mentioned above, food markets are found throughout the city and work really well with children. We really enjoyed the Bridge Street Kitchen near Nyhavn. It consists of a range of street food kiosks selling hotdogs, curry and smørrebrød, the Scandinavian open-faced sandwich and much more. I loved this concept as we could all eat something different but sit together al fresco at the communal tables. We had Sunday lunch at Bridge Street Kitchen and enjoyed listening to a Blues band playing nearby.
Next time, I’d like to try Torvehallerne next to Nørreport station which has an even wider variety of eateries as well as actual market stalls selling fresh produce, perfect if you’re self catering during your stay in Copenhagen.
We discovered a great little Italian restaurant on our last night, La Vecchia Signora, which serves sensibly priced pizzas and pasta. It’s only a five minute walk from the Generator Hostel.
I have heard good things about Gasoline Grill and I’m sure if we’d had time to track down this burger joint situated in a former petrol station my kids would have been delighted at the concept, it has branches popping up at various locations around the city. It’s been rated by Bloomberg as having some of the best burgers in the world, there’s also a veggie option if cow’s not your thing.
Where to stay in Copenhagen with kids
There are lots of AirBnB apartments and plenty of hotels in Copenhagen but we opted to stay at the Generator Hostel Copenhagen due to its central location and reasonable price. We stayed in an en suite family room. From the Generator we were able to walk to all the main sights and it’s easy to reach the hostel by public transport from the airport. There’s a supermarket round the corner to stock up on picnic provisions and it’s a two minute walk to Kongens Have (the King’s Garden) park should you need to burn a bit of energy before bedtime. You can read my full review of the Generator Copenhagen here.
How long to spend in Copenhagen with kids
We spent four nights in Copenhagen with one day out of the city visiting Malmo. So the three days we had in Copenhagen allowed us time to explore the city at a leisurely pace. We didn’t see a great deal of the main “sights”: the changing of the guard at Amalienborg, Rosenborg Castle and the zoo weren’t on our radar as our children haven’t actually done the equivalent activities in their own capital city of London. We could easily have spent longer in Copenhagen if it was summertime: the proximity of the coast, the many outdoor attractions and the cafe culture make it a very appealing break for a summer holiday of a week or more.
Is it worth getting the Copenhagen card with kids?
The Copenhagen Card is a way of pre-paying and potentially making a saving for a great range of attractions and transport options in Copenhagen. Many of the key sights in Copenhagen carry a fairly steep entrance fee so it can work out cost effective to use the card. 87 attractions are included in the card along with transport in the centre of Copenhagen and as far out as Roskilde. Each adult card allows you to include two children under the age of 10.
The card isn’t cheap so it’s worth making a list of the cost of the attractions that you’re definitely going to visit and working out if you’ll make a saving. The card includes transport from the airport into the city centre, boat trips, entrance to the Tivoli Gardens and much more.
I came very close to purchasing the Copenhagen Card. However, I concluded that it wasn’t for us. I felt we would be pressured to rush around the city visiting as many places as possible. If you plan to visit a lot of paid attractions or if you’re staying outside the centre and need to use public transport, it will be worthwhile (the card also includes discounts on bike hire).
As we had beautiful sunny days during our visit, we spent quite a bit of time just soaking up the atmosphere of the city and exploring at a slow pace, enjoying the cafes and outdoor spaces. The Copenhagen Card works better if the weather forces you indoors as there are some brilliant family-friendly museums included.
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Have you visited Copenhagen with kids? What were your favourite things to see in Copenhagen? Let me know your suggestions of what to do in Copenhagen with kids in the comments below.
Looking for other city break ideas with young children? Here’s my guide to the best walled cities to visit in Europe with kids.