One of our goals when we moved to Ireland was to use our time here to explore as much of Europe as possible.
We were able to visit two countries during the holidays: Denmark and Sweden.
Since we spent the bulk of our time in the Copenhagen area, that will be the focus of this post.
Thus far, we’ve had good experiences finding relatively inexpensive airfare on the budget airline, Ryan Air. All 4 of us were able to fly round trip between Dublin and Copenhagen for less than what we have been used to paying for one roundtrip ticket on most any of our travels in the continental U.S. Airfare is so much more affordable in Europe for some reason.
It’s fairly common in Europe to board the plane on the tarmac – from the front and the back. It does make boarding and deplaning much quicker, but it can be a little chilly in the winter!
Off we go!
This isn’t our plane, of course, but this is the view when flying into Copenhagen on a grey, winter day. We found the immigration screening process to be quick and public transportation out of the airport, at least the trains, were easy to find and use.
There are kiosks at the airport for buying train tickets for travel around Copenhagen. There are separate kiosks for buying train tickets to Sweden. Everything is clearly marked in English.
We arrived in Copenhagen around 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Denmark loves to celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks. I don’t know when they started, but I can definitely say fireworks were going off all around the city between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. I fell asleep after that! It was a special way to start our visit to this amazing country.
PLACES TO VISIT IN and AROUND COPENHAGEN WITH KIDS
National Aquarium Denmark
This was one of the best aquariums we’ve ever visited. Not quite as spectacular as the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, but close.
We watched the sharks being fed, walked through an undersea tunnel, watched seal otters play in buckets of ice and got up close and personal with sea life in the touch tank.
As is typical of my children, their favorite part of the aquarium was the outdoor playground. Even though the water had been turned off to the playground for the winter and the temperature was 37F, that didn’t stop my kids from playing outside three different times.
And yes, he does have a coat. And gloves. And a hat. And a strong stubborn streak.
In regard to children’s meals in the cafe – fish and chips was the most kid-friendly option. They did have juice and chocolate milk. The chocolate milk came in a can, so that was a fun, new experience for my kids. And I told my son the fish was chicken. Everybody was happy.
Hans Christian Anderson Fairytale House
The famous author, Hans Christian Anderson, was from Denmark. Did you know that? He wrote some works that you may be very familiar with: The Little Mermaid and The Emperor’s New Clothes, among others.
In the fairytale house you can listen to condensed versions of Anderson’s most famous fairytales. The displays were mainly static with lights and sounds adding to the dramatic effect, but my kids seemed to enjoy it.
The below scene is from The Emperor’s New Clothes. Don’t worry…the buns were as risqué as it got and we all had a good chuckle over it. Especially me. We are that mature in this family.
You’ll spend less than an hour in this attraction. It is located across from City Hall and in the same building as the Ripley’s Believe It or Not attraction.
Guinness World Records
My kids are obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records. They got the 2017 book detailing the most recent records for Christmas. When they realized there was a Guinness World Records attraction, well, there was no dissuading them from including this in our itinerary.
Honestly, I was prepared for a completely lame experience. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong. (It does happen from time to time!) There were interactive activities for the kids and adults around every corner. We probably spent 90 minutes there – at least.
We did get the double admission ticket to the Guinness World Record attraction and The Mystic Exploratorie. The Mystic Exploratorie would be too scary for young children. It’s dark, creepy, a little disturbing and there are things that jump out and make scary noises. It’s also not something that I would pay admission for as a stand alone attraction. It’s a short and sweet thrill experience.
You should know that both of these attractions are affiliated with the Ripley’s Believe It or Not organization and you can buy a combo ticket to Ripley’s, Guinness, The Mystic Exploratorie and the Hans Christian Anderson Fairytale House.
Tycho Brahe Planetarium
If mom and dad need a
nap break in the middle of the day, let me recommend a stop at the planetarium.
We watched a fascinating IMAX show about the planets. I only understood a dozen words during the entire show, since it was in Danish. Three quarters of those words were the names of the planets. Uranus is still a funny word – even with a Danish accent.
While you can purchase headphones that will translate the show into English for you, my kids didn’t seem to mind watching the show in Danish. My husband didn’t mind either because he was recharging with his eyes closed and missed most of the show.
There are also quite a few other science and space-related activities for the kids to enjoy before and after the IMAX show. We learned how much objects weigh on the different planets, we tried to launch a satellite and make it land in the correct spot and we got hands-on with other experiments too.
Maritime Museum of Denmark
The Maritime Museum of Denmark is one of the most gorgeous museums I’ve ever visited. It’s built into an old dry dock and the museum’s architecture in incredible.
However, this was more of a ‘stop and read about things’ museum instead of a ‘touch everything’ museum. The two things my kids (ages 6 and 9) really enjoyed were climbing on this upside down wooden boat…
…and drawing sailor tattoos on their arms.
Don’t worry. My son did not want the tattoo of the busty lady.
Neither did my daughter.
If you have older kids or kids who are really into maritime history, this is a museum to visit. If your kids do better in an environment where they can get hands-on with their learning, then skip this attraction.
The museum does have a cafe. The kid-friendly option on the menu is a fish cake served with a side of raw parsnips and cucumbers. One of my children had this meal. The other one ate a chocolate muffin and chocolate milk.
Just keeping it real…
Seeing a castle while in Denmark is a must. There are a bunch of them. Kronborg Castle is right next to the Maritime Museum of Denmark and happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its importance as a Renaissance castle in Northern Europe.
You can walk through the castle and see a little bit of what life might have been like several hundred years ago. You can also go underneath the castle into the casements…kind of like the castle version of a basement. It’s dark, creepy and awesome.
Krongborg Castle is also known as Hamlet’s Castle because it was, to quote Wikipedia “immortalized as Elsinore in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”
This is the view from the very top of the castle at the town of Helsingør. I wish we had had more time to explore this little town. We did stop in at the cafe at the base of the library to have hot chocolate for the kids and a latte for the parents, but I was ready to see more!
Unfortunately, our kids were tired, it was brutally cold and my son had tripped on some stone steps inside the castle, so we cut our losses and caught the train back to our hotel.
National Museum of Denmark
The National Museum of Denmark is the country’s cultural museum. The primary reason we visited the museum is that it has an entire section devoted just to kids.
My husband went off to explore the main part of the museum while I hung out with the kids in the Children’s Museum.
There was a full scale replica of a Viking ship. There was a section devoted to medieval history where the kids could dress up like knights, complete with wooden swords. There was also an old-fashioned school room from the 1940s where the kids could get hands-on with learning and playing. There was a room where the kids could sit down and color pictures then hang their artwork on the wall for everyone to admire.
The Children’s Museum also had an entire section devoted to Pakistani culture. I was surprised about this (in a pleasant way) and I asked one of the museum staff why Denmark’s cultural museum would devote such a large and permanent part of the museum to Pakistan. She told me, in perfect English, that they want all children who visit the museum to feel welcome and to learn about the world around them. I did a little Googling while my kids were playing and as of a few years ago, Pakistanis made of the 5th largest group of immigrants and descendants to Denmark.
The Children’s Museum was staffed with employees who engaged the kids with the different parts of the museum. They explained how a Pakistani market was run or how the Vikings sailed in rough seas. They also were around to make sure the kids didn’t get too rowdy with the wooden swords.
Keep in mind the child in front of the counter hasn’t learned English yet. My kids don’t speak Danish. They are playing in a Pakistani grocery store. And everyone had an amazing time. It is possible to overcome our differences, folks. Kids are proof of that.
Other Places to Visit
There are other kid-friendly places to visit that we did not get to because they were either closed for the season, the weather wasn’t conducive to the experience, or we just ran out of time.
For a full list, check out: VisitCopenhagen.com
SHOPPING, FOOD AND PLAYGROUNDS
We don’t typically go shopping, other than stopping in a souvenir shop, when we are traveling with kids, but sometimes we walk through shopping areas on the way to various attractions.
What I liked about Copenhagen is that we stumbled on multiple playgrounds scattered throughout the city during our explorations. Perhaps it was our good luck, but you need a bit of that when traveling with kids.
Below is the famous pedestrian street Strøget.
We did stop in at the Lego store on Strøget Street – mainly to look – because Legoland is closed during the winter.
This was a pretty underwhelming experience. I didn’t find it to be any more special than any other Lego store. We opted not to buy anything because we can find most of the Lego sets at home for less money. The store was also packed to the gills with shoppers. The security people were friendly though. Ha!
Every once in awhile I like to be the fun parent, so when I saw these chocolate covered waffles on a stick at a shop on Strøget Street, well, we had to stop.
See? I can be spontaneous!
My kids look so, so tired in this picture. I guess that’s what happens when you travel and then try and stay up late to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Sugar should fix that!
Also, I now need a waffle maker. And some melted chocolate. You can keep the sprinkles.
In general, we found food to be WAY more expensive in Denmark than what we are used to spending. Especially when it came to eating in restaurants. It was not unusual for us to spend 80 dollars/euros on lunch during this trip. And I’m not talking about a two martini lunch at a fancy restaurant either. I’m talking about kids meals and salads. That’s INSANE.
We found it was more affordable to buy prepackaged salads and sandwiches from grocery or convenience stores. 7/11 is super popular in Denmark. Yes, THAT 7/11, home of the slushy. But it’s not the convenience store like you are used to in the United States. They sell plenty of freshly made, healthy food in addition to chips and sodas. My kids are pretty content to eat peanut butter and jelly, so we also bought a loaf of bread at a grocery store and ate sandwiches a few nights. We are super glamorous that way.
If your hotel room rate includes a free breakfast, definitely consider that option. I know that by opting for the combo deal, we definitely saved money.
Bikes in Copenhagen are everywhere. I can’t emphasize this enough. By and large, bike lanes are as wide as car lanes. It seemed like we saw more bikes crossing an intersection during rush hour than we did cars.
On pretty much every corner and outside every office building you could find bike racks packed with bikes.
This is a terrible photo showing how prominent bikes are, but I just liked all the bricks. The bikes are off to the side. Squint and you can see them.
If you’d like to try cycling while in Copenhagen, your hotel most likely offers bike rentals. Ours did and some of the bikes had child carriers attached. I’m not certain what the helmet laws are in Copenhagen, as I saw most people riding without helmets.
Often times I had to remind my kids that where they were walking was a bike lane, not a sidewalk, so they needed to be careful and watch out!
Transportation is always a concern when traveling to a foreign country. Copenhagen’s public transportation system was, by far, one of the nicest we’ve experienced so far.
Trains leave directly from the airport, which makes getting to your hotel a breeze.
This is Copenhagen Central Station, which is right across the street from Tivoli Gardens and near other attractions. Not all of the stations are this way, but this one had multiple fast food restaurants and coffee shops, including Starbucks. It also had an organic grocery store which was handy when we picked up dinner to eat back at the hotel.
My son is obsessed with trains and pretty much ALL of his 6-year-old dreams came true when we, by chance, got to ride on a double decker train.
There isn’t always a place to scan train tickets at the train station – especially if you are traveling on a tourist card – so be prepared for train employees to come around checking your ticket during your ride.
If you are traveling with a stroller or a bicycle, there are special spots in the train cars where you can park these bulky items.
THE “MUST HAVE” WHEN VISITING COPENHAGEN
The thing you MUST GET when visiting Copenhagen is the Copenhagen Card.
This card covers admission fees to over 70 attractions plus ALL of your public transportation in the greater Copenhagen area.
Plus, KIDS are FREE with the card. So, kids 12 and under get into attractions for free and ride on public transportation for free. This saved us so much money. I wish we had something like this in Dublin.
We were in Copenhagen for 5 days and purchased two 120-hour cards for our family of 4. Our total was approximately 225 euros, which is roughly the same in U.S. dollars. The only attraction we spent money on was the Guinness World Records place and we received a discount on that because we had the Copenhagen Card. Everything else I detailed above we did not pay extra for. For everything we did and the number of trains and buses we rode on, this was a heck of a good deal.
Just beware – we were not able to purchase this card at the airport because we arrived late in the day and the tourist office was closed. We ended up buying the Copenhagen Card the next day at the Central Train Station.
Learn more about the Copenhagen Card here.
We thoroughly enjoyed visiting Copenhagen. Even in the dead of winter the city was a vibrant place. Everyone we met spoke perfect English and it made getting around, ordering food, etc. much easier. We are so happy we rang in the New Year in Copenhagen and we would love to go back when it is a wee bit warmer.
If you’d like to see more photos, arguably better photos of our trip, check out my Instagram feed.