Canals, historical buildings, cobbled streets and lots of family-friendly activities. Copenhagen condenses all the best bits of a typical European city with some additional special touches to make it an especially attractive family holiday destination. Particularly in the summertime, Copenhagen with kids is all about cruisey boat rides, street entertainers and families out enjoying the sunshine. As the home to the likes of LEGO and Hans Christian Andersen, you know this is going to be one family-friendly city.
Denmark is the home of LEGO and some of literature's best known fairy tales so, as you would expect, the Danes know how to cater to the needs of people traveling with kids. While the capital of Copenhagen may not have many big ticket tourist attractions, it’s a fantastic place to hang out for a few days for both parents and kids.
In the summer there is a whole plethora of activities to do on the water around the many canals that weave in and out of the city. The seafood is fresh and delicious and there are coffee houses and ice cream stalls aplenty. Cool galleries, boutiques and high street stores abound. And everything is designed to welcome children.
You will see young children in the streets everywhere. Shopping centres come equipped with shopping trolleys that double up as ride on cars that shoppers can use for free. Everyone speaks English (even the story-telling rides at the Tivoli Gardens have an English language option) and the people are friendly and happy to help. For an easy family holiday destination in Europe, Denmark’s capital caters to everyone.
The area of Nyhavn (New Harbour)
is a little touristy but that’s because it’s just so damn charming. The city
has done a brilliant job of maintaining the look and feel of the original
harbour from encouraging historical ships to dock there to filling the old
warehouses and alehouses with restaurants and bars. From lunchtime until well
into the late evening in the summer huge numbers of people flock down here to
stroll, sail, eat and just kick back.
You will see almost every kind of vessel coming into Nyhavn and it’s surrounds. Canoes, kayaks and tour boats are common. The locals will also rent out punts where you can host your own private floating picnic or perhaps listen to the live jazz onboard. It is well worth booking one of the tourist cruises around Copenhagen to orientate yourself in the city. There are plenty running out of Nyhavn itself, but a little secret to avoid the queues is to choose the Stromma canal tours that depart from the significantly quieter area of Fisketorvet. Most tours are hop on/hop off style – a particular favourite with the kids is to visit the statue of the Little Mermaid from the original Hans Christian Andersen tale. (Keep your expectations in check. The current statute is not actually the original nor is she particularly big or impressive, so don’t expect to devote too much time to this site.)
Another pretty area to wander around is Amaliehaven where you get nice views out to the Operahuset and you can visit the Amalienborg Slotsplads, the royal palace where Aussie Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik live. It is possible to do tours of the palace – you probably only need to budget about an hour to explore.
Across the water from this is the Experimentarium, a highly underrated place for tourists to visit. It is a wonderland of interactive science exhibits for kids that are also heaps of fun for adults. There is enough to do here that, if you had school-aged children, you could spent a whole day or more. An entire section is dedicated to the human body where they also host actual dissections of organs. (Thankfully for the squeamish, these talks are in Danish.)
Elsewhere there are experiments where kids can test out their skills at several of the winter Olympic sports, learn about kinetic energy, drive virtual container ships, sail boats and run their own crane. In the summer, there is a small sand and water play section set up for younger children.
The Tivoli Gardens are the most famous tourist attraction in Copenhagen and it’s easy to see why. The historical fairground feel has been maintained throughout the amusement park so not only is it full of rides and fun games for kids to play, it also has a lovely nostalgic feel about it that you won’t get from any modern theme parks for kids.
Unlike a standard amusement park, there is one entrance fee just to enter the grounds, then a separate fee per ride. (You purchase tickets for the rides from machines inside the gardens.) In the summer it can become incredibly crowded and the queues to purchase tickets and enter can go around the block. A clever idea is to go an hour before opening and pre-purchase your entrance ticket from the machine booths outside. Then return 15 minutes before opening to begin the queuing.
All around the Tivoli Gardens are famous family-friendly restaurants such as the Hard Rock Café and Wagamama which you can go to even without an entrance ticket. There is also a Hamley’s toy store that provides free street entertainment to attract young shoppers.
If the queues at Tivoli are too much, a much beloved local favourite is to head to Bakken (also known as Dyrehavsbakken) in the Dyrehaven Woods. This is the world’s oldest amusement park and has the sentimental feel of something like a county fair. There are more Danes here than tourists so the atmosphere is a little less hectic than the Tivoli Gardens and you can order beer to drink and carry around with you as the kids clamour aboard the rides. You don’t have to pay to walk around Bakken; you just pay per ride.
Afterwards, if you need some peace and quiet, it’s pleasant to go for a walk in the Dyrehaven Woods where you might also spot some deer.
Strøget is the famed world’s longest pedestrian strip chock full of retail stores from the cheap and cheerful tourist traps to international luxury brands. In the summer there are plenty of street buskers here and families often just wander around, eating ice creams and taking in the sights. For kids, Scandinavia’s only Disney store is here – an interactive shop format to encourage kids to touch and feel the displays. If you get there on opening there is a special ceremony daily.
The part of Strøget you should not miss is the LEGO store, the flagship for the brick brand. This is like LEGO heaven – all along the walls are some brilliant LEGO constructions of everything from the Tivoli Gardens to a Maersk container ship.
Right at the back is the LEGO brick wall – a huge wall full of bricks that you can scoop into containers and pay for by the bucket to top up whatever you are missing at home. There are also some toys here that are exclusive to this Copenhagen store and cannot be found anywhere else.
[To read about LEGOLAND Malaysia, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
For a pleasant day trip it’s worth heading out to the Open Air Museum also known as Frilandsmuseet. There are some horses, chickens and animals wandering around so the feel is something like a petting zoo or rustic farm. You can wander around the grounds and explore the historical buildings, pack a picnic, take a horse and cart ride and learn about olden day living in Denmark with kids.
In the summer you will often see school groups visiting during the week and there is live entertainment for the smaller kids. Entrance to the Open Air Museum is free. [For more travel tips on how to find free things for kids in most cities, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
The food in Copenhagen is very international and you can find almost anything to suit everyone’s palate.
But Copenhagen is most famous to foodies right now because it is home to the world’s number one rated restaurant, Noma. Although the likelihood of securing a booking at Noma is almost nil, it’s existence speaks to the rapidly growing fine dining scene in Copenhagen.
If you want to sample the type of avant garde cuisine that is making Copenhagen so famous, get a booking at Geranium. This is food that you need to have explained to you before you eat it but, if you want to see what is happening at the cutting edge of fine dining, this is it. Happily they will also allow children and even create extra starters for them to try, but since the food here is so experimental and the atmosphere so formal, it’s best if you bring your own snacks and entertainment for the children too.
[For more travel tips on eating in expensive restaurants with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
For something a little more accessible newbie restaurant no.2 is pleasantly located on the water and serves bistro-style sharing plates in a more formal atmosphere that’s still unpretentious enough for kids.
The Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel, Copenhagen is just outside of town but is a viable option for family-friendly accommodation in Copenhagen. (Don’t bother trying to book the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Copenhagen opposite the Tivoli Gardens if you are traveling with kids. They will tell you themselves that they are not a family-friendly hotel.) The property itself is a little tired but it is very close to a train station and only about 15 minutes brisk walk from Tivoli and some of the canals. If you wander around the suburbs there are also pleasant ale houses and surprisingly good cafés and restaurants to be discovered, such as Café Alma which serves bistro food and where – if you sit outside – the kids can look right down into the kitchen.
Another interesting option is to stay at the Hilton Copenhagen Airport. While this might initially seem an odd choice, it is actually quite a practical idea if you are traveling with kids and have lots of luggage as it cuts out the hassle and expense of the airport transfers into town. You can easily walk from the baggage collection area in Terminal 3 to the hotel (it’s all indoors so you don’t have to deal with the weather and can even wheel an airport trolley all the way through). The airport is also conveniently located about 3 minutes walk from the train that will take you directly to all the major tourist destinations in town. The train is driverless so kids can sit right up the front and enjoy the view along the tracks.
Copenhagen is one of the only major cities in Europe where you can actually park quite easily in the city. Car parks are plenty and quite reasonably priced. If you prefer not to take public transport (which is efficient and clean), then driving in Copenhagen is a handy option to have.
The Danes love to cycle and are particularly fond of transporting their kids via bicycle. There are plenty of good bike tracks and all the streets have bike lanes that motorists actually do observe. Otherwise it is quite easy to walk around the streets with kids especially if you have a good stroller.
There is a lot of hype in the media about Denmark being so safe that mothers leave their babies in strollers outside of cafes and shops while they have a meal or browse for clothes. In reality this is not something you see very often in Copenhagen proper and likely applies more to the rural areas and small towns. It is not advisable to leave your child in their stroller unattended.