Harbour feelings: the waterfront will host a festival (visitcopenhagen.dk) / visitcopenhagen.dk

Cheap flights and a series of festivals make the Danish capital a strong summer prospect

Travel essentials

Why go now?

A summer fares war between budget airlines on flights to the Danish capital has made it cheap to go there this summer – perfect timing for a succession of festivals that take over the city this month.

They start this weekend with the Copenhagen Summer Festival (2-13 August; 00 45 38 71 18 38; copenhagensummerfestival.dk). Next weekend (7-9 August), the Cultural Harbour Festival takes over the waterfront for music, theatre and sport (00 45 33 66 38 50; kulturhavn.dk). And, it's no surprise that in one of the world's leading gastronomic cities, the Copenhagen Cooking Festival (21-30 August; copenhagencooking.dk) is a big food event. Touch down Competition is toughest, and fares are lowest, from the London area. British Airways (0344 493 0787; ba.com) and SAS (020-8990 7000; flysas.com) fly from Heathrow, in competition with Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) and easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) from Luton; easyJet from Stansted; and easyJet and Norwegian (0843 3780 888; norwegian.com) from Gatwick. SAS and easyJet compete from Manchester and Edinburgh (also, from the latter, with Norwegian). SAS flies from Aberdeen, Birmingham and Newcastle, while easyJet flies from Bristol.

Get your bearings

Copenhagen airport is at Kastrup, beside the Oresund Strait, six miles south of the centre, and very well connected. It has a 14-minute rail link to the Central Station (1), and a 15-minute Metro service to Kongens Nytorv station (2) which is closer to the city's tourist heart. Both lines are covered by Copenhagen's zonal transport system, which includes the Tog (train) network, the Metro, buses and the 991, 992 and 993 urban ferries.

The ride from the airport is a three-zone trip costing Dkr36 (£3.60), and allowing transfers within 75 minutes. Most city-centre journeys are confined to two zones, for which tickets cost Dkr24 (£2.40) and are valid for one hour. A City Pass valid for 24 hours costs Dkr80 (£8), while for 72 hours you pay Dkr200 (£20).

Copenhagen's main Visitor Centre (3) is at Vesterbrogade 4A (00 45 70 22 24 42; visitcopenhagen.com). It opens 9am to 7pm daily in August; from September to April it's 9am to 4pm from Monday to Friday, 9am-2pm on Saturdays and is closed on Sundays.

Check in

Rooms are in short supply in summer, so it is wise to book ahead. I paid Dkr805 (£80) for a compact double room with breakfast at the budget hotel Cabinn (4), near the station at Mitchellsgade 14 (00 45 33 46 16 16; cabinn.com).

For a more sophisticated, modern ambience closer to the city's heart, Wake Up Copenhagen (5) at Borgergade 9 (00 45 44 80 00 90; wakeupcopenhagen.dk) has economy doubles at Dkr1,400 (£140), with breakfast a further Dkr140 (£14) per person.

The optimum choice for character and location is the 71 Nyhavn Hotel (6), whose name is actually also its address. Perched handsomely on the waterfront (00 45 33 43 62 00; 71nyhavn hotel.dk), this 1805 warehouse was beautifully resurrected as a hotel in 1971, and offers Scandinavian comfort in a historic setting. If you pre-pay, the rates are attractive: for next weekend the lowest is Dkr1,628 (£163) for a double, including breakfast.

copenhagen map

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Day one

Take a hike

Start at the statue of Hans Christian Andersen outside the Radhus (7), the bulky town hall. The author's name has been given to the adjacent wide, noisy avenue, but happily much of the centre is pedestrianised.

You can wander into the Radhus on Saturdays from 10am to 1pm, and on weekdays from 10am to 4pm. The most fascinating exhibit is tucked in to the right of the entrance: the World Clock, designed to be the most accurate clockwork mechanism ever. One of the cogs takes 25,000 years to complete a single rotation.

The tone for Stroget, the main pedestrian way through the city, is set by the 7-Eleven and Burger King that flank its start, though there is some interesting architecture if you look up. It briefly broadens into Nytorv (8), an attractive square.

Turn left into Jorckspassage, walk through the arcade and take the cobbled lane, passing the Church of Our Lady – the city's austere Lutheran Cathedral (9), open 8am to 5pm daily. Turn right for the Round Tower (10) and climb to the viewing platform (10am to 8pm daily, earlier in winter; Dkr25/£2.50), or get a coffee at the rooftop café of the Post and Telegraph Museum (11) at Kobmakergade 37; 10am to 4pm daily, free. At Illum (12), a leading department store, turn left and walk along the continuation of Stroget, Ostergade, to Kongens Nytorv (2) which is being dug up for a new Metro line.

Take a ride

Nyhavn, the stump of a canal, is tourist central. One-hour boat trips depart frequently, but walk to the 71 Nyhavn Hotel (6) and hop aboard ferry 993 for the two-minute hop to Paper Island (13). The trip is included in city transport tickets. However, when the delayed new footbridge is finally completed, you will be able simply to walk across the water.

Lunch on the run

Copenhagen Street Food fills a large warehouse on Paper Island (13) with dozens of stalls selling a huge diversity of cuisines from organic Danish to Indonesian.

Counter-cultural afternoon

Is Christiania (14) a shrine of idealism or a den of indulgent hippiedom? This social experiment was conceived in 1972 when a group of squatters took over an abandoned barracks on Christianshavn island and proclaimed a free state. After attempts to eject the settlers failed, the authorities agreed to allow a self-governing "ecologically oriented city". About 1,000 people live here now in a haze of marijuana smoke. They have four laws: no weapons; no violence; no hard drugs; and no photography on Pusher Street, where dope is sold openly, despite being illegal in Denmark. Beyond the drug hub, waterside bungalows in primary colours are fringed by broken-down bicycles and extravagant flora.

An aperitif

The last ferry 993 runs at 6pm; make sure you catch it to be in position on the terrace of the Skuespilhuset (15) (Royal Danish Playhouse; kglteater.dk), which juts out on the water. A beer with a view at the Restaurant, Ofelia, costs only Dkr35 (£3.30).

Dining with the locals

Vesterbro, the area west of the station isn't the smartest but has some great restaurants, notably Frk Barners Kaelder (16) at Helgolandsgade 8A (00 45 33 33 05 33; frkbarners.dk). The signature starter is herring in four different sauces (Dkr129/£13). For a hearty main course order Frk Barners Gryde (Dkr179/£18) a tasty stew of pork, bacon, sausage, mushroom and onion.


Light show: Tivoli Gardens (Getty)

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

The early service at Holmenskirke (17) is at 10am, so you can experience the Danish navy's mother church at its best (00 45 33 13 61 78; holmenskirke.dk; tourist visits from noon on Sunday, from 10am on other days).

Take a view

Cross the water to the Christiansborg Slot (18), the palace where Parliament sits. Enter through the King's Gate and line up for the tower that has been opened to the public in the past year (11am- 9pm daily except Sunday and Monday, free).

For a view of Danish culture, walk west through the palace grounds to the National Museum (19) at Ny Vestergade 10 (00 45 33 13 44 11; natmus.dk; 10am to 5pm daily, except Monday, free). This 18th-century royal palace is filled with exhibits such as a 3,200-year-old model of a chariot towing the sun. Until the end of 2015, the "White Buses" exhibition reveals how the Swedish Red Cross rescued 17,000 Danes from Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War.

Window shopping

Many shops in the centre open from 11am to 6pm Sundays, 10am to 8pm on other days. Don't miss the flagship Lego Store (20) at Vimmelskaftet 37 (00 45 52 15 91 58; stores.lego.com).

Out to brunch

North of the centre, the Laundromat Café (21) at Elmegade 15 (00 45 35 35 26 72; thelaundromatcafe.com) serves mountainous brunches from 9am to 3pm at weekends, either "clean" (vegetarian) or "dirty" (with bacon and sausage), both for Dkr139 (£14).

Walk in the park

Assistens Cemetery (22) might sound sombre, but it's one of Copenhagen's loveliest parks, punctuated by graves of the unknown and the celebrated – from a memorial to the homeless and the modest tomb of Hans Christian Andersen; follow the signs.

Icing on the cake

Tivoli (23) is a delightful anachronism: a 19th-century pleasure garden in a swathe of prime real estate between the town hall and the station (00 45 33 15 10 01; tivoli.dk). It is a bizarre mix of elegant gardens (with peacocks), top-notch restaurants and fairground rides, best appreciated at dusk as the lights come on. Admission Dkr89/£9; 11am to 11pm daily, to midnight at weekends.

Click here to view the tour of Stockholm & Copenhagen, with Independent Holidays.