I spent about a week in Copenhagen right before the pandemic became basically out of control. While nobody was wearing a mask, no lockdown, and no quarantine was enforced, I took my “last period” of freedom in 2020 to visit many museums in the city because it was freezing cold in winter – but it doesn’t mean people can’t go out and explore the city.
Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark, and a modern cosmopolitan that plays an important role in Northern Europe – not to mention Danish’s rich history and unique culture, friendly people, pleasant weather and air quality, delicious local food and international food scene, world-class infrastructure, and well-established political systems, making it one of the most livable cities, and one of the best travel destinations in the world; Obviously, I could go on and on about the amazing things that I love about Copenhagen; but for the first post of Denmark, I am dedicated to cover the many (but still, not all) museums in Copenhagen, that you could basically have free and priority access to with the Copenhagen Card.
Well, yes, technically “free”, because you need to purchase the card to enjoy the free access (That means the entrance fees are already included in buying the card). I would say, however, you will definitely spend much more than the price of the card, because not only it gives you hassle-free access to museums, it also includes a discount offer, free public transportation (yes – all – public transportation in the metro area, including trains to the airport), and other activities that will only make your visit an unforgettable one. Planning your itinerary strategically will give you the incomparable advantage to cover the most attractions and landmarks of Copenhagen like no others.
I went to the top of the City Hall and The Round Tower had an excursion to Helsingør, visited places like Frederiksborg Castle, Rosenborg Castle, and Christiansborg Palace. But for this post, I am focusing on the museums. Even if you don’t have the card (or decided not to), I am giving you my reviews of these museums in the city of Copenhagen, so you can be the judge and decide which one that you want to go to the most. I am giving stars for each of these places and rank them accordingly. You may not agree with me, and that’s fine, everyone’s experience is unique, and please leave a comment at the bottom to share with us your view, and which museum would you recommend!
One way to get around the city and enjoy discounts and savings for first-timers is by using the Copenhagen Card.
- The card covers 87 attractions and museums and free transportation, including a few places in Malmo, Sweden.
- Users could simply download an app to purchase and activate their card and show their QR code at the entrance of all the attractions of transportation to enjoy free access. The app also lists out information about all the attractions from opening hours, locations, and introduction so it’s pretty easy to use and to plan your trip.
- The public transportation coverage of the card is amazing. It offers unlimited travel on trains, buses, metro, and harbor buses, throughout the entire capital region (as far as Roskilde and Helsingør) You could simply hop on whatever you see and go to places!
24 hours: Adult €56 Children €28
48 hours: Adult €83 Children €42
72 hours: Adult €102 Children €51
96 hours: Adult €119 Children €60
120 hours: Adult €134 Children €67
I used a 120-hour pass (that’s 5 whole days) and it gets to as low as €26.8 per day. For example, The entrance fee of Den Blå Planet, National Aquarium Denmark is €26 and I already saved money taking the metro ticket into account. Other attractions with big savings include Tivoli Gardens, Rosenborg Castle, Planetarium, the Arken Museum of Modern art, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, and the Copenhagen Zoo. However, you will also need to time out the time and transportation required to visit these places, because you can’t simply visit them all.
Target two to three key places a day, map their locations and enjoy them. You may see a few smaller museums that are closed by. Remember, this is not the Amazing Race; you still want to be able to have a meaningful experience after all.
Get your Copenhagen Card here.
What should I cover? The card covers about 87 attractions and museums that most of which are located in the city, but also in the outskirts. If you read on, you would know that I will highly recommend the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; if you visit the city in summer, go to the Tivoli Garden in the evening; climb up the City Hall, visit at least one castle and palaces, and also a few of the museums that I am going to recommend in the following.
Getting around Copenhagen is really easy. Copenhagen is very bike-friendly and some hostels and hotels offer free bike rental for guests. It would be a pleasant and great experience to explore the city center on a bike during summer. In winter, take the metro as it has 4 lines and 39 stations that cover basically all places in the city. The metro services are punctual and reliable, and they are really easy to navigate as well; it is basically impossible to get lost with a map on hand. To explore further places, outside of the city, hop on an S-train and you will get there. There are 7 lines and 85 stations and they are color-coded like rainbows. The train runs less frequently than the metro (about 20-30 minutes) but it still gets you to places effectively, usually within an hour.
The Charlottenborg Palace was originally built in 1683 as a residence of Ulrik Frederik Gyldenlove – the building was constructed in the Baroque architectural idiom shared by Holland, England, and Denmark. Dowager queen Charlotte Amalie purchased the palace in 1700 until the ownership was transferred to the Royal Danish Academy of Art in 1787. Today, the site functions as the official exhibition gallery of the Royal Danish Academy of Art. It is the platform for local contemporary artists to show their work. While they may not be big names (yet), the venue still draws a solid audience to support and appreciate the local art development.
What’s more? The palace is located at Nyhavn, a popular waterfront, canal, and entertainment district lined by brightly painted 17th and 18th-century houses. The area is filled with hip restaurants and bars – the Apollo Bar & Katine is a Copenhagen museum cafe & restaurant in Kunsthal Charlottenborg that draws quite a crowd with their signature food and drinks. The Guinness World Records Museum is a stone’s throw away from Nyhavn and they also offer free access to Copenhagen card users. While the “museum” shows only pictures or information about many of the world’s interesting Guinness World Records, it opens until 8 pm in winter and it’s a great place for family travelers for their children to learn a little bit more about some strange record holders in the world, with some game machines and interactive challenges.
Natural History Museum of Denmark, the Palm House & Geological Museum
The museum is a result of a merger of Copenhagen’s Zoological Museum, Geological Museum, Botanical Museum and Central Library, and Botanical Gardens – The museum focuses on nature based on the background of these four long-standing institutions. It was merged in 2004 and it has had a collection of exhibits for over four centuries.
The Palm House creates an exotic habitat that is unlike anywhere you see in Denmark. It has quite a spectacular botanical collection in various temperatures and humidity as if it brings you to a tropical place during winter – from aquatic plants and mangrove plants, warm and dry subtropical plants in the mountains, plants in the warm Mediterranean region, to an unusually large and scientifically significant collection of cycads. One of them dates from 1824 and is one of the tallest in Europe under glass.
Returning to Denmark after passing through the Palm House, I headed to the Geological Museum section of the cluster, there was a temporary exhibition showcasing meteorites from outer space; followed by an impressive collection of gems, crystals, minerals, and rocks from all over the world (this is definitely for those who are fascinated by rocks).
One of the coolest things about the meteorite exhibition was that I got to touch a piece of meteorite that came from the Moon and Mars!
Less than one percent of meteorites come from Mars and the Moon. Martian meteorites come from regions, like the far side of the Moon, that the Apollo or Luna missions have never visited. These unique objects enable us to trace and understand the history of our cousin Mars and neighbor Moon.
Museum of Copenhagen
The Museum of Copenhagen is a city museum that brings the audience on a journey to the history of Copenhagen. The museum is very close to Copenhagen’s City Hall, and It thinks the museum is a great complement to learn more about the city. The journey starts from the first traces of humankind to the capital we know today.
As for me, I am most interested to know about how the city was established and developed. The first archaeological traces of the city are from the 1000s, the late Viking Age. Roads, buildings, and graves provide evidence of the first Copenhageners and the origins of the city. But what is the background of the city that emerges on the shore of the Sound? The city began with the good farming and fishing resources of the area and the market they created. Its coastal location made it a hub for traffic and trade by land and sea. The city attracted more people, and before long the Crown assumed control of this strategic site for the defense of the kingdom. During the 1100s the city developed rapidly and Bishop Absalon came to power. From 1000 to 1600, Copenhagen grew in size and significance. Its central location, fishing grounds, and fertile soil generated trade. The city was a hub on the Sound, with the castle islet of Slotsholmen as its power center. Under the Christiansborg Palace where the remains of the castle are often linked to the birth of the city. But the history of Copenhagen began long before the castle was built. Continued on, Christian rebuilt and expanded Copenhagen as a “modern city”. The Royal Exchange was built on the waterfront, linking the old town and the new merchant town of Christianshavn. The building was modern in design and construction. Ships could sail right up to the exchange, offloading cargo directly onto the ground floor as people trade from more than 40 stalls in the new indoor market. The Royal Exchange is the creation of Christian IV, Denmark’s dynamic Renaissance king. Science, art, war, and commerce were key themes of the age and permeated all the king’s plans for the capital. Through city planning, he demonstrated the power and glory of the throng.
In the 1700s and 1800s, Copenhagen became a hub for literature, poets, and authors. During the 1700s, Copenhagen became the country’s literacy capital. At the theatres, coffee houses and clubs houses and club authors and readers alike discuss literature with a passion. Modern printing techniques, freedom of the press, and a growing book market increase people’s interest in reading. Novels, reviews, and publishers see the light of day, and a new kind of author emerged. The opening of the Royal Theatre gives Copenhageners a chance to experience European and Danish theatre, opera, and ballet. The theatre also provides a stage for the career dreams of authors. Go on further, you will learn more about the city’s layout, design, and important infrastructure that shaped the city today.
The museum is 3-story high and not huge; yet it illustrates the story of Copenhagen with text, photos, and interactive models. If you are interested in learning more about the city, this is where you should be; what’s more, enjoy a cup of tea and a danish in the museum’s cafe, I found their pastry (although not a lot of choices) quite delicious!
The Thorvaldsens Museum is dedicated to a single Danish neoclassical sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen, of which the museum is also built around his burial place. Bertel Thorvaldsen gained international fame in the early 19th century, he was born and died in Copenhagen, and spent 40 years of his life in Italy, after graduating from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. His work would be seen in different countries including the Lion Monument in Lucerne in Switzerland, the equestrian statue of Prince Józef Poniatowski in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, and the statue of Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany.
In his final years, he bequeathed his sculptures and art collections and established the Thorvaldsen Museum – it was built in 1848 as the first Danish museum, inspired by ancient and polychrome architecture. It provides the perfect backdrop to showcase Thorvaldsen’s white, neoclassical marble sculptures.
More of Bretel Thorvaldsen are motifs and bas-beliefs based on Greek mythologies or biblical stories. The main floor is the most important floor in the museum, with Thorvaldsen’s Grave in the courtyard. The Grand Hall shows Thorvaldsen’s plaster models for large statues of historical personages, which stand in various European cities, and moving on to the galleries that showcase marble sculptures and reliefs especially with themes from classical mythology. The Christ gallery is one of my favorites as it displays the plaster models for the statues of Christ and the Apostles in Copenhagen Cathedral, and the size and details of these many figurines are simply outstanding. The upper floor showcases Thorvaldsen’s collection of paintings and antiques.
I like the museum in general as I was impressed by the sculptural work (like the Christ Gallery that I mentioned). I always like the idea of a museum dedicated to one artist because it usually has a focus that tells a story, and it helps the audience to understand the aesthetics and concept of a certain kind of art genre in a certain period of time. On the flip side, that it may be too “one-note” to some people as the entire place is really all about Thorvaldsens. Furthermore, most of the exhibits are only replica or plaster model – in particular, the “real” Christ and twelve Apostles sculptures are in Copenhagen Cathedral, which is basically a 10-minute walk away from the museum; while most of the sculptures are in marble, many of them have turned black due to oxidation. In case you decide to visit the Christiansborg, consider dropping by and taking a quick spin because the museum is right next to the palace.
What’s more? On a side note, there are a few nice cafes nearby (which I hope to write about in Copenhagen later); The Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre, Danish Jewish Museum, and Nikolaj, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center is also nearby. For Nikolaj, some might miss this place on the map but I found it quite special that a church is turned into a contemporary art space! While I was there, it was hosting a themed exhibition for Leonard Cohen, a Canadian singer-songwriter, showing pictures, videos, and audio of his work; but there are a few small places with some other interesting works, too. Once I climbed up to the second floor, there were eighteen TV flat screens. Each of the screens is one individual who was singing, but altogether it came out as an acapella performance in perfect unison and harmony. If you have the Copenhagen Card, take a quick spin in these places because access is also included.
It’s clear that in the name that the Designmuseum Danmark focuses on “design”. But what is design? The museum highlights local designers’ works and crafts over the last decades and some of them did have a serious impact on the world. Famous Danish designers include Arne Jacobsen, Jacob Jansen, and Kaare. Design is not only limited to artworks but also architecture, home products, cars, fashion, even music, and lifestyle.
The museum was founded in 1890 and when I was visiting the museum, the permanent exhibition takes you on a journey of the changes of design style and aesthetics through different eras; it inspires me how life and design are interrelated. If art is more a spiritual form of expression, design takes on a more “practical” route as it needs to incorporate what customers want, what they need, and the functionality behind the design.
Imagine how to create a lounge chair that looks stylish and comfortable (and I had no idea that there are so many architectural elements in one chair), how a nightstand that has all the parts that you need will make your life easier and get you ready for work faster. Like many Scandinavian designs in Norway and Sweden, Danish designs are clean, simple, and modern without compromising practicality and style.
The museum also dabbles in achievements of Danish architectural design – can you name any world-recognized modern architectural wonders in the world that were built by a Danish architect? Look at one of the descriptions of the photos below to find out.
The museum also showcases a range of Chinese and German porcelain, and tapestry works as well. In general, the museum doesn’t have extremely valuable or unique exhibits, yet it stands out from other art museums with a focus on the modern era and the information is quite inspiring and educational. The museum is under renovation and will be reopened to the public in 2022.
National Gallery of Denmark (SMK)
The National Gallery of Denmark, or commonly known as “SMK” (the short form of “Statens Museum for Kunst” in Danish”), is obviously a very important site that collects, registers, maintains, researches, and handles art from Denmark and all over the world dating from the 14th century to the present day.
The gallery is expanded from its original old building (for classic and historic art) with a new wing at the back that houses contemporary printings and large-size installation art. It has a collection of 9,000 paintings and sculptures – not only from domestic artists but international names like Albrecht Dürer, Peter Paul Rubens, Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem and Henri Matisse.
I appreciate how the galleries are separated into two wings and how they design the layout and placements of the art pieces. It’s hundreds of years of art housed in one place and each room has a clear theme and feature. It has an area dedicated to Danish artists with a detailed introduction and guide.
Henri Matisse’s Portrait of Madame Matisse. The Green Line. is probably the most sought-after work in the bunch. It is a portrait of the painter’s wife back in 1905. Why is it called “The Green Line”, it’s notable that the green band divides the face in half to create a sense of light, shadow, and volume without using traditional shading. This technique shook the world at that time – with both the admirers and critics arguing over this shade of green, some found it astounding, some found it odd.
The museum is also located in a cluster of museums in Copenhagen’s city center. That includes The Hirschsprung Collection, Natural History Museum of Denmark, the Palm House & Geological Museum, The National Gallery of Denmark, The David Collection, Rosenborg Castle, and The Workers Museum. These sites are within walking distance from one another, and in case you don’t have a Copenhagen card, it’s possible to purchase a combo ticket that covers all of these six locations with a 50% discount, and it’s possible to visit them all in one day.
The Hirschsprung Collection is right behind the lawn of the National Gallery. It has a unique collection of paintings by the most important Danish artists of the 19th century (The Danish Golden Age from 1800 to 1850, including Peder Severin Krøyer, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, and Dankvart Dreyer. The paintings were donated by the founder of the museum – Heinrich Hirschsprung.
The David Collection showcases a unique Islamic collection that is considered among the top 10 of its kind in the western world.
The Workers Museum explores the everyday life of Danish working-class families during the last 150 years, and how the workers built the foundation of the Danish welfare model.
National Museum of Denmark
Like the Museum of Copenhagen, the National Museum takes you on a journey through time, but on a larger scale that covers the history of Denmark. What’s wonderful about exploring the National Museum of Denmark, is that visitors can see the actual item, whether it is a historic painting, fossils, jewelry, clothes, equipment, and so many more. The exhibits take visitors on a time-traveling journey, allowing them to witness the history and development of Denmark, all the way from the prehistoric period to modern times.
The museum is a huge space and it takes hours to complete. For those who want to have a taste, focus on the highlights that were listed on the museum map. Since it is huge, it could be quite confusing to cover so many topics at once as it has exhibits from the prehistoric era, a dollhouse showcase, an astronaut suit, to modern culture in the 60s. The museum even has exhibits from Egypt and India.
The highlights of the museum
(click on each photo above for their detailed information):
- The Aurochs – The Feast that Drowned.
- The Egtved Girl – A Traveller from the Bronze Age.
- The Golden Horns – Replicas of National Treasures.
- The Faceted Hoard – Denmark’s Largest Treasure Trove of Gold.
- The Eckhout Paintings – World Heritage.
- Parka from the Great Sledge Expedition.
- Executioner’s Axe – The Royal Physician Beheaded for the Queen.
- The Living Room – Make Yourself at Home in the 1970s.
- Space Suit – The First Dane in Space.
- Denmark’s Second Oldest Book.
Arken Museum of Modern Art
Arken Museum of Modern Art is located on the outskirts of Copenhagen. However, it is worth a day trip owing to its modern art collection of over 400 significant international artists, many of which are permanent cultural displays and installation art pieces, spanning from the post-World War II period to the present day. Notable artists include Anselm Reyle, Ai Wei Wei, Damien Hirst, Olafur Eliasson, Ingar Dragset, and so on.
The museum is, in fact, a private non-profit organization; which stands amongst the most prestigious contemporary art museums in the region. Opened in 1996, the museum was designed by Søren Robert Lund, a 25-year-old architect student – it is surrounded by water and it has a striking and eye-catching building with a giant white wall at the entrance; both the building and the artworks are something to see. The museum covers mainly contemporary and modern art pieces, but it has sculptures, printed, and mixed media displays. To me, the most interesting part is the site installations, like Ai Wei Wei’s Circle of Animals Heads, Damien Hirst’s Love’s Parado.
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
Ny means “New” in Danish, and Glyptotek means “storing place” in Greek. The museum was founded in 1882, showcasing an impressive collection of Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of the Carlsberg Breweries. Although it was a personal collection, it is not limited by scale and size. The majority of the exhibition are sculptures, including antiques collected from the ancient Mediterranean, Egypt, Rome, and Greece; and some modern works in Denmark and France. The museum also features sculptures by Auguste Rodin, which is considered to be the most important collection of his work outside France.
The museum consists of three buildings, namely Dahlerup Building, Henning Larsen Building, and Kampmann Building. The first building was designed by Vilhelm Dahlerup and built in 1897. It is the main entrance (and where the ticket office and cloakroom) are located. Here you will find the special exhibition The Road to Palmyra, the collection of Danish and French sculpture as well as French paintings. In fact, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek has the largest collection of French art. In 1888 Carl Jacobsen, patron of the arts and owner of the Ny Carlsberg brewery, donated his enormous sculpture collection to the nation. The second building was completed in 1906 and designed by Hack Kampmann. This is where the Central Hall is located, with Greek and Roman sculpture, the Egyptian collection, and the Ancient Mediterranean collection. Lastly, the Henning Larsen Building was built in 1996, and the area hosts temporary exhibitions and offers access to the museum’s roof terrace – it is a beautiful rooftop terrace designed by Danish architect Henning Larsen, offering views of the city and Tivoli.
One exhibit that I found interesting is an illustration that shows how the research team recreated the original color and fully reconstructed the beautiful Palmyra based on the evidence left on the sculpture. First, the team reconstructing the missing parts such as the nose and the left hand, then, the jewelry, clothes, and headgear. While it may not be an accurate depiction of its original color, the team did technical analyses and comparisons with the other Palmyrene sculptures and archaeological finds to make their best shot.
Among the sculptures, one of the best features of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is the Winter Garden that makes it so distinguishable and different from other museums. The palm trees were originally grown in the childhood home of Carl Jacobsen, the founder of Carlsberg, making them 140 years old. It is the museum’s green oasis between the Dahlerup and Kampmann Buildings with comfortable and warming daylight. Sculptures are on display among palm trees, ponds, fountains, and benches; as if I just walked from Denmark to Southern Greece. It is a great place for families with children to explore the garden, soak in the artistic atmosphere, and paint a beautiful picture. Going outside, the sculpture garden extends to the back with beautiful flowers in summer, where you will also find another of Rodin’s famous artwork, “The Thinker”.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is a 15-minute walk from the Humlebæk Street Station, about 40 kilometers away from Copenhagen’s city center. The waterside art museum & sculpture park is not exactly in the city but it’s a leading international art museum that earns its place as the top attraction in Denmark – because the site brilliantly combined art, nature, and architecture in a total experience that attracts guests from all over the world all year-round.
Why is it called Louisiana? The site got its name from the three wives of the owner of the property, Alexander Brun, who all called Louise. In 1958, Knud W. Jensen, the later owner of the site, turned it into an art museum, by remodeling some features with architect Vilhelm Wohlert and Jørgen Bo.
Louisiana is for sure my favorite art museum on the list and therefore I am giving it a six-star rating here and I will walk you through why. I think it deserves an independent post about this museum, as it has so much to see and do.
First, the museum offers both indoor and outdoor experiences. Louisiana has an outdoor sculpture garden that offers panoramic views of the Sound and an impressive large sculpture collection. The Reclining Figure by Henry Moore is the most eye-catching piece, standing right at the edge of the slope in front of the water. Other sculptures are works collected from all over the world, including Queen of Spades by Isamu Noguchi (Japan), the Gate in the Gorge by Richard Serra (USA), and Personnage by Joan Miro (Spain). These sculptures are placed in different ways so that they could be viewed from within the museum, in a dedicated area in the yard, or walking down to the seaside.
Secondly, the genre is diverse. Louisiana has a number of exhibition halls that are connected by glass corridors (which was the original idea by the architects), featuring a number of permanent collections (like the Giacometti Hall and the Jorn Room), and temporary exhibitions of great interest. The permanent artworks date from World War II to the present day, as you may find a lot of great names like Andy Warhol, Alberto Giacometti, Auguste Rodin, David Hockney, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, and more.
To me, I found a themed exhibition of Lauren Greenfield, an American documentary photographer, really interesting because she showcased photography with a sharp and focused theme, accompanied by a well-written commentary. She explored topics like shopping, children’s pageant, plastic surgery, aging, extravagant lifestyles of rich people, and more. Another interesting artwork was created by Micheline Szwajcer, a Belgium artist. The artwork is a giant box that guests could walk in, it uses a fog machine to create a visual experience with lighting and blue, red, and yellow films; I could only see shades of solid colors in the fog but nothing else. Don’t miss out on Gerhard Richter’s colorful painting on the corridor of the museum while you are heading to the cafe!
Lastly, the museum has great facilities and programs. Louisiana opens until 9 pm (even in winter) so that you could have more time to visit this place as many other museums usually close much earlier. I recommend going there in the afternoon, have a walk in the park with sunlight, and then move indoors to see the many galleries. For dinner, take a break at the Cafe and try their buffet dinner. The food was nice and it has a view of the sea as well. The museum has a sizable souvenir store, with a vibrant cultural center and art programs.