Copenhagen is generally very easy to be a tourist in. Everyone speaks English, we have some of the best food in the world, it’s easy to get around wherever you want to go… the list can go on. Danish tourism is constantly setting new records and people from all over the world come here to get a taste of the Scandinavian lifestyle. However, there are some mistakes you want to avoid as a tourist in order to get the best possible experience.
Here are some of the most common mistakes tourists make in Copenhagen and how you can avoid them:
- Shop on the main street Strøget
Strøget is the main shopping street that runs all the way from Rådhuspladsen (main city square) down to Kongens Nytorv. The street is filled with the most common stores you’ll find in any big city: H&M, Zara, some Scandinavian chains etc. and it’s great if you need something from any of these places. However, if you want to find small second-hand shops, specialized shops or unique, small boutiques, you’ll need to go beyond Strøget. There are many streets both in the city center and in the neighborhoods Vesterbro, Nørrebro, and Østerbro (and Frederiksberg). Instead, check out Pilestræde, Larsbjørnsstræde, and Studiestræde in Copenhagen K (city center), Elmegade, Nørrebrogade, and Blågårdsgade in Copenhagen N (Nørrebro), Værnedamsvej, Istedgade and Vesterbrogade in Copenhagen V (Vesterbro), among others.
- Eat at fast food chains
Copenhagen is a foodie heaven. Not only is it home to 15 (!) Michelin-starred restaurants, it has so many other nice places to eat – from cozy cafés to healthy salad bars and street food bonanza on Papirøen, there’s really something for everyone. Yes, even veg*ns (check out my guide to vegan and vegetarian places in Copenhagen). So skip McDonald’s, and while you’re at it, skip those tourist trap restaurants around Strøget and Rådhuspladsen as well. Take advantage of the fact that you’re in foodie heaven and eat good food for all meals of the day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive either!
- Don’t bike around
Many tourists who come here aren’t aware of the fact that Copenhagen is the most bike-friendly city on the planet. Everyone bikes everywhere here, and in any weather. You’ll see school children biking to school, men in suits biking to work, and yes, even dogs riding along with their humans on the way to the park. Frankly, biking is the easiest and cheapest way to get around Copenhagen. There are bikes for rent everywhere and high-quality bicycle lanes are on the sides of most of the roads here. It’s great to bike around because you can really explore the city from your saddle, stop anywhere you like and get around the city in no-time. But don’t forget a helmet!
- Don’t use hand signals when biking around
The Danes are generally very friendly and calm people – until you fail to use the proper hand signals when biking around. Nothing will make them angrier – believe me, I experienced it first-hand when I moved here! Because there are so many bikes in the city, using hand signals is essential for avoiding collisions with pedestrians, other bikes, and cars. They’re easy to do, so you really don’t have to worry about it. You’ll need to signal if you’re turning left or right, or if you intend to stop (unless there’s a red light in which case everyone expects you to stop). Put your left arm straight out to the side if you intend to turn left and vice versa for right. Check with the place where you rent your bike and avoid angry Danes swearing at you in the middle of the street.
- Come here in the winter
Yes, Copenhagen is nice in the winter too but frankly, it’s best during spring, summer or early fall. Winters here are cold, dark, and boring. Everyone’s hiding from the cold inside their homes. Biking around is a wet and cold endeavor. During the warmer months of the year, the Danes are socializing much more and there is so much more to do and to see. If you can plan it, I definitely recommend coming here from April-September.
- Stay in the center
There’s a lot more to Copenhagen than the city center and it’s a big mistake to not explore more of Copenhagen while you’re here. Sure, the area in the center is lovely but you should definitely check out the other areas too! I’ve mentioned some of the streets where you can go shopping above (#1) but there’s more than that too! Check out Vesterbro for cafés, art galleries, and bars. Head on over to Frederiksberg for a bit of calm and greenery in the city or explore Nørrebro for bars, nightclubs, and second-hand shops. Østerbro is perfect for families and design-lovers. Get up on the saddle and explore!
- Get a fine in the metro
Copenhagen’s metro is fairly new, compared to other big cities in Europe and it only has two lines (more are opening up in 2018). But getting the right ticket can be tricky. Copenhagen is divided into zones which decide how much you pay for your ticket. If you don’t have a valid ticket, you risk being fined. If you plan on riding the metro and buses a lot, I’d recommend buying a City Pass which includes trips in the center Copenhagen and to and from the airport. Otherwise, make sure to ask someone for help if you’re just buying tickets on the go. Many people get it wrong when they’re traveling back to the airport from the center and buy a ticket with fewer zones than they need (for Copenhagen center you’ll need 2 zones, to the airport you’ll need
Photo “Copenhagen Signals” by Mikael Corville-Andersen used under the license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Photo “Copenhagen Metro” by Stig Nyygard used under the license CC BY 2.0
All other photos are taken by me and may not be used without my permission.