Our Scandinavian adventure started off in Copenhagen after a long 24 hours of car, flight and train travel. My husband and I managed to get a fairly good night’s sleep and were able to somewhat set our internal clocks to Copenhagen time. The girls had a bit more trouble. Bean slept a lot on the train from Stockholm to Copenhagen and was fully awake around 2:30 am. This made for a cranky morning and a canal tour nap later on.
We did get ourselves moving at a reasonable hour and headed down to the hotel’s delicious and bountiful breakfast buffet. For me, included breakfast is one of the best ways to start a vacation day. It saves time, often saves money, and saves the stress of finding a place to eat.
The first item on our agenda was to pick up our Copenhagen Cards. The Copenhagen Card is a city card that allows you admission to different city attractions. In this case, we also had bus and train use as well. More on the Copenhagen Card here.
We decided to visit the National Museum first. On our way to the bus, we passed by Tivoli Gardens. Just seeing the entrance was thrilling. I’ve wanted to visit Tivoli since I first read Number the Stars as a child. Since we were so worried about the girls’ jet lag, however, we decided to go our last night in Copenhagen.
We were able to accomplish a lot on our first day in Copenhagen. We let the card admission guide us and just enjoyed the city. Our attraction line-up:
We enjoy going to national museums. They give us a good background in the country’s history and makes it easier for us to appreciate what we see outside of the museum. In Scotland, we spent a whopping 10 minutes in the National Museum before it closed for the day. We had a little more time to appreciate Denmark’s National Museum.
The museum was well laid out and easy to follow. We started at the bottom in the children’s section. This was a large, interactive section where the girls were able to throw fish in to a boat, visit a traditional school, see a medieval home and play dress-up. It was a lot of fun and we spent the majority of our time here.
After the children’s section we kind of zipped through the upper floors to hit some of the museum’s highlights (or what I was able to pass off as highlights after everyone else wanted to leave). The girls are very good about listening to me drone on in a museum, provided I pick out a few exhibits and move past the bulk of it. They will even feign interest or excitement for me. Such love.
We focused on the doll house exhibit and mummies, then looped around the Danish Prehistory section. There we saw the Golden Horns, the Tisso Ring, Rune Stones and Sun Chariot. At this point everyone (except me) was ready to move on.
We made it to several castles on our Scotland/Ireland trip, but had not yet taken the girls to a palace. Amalienborg Palace did not disappoint. It’s actually four different buildings, kind of situated as sides of a square (there is in fact a square in the middle). The palace was accessible via the Copenhagen Card and was a self-guided tour. These are always best for the girls. That way we move at our own pace and they can ask questions.
Touring the Representation and state rooms was doable in about 40 minutes. The actual living space palace part is not open to the public. The rooms were very pretty. The real draw for the girls was the square inside the buildings. They were entranced by the Danish guards and loved the energy of the square.
This was an on-the-way-why-not kind of stop. The church looked really beautiful on the outside and we thought the inside would be even prettier. We were not disappointed.
Grand Canal Tour
When searching for family friendly things to do in Copenhagen, the canal tour made a lot of recommendation lists. We liked the idea of seeing the city by boat, and liked that this was included on the Copenhagen Card (is there a theme emerging here?). The directions to get there were a little confusing to us. After one incorrect bus ride and two or three locals giving directions, we found the Nyhavn location.
The tour was about one hour-long. Fortunately we only waited about 10 minutes between arriving and the next available tour. Unfortunately Bean was ready to drop by this time. She spent most of the tour napping. We just let her, figuring it wasn’t worth fighting with her to stay awake.
It also started drizzling 10 minutes into the tour. The guide passed out ponchos and we were good to go. Why not a boat with a roof? Turns out many of the bridges in Copenhagen are extremely low. The guide warned us before starting that we’d need to lower our heads under some passes. She wasn’t kidding.
The canal tour was a great way to see many of the city’s highlights in a short time. We were happy to miss the large crowds at the Little Mermaid sculpture.
The Cisterns were not on our list of possible places to visit, and we’d never heard of them before arriving in Copenhagen. With our city card, however, we received a booklet of all available attractions. The Cisterns ended up being across the street from the zoo. We figured, “Why not?” and took a half-hour detour.
This ended up being a very peaceful, quiet and other-worldly location. It is located in a quiet and beautiful park. Part of an old raised reservoir, the Cisterns were once a source of drinking water for Copenhagen residents. It had a unique damp smell, was pretty dark and very cool.
While we were in the Cisterns, a worker gave Sport a lantern to hold. We mistakenly thought he wanted us to hold it over the water while he dived in and did some work. We followed him around for a while under this delusion. We finally figured out he simply gave it to us to light the way (it was dark underground, but light enough to see). We giggled through the rest of the walk and left the lantern near the steps.
Copenhagen Zoo/Carlsberg Brewery
My husband wanted to tour the Carlsberg Brewery. This held no interest for the girls. We had originally thought I’d take the girls back to the hotel to rest, but they both got a serious second wind. After the Cisterns we split up for the zoo and the brewery.
We entered the zoo around 4ish. Soon after seeing a few animals, the girls started exclaiming that it was the best zoo ever. I realized we’d never taken them to any sort of large zoo. The largest number of animals they’d seen thus far had been at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We’d been to a lot of aquariums, but no real zoos.
That being said, the Copenhagen Zoo was incredibly easy to navigate. It was small enough to see most of the zoo in a few hours but large enough to hold the girls’ attention.
The girls loved seeing the lions, flamingos and elephants. The hands-down highlights were the polar bears (they were swimming and it was so cool to see) and the kangaroos. It was possible to enter the kangaroo enclosure and we thought that was amazing.
We ate at the zoo and headed under the street through a tunnel to another part of the zoo. This was cut short due to a rainstorm. We decided the best option was to head back to the main part and indulge in churros with ice cream. They were decadent and one of the best treats we had on the trip. Mmmmmm.
After the gift shop we managed to catch the bus back to the hotel. Everything was easy to manage and I felt confident and safe moving around alone with the girls.
Finally we were at the end of our very long day. Even though the girls were exhausted by the end, they held up so well. It’s such a relief to have a great first day under your belts. The second day on a trip then feels like a bonus.