Copenhagen’s Best Museums

Copenhagen has an amazing collection of museums and galleries. These include living museums as well as more traditional museum collections that are home to work by some of history’s most lauded artists. Copenhagen’s best museums include the National Museum, the Roskilde Viking Museum, the Open Air Museum, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and the world-famous Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

One thing you won’t hear talked about much is that Copenhagen serves as the home of the world’s most accurate mechanical clock. This differs from the world’s most accurate clock overall which is atomic and not based in Denmark. The clock is on display just inside city hall and open to the public. Built by Jens Olsen the clock is re-wound once a week, has the slowest turning gear in the world, and is gilded with four kilos of gold. It was first started in 1955 and also displays the location of the planets as well as the stars above city hall.
Vindeboder 12, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
We went to the Viking Ship Museum while visiting Copenhagen. It’s about 1/2 hour train ride from the city and another 10 minutes or so on the bus (#203). I expected to spend about a half day here entertaining the kids but we ended up spending much more because it was so engaging. They have actual kid activities that are interesting and fun -- view old viking weapons, learn how to sword fight with wooden shields and sword (a staff member will show you how it’s done), decorate your own shield and sword to take home, learn how to make rope -- and this is just one small part of the whole experience. Inside you can view the remnants of the 5 viking ships that were discovered in the harbor and learn about how they recreated them. You can also watch a film about how a crew sailed a recreated ship from Roskilde to Dublin (while seated in a replica ship). The kids can try on traditional viking costumes. And finally, but not least, you can pay a small fee to take one of the replicated viking boats out on the water! There’s no motor -- just oars to row out and then use the wind to sail back in. It’s beautiful out on the water and to have a view back to town. The kids can participate or just watch all the activity. There was so much to do and a variety of offerings that engaged the whole family. Definitely a must-do with kids on a visit to Copenhagen.
Beyond being Denmark’s most famous beer, Carlsberg has played a central role in shaping the look, feel, and prosperity of Copenhagen over the years. If you’re a beer lover and interested in a fun experience, consider setting aside time to do a brewery tour.
Jacob Fortlingsvej 1, 2770 Kastrup, Denmark
Den Blå Planet—the Blue Planet—is one of Europe’s biggest aquariums. It’s organized into three main zones—northern lakes and seas, the oceans, and tropical rivers and lakes—so you can explore typical Scandinavian habitats, or view sea otters, herring, and crayfish, or keep the kids entertained by tracking down more exotic creatures such as piranhas, electric eels, and poison frogs. The Danes take a matter-of-fact approach to their wildlife and often do workshops in which visitors are invited to watch an animal being dissected. Located close to Copenhagen Airport, the aquarium is easily reached by public transportation.
Roskildevej 32, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark
In a design-obsessed city, it’s only right that the animals in Copenhagen Zoo (Denmark’s fourth most popular attraction) should live in style. The Elephant House was designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster, while the Tasmanian kangaroos have a home designed by one of Sweden’s top agencies, White Arkitektur. The Panda House, opening in 2018, is by the hottest Danish architect of the moment, Bjarke Ingels. The enclosure is inspired by the Chinese yin-and-yang symbol, which should make it a happy home for the male and female panda that will be coming over from China to live here.
Bredgade 68, 1260 København, Denmark
Great design is everywhere you look in Denmark—in shops, in homes, in public spaces—and the creativity of its people has long been a source of national pride. This museum, located just around the corner from Amalienborg, was founded in 1890, many decades before midcentury modern became an international sensation. It looks at the history of Danish design over the centuries, taking in everything from furniture to fashion to textiles.
Dantes Plads 7, 1556 København, Denmark
We stood like a pair of Hemingway’s cats in the thin Scandinavian rain to photograph the oxidized lions washed dark at the front of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. A rainy day is always a good day to see a museum and the Carlsberg, the brainchild of the beer scion Carl Jacobsen, is one museum to visit when the weather encourages it. The well-lit solarium of the winter garden speckled with koi ponds, tall palms, and miniaturized sculptures first welcomes you. There a popular cafe serves coffees, beers (from the Carlsberg Brewery naturally), organic lunches, and locally sourced treats. The most popular dining spot, where a reservation is needed, is along the terrace which overlooks the garden. The museum’s two collections are antiquities and French and Danish art from the 19th century. Sculptures are the museum’s métier- they dot even the quiet corners of the museum- from the serious Roman busts to the Danish sculptures which extol physical perfection and line the bright rooms like alabaster runway models. The patterned tiles and marble columns add airs of formality. Then there are the impressionist wings: van Gogh’s Landscape from Saint-Remy; Manet’s the Absinthe Drinker; Gaugin’s Tahitian Woman with Flower; Degas’ The Little-Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer. One appreciates that you can get up close to the works without a rush of onlookers; the museum’s collections are carefully curated, so as to not to overwhelm, and are laid in a manner inviting you to stay for a while.
100 Kongevejen
Situated just outside of Copenhagen, the Danish Open Air Museum is a fantastic place that allows you to see and experience Danish history. The museum features historic buildings, traditional breeds of Danish livestock, and stunning gardens. Buildings within the museum cover the time period 1650-1940 with a mixture of farm houses, mills, and common buildings available for you to visit.
Gl Strandvej 13, 3050 Humlebæk, Denmark
If you’re visiting Copenhagen, don’t miss a visit to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. It’s an easy 1/2 hour train ride from the city followed by about a 10 minute walk. Everything about our visit was excellent but a highlight is spending time in the sculpture garden which overlooks the Sound (and you can see the coast of Sweden in the distance). This is a great outing with kids. The children’s wing does a fantastic job of creating interesting ways for the kids to plug into modern art and the museum. On our visit there was a sculpture garden detective kit where kids had to seek out certain sculptures and examine different aspects and make some discoveries. Our kids loved it and it kept them engaged -- and it allowed me to leave them with my husband while I viewed the galleries in peace. There is also a great winding slide near the children’s wing that they spent a lot of time on. At the end of the day we got a bite to eat and and a glass of wine (for the adults) on the terrace overlooking the Calder sculpture garden and the Sound. Don’t miss the gift shop with lots of great modern design items to tempt you.
Last week we spent 5 days in Copenhagen, Denmark. October is, for me, the best time to visit. It’s colder and there are more chances for rain but the number of tourists is drastically lower. I did not feel suffocated by them at all. Nyhavn harbor was almost empty every day. I love traveling in the shoulder season.
Frederiksborg Slot 10, 3400 Hillerød, Denmark
While its more famous neighbor to the north (Kronborg) steals all the headlines, my favorite palace in Denmark is without question Frederiksborg Castle. Situated on its own island in the midst of a stunning lake in the heart of Hillerod, this castle/museum is a must-see as part of any day trip from Copenhagen. It is the largest Renaissance palace in Scandinavia.
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