Have you heard horror stories of dark Scandinavian winters that never seem to end? Don’t despair! If you visit Copenhagen during the colder and darker months, you’ll find that it’s actually rather pretty.
What’s more, there are still plenty of things to do – from ice skating and winter bathing to visiting magical festive markets.
When is winter?
How cold and dark is it?
What to see and do in winter
Eating and drinking in winter
Accommodation in winter
3 special places to stay
When is winter in Copenhagen?
Winter in Copenhagen usually lasts for about four months from November to February, with December and January being the coldest months.
Temperatures can sink below zero, but it’s rare for the mercury to slip below -10c. And if you’re looking for snow, January and February are the best times to visit.
Copenhagen does slow down and get quieter during these cold months, but the city is still a lot of fun to visit during the winter, with loads of indoor and outdoor activities to get involved with.
How cold and dark is it?
In Denmark the clocks switch to wintertime at the end of October, serving as a reminder that it’s time to get the happy lamp out – it’ll soon be dark and cold.
In the depths of winter, the sun rises at around 8.15am and then starts setting again before the clock has even hit 4pm.
It’s a big change compared with the middle of summer, when the city is blessed with around 17 hours of sunlight every day.
You shouldn’t let winter’s lack of daylight discourage you, though; the bright part of the day can still be sunny and quite pleasant, especially at lunchtime. It can rain a lot, but it isn’t always grey and wet.
Is the Copenhagen Card worth buying?
Read this guide to see how much you could save during your trip!
What to see and do in winter
Whether you want to escape the cold or explore outdoors, there are loads of things to do in Copenhagen during winter.
You’ve probably heard of the concept of hygge, that untranslatable word which encompasses the feeling of being cosy, having a good time, being surrounded by friends and family, or simply relaxing at home with a good book or a favourite playlist.
Copenhagen has loads of cosy bars and cafés that will give you a taste of hygge. Or, if you prefer, you can spend time exploring some of the city’s world-class museums (many of them free).
If you’re up for being outdoors, there are loads more options: you can go ice-skating with the locals, join a winter boat trip round the city’s canals or check out festive markets.
Visit the Tivoli amusement park
Every year, the amusement park Tivoli Gardens selects a special theme for its winter season, which starts in mid-November and lasts until the end of December.
You can either buy a simple entrance ticket which gives you access to the grounds and the magical lights and illuminations, or splash out on an all-in-one ticket that includes unlimited goes on all the rides.
Either way, make sure allow yourself enough time to explore and really get your money’s worth.
Read our guide to find out what we think about whether visiting the Tivoli Gardens is worth the time and entrance fee.
Check out Copenhagen’s Christmas markets
By the third week of November decorations are strung up all over the city and the Christmas spirit is in full swing.
Right in the city centre near Strøget, the Højbro Plads Julemarked is bursting with trees, lights and other Christmas paraphernalia.
You can browse the stalls for little knick-knacks and handmade gifts or simply enjoy a cup of mulled wine (gløgg) and a cinnamon bun.
Other Christmas markets include the waterfront option at Nyhavn and the Hans Christian Andersen Christmas market at Nytorv.
If you’re looking for a more alternative option, head over to the Oriental-inspired Christmas market in Freetown Christiania.
And, if you’re more interested in food than presents, head to the Meatpacking District in Vesterbro, which hosts a special Christmas food market each December.
For more on Christmas markets, festive events and winter what’s-ons, check out our events guide.
Go ice skating
One of winter’s true silver linings, ice skating is a great way to mingle with the good people of Copenhagen.
The skate rink in front of Frederiksberg Runddel is probably the best destination for a little fun on the ice, whether it’s your first time on skates, or you’re looking to impress with that backwards skating technique you’ve not used in a decade.
Admission is free and skates are available to rent for around 60 DKK an hour. The rink is usually open from the beginning of December to the end of February, weather depending.
Take a bike tour
Yes, even in winter the Danes are out on their bikes and this winter guided bike tour is a lovely way to see the lights and sights of the city.
A knowledgeable guide will take you to see the city’s best festive decorations, illuminations and Christmas markets, so you get to see the city at its most Chrismassy.
You can even stop off for a warming drink of mulled wine and Christmas cookies on the way!
Go on a winter boat trip
Even if it’s cold outside you can still explore Copenhagen’s canals and waterways by boat.
This classic cruise leaves from colourful Nyhaven and takes in the main sights, including the Little Mermaid and the Christiansborg and Amalienborg palaces.
It runs year-round and you can sit beneath a glass roof, so you can see the sights and stay warm at the same time.
Take a dip outside (yes, really)
You saw it coming! It’s impossible to discuss winter in Scandinavia without mentioning this peculiar pastime which the locals seem so fond of.
It works pretty much the same way as summer bathing, except that in some locations (thank goodness!) you have the possibility to warm yourself up in a sauna afterwards.
There are three bathing areas and a sauna at Sydhavnen (also known as the South Harbour). It’s just south of the city centre. Alternatively, try the spectacular Vinterbad Bryggen.
For more on Copenhagen’s swimming spots, see our guide to where to go swimming in Copenhagen – at any time of the year! And to warm up afterwards, here’s our guide to the city’s best communal baths and spas.
If all those outdoor suggestions sent shivers down your spine, here are a few things you can do while enjoying the central heating.
Winter is a great time to visit some of the Copenhagen attractions that you skipped in the summer because you wanted to lie down in the park with a Carlsberg.
Visit a museum or gallery
Taking place in mid October, Copenhagen Culture Night is a stepping-stone between autumn and the colder, darker months of winter.
This action-packed night sees many of the city’s museums, cultural venues and other quirky locations hosting special exhibitions and events.
A pass for the night costs around 110 DKK, which includes free public transport in the city plus access to all the participating venues. There’s also a Little Culture Night for kids and their adults in March.
If night-time visits are not your thing, Copenhagen has some great museums to visit during the day.
Some of Copenhagen’s major museums are free to visit, either all week or on one day a week or month.
And there are also plenty of smaller galleries and exhibition spaces to discover throughout the city.
There are more ideas for cheap and free cultural attractions in this guide.
Go to the cinema
Twice a month the Danish Film Institute screens Danish films with English subtitles – perfect for squeezing a bit of Nordic culture in while relaxing in a comfy chair in one of the city’s main cinemas, Cinemateket. Tickets cost around 90 DKK.
Husets Biograf hosts special nights, obscure screenings, live music, debates and film quizzes. Some events are free, while others, such as film screenings, usually cost around 70 DKK.
Visit the library
The Black Diamond Library, located by the waterfront, is an impressive modern construction with a spacious and bright interior.
You can find an archive of Danish poet Søren Kierkegaard’s manuscripts here, along with a giant fresco by artist Per Kirkeby.
As well as admiring the iconic building’s architecture, you can catch up on the latest international press with its great selection of newspapers and magazines, or have a nap on one of the cosy sofas while deadline-pressed students type away on their laptops nearby.
Shopping in Denmark is expensive, but luckily discounts and special offers start before Christmas, with the official sales starting right after the big day and lasting until the end of January.
Eating and drinking in winter
Although these two activities take place all year round, in winter they are taken to a different level. After all, you have to keep warm, right?
Something that all Danes definitely look forward is the new festive drinks that come with the changing of the seasons.
While summer brings cold beers and chilled rosé, winter is welcomed with warming gløgg, snaps and special Christmas beer.
Most Northern European countries have their own version of mulled wine and Denmark is no exception – with the tasty addition of raisins and almonds to the red wine and spices.
Most bars will have a big pot of the hot beverage steaming away on their counters during winter, as will most markets and outdoor stands.
Another important addition to the winter drinking menu is the infamous ‘Christmas brew’, or julebryg. It’s a dark, strong beer produced by Carlsberg and released on the first Friday of November, known as J-dag.
On this magnificent day, glasses of the beverage are handed out for free and merry drinkers can be seen gathered on the streets in Santa hats and elf outfits.
Make friends on a bar tour
And, of course, Copenhagen is known for its breweries and beer-drinking. And what better way to escape the cold, and sample some of the best brews, than on a pub crawl?
On this fun guided pub crawl, you’ll meet new friends, visit five of the city’s best bars and have a drink in each.
For more fun beer tours and pub crawls, read our guide to the best beer tours in Copenhagen.
Try some seasonal Danish dishes
It’s not all about booze though. While the snaps has an honorary place at the Christmas dinner table (along with special snaps-drinking songs), food is also very important during the winter.
A typical festive menu includes roast pork, caramelised potatoes and pickled red cabbage.
Last but not least, you may encounter risengrød (a cinnamon rice porridge with lots of butter), æbleskiver (round pancakes served with powdered sugar or jam), or some yummy gingerbread biscuits.
Most of these foods can be found in regular supermarkets or at the Christmas markets mentioned above.
Christmas in Copenhagen
They are many fun Danish Christmas traditions based around eating, such as the julefrokost (or Christmas lunch).
It’s mostly celebrated with colleagues or friends and may descend from a fairly civilised meal to complete debauchery.
If you’re invited to one, you may be asked to bring a few small presents to play pakkeleg – a game involving dice where you literally have to steal the presents from other people across the table.
Christmas itself is celebrated with family on the 24th of December, while New Year’s Eve is the time to meet up with friends and watch the fireworks on the street at midnight.
Note that most shops and public places will be closed on the 24th, 25th and 1st of January, so take our advice and stock up on hangover food well before that.
Getting around the city in winter
Copenhagen is known as one of the world’s great cycling cities, and that doesn’t stop when winter arrives.
You might think that biking in winter is a crazy idea, but the Danes are still at it even during the occasional snowstorm.
If you get the courage to do as the locals do, be careful: it can get very slippery. It’s also much darker during winter, so make sure to have your bike lights on.
You can read more tips for cycling in Copenhagen here.
When you pack for your trip, remember your knitwear and warm clothing, as well as a good waterproof coat.
You’ll often see Danes biking around in a sort of rain poncho, which is a good protection come rain or snow.
They’re available to buy pretty much anywhere, from cheap see-through ‘plastic bag’ versions to much flashier designer ones.
Accommodation in winter
Prices at hostels, hotels and apartment rentals tend to get a little higher in the run up to the Christmas season, so try to book a long way in advance if you can.
But if you fancy visiting in January, February or early March, you may be able to find some great last-minute deals on places to stay.
This is considered low season, so you should be able to bag a bargain on sites such as Booking.com. It’s a great time of year to stay somewhere that might otherwise be out of your budget.
Or read our guide to the city’s best cheap digs to find a cheap-and-cheerful hostel.
3 special places to stay in Copenhagen in winter
So, here’s our pick of the best places to stay in Copenhagen in winter.
Escape the Copenhagen cold
You won’t know its cold outside if you’re staying at the eco-friendly Manon Les Suites hotel in the city centre. The hotel’s highlight is the lovely jungle-inspired pool area, filled with tropical plants.
And there’s a roof-top sauna and spa too – you could almost be in Bali rather than Copenhagen in winter!
Cosy up by the fire
Settle in for a drink by the fireplace at the Hotel Danmark by Brøchner – and if you’re there at Wine hour (between 5 and 6pm) or Nightcap hour (10–11pm), you’ll get a free drink!
A delicious organic breakfast is included too, and if you want to venture out, the hotel is just a five-minute walk from Copenhagen’s main shopping street, Strøget.
See the city without leaving your hotel
And if it’s too cold to venture outside, you can get views of the city without leaving your hotel room at the Copenhagen Admiral Hotel.
The waterfront rooms have views over the harbour front, and some look across the water to the royal opera house.
In a converted warehouse dating from 1787, the hotel is warm and cosy – and just around the corner from the iconic Nyhaven.