The holiday season in Denmark is a magical point of light in the dark Scandinavian winter, and Danes take Christmas very seriously.

The streets of Copenhagen come alive with Christmas markets, strings of twinkling lights, and busy holiday shoppers, while traditional foods are on offer around every corner. Here are some the best ways to enjoy the Christmas season in Denmark's charming capital.

An outdoor shot of Copenhagen's famous Tivoli Gardens, dusted with snow during the Christmas season © Caroline Hadamitzky / Lonely Planet
Copenhagen's famous Tivoli Gardens, dusted with snow during the Christmas season © Caroline Hadamitzky / Lonely Planet

Experience Christmas at Tivoli

Every year, locals and tourists alike flock to the historic Tivoli Gardens amusement park to enjoy the best of the festive season. Christmas at Tivoli is a Nordic-style Christmas market, with incredible decorations and twinkling lights, and the opportunity for kids to visit and take photos with the julemand – Denmark's Santa Claus – in his cosy grotto. All of the rides are in full swing, from the kid-friendly carousel and vintage cars, to the 100-year-old roller coaster and the 80-metre-high Star Flyer. Enjoy festive fare at one of the many stalls or step out of the cold and into Tivoli Food Hall for a hot meal.

Three delicious æbleskiver – a traditional festive Danish treat – on a plate beside a candle © Caroline Hadamitzky / Lonely Planet

Sample the festive local treats

The old adage of 'when in Rome...' certainly applies to Copenhagen during the holiday season: Denmark is packed full of must-try festive food traditions, all readily available throughout the city. A beloved treat is æbleskiver: fluffy dough balls served with jam and powdered sugar, best washed down with a cup of warm gløgg (spiced mulled wine). For something savoury, try a flæskesteg sandwich, which is a warm bun piled high with crispy-skinned roast pork and topped with pickled red cabbage. A scent your sweet-tooth won't be able to resist is the sugary-hot aroma of brandte mandler: almonds caramelised before your eyes in an old-fashioned copper pot. If you're hungry for the full experience, head for a julefrokost – an old-fashioned Christmas lunch featuring a mouth-watering spread of local foods. Restaurant Kronborg puts on a great one, in a cosy traditional atmosphere.

A display of handicrafts including wooden figures with woollen clothes for sale at a Christmas market in Copenhagen © Caroline Hadamitzky / Lonely Planet
Handicrafts can be bought at the many Christmas markets in Copenhagen © Caroline Hadamitzky / Lonely Planet

Browse the charming Christmas markets

Central Copenhagen boasts no fewer than four Christmas markets over a 1.5 km stretch, along the iconic Nyhavn harbour and tucked into squares along the Strøget pedestrian shopping street. Bundle up and browse the festive stalls offering up Danish handcrafts like woollen knits and glass ornaments, as well as traditional tasty treats. You'll find markets adjacent to Nyhavn at Kongens Nytorv and in the shadow of Christiansborg Palace at Højbro Plads. At Nytorv, you can enjoy the Hans Christian Andersen Market, where the each stall bears the name of a tale from the beloved writer. The man himself (well, an actor) can be seen strolling the market, happy to pose for a photo. For a festive day trip, head by train to 16th-century Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, where a yearly Christmas Market is held on two weekends in December.

Warm up with a gløgg at Hviids Vinstue

Need something to take away the winter chill? At Christmas time in Copenhagen, gløgg is the answer. This tasty mulled wine is served up all over the city, from the Christmas market stalls to the 5-star hotels, but for a traditional gløgg with some history behind it, head to Hviids Vinstue. Hviids was established in 1723, making it one of Copenhagen's oldest bars, and they've been serving up their special brew since 1954. Sip the warming concoction of wine, rum, cognac, raisins, almonds and spices in the nearly 300-year-old rooms as you take a break from enjoying the city. The intricate mulling process of the Hviids Vinstue gløgg begins in May every year, and 8000 litres of tasty tipple are produced.

An elegant display of Christmas lights adorns the facade of the upmarket Hotel d'Angleterre © Caroline Hadamitzky / Lonely Planet
An elegant display of Christmas lights adorns the facade of the upmarket Hotel d'Angleterre © Caroline Hadamitzky / Lonely Planet

Admire the decorations of the Hotel d'Angleterre

Every year, the facade of the upscale Hotel d'Angleterre lights up with arguably the city's most beautiful decorations, illuminating the Kongens Nytorv Christmas Market below. Past themes have included The Nutcracker and a polar bear banquet. This year's offering includes an Advent calendar made up of framed LCD screens, which reveal a silhouette of a Hans Christian Andersen story every day in December. Picturesque Nyhavn harbour and the bustling Strøget are laden with shining boughs and cut-out hearts, while nearby Kronprincessegade is topped by a shimmering net of white lights.

Enjoy a Christmas concert in a historic church

Copenhagen's beautiful churches are the perfect setting to enjoy festive music in a warm and inviting atmosphere. Throughout December, you can get a taste of local holiday music with orchestral and choral concerts at various churches around the city, including Vor Frue Kirke (The Church of Our Lady), Vor Frelsers Kirke (The Church of Our Saviour), and Trinitatis (Trinity Church), whose program includes weekly concerts every Friday. Programs are offered in both Danish and English, and many of the concerts are free of charge.

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