Danish culture gives children a beautifully natural place in society. Kids are, on the whole, neither spoilt nor overly scolded, and in Danish democratic tradition, they seem to be equal with adults. It is a pleasure to see Danish children, behaving just right, out and about in the country’s capital – where city planners have created as many opportunities for diversion as they have for their parents.
Copenhagen is a brilliant city to discover with children. First, it is almost child-sized itself. With 1,200,000 inhabitants, it is a proper metropolis but not an overwhelmingly large city. Secondly, Copenhagen is endowed with glorious, imagination-inspiring landmarks: soaring spires, grand residences, waterfront warehouses in a kaleidoscope of colours and turreted castles straight from fairytales. The city’s 6,000-year history is packed with tales of kings and queens. Thirdly, there are many fun parks and green spaces in which to run free, plus a constellation of indoor attractions for rainy days.
And how, after all, could kids not be beguiled by a city that is symbolised by a little bronze mermaid and idolises her story’s creator, Hans Christian Andersen, as a national hero?
Bright lights, thrilling rides
Copenhagen’s most revelled-in children’s attraction has to be the quaintly gorgeous Tivoli Gardens. Built in 1843, Tivoli is 15 magical city-centre acres of green gardens and lakes with pagodas, home to dragon boats, rollercoasters and the Star Flyer – the world’s tallest carousel. There is also a pantomime theatre, frequent concerts and plenty of places to snack on cotton candy. At night, the park is lit gorgeously with millions of tiny coloured lights.
Tivoli Gardens by Stig Nygaard
Bakken, north of Copenhagen, is the world’s oldest amusement park and historically the city-escape of working-class Copenhageners. When the kids tire of the rides, the clowns and the noise of the cabaret show, take a horse-and-carriage ride into the woods of the surrounding deer park.
Space to run wild
Hundreds of years of clever town planning have endowed Copenhagen with plenty of parks, gardens and places for kids to stretch their legs. Kids will love to kick a football and tear around the lawns at Fælledparken, Copenhagen’s largest park; picnic at Frederiksberg Have, the public grounds of Frederiksberg Palace; build sandcastles on the white sands at Amager Beach; and wonder at the huge and exotic trees in the Botanical Garden.
Copenhagen has several theatres aimed at children. Det Lille Teater (the Small Theatre) is for the very youngest – guaranteed to make them giggle and gasp, no matter what language the show is in. The Anemone Teatret is another family-orientated theatre, with afternoon shows, sometimes of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories.
If they like to get arty, the National Gallery of Denmark has a Children’s Museum of Art that has exhibitions designed just for kids, and hands-on workshops where they can busy themselves with paint, pencils, paper, canvas and model clay.
Go back in time
The joy of hands-on discovery at the National Gallery is replicated at Denmark’s National Museum, close to the Tivoli gardens downtown. Here in the Children’s Museum, kids can dress up like Vikings and clamber aboard a replica Viking ship, learn in a 1920s classroom, or play make believe with the treasures of Grandma’s wardrobe. It is riveting fun for children under age 12.
Copenhagen’s Worker’s Museum also has a children’s section. Kids can play in a 1950s apartment, shop at a historic grocery store and learn the story of a working boy, Thorvald, who later became the country’s Prime Minister.
If outdoors, hands-on and historic will better fit your child’s bill, there is the Open Air Museum at Lyngby, just northeast of Copenhagen. There are 100 historic farmhouses, outbuildings and all manner of equipment for the farming life here – transported from all over the country. You can travel the length and breadth of Denmark, and also time travel from 1650 to 1950 as you wander the 65 acres of grounds.
Science and discovery
Tycho Brahe Planetarium by Stig Nygaard. CC SA 2.0
Copenhagen’s Experimentarium, five kilometres north of the city centre, is just the spot for young Einsteins. There are 300 interactive exhibits on science and technology: things as cool as surfing a giant wave (without even getting wet), experiencing an earthquake of 5.5 on the Richter Scale, taking an 'elevator ride' through the human body and testing your own knowledge with experiments on thought and perception.
Older kids adore the Tycho Brahe Planetarium, Europe’s most high-tech exposition on the night sky. The Planetarium also projects amazing 3D films on the 1,000sqm dome-shaped screen, including voyages to the planets and creatures of the deep seas. It is so big and so real you truly feel like you are part of the action.
Near to nature
Copenhagen’s Zoo has to be one of the world’s most kid-friendly zoos. In addition to 260 species of animals from across the globe – including eye-popping exhibitions of polar bears and elephants – there is the delightful Children's Zoo where kids can meet and pat tame animals like rabbits, pygmy goats and even slithering snakes.
At Charlottenlund, just north of the capital, the amazing Denmark’s Aquarium takes visitors around the world via sea creatures, where exhibitions range from crocodiles to giant octopus, to a get-wet touch pool. A new aquarium named The Blue Planet, set to be the biggest in northern Europe, is due to open in 2013 on the shores of Øresund, north of the capital. In true Danish style it is set to do things just a few notches better than most – with the littlest members of society firmly in mind.
This article was published in Aprill 2012 and refreshed in January 2013.