The image most often associated with Copenhagen is that of colourful buildings and tall ships lining the sparkling waters of Nyhavn. This beautiful and beloved spot in the the aptly named Indre By (inner city) is undoubtedly the most familiar area for visitors to the city. But look a bit further and you'll discover Copenhagen's other eclectic neighbourhoods, each with a personality all of its own.
Indre By: the tourist hub
The popular inner city is the heart of Copenhagen, and its most visited neighbourhood. Nyhavn is just one of many major sights in this part of the city, which is also home to the family-friendly Tivoli Gardens amusement park, Strøget, the lively pedestrianised shopping street, and the fabled Little Mermaid statue, which sits right on the edge of the city centre.
This historic area is a fantastic place to explore many of the city's cobblestone streets, charming squares, and excellent museums. At the royal residence of Amalienborg Slot, visitors can watch the Changing of the Guard and try to get a glimpse of the Queen, while Christiansborg Slot offers a look into the workings of Denmark's monarchy and government.
Indre By is also a foodie paradise, home to many of the city's top restaurants, including Michelin-starred AOC and Kokkeriet, the more modest yet fabulous Høst and Uformel, as well as the wonderful market Torvehallerne, packed with vendors selling fresh produce.
Though it's not the easiest place to go off the beaten path, the abundance of sights, flavours, and experiences in bustling Indre By, combined with its lively atmosphere, makes it a must-see for any visitor.
Vesterbro: the happening hotspot
Once the most destitute area of the city, Vesterbro is still Copenhagen's red-light district, though it's not quite as seedy as similar areas in Amsterdam or Berlin. The neighbourhood's vintage shops and summertime street markets give it a local and independent vibe, while the street art here is perhaps the best in the city.
Vesterbro is a neighbourhood in transition, with an emerging reputation for good food and family living. Amid the sex shops and erotic dance clubs sit fashionable cafes like Mad & Kaffe, craft breweries including the acclaimed Mikkeller, and family-friendly parks such as the unique Skyebanehave. Kødbyen – The Meatpacking District – is chock full of fantastic restaurants featuring everything from innovative seafood at Kødbyens Fiskebar, meaty feasts at Paté Paté, and barbecue and beers at WarPigs.
Nørrebro: the melting pot
Vibrant Nørrebro sits just across Queen Louise's bridge from Indre By, but has a completely different feel. Arguably the most diverse area of Copenhagen, the streets of Nørrebro are a mishmash of international grocery and clothing shops, lined up alongside secondhand stores and independent coffee shops.
Restaurants here run the gamut from Michelin-starred Relæ and Kiin Kiin, to the noodles and pub food of craft beer meccas Ramen to Biiru and Nørrebro Bryghus. International flavours are well represented too, with restaurants such as Ma'ed Ethiopian, and the legendary Kebabistan on Nørrebrogade.
Jægersborggade, once a haunt of bikers and drug dealers, is now home to quirky shops selling everything from liquid nitrogen ice cream to cacti, while Ravnsborggade tempts with antique and vintage shops.
Assistens Kirkegård cemetery is not only the resting place of famous Danes like Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kirkegaard, but also acts as a leafy green space perfect for quiet strolls. The sense of diversity and community is perhaps strongest at Superkilen, a unique and colourful park space furnished with sculptural pieces from around the world, representing an international spirit.
Østerbro: the suburb in the city
The least touristed of Copenhagen's major neighbourhoods, upmarket Østerbro is a great place to get a glimpse of local life. Mainly residential, Østerbro offers an escape from the visiting crowds while still providing plenty of opportunities for dining, shopping, and enjoying the outdoors. The main street, Østerbrogade, is packed with exclusive boutiques such as Normann Copenhagen, in addition to coffee shops and cafes, including a branch of the fabulous porridge cafe Grød.
The expansive Fælledparken is a green oasis in the shadow of Parken Stadium, the unlikely home of Denmark's only three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Geranium. Take in the area with a stroll along the easternmost of Copenhagen's chain of lakes, or admire the colourful homes on Brumleby and Olufsvej.
Christianshavn: the intriguing island
Boats line the picturesque, Amsterdam-inspired canal of this artificial island in the city centre, lending a maritime feel. Locals sit along the water's edge in the summer months, enjoying a picnic or a cold drink, while brave souls can climb the 400 steps up the golden spiral spire of the Church of Our Saviour for sweeping views of Copenhagen. The very modern Copenhagen Opera House is also found here, directly across the harbour from Amalienborg Palace.
In contrast is the Free Town of Christiania, a 34-hectare patch of land home to a commune-style alternative society formed in 1971. Christiania's notorious Pusher Street hash market may be the most famous aspect of the Free Town, but its hand-built homes, artists' workshops and natural beauty make for a fascinating look at an unconventional way of life.
The food scene in Christianshavn is as diverse as its residents: it boasts three Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as the world-renowned noma, but also fantastic street food. Just over the bridge from Nyhavn is The Bridge Street Kitchen, while further afield on Refshaløen is Reffen, offering a range of cuisines from over 30 food stalls.
Frederiksberg: the posh neighbour
Though surrounded by Copenhagen, Frederiksberg is technically its own municipality; leafy Frederiksberg Alle leads the way from Vesterbro to this smart area. It's a favourite with families and is filled with beautiful apartment buildings and green spaces.
Stylish shops and cafes abound, including Bertels Salon which boasts the best cheesecake in the city. Frederiksberg is also home to acclaimed restaurants such as the Michelin-starred French restaurant Formel B, and Mielcke & Hurtigkarl. The latter serves a unique menu of Asian-inspired New Nordic dishes, using local, seasonal ingredients, including herbs and honey from their own garden.
But the centrepiece of the area is Frederiksberg Have, an expansive park which encompasses an 18th century palace, a Chinese pavilion, a heron colony, and an elephant-viewing area overlooking the neighbouring Copenhagen Zoo. Across from the zoo lies Søndermarken, a green space with the historic Cisternerne below, which are now used for art exhibitions.
Article first published January 2017, and last updated July 2019.