Travellers to Copenhagen can embark on a range of adventures outside the bustling city centre: castles, museums, parks, and quaint villages can be easily reached by train, bus, or boat in 90 minutes or less.
Learn about Denmark's history of kings and vikings, explore the landscape, and discover a world apart from its cosmopolitan capital.
The courtyard at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør © RPBaiao / Shutterstock
Walk in Hamlet's footsteps in Helsingør
The charming seaside town of Helsingør sits on Denmark's northeastern coast, 45 minutes by train from Copenhagen. Adjacent to the historic homes and local shops and cafes is the town's centre piece, Kronborg Castle, inspiration for Elsinore in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. King Frederik II transformed a military stronghold into a stunning Renaissance castle in the 1500s in order to collect dues from passing ships, and to demonstrate his wealth and power.
It was the opulence of the castle and lavish feasts held here which inspired the Bard. Today, visitors can tour the royal apartments, admire the king's tapestries, and explore the eerie casemates under the castle. Between June and August, costumed actors roam the castle in character, performing scenes from Hamlet and in December Kronborg hosts a cosy Christmas market.
Helsingør town is a lovely place to have lunch and a stroll, and the cathedrals of Sankt Mariæ and Sankt Olai are beautiful and free to enter. There is also a ferry across to Sweden: the town of Helsingborg is only 20 minutes away by boat.
Getting there: The regional train runs frequently from Copenhagen Central Station to Helsingør. The journey takes approximately 45 minutes, and Kronborg Castle is a 10-minute walk along the harbour from Helsingør station.
The skeleton of a longboat at Roskilde's Viking Ship Museum © Jon Davison / Lonely Planet
Enter a world of kings & Vikings in Roskilde
Roskilde was once the capital of Denmark, a thriving Viking town and the seat of the monarchy. Though superseded by Copenhagen centuries ago, Roskilde has a wealth of history to be explored. At the Viking Ship Museum, five ships pulled from the bottom of the Roskilde fjord after 1000 years have been painstakingly reassembled and are on display. They have also been recreated to scale as sea-going vessels, using original materials and techniques. There are outdoor shipbuilding, rope making and blacksmithing exhibits, as well as a cafe serving delicious Viking-inspired food.
Roskilde Cathedral was built in 1275 and is the resting place of 39 Danish kings and queens. The stunning Gothic church features a soaring nave and several chapels with ornate sarcophagi of the monarchs.
Getting there: Roskilde is 25 minutes by regional train west of Copenhagen Central Station. The cathedral is approximately a 10 minute walk from the station while it takes around 25 minutes to reach the Viking Ship Museum.
Dyrehaven in autumn © Caroline Hadamitzky / Lonely Planet
Connect with nature at Dyrehaven
Just 20 minutes by train from bustling central Copenhagen lies Dyrehaven, a vast nature reserve with verdant forest, sweeping fields, and an extensive network of trails. It's open year round and is an ideal spot for a walk, bike, or picnic, with horseback riding and carriage rides available in the warmer months. Once a royal hunting ground, the park is home to hundreds of wild deer, which are easily spotted by visitors. In the summer months, it's possible to take a tour of the Hermitage, a former royal hunting lodge.
Within Dyrehaven is Bakken, the world's oldest amusement park, which is free to enter and features both family-friendly and thrilling rides, as well as restaurants and shows.
Getting there: Take S-train line C to Klampenborg. Dyrehaven lies just outside the station, and Bakken is approximately 10 minutes' walk inside the park.
The Great Hall at Frederiksborg Slot in Hillerød © Jon Davison / Lonely Planet
Explore a fairy-tale castle in Hillerød
In the early 17th century, Denmark's legendary King Christian IV took the castle where he was born and transformed it into a magnificent Renaissance-style royal residence. The immense Frederiksborg Slot, known as 'the Nordic Versailles', became the Danish National History Museum in 1878. The castle is set on a lake, and features lovely Baroque gardens, while its interior is both historically fascinating and lavishly appointed – the ballroom and the chapel are especially breathtaking. During summer weekends, guided tours of the castle take place at 11.30am, and there is a special children's exhibit for young visitors.
Getting there: Take S-train line E (line B on weekends) towards Hillerød. The journey takes approximately 45 minutes. Frederiksborg Castle is within walking distance of Hillerød station, taking 15-20 minutes. If that's too long a walk, buses 301, 302 or 303 will take you to the castle from outside the station in about three minutes.
An old narrow street in Dragor, Denmark, a fishing village near Copenhagen © Aliaksei Kruhlenia
Experience small-town Denmark in Dragør
South of central Copenhagen lies the charming historic fishing village of Dragør, founded in the 12th century. Here you can travel back in time and get lost in the maze of the tiny cobblestone streets lined with pale yellow, centuries-old homes, some still thatched in the ancient style. Stroll along the harbour, stop in to local shops and galleries, grab a bite to eat at one of the cafes, and simply enjoy the small-town feel. In the summer months, Dragør hosts a variety of markets and festivals.
Getting there: The 350S bus travels to Dragør in 45 minutes; pick it up from Nørreport station.
Cyclists in the countryside on the Swedish island Ven, known in Denmark as Hven © Oliver Foerstner / Shutterstock
Sail away to the island of Hven
Get away from the busy city and spend a summer's day on an idyllic island. Situated in the Øresund Sound, Hven was once part of Denmark, but now belongs to neighbouring Sweden (where it's called Ven). The island is small enough that it can be explored in a single day, and most locals do so by bike. Hundreds of yellow bicycles are available for rental, and visitors don't need to be cycling pros to navigate the quiet roads and paths. Make your own adventure as you visit the Spirit of Hven distillery, the Tycho Brahe Museum, the Hembygdsgarden historic farmhouse, or the ancient hilltop church of Kyrkbacken. Take in the scenery, including harbours, farmland, and cliffs, and keep an eye out for farm animals and wildlife, including deer, pheasants, and rabbits.
Getting there: Spar Shipping runs a charter daily from May-September, departing just around the corner from Nyhavn in Copenhagen. The ship sails at 9.15am and the journey takes 90 minutes. Day visitors have approximately five hours to spend on the island before the ship returns to Copenhagen, departing at 4.30pm. A round trip ticket is DKK240 (US$37) per person for adults and should be booked in advance.
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Article first published in August 2018, updated in June 2019.