Copenhagen has more than enough things to see and do on its own, but there are also a number of interesting places nearby: castles (including the one from Hamlet), historical towns and villages, Viking ships, beaches… and the best thing is that most of these places have fast (20-60 minutes) and frequent train connections from central Copenhagen. Here are some of the best day trips.
We must start with Roskilde, which lies 30km to the west of Copenhagen at the end of the 35km long Roskilde Fjord. Founded in Viking times, it is one of Denmark’s oldest cities and was the capital until 1443. Roskilde Cathedral is still being used as burial place for Danish kings and queens (39 of them are buried there).
Besides the cathedral and a lively historical town centre, you can visit Denmark’s best known Viking museum, which includes five original Viking ships, dating back to 1060 and recovered from the fjord in 1962. If you have been to the Oslo Viking Ship Museum, you will find the ones in Roskilde a bit less complete or less well preserved than the ones in Oslo, but the Roskilde museum beats Oslo in a wider range of expositions and activities. For instance, you can take a cruise on the fjord on some other historical boats.
In modern times, Roskilde is also known for its Rock Festival, the biggest in northern Europe, which takes place here at the end of June / beginning of July every year. There is also a rock and pop music-themed museum operating all year round (Ragnarock).
How to get to Roskilde: Regional trains take 20-25 minutes from Copenhagen central station and go in very short intervals (15 minutes or less during the day). If you want to stay overnight see where to stay in Roskilde.
If you want to take a different route on the way back, you can take a train from Roskilde to Køge, a market town on the coast dating back to at least 13th century and the terminus of Copenhagen S-train line E.
The other of the two best known towns near Copenhagen is Helsingør, which you may know as Elsinore – a name used by William Shakespeare. Hamlet’s castle Kronborg is situated by the sea at the narrowest point of the Øresund strait – Sweden is only 4km away. In fact, the name Helsingør is derived from the Danish word hals (neck), referring to the strait.
There is a frequent ferry service between Helsingør and its Swedish twin town Helsingborg, allowing you to also make a quick visit to Sweden as part of the trip. In fact, the best view of Hamlet’s castle is from the sea, as the ferry approaches the Helsingør port. The cruise takes 20 minutes one way and departures are every 15 minutes at the busiest hours, and at least hourly day and night.
Don’t forget to also explore Helsingør’s town centre, full of narrow cobblestone streets and old houses. It is best in spring or early summer, when there are colourful flowers everywhere.
How to get to Helsingør: Regional train from Copenhagen central station takes 50-55 minutes. You can also board the train at the other stations in Copenhagen, such as Nørreport and Østerport.
North Zealand Beaches
You can extend your trip beyond Helsingør and visit some of the towns and villages along the northern coast of the Zealand island, which is a popular weekend or holiday destination for locals. The sea is not particularly warm, but the beaches are huge, and there are many other activities which can be done on the coast, including particularly walking and cycling.
The most popular towns include Hornbæk, Gilleleje, Rågeleje, and Tisvildeleje – ordered by distance from Helsingør and from east to west. If you are visiting the north coast together with Helsingør, the best option is Gilleleje, because it has direct trains to both Helsingør and Hillerød, which is the terminus of Copenhagen S-train line E and actually another popular day trip destination.
Hornbæk is on the train line from Helsingør to Gilleleje; travel back to Copenhagen is faster via Helsingør.
The other two towns (Rågeleje and Tisvildeleje) have direct trains from Hillerød, but not Helsingør. They are already quite far from Helsingør and better to combine with a visit to Hillerød.
The place to visit in Hillerød is Frederiksborg Castle, a fairy tale castle built on an island in the middle of a lake, surrounded by a huge landscaped garden. It is the largest Renaissance castle in Scandinavia and one of past residences of Danish kings. The original castle was almost completely destroyed in fire in 1859, but rebuilt exactly in the same style, which you can see today.
Nowadays the castle serves mainly as the site of the National History Museum. On weekends during the summer season there are special programs for children, who can dress up, meet some historical characters, or try creative workshops. The standard exhibitions are open daily all year round (10:00 to 17:00 April to October, only 11:00 to 15:00 in winter).
How to get to Hillerød: It is the terminus of S-train line E, 40-45 minutes from Copenhagen city centre (you can board the train at the central station, Vesterport, Nørreport, or Østerport).
If you want a taste of Sweden and take a ride over the Øresund Bridge, you can visit Sweden’s third largest city Malmö, which is directly opposite Copenhagen on the other side of the Øresund strait. You can actually see the Turning Torso, Malmö’s iconic skyscraper, from many places in Copenhagen.
How to get to Malmö: Basically all trains from Copenhagen to Sweden stop in Malmö, also including the high speed trains to Stockholm. Besides Copenhagen central station, all trains also stop at Copenhagen Airport.
You can actually make this a circular trip Copenhagen – Malmö – Helsingborg – Helsingør – Copenhagen. The trains (and ferries) are fast and frequent enough to make this perfectly doable in a single day if you start early.
Other Trips from Copenhagen
All the above destinations are relatively close to Copenhagen and the time to get there won’t take up a big part of your day.
If you look for day trip recommendations on the internet, some sources will recommend other Denmark’s islands like Fyn, Møn, Falster, or even Bornholm (very popular Danish holiday destination, but far offshore and requires a flight or ferry from Copenhagen), or cities on the Jutland peninsula (such as Denmark’s second biggest city Århus).
Although Denmark is a small country with efficient public transport and some amazing bridges between islands, travel to different regions can easily take two or three hours one way, and therefore it’s better suited for a longer, multi-day trip. Unless you have a special reason to visit some particular place that is further away from Copenhagen, I would recommend not going too far from the capital, because its immediate surroundings have plenty to offer on their own.
For instance, one place not mentioned yet, and a good example of Danish nature and countryside, is the northern section of Roskilde Fjord – the town Frederikssund (S-train G or H from Copenhagen) or Jægerspris. Another option if the weather is good is to forget the trains, rent a bicycle, and explore the region on two wheels (north and northwest are the best directions to go on a bike).