Once a low-key underrated city, Copenhagen has recently been showered with superlatives, with polls claiming it to have the best quality of life and rating its citizens the happiest people on the planet.

If that wasn’t enough, accolades for its cuisine, metro, cycling and design have followed and Danish TV dramas continue to bring its Nordic style, gritty architecture and photogenic inhabitants into millions of living rooms.

Despite its new-found glory, Copenhagen remains a relaxed, homely place where visitors quickly feel at ease; and while all this cool contentment doesn’t come cheap (for tourists and locals alike) the “great Dane” has quite definitely arrived as one of Europe’s outstanding destinations. Here’s how you should spend the perfect weekend in Denmark’s capital:

Denmark, Copenhagen, Dronning Louises Bro bridge as seen from south

Day one

1. Latin Quarter, Inner City

Begin the day strolling about this maze of lively medieval streets and squares around Copenhagen University, perfect for losing yourself in history. Hailing from 1836, the grand neogothic university building across Frue Plads from Vor Frue Kirke serves a primarily administrative purpose today.

2. Rådhus

Climb to the tower of this grandiose, National Romantic city hall, whose fascinating astronomical clock is a destination in itself. The informative tours are the best way to capture this building’s full detail, which include access to the 105m-tall tower.

3. Lunch

Stop for lunch at Aamanns. This rustic-urban eatery does modern takes on the traditional Danish smørrebrød.

4. Canal Tour

Join one of the multilingual hourly tours along Copenhagen’s centuries-old canals, which offer fascinating insight into important events and sights tied to Denmark’s tumultuous history.

Denmark, Copenhagen, waterfront at Overgaden Oven Vandet, Christianshavn

5. Rosenborg Slot

Explore your inner royal at this fairy-tale, red-brick Renaissance castle, whose cellar holds the Danish crown jewels and Frederik III’s coronation throne, made of gold and narwhal tusk. Completed in 1634, it’s a grand edifice decorated with spires and towers and ornate Dutch gables.

6. Nyboder

Make your way out to the multi-coloured terraced houses in this relaxed part of town, built in the seventeenth century to house Christian IV’s ever-expanding naval fleet. Most of the current buildings date from the eighteenth century – all except for a single row of houses along Sankt Paulsgade, where the Nyboders Mindestuer (Nyboder Memorial Rooms) has been largely kept intact and functions as a museum.

7. Dinner

Splash out at Toldboden. This spacious, casual restaurant is set opposite the royal yacht’s mooring and is unbeatable for people-watching. With great views of the Inner Harbour, Toldboden has few rivals for the title of the Copenhagen’s most stunningly-located bar.

8. The Little Mermaid

Stroll out to Kastellet to catch a glimpse of Copenhagen’s mascot and the heroine of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. A more recent addition, a few hundred metres to the north along the waterfront at Langeliniekaj, is the Little Mermaid’s iconoclastic “ugly sister”, a far more entertaining rendition of the original.

Copenhagen, The Alternative Little Mermaid (Genetically Modified Little Mermaid) created by Danish professor Bjorn Norgaard

Day two

1. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Start off in this brilliant museum, which holds a vast classical and modern European art collection displayed in opulent rooms. Established by brewing magnate Carl Jacobsen (1842–1914) to provide a public home for his vast private art collection, today the gallery is home to a fantastic collection of French sculptures, with particular emphasis on Rodin – the largest collection of his work outside France.

2. Danish Design Centre

This Henning Larsen-designed, glass-fronted museum-cum-shop has a permanent collection of Zippo lighters, Wonderbras and other design classics. There’s no permanent exhibition but – whatever is on – the hands-on displays and interactive screens will easily keep you occupied for a couple of hours.

3. Christiania

Amble along the pretty Christianshavns Kanal, designed by an Amsterdam-born architect, before exploring this renowned hippie “free city” commune. Egalitarian, creative and ecologically minded, the ideals of its thousand-or-so residents have resulted in some truly unique self-built homes, imaginative businesses, and a host of flourishing artistic venues.

Denmark, Copenhagen, christiania, mural, grafitti, painting, art, hippie, alternative

4. Lunch

Enjoy a variety of scrumptious tapas from the long and seasonally changing menu at popular spot, Cofoco.

5. Frederiksberg Have

Pedal out towards Værnedamsvej for a spot of fashionista window shopping, then put down on the open expanses of grass at the city’s most wild parklands. Originally laid out in the seventeenth century for the royal palace, the gardens were remodelled a century later in the English landscape style, with winding paths weaving across undulating lawns, boating canals and numerous follies hidden among trees.

6. Musikmuseet

An amoeba shaped violin and a giraffe piano are just some of the unusual instruments on display at the Music Musem, which reopened in DR’s former Radio House in 2014. Take kids to the “klang room” – a soundproofed room where they can play their hearts out without disturbing the neighbours.

7. Helsingør

Ride the train up the coast to watch the sun set against Kronborg, a fairy-tale fortress and the inspiration for Elsinore Castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Constructed in the fifteenth century by Erik of Pomerania, the original fortress of Krogen was for hundreds of years the key to control of the Øresund, enabling the Danish monarchs to extract a toll from every ship that passed through it.

8. Dinner

Sample Brasserie Nimb’s traditional French food with a regularly changing menu in an Oriental-style palace, with views out to Tivoli Gardens.

Explore more of Copenhagen with the Pocket Rough Guide to CopenhagenCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0