Christmas In Copenhagen

Christmas in Copenhagen: the only guide you’ll need

The days are short, and the nights are cold, but Christmas in Copenhagen is as belly-warming as a cup of delicious Gløgg (Danish mulled wine — more on that later). In fact, it’s arguably one of the best times of year to visit the Danish capital. 

You can check out the famous Copenhagen Christmas markets, sample some traditional festive food and drink, catch all the fun at Tivoli Gardens, or just wander through the city’s beautifully decorated streets and harbor. Plus, a whole lot more!  

Yep, the Danes sure know how to celebrate Christmas. Check out our guide below to make the most of your time in Copenhagen during its most magical time of year.

Christmas In Copenhagen

All the Copenhagen Christmas traditions you need to know

When visiting a country for the first time, it’s always handy to understand its cultural traditions — especially for something as significant as Christmas. So, first thing’s first, let’s take a look at the quirks and customs of the Danish holiday season:

Countdown through December

The whole month of December is a huge celebration in Denmark for children and adults alike. You can feel the anticipation build as each day goes by. That’s probably because the Danes are so adept at making every day special with their many methods of counting down to Christmas.

For example:

Most families will gift the little ones an advent calendar of treats to be opened and enjoyed every day leading up to the big Christmas finale. They might be something sweet and yummy, or even little presents.

On a less chocolatey note, families will also traditionally count down to Christmas with the Advent Wreath. Consisting of four candles, they’re lit on the four Sundays before Christmas, starting with just one and adding one each week until they’re all lit in preparation for Christmas. 

There’s also the Kalenderlys, a tall Christmas candle imprinted with a number for each day of December. It’s a charming little custom where you burn the candle just enough for each day of the month, creating even more hype down to Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve

In Denmark, Christmas Eve is their highlight. While Christmas Day is still important, December 24 is when the magic happens. This is when loved ones usually get together for an intimate Christmas feast and celebration.

Roast duck, goose, and roast pork are common at mealtime, usually accompanied by red cabbage and potatoes with gravy. This is usually followed by a traditional Danish dessert called Risalamande, a rice pudding covered in cherry sauce. 

This dish usually includes a whole almond hidden inside the pudding, and whoever finds it gets a prize.

After dinner, it’s usually customary to dance around the Christmas tree while singing Christmas songs. Quickly followed by every Danish child’s favorite part of the festive season — present time! 

You might even see a few people out and about gifting animals with treats. This is inspired by the old belief that animals could talk on Christmas Eve — and you definitely wouldn’t want your furry friends saying bad things behind your back!

Christmas Day

On December 25, things are a little more relaxed — although the festivities will usually continue with more family gatherings. You might find yourself having lunch or dinner once again with loved ones, although it’s not the big event of the night before.

Is anything open in Copenhagen over Christmas? For the two main days, the answer is largely no. While the 25th is less intense and more of a slowing down of the holiday season, tourist attractions in Copenhagen will not open. The same goes for most shops and businesses.

Christmas In Copenhagen

Things to do in Copenhagen at Christmas time

Having read this far, you’re probably excited to head on a trip to the Danish capital and enjoy all the festive cheer. But what is there to do in Copenhagen at Christmas time? 

Christmas breaks in Copenhagen are popular for all types of travelers, including families, couples, backpackers, and students. There’s truly something for everyone to enjoy in the lead-up to everyone’s favorite holiday.

In no particular order of importance (because they’re all worth experiencing), here are some suggestions:

1. Don’t miss the annual lighting of the Copenhagen Christmas tree

If you want to kick off the Christmas season in a show of community spirit, get yourself to Rådhuspladsen for the official lighting of the Copenhagen Christmas tree.

This annual tradition is typically held on the first Sunday of December. 

The 24-meter-high tree lit up in all its glory is an incredibly stunning sight in the cold Christmas night. Plus, it’s also usually attended by Santa himself, which is another reason why the event is a favorite for families with children.

2. Join in the festivities at Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens is a great place to visit in Copenhagen all year round, but at Christmas, it transforms into something truly special. 

It’s actually the second-oldest fully operating amusement park in the world, and as well as rides, it also offers stunning scenery, architecture, and entertainment.

During the festive season, the decorations, fake snow, and twinkling Christmas lights make you feel like you’ve stepped right into the North Pole. If you’ve got little ones, they’ll be delighted to see Santa and his reindeer also make an appearance.

If that’s not enough, it also hosts its very own Tivoli Christmas markets for you to check out. There are usually around 60 stalls, so you can browse, shop, eat, drink and fill your Santa stockings.

Plus, there are often Christmas performances, parades, and shows.

Christmas In Copenhagen

3. Tease your senses with Copenhagen Christmas culinary delights

It might be cold out, but in Copenhagen’s many eateries and bars, the food, drink, and festive energy is enough to warm the soul. Plus, everybody knows that the best way to get to know a city is over a plate of food and a cup of something tasty. 

Check out our list of food and drink to get you in the Christmas spirit when you’re in Copenhagen: 

Gløgg: Danish mulled wine

Originating in Sweden, Gløgg is a warm drink that has several recipe variations but usually contains a base of red wine. It also often has spices, raisins, and almonds in the mix. A definite favorite for the locals around Christmas.

Akvavit: A distilled spirit also known as Schnapps

You usually drink it from a small shot glass, typically served alongside food. Its signature spice is caraway, although you might also taste dill, coriander, and anise. If you toast with it, don’t forget to say “Skålfor a proper Danish cheers. 

Æbleskiver: Pancake balls served with icing sugar and/or jam

If you love doughnuts or just pastries in general, you’ll love these. They’re always popular with the kids, but beware… they’ll definitely want seconds. Fun fact — the name of this treat is Danish for ‘apple slices’, which can be a tad misleading for foreigners. 

Risengrød: Danish rice pudding

It’s a bit like porridge, with a base of rice and milk sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. It’s a traditional dish often made and eaten on December 23, with the leftovers used for the foundations of another dish called Risalamande.

Risalamande: A rice pudding dessert served with Christmas dinner

This delicious dessert mixes traditional rice pudding with whipped cream and chopped almonds, serving it with a warm cherry sauce on top. One whole almond is also usually hidden in the batch, making it a fun game to see who gets served the almond.

Pølsevogn: Means “sausage wagon” and is where you’ll find their famous hot dogs

If you’re looking for street food you can enjoy on the go, you need to check out one of Copenhagen’s many street vendors selling hot dogs — a staple for the people of this charming city. While it’s not technically a Christmas dish, it’s a must-try any time you’re in the Danish capital. 

Pebernødder: Danish Christmas cookies.

These cookies are small, but they sure pack a punch, usually spiced with things like pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. With roots dating back to the 1400s, these cookies are well and truly embedded into Denmark’s Christmas traditions. 

Julebryg: Denmark’s annual festive beer

Starting on the first Friday of November, the Danes can enjoy their own seasonal Christmas beer for just a few weeks each year. The day it’s released is fondly known as J-Day and is highly anticipated by beer lovers and Christmas enthusiasts alike. Tuborg is the most popular one locally, and you’ll find it in most Copenhagen supermarkets and bars. 

Honninghjerter: Spicy Christmas cookies

Also known as Danish honey hearts, you can find these traditional Christmas goodies in most bakeries around Copenhagen. You’ll know them by their distinctive look — heart-shaped treats usually covered in dark chocolate icing. 

While there is a huge range of restaurants, cafes, and bars you can visit around the city, you can also usually find the Danish delicacies mentioned above at the famous Christmas markets.

Christmas In Copenhagen

4. Tick off your gift list at the Copenhagen Christmas markets

Whether you’re keen to fill your belly, do some Christmas shopping or enjoy the spectacle of Copenhagen’s gloriously decorated streets, the Christmas markets are a must-do. 

They’re full of wonderful gift ideas, trinkets, knick-knacks, hand-made goods, and tasty treats. Actually, the cool thing about the Christmas markets is they’re something the whole family can enjoy because there is so much on offer. 

But put your best walking shoes on because there are quite a few Christmas markets scattered around Copenhagen, and you could hit a few if you’ve got time. 

Where are the Christmas markets in Copenhagen held? It depends on where you’re staying and what you’re in the mood for. 

However, here are six that are usually quite popular:

Nyhavn Christmas market

Located along the canal, it has a great view of one of Copenhagen’s most popular tourist hotspots.

Julemarked Kongens Nytorv

Right across the street from Nyhavn, this traditional Christmas market is close to Strøget and the Magasin Du Nord department store.

Højbro Plads Christmas market

It’s not far from Strøget(one of Copenhagen’s best shopping streets), so you can check out both and get all your shopping done in one trip.

Tivoli Gardens Christmas market

If you’re visiting the amusement park in the heart of the city, this one’s a no-brainer. You can enjoy all the entertainment and tick off your gift list simultaneously. To enter the theme park, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee — but it’s well worth it. 

Jægersborggade Christmas market

Held in the hip neighborhood of Nørrebro, it’s worth a visit. But this one’s usually only open for a couple of days, so check your itinerary first. 

Hans Christian Andersen Christmas market

This one is held in Nytorv, which is in the city center. As you might have expected, it’s named after the famous Danish storyteller, so it’s great if you’ve got kids.  

Find out more about Christmas markets in Copenhagen here.

Christmas In Copenhagen

5. Witness the marvel of Copenhagen’s festival of St Lucia

On December 13, many people celebrate Santa Lucia Day — a Christian tradition that pays homage to a third-century martyr. It’s a custom borrowed from the Swedes and has been a big thing in Copenhagen since 1944. 

Traditionally on Santa Lucia Day, people commemorate it by holding a procession led by a young girl who wears a crown of candles (signifying the saint herself), followed by a parade of people wearing white, all carrying candles. 

While several celebrations are held around the city, the one that attracts the most attention from visitors and travelers is probably the event at the Nyhavn canal

This spectacle of light is a little different from the rest in that it’s made up of hundreds of brightly lit and decorated kayaks. You can watch from the streets and bridges as the canal is illuminated, and the air fills with the singing of the kayakers and spectators. 

Even if you’re not religious, this procession is stunning to behold and a beautiful show of community spirit.

Christmas In Copenhagen

6. Try to score an invite to a Julefrokost

Just in case you get invited to a Julefrokost, you should know what it is, so you say “Ja!”

This is the king of all Christmas parties (usually a lunch or dinner) held by family, friends, and workplaces. They can run anywhere from late November to just before Christmas and are a great way to get into the swing of the festive season.

It’s also handy to know that they can go for hours, and there’s definitely alcohol involved, so be prepared to write off the rest of the day and night. Not that you’ll be complaining; these get-togethers are just the kind of Danish fun you want to soak up, especially if you’re moving to Copenhagen.

And if they mention there’ll be a Pakkeleg(translation: parcel game), then make sure you bring a small gift of some kind and be ready for some deadly dicing competition.  

Don’t know any Danish friends and sad to know you’ll miss out on one of the most fun parts of the Danish festive season? Get yourself to a bar and start schmoozing.

7. Make the most of this winter wonderland and go ice-skating

If you’re celebrating Christmas in Copenhagen, you’ll likely spend a lot of time trying to stay warm with cozy winter coats, hot drinks, and festive food, but don’t forget to embrace the icy conditions and do as the Danes do — go ice-skating.

The Frederiksberg Runddel is a popular choice. It has free entry, and you can either bring your own ice skates or rent them. 

Ice skating in Copenhagen is a great Christmas activity for families with children and the perfect prelude to a delicious dinner out.

Christmas In Copenhagen

8. Get lost in the streets and check out some stunning Christmas displays

Christmas in Copenhagen is a feast for the eyes, so it’s the perfect city to just rap yourself up, pop on some comfortable shoes, and take an evening stroll to see the sights. 

As the night descends, the city lights up with many bars, restaurants, businesses, and department stores adorning their facades and shopfronts with twinkling lights and decorations. Many streets have Christmas lights hanging between the laneways, beckoning you along. 

If you’re feeling a bit lost and need a starting point, the beautiful decorations in these places are always worth a look:

Tivoli Gardens

The amusement park has been mentioned many times already in this article, but that’s because it really is the ultimate Christmas wonderland. The Christmas lights here are a must if you want to be dazzled. 

Nyhavn

The canal is always a beautiful sight all year long, but at Christmas time, it looks truly magical. If you’re around on Santa Lucia Day, the canal literally lights up with hundreds of kayaks decked out in Christmas lights and decorations. 

Kronprinsensgade

This is Copenhagen’s fashion street, and it lights up at Christmas.

Hotel d’Angleterre

This hotel is a bit of a historic landmark in Copenhagen, and it puts up a special Christmas façade every year, which always draws a crowd. If you’ve walked up an appetite, you can always head inside the hotel’s restaurant afterward for some of its famous Gløgg.

Copenhagen Christmas markets

If you’re looking for a place to walk and enjoy the sights, any of the Christmas markets would make a great destination. Some have music and entertainment too, which adds to the atmosphere.

Christmas In Copenhagen

Weather in Copenhagen at Christmas time

Winter days in Copenhagen equal cold weather, but it probably won’t be as chilly as you expect. During the day, you can expect temperatures to hover around 3ºC or 4ºC (37.4ºF/39.2ºF) — with things cooling to around freezing at night. 

On colder days, the temperature may just about rise above freezing — if at all. You’ll need to dress the part, but it’s worth noting that temperatures of -10ºC or below are very rare in Copenhagen at Christmas time. 

While the air temperature might be milder than you expected, you will need to consider wind chill. Copenhagen is windy throughout the winter and often feels at least a few degrees Celsius colder than the thermometer reads. You can combat this by layering up and protecting your ears.

Daylight hours in Copenhagen at Christmas time

December days in Copenhagen are very short. The 21st is usually the shortest day of the year; sunrise is 08:37, with the sunset being 15:38. If you’re planning any sightseeing that requires daylight, plan in advance. 

One thing you’ll quickly notice about Christmas in Copenhagen is that even if the sun is technically up, it’s often hidden behind thick clouds. 

But don’t be disheartened by the looming night because the city comes alive with twinkling Christmas lights that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a postcard. Plus, the many restaurants and bars are often lit up with candles and fireplaces that’ll warm the mood. 

This is the capital of hygge, after all!

Does it snow in Copenhagen at Christmas?

Right, onto everyone’s favorite question: will it snow in Copenhagen at Christmas?

While there is the chance of snow, and you might get lucky, it’s probably more likely to rain than snow. 

And if it does snow, it’s unlikely to be a blizzard or last very long. So, if you’re only coming for a few days, don’t get your hopes up, as there’s no guarantee. You should also prepare for sleet, which is quite common during the winter.

A few fun facts about Christmas in Denmark

  1. In Denmark, Santa is called Julemanden, which translates to ‘the Yule man’ — and his little helpers are called Nisse.
  2. On December 23 (sometimes known as Little Christmas Eve), people will traditionally make and eat Risengrød.
  3. Children in Denmark traditionally leave out rice pudding for Santa and his elves to eat.
  4. The Danes are fond of a special Christmas decoration called the ‘Christmas Heart’, which is usually made of red and white paper (the colors of the national flag) and hung on the Christmas tree. 
  5. For Denmark, celebrations in December go back even further than the arrival of Christianity. With the winter solstice on December 21, this time of year has been a time of celebration, tradition, and ritual for the people of this region for potentially thousands of years. 

3 Tips for booking Christmas breaks in Copenhagen

  1. Book well in advance. Christmas is a busy travel period, and flights might cost more than other times of the year. You’ll also need to book ahead to ensure you get the hotel you want. 
  2. Dress appropriately. You can probably leave the Arctic-style jacket at home, but you will need to layer up. Scarves, hats, and gloves are non-negotiable; consider bringing baselayers that you can wear under your everyday clothes. Having a pair of wool socks will also help you brave the conditions. 
  1. Make restaurant reservations well in advance. Many Danish companies have their Julefrokost throughout December, and most places have packed schedules. You need to book well before time in the most popular establishments.

Christmas in Copenhagen is a wonderful time

If you’re lucky enough to be in Copenhagen for Christmas, you might hear a word get thrown around a fair bit: “hygge“.

It’s a Danish word that doesn’t properly translate to English, but it kind of means ‘cozy’. However, this is a loose translation, as hygge can’t really be defined with just one word because it’s packed full of meaning. 

But we’ll do our best to describe it:

To experience a moment of hygge at Christmas, you might be enjoying a warm meal by the fireplace, drinking mulled wine, feeling completely content with the people you love. Or it could be as simple as wearing a snuggly pair of socks while decorating the Christmas tree.  

That’s hygge. And to be honest, that sounds like the most authentically Danish Christmas you could ask for. 

Oh, and speaking of language, if you want to wish your new friends in Copenhagen a Merry Christmas, just put on your best Danish accent and say “Glædelig Jul”. 

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

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Scandinavian festive decorations
Your guide to Danish Julefrokost
The Danish Christmas traditions
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Must try Danish Christmas food
Danish Christmas tree decorations
Scandinavian Christmas traditions
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