Culture vultures will find plenty to sink their claws into in Copenhagen. As well as its renowned opera and ballet companies, the Danish capital boasts many outstanding museums and galleries, and offers rich pickings for art lovers and design devotees alike.
With its spectacular coastal location and world-beating collection of painting and sculpture, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art remains the hottest ticket in town – and quite possibly the best thing to do here full stop. Yet on a drizzly day, nothing beats mooching around the galleries of the Statens Museum for Kunst or exploring the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek’s astonishing collection of antiquities (and the top floor dedicated to Degas bronzes).
Look beyond the heavyweights, though, and you’ll find plenty of equally remarkable cultural institutions. In fact, whether you want to find out what the Vikings were really like, discover the impact of Danish design or explore the work of Denmark’s greatest artist, Copenhagen has a museum for you. Feeling peckish after all that art, history and art history? We say hotfoot it straight to one of the best restaurants in Copenhagen according to us.
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Best museums in Copenhagen
One of the world’s most enchanting museums, the Louisiana will likely prove the highlight of any visit to Copenhagen. Its permanent collection comprises more than 4,000 works produced since 1945, with an emphasis on painting and sculpture. In particular, the Louisiana houses an impressive collection of works by Picasso, Giacometti and Danish masters Per Kirkeby and Asger Jorn. Equally appealing is its location. On the coast north of Copenhagen, the museum boasts photo-worthy views across the Øresund towards Sweden. Its delightful sculpture park, featuring works by Alexander Calder and Richard Serra, is unforgettable.
Housing a vast collection of Danish and European works from the 14th century to the present day, Denmark’s national art museum remains the city’s biggest cultural attraction. Seeing it all in one day is practically impossible, so choose carefully. Highlights include the beautifully lit landscapes of the Skagen School and Vilhelm Hammershøi’s muted 19th-century Copenhagen interiors. Look out for SMK Fridays, when the museum opens during the evening, lets visitors in for free and puts on a spread of drinks, street food and live music.
Established in 1888 by brewing magnate Carl Jacobsen to provide a public home for his private art, the Glyptotek today houses a world-class collection that ranges from ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek sculpture to paintings from the Danish Golden Age to a marvellous array of French Impressionist pieces. Another highlight is the museum’s glass-domed Winter Garden, which is filled with statues, palm trees and a fountain. Entrance is free on Tuesdays.
Striking architecture and design rewards visitors to this splendid museum in Copenhagen’s northern suburbs. Its fine collection of French and Danish art is spread across three very different (but equally eye-catching) spaces: a 19th-century mansion, a modern extension designed by Zaha Hadid, and an underground extension by Norwegian architects Snøhetta. You’ll also find architect and designer Finn Juhl’s house in its grounds – open to the public, this is worth the entrance fee alone – and an Art Park featuring large-scale works by the likes of Carsten Höller and Olafur Eliasson.
It’s well worth catching a train to the coastal town of Ishøj, just 20km south of Copenhagen, to visit this cultural and architectural gem. Occupying a marvellous shipwreck-inspired building surrounded by windswept dunes, the Arken Museum of Modern Art houses one of Scandinavia’s finest collections of contemporary art. The majority of its 400-plus works represent the period after 1990 and include pieces by Ai Weiwei and Grayson Perry, as well as Danish artists Olafur Eliasson and Tal R.
From furniture and fashion to posters and pottery, discover what makes Danish design so special at this impressive museum in an 18th-century rococo building in the city centre. As well as consistently fascinating temporary exhibitions, highlights include a permanent exhibition of Danish chairs — showcasing influential designs by the likes of Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen — and a look at contemporary Danish design, which explores the country’s influence on product design, graphic design and design for public spaces.
Explore Danish history from its prehistoric past to the present day at the country’s largest museum. Both the Inuit and Viking exhibitions are gripping, while prehistoric highlights include the Trundholm Sun Chariot — a stunning Bronze Age artefact found by a farmer in 1902 — and the so-called Egtved Girl’s grave, which contains the bog-preserved body of a woman buried almost 3,500 years ago. A relatively new exhibition on Denmark’s colonial history in the Caribbean, India, West Africa and Greenland is also unmissable.
Dedicated to the work of the internationally acclaimed neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), this beautiful museum is something of a hidden gem. Just around the corner from the Danish Parliament and looking much as it did when it opened four years after Thorvaldsen’s death, the museum is especially popular with Instagram fans, who justifiably throng to its colourful walls and mosaics, as well as Thorvaldsen’s marble and plaster sculptures.
Tucked behind the sprawling Statens Museum for Kunst, in pretty Østre Anlæg park, this comparatively bijou museum houses 19th- and early 20th-century Danish masterpieces that belonged to tobacco magnate Heinrich Hirschsprung. The collection includes major works by artists from the Danish Golden Age (1800–1850), as well as paintings by Anna Ancher, a member of the Skagen Painters colony and considered one of Denmark’s greatest artists.
An elegant 19th-century townhouse opposite the King’s Gardens is today home to the astonishing collection of art and artefacts amassed by Danish lawyer Christian Ludwig David. Particularly outstanding is the museum’s Islamic collection, which ranges from the seventh to the mid-19th century and includes striking Ottoman mosaics and exquisite Persian miniatures. Also impressive are the museum’s collections of 18th- and 19th-century furniture and porcelain.
Located in an 18th-century building that was once the Royal Academy of Surgeons, this fascinating little museum boasts one of the richest collections of medical artefacts in Europe. Though some displays aren’t for the squeamish — watch out for the body parts embalmed for scientific analysis more than a century ago — there’s plenty to enjoy here. Highlights include the late 18th-century anatomical lecture theatre and an award-winning permanent exhibition that explores the complex relationship between the mind and the gut.
Still need to tick off the sights?
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