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Copenhagen or Lisbon; a city comparison and tourism travel guide

Lisbon is a progressive and liberal city, which still retains its rich seafaring history and distinctive Portuguese heritage. The city effortless blends history, vibrant culture and exciting nightlife into one charismatic tourist destination.

Lisbon is a city of compact variety; there is a maze of narrow streets in Alfama, the grandeur of Baixa’s plazas or the refinement of Principal Real. The region has one of the best climates of Europe and there are even glorious beaches close by. Lisbon is an amazing city, but having been fully discovered by mass tourism, it is starting to display the early signs of over-tourism…

About this guide: We understand that selecting a destination is challenging and sometimes overwhelming, especially when every web guide or travel book makes each city seems so incredible and memorable.

Choosing a destination is not just about the famed sights of the city, it is also the ambience of the city, the suitability of the weather and if it aligns with your passions and interests.

High-level summary

Summary
Which city would I go to? Lisbon (really tough decision)
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Lisbon
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Lisbon(Copenhagen is too expensive for him!)
Which for my food obsessed friend? Copenhagen
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)

The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

Lisbon is a varied city with many fascinating districts and tourist attractions. The city takes three days to fully explore, but could be condensed into two days to provide a day trip to beautiful Sintra.
Equally a trip could be extended to five days, by including Sintra, the pretty coastal town of Cascais and a visit to the glorious beaches (May- September). Within the Lisbon region, there are sufficient day trips, beaches and activities to easily fill a one-week holiday.

Copenhagen can be seen in two days of sightseeing, while a third day provides time for a slower pace (and flexibility to avoid rain) along with a chance to explore the artisan districts (Vesterbro, Latin Quarter and Nørrebro) in great depth. A popular day trip is to visit the castles of Frederiksborg and Kronborg. It is very tempting to stay longer but often, the depleting budget is the real reason to leave.

When to visit?

Copenhagen’s weather is not as dismal as most visitors initially presume, and not cold as the other Scandinavian countries it is often mentally lumped with. The summer will always provide the best weather, and this aligns with the peak season, late spring and autumn can also offer decent sightseeing weather. The winters are cool and wet, but as many of the city’s sights are indoors, it is still possible for a better value (relatively!) city-break.

The season to visit Lisbon is in the Spring and Autumn. Lisbon is now very popular in the summer months, especially the day trips to Sintra and Belem district. Lisbon is starting to become a year-round destination, but be warned that the winter months can be overcast and wet. Our favourite time of year to visit Lisbon is the first two weeks of June, when there are street festivities called the Santos Populares.

Is it for me?

Lisbon has a wide appeal; there are numerous cultural sights, great nightlife and a blossoming artisan scene. The city will appeal to young or old, either for a cultural trip or as a fun weekend away. In the summer (May-Sep) the beaches can be visited and there are many enjoyable day trips to an extended trip. There is little to fault Lisbon and most visitors leave with fond memories of the city.

There is a lot to love about Copenhagen, there are funky art installations, wonderful tourist attractions and a great vibe about the city. Copenhagen is a tolerant and inclusive city, which is popular with all ages, diversities and tourist types.

The main consideration is the astronomical price of everything. For context, the price of a glass of large beer in a touristy bar, is around 60kr (€8/$9), is the same you could pay for a lunch in southern Europe. If you have the money or can budget well, you will adore Copenhagen.

The perfect 48hours

There’s a lot to squeeze in for 48 hours in Lisbon.
Below is an interactive map of this tour - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights and section in grey.

Most tours begin in the Baixa district with its grand avenues and magnificent plazas, such as the Praça do Comércio. In the later part of the day start to climb hills into the Alfama district, which is a maze of narrow streets leading to the castle. Take in one of the viewpoints close to the castle for a romantic sunset and then ride the quaint number 28 tram as it rattles through the city.

For dinner head into the Baixa district and then for nightlife its Barrio Alto, with its funky bars and socialising which fills the streets.

Torre de Belem lisbon

The Torre de Belem once guarded the Tejo Estuary and Lisbon

For the second day head to the Belem district, which contains the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and Torre de Belem, along with views across the Tejo Estuary. For the second part of the day discover the stylish Príncipe Real and Avenida da Liberdade districts or visit the ultra-modern side of Lisbon, the Parque das Nações.

Copenhagen offers so much for a fun-packed 48 hours. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow.

Being in the Rådhuspladsen, main plaza of Copenhagen, and wander up the primary shopping street the Strøget. This leading into the Latin Quarter, and a highlight is the Rundertaarn (Round tower) and view. Nyhavn is the 17th-century canal district with traditional painted houses, and a favourite with tourists. Departing from the docks are canal boat tours and are an enjoyable way to experience the waterways and view the overrated Mermaid Statue.

For lunch cross the canal to the Bridge Street Kitchen for a popular street food market, and relaxed location for lunch. Next is Christiania, a once bohemian commune, but pushy drug dealers and influx of tourists slightly detracts from the original ideals. The tower of the Vor Frelsers Kirke church provides some of the best views of Copenhagen. Next visit the Christiansborg Slot palace on the pretty island of Slotsholmen. For the evening return to the Rådhuspladsen and visit the Tivoli amusement park, which is characterful and charming in the evening. For the evening find a funky restaurant in the Vesterbro district.

Latin Quarter Copenhagen

The side streets of the Latin Quarter (Latinerkvarteret) are a joy to explore

Start the second day by visiting the magnificent Rosenborg Slot palace, where it is easy to spend a couple of hours exploring. Nørrebro is a diverse community with Assistens Kirkegård park and at the far end is the Superkilen Park great for your Instagram posts. For lunch, visit the Torvehallerne street food market.

In the afternoon head into the Frederiksstaden district, with the Amalienborg Palace, where the Danish royal family reside, and the Frederiks Kirke church beautiful examples of grand Rococo style. If you insist on visiting the Den Lille Havfrue (Mermaid Statue), continue northwards past the Kastellet fort. For a more cultural end to the day vis the SNK museum (the Danish national gallery) or the Nationalmuseet Museum.

Tourism Practicalities

Always book accommodation in advance. When considering where to be based anywhere within the Indre By (the central location) is great. Vesterbro is an up and coming area which is trendy and touch edgy, Frederiksstaden is a bit more refined and Latin quarter is a lively. If you are further away, try to be close to a metro station.

There is excellent public transport but often hiring a bike is the easiest way to ravel around, as there are extensive cycle paths and the city is flat.
The currency used is the krone (dkk), which is pegged to the euro at €1=7.46dkk. You must exchange to krone, as Euro is rarely accepted, except in the airport.

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