Copenhagen on a Budget: 20 Free Things to See & Do
Updated: Feb 10, 2021
Denmark, like its Scandi sisters, can end up being an expensive country to visit if you take your eye off the ball. But little old me is here to show you that a trip to its wonderful, wonderful capital really doesn't have to cost the earth...
In this post I'll be sharing with you the very best FREE things to see and do in Copenhagen, proving that you can experience and enjoy this spectacular city at its absolute finest - even when travelling on a budget!
Please note that I am writing this having travelled to Copenhagen in a time before coronavirus, so some attractions may be operating differently to normal and you may need to comply with additional safety/hygiene measures when going anywhere mentioned in this post. Please wear a mask (properly), sanitise your hands and maintain social-distancing. Thank you!
TOP 20 THINGS TO DO & SEE FOR FREE IN COPENHAGEN
1) Embark on a self-guided architecture tour along the canals. Copenhagen has to be one of most impressive design capitals of the world, from the classical to the unapologetically quirky! Start your tour by following Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard past Tivoli Gardens and the amber frontage of Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket, before turning left to follow the canal. Taking this route, you'll see the geometric shadow of the 'The Black Diamond' - or Royal Danish Library - looming over the water, as well as the Urban Rigger housing project, Five Circles footbridge, and ultimately the Royal Danish Playhouse, Inderhavnsbroen and the Opera House. One of the sights I was most fascinated by on this walk was the Church of Our Saviour, as its spire looks (to my strange brain, anyway) like it has been sculpted out of chocolate!
Pictured: Christian IV's Brewhouse, Christiansborg & The Royal Danish Library.
2) Watch the Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg. Amalienborg Palace is the Queen of Denmark's winter residence, sitting right in the heart of the city and surrounding a grand courtyard. Every morning the Royal Guard marches through the streets of Copenhagen to Amalienborg, where the Changing of the Guard takes place at midday. It's also just a lovely area to potter around, with a small waterfront park nearby.
Pictured: Amalienborg Palace.
3) Admire the City Hall. Whilst there is a small charge to enter the Rådhus (40DKK), its moody façade with verdigris embellishments can be appreciated at no extra cost. Anyone who has watched 'The Killing' (the Danish original drama, not the American version!) will surely recognise the imposing bronze brickwork and dramatic clock tower.
Pictured: Copenhagen City Hall, or Rådhus.
4) Stroll down the Strøget. One of Europe's longest pedestrianised highstreets, the Strøget boasts under a mile's worth of eclectic shops, eateries and bars to suit a range of preferences. Stretching all the way from City Hall Square to the King's New Square on the east-side of the city, you could say the Strøget is Copenhagen's aorta; throbbing with life and activity.
Pictured: Stork Fountain, at the junction of Strøget and Amagertorv.
5) Take a nature walk in Østre Anlæg. This quiet leafy corner of Copenhagen carries over from the city's medieval origins, made up of what used to be moats and fortifications. Nowadays, it is a secluded oasis lush with flora and fauna - including cheeky squirrels, friendly ducks and aloof herons.
Pictured: One of Østre Anlæg's tranquil ponds.
6) Marvel at the colours of Nyhavn. Perhaps the most popular attraction in all of Copenhagen, Nyhavn's reputation somewhat precedes it. Loved for its rainbow palette and characterful scenery, this historic harbour certainly lives up to the hype. Famed Danish author Hans Christian Andersen liked it so much that he made his home at three different addresses here - and it's not difficult to see why! You could easily spend a whole afternoon just people-watching on the quay, or being hypnotised by the bobbing boats. And, once the sun goes down, it becomes a hub of entertainment and revelry.
Pictured: the townhouses of Nyhavn.
7) Live the drama at the Royal Danish Playhouse. Maybe it's because I was an usher in my pre-Covid life, but I just adore a theatre foyer! That feeling of anticipation - the calm before the storm - and the Royal Danish Playhouse is a stunning place to drink that in. You don't have to be a ticket-holder to enjoy its front-of-house spaces, and there are plenty of seats to pause and soak up the atmosphere. With a café and striking floor-to-ceiling windows, it could be a perfect set-up for digital nomads or anyone just needing to rest their weary paws.
Pictured: front-of-house at the Royal Danish Playhouse.
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8) Get lost in the Glyptoteket. Take it from someone who isn't usually a massive museum lover - you won't want to miss the Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket! Every Tuesday, this remarkable building opens its doors for free; granting you access to over 10,000 artworks and artefacts spanning 6,000 years of history. The museum is just as much of a masterpiece as the pieces it displays, thanks to shining marble pillars, mosaic floors and an extraordinary Winter Garden.
Pictured: the Glyptoteket's Winter Garden, designed by Vilhelm Dahlerup in 1906.
9) Spend your Wednesday in the Nikolaj Kunsthal. Continuing on this theme, the Nikolaj Kunsthal offers free admission on Wednesdays. Housed within a deconsecrated church, this gallery and event space exhibits a constantly evolving programme of contemporary art in the most intriguing of settings.
Pictured: the exterior of Nikolaj Kunsthal.
10) Step back in time at the Kastellet. Stumbling upon the Kastellet was one of the great surprises I enjoyed whilst wandering aimlessly through Copenhagen! It is a former citadel constructed in a pentagonal design, making it one of the best preserved star fortresses still in existence. Despite it now being used as a military base by the Ministry of Defence, you can explore the Kastellet completely at leisure; look out for the old prison complex, the Commander's House, and a super cute windmill!
Pictured: 'The Rows', or soldiers' barracks.
11) Relax in Churchillparken. I couldn't get enough of this tiny urban park up near the Kastellet; it was a joy. Take some photos, grab a bench, read a book, or just watch the world go by. I really loved the Gefion Fountain here too; depicting the Norse goddess of farming, riding a plough pulled by huge bulls. She looks like a proper bad-ass!
Pictured: St. Alban's Church in Churchillparken.
12) Meet The Little Mermaid. This one does come with a disclaimer... I was a tad underwhelmed by The Little Mermaid statue. Mainly because I wasn't expecting to work so hard for a photograph without any selfie-taking tourists in it! A bit chaotic and ridiculous to be honest. But the fact of the matter is simple: you cannot come to Copenhagen and not see her. It's basically a rite of passage.
Pictured; Den Lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid).
13) Follow your nose at Torvehallerne Market. If you're a fanatical foodie like me, Torvehallerne will sound like paradise! This covered market in the trendy district of Nørrebro is filled with divine Danish produce, as well as internationally inspired pop-ups. Obviously browsing don't cost a thing, but maybe budget for a wee splurge if you don't think you'll be able to resist the lure of delicious sweet and savoury smells...
Pictured: a mouth-watering display of smørrebrød (open sandwiches).
14) Go window-shopping in Nørrebro. Renowned for its vibrant mix of cultures, influences and styles, Copenhagen's northernmost neighbourhood of Nørrebro is a treasure trove of luxurious boutiques and independent artisans. Be sure to head to Jægersborggade and Blågårdsgade; two of the most creative and captivating streets in the district.
Pictured: a bookshop window-dressing in Nørrebro.
15) Visit Assistens Cemetery. A morning meander round a graveyard may seem a tad morbid at first, but it might amaze you to learn how peaceful and enlightening it can be. I found Assistens to be full of colour and profound calm; the very opposite, in fact, to what you'd expect from such a place. Hans Christian Andersen is buried here, alongside many others - poets, philosophers, and people just like you and I.
Pictured: the grave of Hans Christian Andersen.
16) People-watch at Dronning Louise's Bro. Translating as Queen Louise's Bridge, it is allegedly the busiest cycle path in the entire world! Built over a lake, Dronning Louise's Bro forms the meeting point of Nørrebro with the city's centre, and is where the vibe really starts to kick up a gear. People congregate at the lake year-round for picnics, catch-ups and casual drinks, confirming its identity as the hangout of choice for Copenhagen's coolest kids.
Pictured: Dronning Louise's Bro.
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17) Smell the roses at Rosenborg Slot. The grounds of Rosenborg Castle make up one of the nicest green spaces in the city, especially beautiful in the spring and summer months. The King's Garden - always open to the public - is lined with blossom trees, elaborate flowerbeds and manicured lawns. I did find the flaking green statues a little creepy, though... What do you think?
Pictured: The King's Garden at Rosenborg Castle.
18) Explore Vesterbro. Once the home of Copenhagen's red-light district, Vesterbro is now famed for its up-and-coming culinary scene and thriving nightlife. Take a walk through this neighbourhood and you'll find everything from galleries and industrial interiors to sex shops and speakeasys!
19) See the sunset from Christiansborg Tårnet . This was probably one of the best things I did on my Copenhagen trip, out of everything I did for free AND what I paid for! I think, because I had given up all hope of seeing a glorious sunset after such a damp and dreary afternoon, it was even more breath-taking when the sky really caught fire! At peak times, you may have to queue for the Tårnet, so do bear that in mind when planning your evening.
Pictured: Sunset over Copenhagen.
20) Borrow a GreenKayak. The only thing on this list that I haven't personally done, but I definitely would if I were to ever return to Copenhagen! This initiative is all about keeping the city's waterways clean: you slide into a GreenKayak, paddle it out into the harbour and make your payment - by collecting litter with a grabber and bucket before taking it back to be weighed. Such a fantastic idea that creates real, tangible positive change. GreenKayaks only run seasonally though, so do check their website for the latest info.
BONUS: HOW TO MAKE YOUR FUNDS GO EVEN FURTHER
I visited Copenhagen on a fairly simple budget, and it's easier than you think! To help you out, here's a few other ways I found to make my precious kroner go as far as possible, without ever compromising on the quality of my experiences or my quantity of fun...
MONEY-SAVING TIP #1: Choose street food over restaurants.
I was in Copenhagen for four nights, and on two of those nights I ate dinner at Copenhagen Street Food. The standard of food trucks and street kitchens these days is unreal; you can eat your way around the globe for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant meal and it's often of a pretty high calibre. So head over to Reffen, the home of Copenhagen Street Food, where you could be chowing down on tacos one minute and scoffing souvlaki wraps the next!
Pictured: a porchetta roll with rocket, romesco sauce, roast potatoes and aioli at Copenhagen Street Food.
MONEY-SAVING TIP #2: Make the most of an epic brunch.
Call me predictable, but I went to the same café for brunch two days in a row! The amount of food they served up for one person BLEW MY TINY MIND and kept me full right up until dinnertime. So what was the name of this café I hear you ask? Europa 1989, my friends. You are welcome.
Pictured: Skyr with berries and maple syrup, cheese, jam, rye cracker, a mini omelette with bacon, sausage and salad, smoked salmon, herb cream, fresh fruit and so much bread. Courtesy of Café Europa 1989.
MONEY-SAVING TOP #3: Avoid using public transport.
Copenhagen is an incredibly walkable city, even though it's more fashionable to cycle! If you do want to hire a bike like a true Copenhagener, prices start at 90DKK (about £11) for 3 hours with Copenhagen Bicycles.
MONEY-SAVING TOP #4: Purchase a 'Copenhagen Card'.
If you do need to use public transport, why not invest in a Copenhagen Card? Not only does it help with your travel fees, but it can also unlock certain discounts on a number of attractions and participating restaurants - as well as free entry to places of interest such as Tivoli Gardens and the Round Tower.