Colourful waterside townhouses, boats on the canals, Michelin-starred restaurants and miniature mermaids – Copenhagen is famous for a lot of things, but being a budget destination is not one of them. Scandinavia has some of the world’s highest prices, but Denmark’s are actually not quite as scary as those you find in Norway or Sweden. This pretty, laid-back city is worth the splurge – and it is possible to get a taste of Copenhagen’s high quality of life and designer style without spending big. Here are my top tips for making the most of your trip to Copenhagen while keeping to a budget (NB. 100 DKK = approx £10/€14/US$15).
More budget city guides: London, Edinburgh, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, Madrid, New York, Las Vegas
Things to see and do
For a great introduction to Copenhagen, there are a couple of companies that run free walking tours of the city, where you just tip your guide. Sandeman’s New Copenhagen Tours have a 2.5-hour tour through 6000 years of Copenhagen’s history starting from the Town Hall at 11am every day. Copenhagen Free Walking Tours have a few different tours, with a 3-hour Grand Tour at 11am and 3pm departing from the Town Hall and 90-minute tours of Christianshavn (4pm) and Classical Copenhagen (12pm, Saturdays and Sundays only), both leaving from Bishop Absalon’s Equestrian Statue on Højbro Plads Square.
If you’re in the city in summer, there are harbour baths at Islands Brygge and Sluseholmen Coral Baths with pontoons for open-air sunbathing and swimming in the clear harbour water. There’s also a free city beach at Amager Strandpark, with two kilometres of sandy lagoons. There are plenty of free parks and gardens too, like the Frederiksberg Gardens, the King’s Gardens at the Rosenberg Castle and the Botanical Gardens, which have 10 hectares of gardens along with historic 1870s glasshouses.
As an alternative to the Tivoli Gardens (99 DKK entry plus rides), head to Bakkan, the world’s oldest amusement park. A 10 minute-drive north of Copenhagen, it has three rollercoasters plus ferris wheels, drop towers and other rides. There’s no entrance fee and you can bring your own food and drinks in – a multi-ride ticket costs 249 DKK or 179 DKK for kids’ rides, with a 50% discount on Wednesdays if you pay in cash.
For culture on a budget, you can get a standing ticket at the Royal Danish Opera House for 75–125 DKK (you can also sometimes bag a seat of there’s one free after the first act). Other free music events include concerts by students from the Royal Danish Academy of Music on Wednesdays at 5pm in churches and concert halls, and there are various free performances during the city’s jazz and opera festivals.
Museums and galleries
Some of Copenhagen’s major museums are free to enter – like the National Museum, the National Gallery, the Brede Works (museum of industrialisation), the Post and Telegraph Museum, the Danish Music Museum and the Open Air Museum. Though some may charge extra for special exhibitions.
Other museums have free entry on certain days of the week, like the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek gallery on Sundays, the Museum of Copenhagen on Fridays and the Hirschsprung Collection, Royal Danish Naval Museum, Royal Arsenal Museum and Thorvaldsen Museum on Wednesdays.
If you’re planning on visiting a lot of museums and attractions, it might be worth investing in a Copenhagen Card. It covers 74 different places, including the Tivoli Gardens, Rundetårn, Rosenberg Castle, Zoo, Blue Planet aquarium, Carlsberg brewery and Christiansborg Palace, as well as a canal tour. You also get free transport by train, bus, habour bus and Metro, including to and from the airport. There are a few different versions – €48 for 24 hours, €67 for 48 hours, €79 for 72 hours or €107 for 120-hours – and you can bring along two children under 10 for free. You can buy the cards online, at the airport or visitor’s centre.
Top city views
On a clear day, you can see all the way to Sweden from Copenhagen’s highest viewpoints. The tallest of them all is the Tårnet tower at the Christiansborg Palace – it has a whole 40 cm of extra height over the tower at City Hall, which is the second tallest. The Tårnet is free to visit and is open every day except for Mondays. Or if the steps sound a bit hard on the legs, head to the top of the Rundetårn or Round Tower instead. It’s got a spiral ramp instead of stairs, designed for horses to ride up, and twists its way up 42 metres to the top. Entry costs 25 DKK, or it’s free if you have a Copenhagen Card.
For something a bit different, visit the Green Roofs at Rigsarkivet. Over 2700 square metres of cycle and skateboard space has been built above the city on the top of the National Archives. Or for a meal with a view, head to Café Hovedtelegrafen on the rooftop of the Post and Telegraph Museum. The museum is free to enter and the café serves lots of homemade traditional Danish dishes and a good brunch buffet.
Eating and drinking
If you’re self-catering, look out for Netto, Fakta or Aldi supermarkets for discount groceries. For a takeaway breakfast head to a bakery for Wienerbrød (aka Danish pastries). There are lots of different varieties including Spandauer (circular flaky pastry with custard or jam in the middle) or Ondagssnegle (cinnamon ‘snails’). For a quick snack there are plenty of stalls selling hotdogs topped with crunchy onions, or for something a bit more Danish grab a Smørrebrød, an open sandwich that’s piled high with fillings. Steer clear of touristy Nyhavn and head to studenty areas like Nørrebro or Vesterbro for lower prices.
On Papirøen (Paper Island), Copenhagen Street Food has lots of international street food stalls, with everything from Brazilian BBQ to English pancakes, as well as bars and coffee stalls. Prices vary from 50–75 DKK and each stall always has at least one dish for 50 DKK. Stalls are open from 11am to 10pm (8pm on Sundays, with reduced hours during winter). There’s also the weekly Kødbyens Mad & Marked food market from 10am–6pm on Saturdays and Sundays in the city’s Meatpacking District.
If you want a drink by the canals in Nyhavn, the bars can be expensive but you can buy a takeaway from a supermarket and sit along the water’s edge with the same views, or find a spot in one of the parks. Or check out this list of Copenhagen bars which have two-for-one happy hours on cocktails.
The centre of the city is fairly compact so it’s easy to walk around. You can get a free city map at the Visitor Centre on Vesterbrogade 4, near Copenhagen Central Station and the main entrance to the Tivoli Gardens.
One of the best ways to see the city is from the water. You get a free boat trip with a Copenhagen Card, but otherwise the cheapest canal trip is on the Movia Harbour Bus. These public barges run between the Royal Library at one end of the harbour to the Little Mermaid at the other, passing Christianshavn, Nyhavn and the Royal Opera House. A single tickets costs 24 DKK for adults or 12 DKK for children, or a 24-hour ticket costs 80 DKK – you can get on and off as many times as you like and it also includes bus travel.
Or you can make like a local and get on your bike. Copenhagen has a city bike scheme called Bycyklen, where you can hire a bike for 25 DKK an hour. You just pick them up from one of the docking stations and drop them off at another. Each bike has a touchscreen tablet with a built in GPS that marks places of interest. You can create an account in advance on their website or by using the tablet.
So those are my tips for seeing Copenhagen on a budget – do you know of any more Copenhagen bargains or have any money-saving tips?