Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. But it’s also one of the most popular cities in Europe. That’s why I’m here to share my budget travel guide to Copenhagen. Here are the best free things to do in Copenhagen, plus cheap places to eat and where to stay in Copenhagen on a budget.
During my solo weekend in Copenhagen in 2019, I didn’t do lots of dining out and I didn’t visit any paid attractions. But don’t worry, I still had an enjoyable time. As I was walking around, the idea behind this blog post began to form in my head. I realised there are plenty of budget-friendly alternatives to the most popular things to do in Copenhagen. So here it is – my alternative Copenhagen travel guide, filled with all the free things to do in Copenhagen.
How to get to Copenhagen
I took a FlixBus from Malmö and arrived in Copenhagen in less than an hour. When I left Copenhagen, I took a FlixBus to Hamburg. However, you can also fly to Copenhagen. I had a layover in Copenhagen when I flew from Helsinki to London and I loved seeing Malmö again from the air. Can I also say that Copenhagen Airport has an H&M, a hairdresser and very expensive food, so pack snacks. I think I’ll be telling the story of the $19 sandwich and drink for years to come…
How to get around Copenhagen
As per usual, I walked my way around Copenhagen. But there is public transport available (more info here). Other popular ways to get around Copenhagen including hiring either a bike or a scooter.
Where to stay in Copenhagen on a budget
Can I just say, cheap hostels in Copenhagen don’t really exist. I ended up staying at Urban House Copenhagen By Meininger (what a mouthful) because it had availability and very good reviews. However, I think it may have been the most expensive hostel I stayed at in four months of travel. In saying that though it’s a fantastic hostel and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again if I ever return to Copenhagen.
The six-bed female dorm was huge, the ensuite was very modern, and the Meininger chain seriously has the comfiest beds (please see my Heidelberg post for more evidence). There’s also a kitchen and a couple of common areas for lounging. It’s located walking distance from the city centre and just down the road from Tivoli as well.
Other hostels in Copenhagen to check out include Steel House Copenhagen (good reviews) and Generator Copenhagen. I’ve stayed at a few Generator hostels across Europe now and they are always a solid choice.
Here are my top hostelling tips for fellow solo travellers
16 of the best free things to do in Copenhagen
1. Visit Nyhavn
Nyhavn is the picturesque and colourful harbour in Copenhagen that you’ve probably seen in a lot of photos. It’s one of Copenhagen’s biggest attractions, which means it gets very busy during the day. I recommend heading there first thing in the morning when there are no crowds.
2. Take a stroll through the Botanical Garden
Located in the centre of Copenhagen, a wander through the Botanical Garden is another free thing to do in Copenhagen. Established in 1600, the Botanic Garden has 27 glasshouses and 13,000 plant species spread over 10 hectares. Don’t miss the Palm House from 1874 and the relatively new Butterfly Garden.
3. Join a free walking tour
Okay, this isn’t technically free (tips are appreciated), but I highly recommend joining a SANDEMANs New Europe Tour. It has to be one of the best free things to do in Copenhagen. Our tour went for three hours, and our guide was so informative and friendly. He told us all about the city’s history and what it’s like living there today. As you will see below, he passed on so many helpful tips.
4. Go to the beach
If you’re looking for free things to do in Copenhagen in summer, check out Amager Strandpark. Located a 10-minute drive from Copenhagen (and right next to the airport), Amager Strandpark is a two-kilometre stretch of sandy man-made beach beside a lagoon. The seasonal beach has watersport rentals, a kiosk and cafes. I’ve heard it even hosts rock concerts in summer. SO fun!
5. See the view from the Tower at Christiansborg Palace
There are several viewpoints you can check out across Copenhagen. I was looking at heading up either the Round Tower or the Tower at the Church of our Saviour in Christianshavn. However, these are both paid Copenhagen attractions. On the free walking tour, our guide mentioned that it’s free to visit the Tower at Christiansborg Palace. It’s, in fact, the highest viewpoint in Copenhagen.
I did have to wait about 20 minutes on a sunny Saturday afternoon in September, but this works in your favour as it means you only have to share the viewing platform with a few other people. There’s also an elevator – bonus! The view from the Tower at Christiansborg Palace is fantastic and you can even see Sweden in the distance, which just seems crazy to me.
6. Check out a different suburb
One of the girls in my dorm room rode a Lime scooter to Nørrebro, which is known as Copenhagen’s most culturally diverse neighbourhood. She loved it and it’s located just over a bridge from the city centre. If you have the time, definitely visit Nørrebro. Check out this post for the best restaurants in Nørrebro and this post for where to go shopping.
7. See Tivoli from a different angle (and for free, of course)
Tivoli is one of Copenhagen’s most popular attractions. However, I’m not much of an amusement park person 🙈. Roller coasters just don’t excite me, so I was a bit hesitant to pay the entrance fee to just walk around the complex. Then the walking tour guide (told you he was informative!) said we could see inside Tivoli for free if we visited the Tivoli Food Hall. Intrigued, I headed there as the sun was setting and you can totally take photos of Tivoli’s bright lights from the terrace. I mean, you could also enjoy a bite to eat as well, as the Food Hall had stalls selling everything from burgers to burritos.
8. Go for a swim at Havnebadet Islands Brygge
Another spot to go for a swim in the middle of Copenhagen is Havnebadet Islands Brygge (or Islands Brygge Harbour Bath). It’s a harbourside swimming spot with three lap pools, two children pools and even three diving towers. On summer days you can usually find plenty of people soaking up the sun on the lawn area.
9. Window shop in Copenhagen’s city centre
Even if you just look at the window displays, I highly recommend going for a walk through Copenhagen’s city centre. Strøget is the main pedestrian shopping street. Let me tell you, it is long and lined with so many shops, cafes and restaurants. But as you walk along, duck down its side streets to see colourful and historic buildings.
10. Visit Freetown Christiania
One of the most interesting places to see in Copenhagen is Freetown Christiania. It’s a commune that’s home to approximately 1000 people. Freetown Christiania is known for its eccentric locals, colourful buildings and no photo policy. It was also once known for its drug trade, but most operations have stopped in recent years. I’m going to quote the walking tour guide again (🤷♀️), but he didn’t recommend visiting it alone, so I took his advice and didn’t visit.
11. Go for a walk along the Copenhagen canals
I was contemplating doing a canal cruise, as it seemed like one of the most popular things to do in Copenhagen. However, I went for a walk along the canals in Christianshavn instead and it was so pretty! Definite Amsterdam vibes. Walking also leads to better photos (in my opinion, anyway).
12. See the Little Mermaid statue
Seeing the Little Mermaid statue is another one of the most popular free things to do in Copenhagen. However, too many people told me it was a letdown so I didn’t visit. If it was closer to the city centre I might have, but I’d already done enough walking! If you didn’t know, the Little Mermaid is a bronze statue by Edvard Eriksen that was first created in 1913. Sitting on a rock just off an oceanfront path, at only 1.25 metres tall she puts the little in Little Mermaid. But if you want to see all of Copenhagen’s top attractions, you better visit her.
13. Say hi to Princess Mary at Amalienborg Palace
If you don’t know who Princess Mary is, she’s an Australian who married Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. They met at a bar in Sydney during the Olympics in 2000. Anyway, Amalienborg Palace is located near Nyhavn in the middle of Copenhagen and is the royal family’s winter residence. Built in the 18th century, four palaces surround Amalienborg Palace Square, which is a pedestrian-filled open space. There’s also the Changing of the Guard, which happens daily at midday. The Royal Guard march from their barracks by Rosenborg Castle through the streets of Copenhagen to Amalienborg Palace.
14. Relax in Frederiksberg Gardens
Another free place to see in Copenhagen is Frederiksberg Gardens. Yes, this city loves its greenery. Established in the 18th century, it’s an English-style romantic landscaped garden. This means there’s plenty of open green space, a lake and canals, walking paths and large trees. It’s a popular spot for locals to hang out in summer.
15. Visit Copenhagen’s free museums
There are plenty of museums in Copenhagen with admission fees. However, here is a couple that offers free admission on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is an art museum built around Carl Jacobsen’s personal collection – the son of Carlsberg Breweries’ founder, hence the name. It houses over 10,000 works of art and archaeological objects, which span a casual 6000 years. Then there’s Thorvaldsen’s Museum, which houses sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s entire art and collected works catalogue.
16. Wander through The King’s Garden
I walked from Nyhavn to King’s Garden and it was filled with locals on this particular Sunday afternoon. In fact, 2.5 million people visit the garden annually. The King’s Garden was established in the Renaissance-style back in the early 1600s. I visited as the leaves were changing, but I hear it blooms in the summer months. In The King’s Garden, you will also find Rosenborg Castle. Although you have to pay to enter, I did go for a little walk around the perimeter.
Cheap places to eat in Copenhagen
Here are a few suggestions for cheap places to eat in Copenhagen. However, I picked up food from both the supermarket and 7/11 on a couple of occasions. Scandinavian 7/11s have the best hot snacks and sandwiches, seriously.
1. Hot dog carts
There are hot dog carts located across Copenhagen, where you can pick up an inexpensive lunch or dinner. I got a hot dog from a stand at Nyhavn, where I sat and people watched by the water. It was so much better than spending a bazillion dollars on dinner at one of the many restaurants there!
2. Gasoline Grill
Gasoline Grill burgers are said to be some of the best in the world. The name originates from the fact the chain began operation out of a former service station building in Copenhagen. However, Gasoline Grill has garnered such a good reputation that they now have six locations across Copenhagen. Fortunately, the burgers are both epic and affordable (for Copenhagen, anyway).
3. The Bridge Street Kitchen
Over the bridge from Nyhavn, you will find The Bridge Street Kitchen. Unfortunately, it does close in winter. But if you happen to visit when it’s open (like I did), there are quite a few reasonably-priced food stalls. Another place with more options is Reffen.
Torvehallerne is a large urban marketplace in Copenhagen. The popular market has more than 80 stalls selling local produce, snacks, beverages, Italian delicacies and more. Check out this guide for the best of Torvehallerne.
5. Meyers Bageri
You can’t go to Scandinavia and not try a cinnamon bun. On my last morning in Copenhagen, I picked a deliciously warm one up at Meyers Bageri (and a brownie for the bus trip later, of course). I then sat and enjoyed it in a crowd-free Nyhavn, which was very pleasant indeed.
Gao is Copenhagen’s first dumpling bar. The menu at Gao is small and only focuses on dumplings, but the prices are reasonable.
There we have it – a wrap on all the free things to do in Copenhagen.
From the best Copenhagen attractions to cheap places to eat, I guarantee that you can have a great time in Copenhagen without breaking your budget. For guides to more European cities, head on over to my archive. I have posts on nearby cities Stockholm and Gothenburg, as well as tips on how to travel alone in Europe and what to pack!
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