If you’ve read my last couple of blog posts, or you’ve been following along on Instagram, you’ll know that I recently took on a challenge to spend a weekend in Copenhagen for under £200.
Bearing in mind that Scandinavia is renowned for being THE most expensive part of Europe in which to travel, it was never going to be an easy challenge. But if you do your research you’ll find a great selection of cheap eats and street eats in Copenhagen, as well as a long list of sights and activities that won’t cost you a single
So if you fancy finding out how much you can see and do for free in the city, read on.
Discover Copenhagen’s free museums
Once upon a time Copenhagen’s trio of the National Museum of Denmark, the Museum of Danish Resistance, and the Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery) were all free to enter. Although this is no longer the case (in fact the Museum of Danish Resistance has actually been closed since it was destroyed by a serious fire in 2013) there are still a few of the city’s museums that don’t charge an admission fee on certain days of the week:
- Tuesdays – Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
- Wednesdays – Thorvaldsens Museum
- Fridays – Copenhagen City Museum (temporarily closed while it moves to a new location on Stormgade 18)
Your other alternative is to purchase a Copenhagen Card (529DKK for 48 hours at time of writing), which grants you free entry into a total of 73 attractions (including many of the city’s museums), as well as unlimited use of public transport around the city.
Browse some free art galleries
Housed in a former truck garage and offering a 2000-square-metre gallery space, Galleri Nicolai Wallner is officially the largest gallery for contemporary art in Copenhagen.
Watch the Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg
Although none will be quite as entertaining as Athens’ evzones and their eccentric pom-pom-toed uniforms, I love watching the changing of the guard ceremonies across the globe. Copenhagen’s royal guards march from their barracks in Gothersgade 100 by Rosenborg Castle through the streets of Copenhagen and end up at Amalienborg Slotsplads, where the changing of the guard happens at 12 noon every day.
Although on the day I turned up the ceremony took place an hour later, at 1pm. So if you’re visiting the city in the winter, prepare yourself for a potentially long wait in temperatures hovering just above zero celsius.
See Copenhagen’s Iconic Little Mermaid Statue
Unveiled on 23 August 1913, The Little Mermaid was a gift from Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen to the City of Copenhagen. The sculpture was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name, about a mermaid who gives up her life in the ocean by permanently exchanging her tail for a pair of legs, so that she can be with her prince on land.
The statue is a lot smaller than you imagine it to be and it’s fame rather than aesthetics that draw the crowds, but not making the journey to the Little Mermaid while in Copenhagen is akin to visiting Rome and not seeing the Colosseum.
Not far and slightly inland from the Little Mermaid statue you’ll find Kastellet, one of the best preserved star-shaped fortresses in Europe. It’s an evocative place originally commissioned by Frederik III back in 1662.
Its grassy ramparts and moat circle some beautiful 18th century barracks and a historic windmill.
Have a wander along Nyhavn
Nyhavn (which is actually the name of the canal, not the area) was built in the 17th century to link the harbour to the city, and is flanked with these pretty dutch-style town houses.
It’s featured on many of the postcards you’ll find of the city, and one of the most photogenic areas of Copenhagen.
Take a walking tour of Copenhagen
There are a number of free guided tours in the city. Guides are often students studying history or architecture at their local university, and are passionate, enthusiastic, energetic, and a lot of fun. The good ones really do their research and genuinely appear to love every minute of what they do. Although tipping is appreciated, it’s certainly not enforced or expected.
A list of Copenhagen’s free guided tours is below, along with their starting times and meeting points.
- Classic Copenhagen Walking Tour. Every day at 11am from Copenhagen City Hall
- Christianshavn Free Walking Tour. Every day at 4pm from Bishop Absalon’s Equestrian Statue on Højbro Plads square. Ends in Freetown Christiania.
- Sandeman’s Tour of Copenhagen. Every day at 11am and 2pm from Dragon Fountain, Town Hall Square.
Alternatively you can do as I did and come up with a list of all the places you’d like visit, type them into Google Maps in turn and then arrange them into an easy-to-follow route map. Once you start the navigation it will run without the need for wifi, so you have your very own ready-made walking tour.
Have a peek inside a church or two
I can’t speak for all of Copenhagen’s churches but the Church of the Holy Spirit (located on Købmagergade pedestrian street) is completely free to enter. It’s one of city’s oldest churches and once served as a monastery with its own hospital.
Do a spot of window shopping
Who says window shopping can’t be fun when you have shop windows that look like this?
Vesterbro (the neighbourhood I was staying in) is a wonderful mix of vintage emporiums, flower shops and design studios. There are even cute little shops that also serve coffee.
Climb a tower for some amazing city views
There are a number of towers you can climb in Copenhagen but Christiansborg Slot is the only one that’s free. They only admit a certain number of people into the tower at any one time so you may have to queue, but with views like this it’s a small price to pay.
Unfortunately on the day that I’d planned to climb the tower the fog was so thick that there wouldn’t have been any chance of a view from up there, let alone a good one. So I’ve borrowed this photo from Flickr via their creative commons license.
Good to know: The tower is closed on Mondays.
Explore another side of Copenhagen at Freetown Christiania
Freetown Christiania was founded in 1971, when an abandoned military area in the Christianshavn district of the city was infiltrated by a community of freedom-seeking hippies. Still operating to a large degree under its own laws, independent from the Danish government, Freetown Christiania is Copenhagen’s edgy, alternative hub.
There seems to be mixed information online about whether or not photography is actually prohibited in Christiania, or whether it’s solely around marijuana-scented Pusher Street (where you’ll see painted slogans on the walls that indicate rather strongly that no photography is allowed), but I’d be a little wary wandering around with an expensive camera on show. I managed to snap a few shots on my mobile, but I didn’t feel entirely comfortable doing so.
Don’t let this deter you though; Freetown Christiania is a fascinating part of the city where you’ll find an abundance of art and music events, organic and vegetarian cafes, and vibrant, colourful street art.
Have a sensory adventure at Copenhagen Street Food, Papirøen
Ok, so the main reason people come here is to eat, but I’d still advise coming here if you’re not hungry, just for the experience.
This former newspaper storage facility is a hanger-style food market packed with artisan food trucks and hipster bars, and is seriously cool!
There’s a wide selection of international street food available, and the menus will vary from day-to-day depending on what kind of fresh produce the stall holders can source from the market that morning. Although I did end up eating a delicious smørrebrød (open sandwich), I had as much fun simply wandering around and photographing all the food.
There’s music here too and the venue hosts live music events in the evenings.
Copenhagen Street Food has received several awards already, namely Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence 2016, and Danish Meetings and Events Award 2016 for “Best Venue” and “Best Integrated Support”.
Feed your cactus obsession at the Botanical Garden
Botanisk Have is Copenhagen’s botanical garden, located in the Nørreport neighbourhood and lays claim to the largest collection of living plants in Denmark.
It’s a great place to seek respite from the freezing outside temperatures in winter, and to bask in the sunshine in its glorious gardens, in summer.
Good to know: Whilst the botanical gardens are open every day all year round, the greenhouses and cacti and succulents house have limited opening hours. This link should give you up-to-date information about when to visit.
Photo by Lars Pirtzel via Flickr
The great thing about Copenhagen is that it’s such a walkable city that it’s completely possible to see and do all of these things in a weekend, without hiring a bicycle or catching a single metro.
Have you visited Copenhagen? Are there any other free sights and activities you would add to my list?
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A big shout out to Caroline at Love Live Travel for helping me to ensure that the information provided to you in this post about Copenhagen’s museums is correct and up-to-date 🙂