Tell someone you’re off to the land of Borgen and The Killing and they’re bound to ask, “Is Copenhagen expensive?”. Technically the answer is ‘yes’, but only in the same way that Paris or London can be pricey for the uninitiated. You really can do Copenhagen on a budget without skimping on culture, and I’ll show you how.
Free Things to Do in Copenhagen
Catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony every day at noon, at Amalienborg Palace. Yes, it’s a tourist cliché, but it’s fun too. Also, make time to wander around Nyhavn, which you’ll recognise from postcards and any films set here. For something a little offbeat, read my review of the free tour at the Danish Parliament, the Folketinget, or consider visiting the Danish Music Museum (Rosenørns Allé 22).
Assistens Kirkegård (at Kapelvej 2) is a must-see, unless it’s raining or snowing. This famous cemetery feels more like a park than a final resting place, with locals gathering for picnics and walks surrounded by weather-worn gravestones. Alternatively, go green without the graves at the Botanical Gardens (Øster Farimagsgade 128), or retreat from the hubbub at the Royal Library Garden (Søren Kierkegaards Pl. 1).
The Little Mermaid statue is free, but it’s also pretty underwhelming and a bit of a gimmick. Don’t go out of your way to see it. Instead, check out artworks in Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket (Dantes Plads 7), offering free admission on Sundays, and explore the excellent National Museum of Denmark (Prinsens Palae, Ny Vestergade 10), which is always free. Fans of Time Team will appreciate the well-preserved bog bodies on display.
Cheap Sightseeing in Copenhagen
Despite the language barrier, I really enjoyed the Danish Police Museum (Fælledvej 20, Nørrebro district). Artefacts include a police conduct book (skudsmålsbog), a police alarm used during strikes in the 1920s, letters sent by prisoners, and original tools for attempted prison escapes. A word of warning: keep young children away from the top floor, where displays are a bit racy.
There’s also an interesting section about life under the Nazis, when the black-clad Hilfspolizei ‘Hipo’ corps – a self-appointed police force of Danish Nazi sympathisers – ran riot in the city towards the end of the war. Danish crime writer Steen Langstrup has a useful blog post about the horrors of the Hipo, found here. At just 40DKK (£4) per person, this museum is a bargain attraction without the big queues.
Other affordable sights include the Medical Museum (Bredgade 62), 50DKK (£5) for adults, and Vor Frelser’s Kirke, or the Church of Our Saviour (Sankt Annæ Gade 29). Be aware that the Statens Museum for Kunst, or National Gallery of Denmark, used to be free, but it now charges 110DKK (£10.10) for anyone over 18 to visit, as its state funding is due to be cut by 8%.
Copenhagen Food on a Budget
Obviously anything around Nyhavn will have a higher price tag, and any foodies and hipsters amongst you will want to eat at the next big NOMA-type restaurant, but look beyond the hype to save money.
I recommend Hviids Vinstue (Kongens Nytorv 19), a pub with history: Hans Christian Andersen used to drink here. It’s dark and old-fashioned, just the way a pub should be, with wood panelling and an antique till, not to mention a great beer selection and decent lunch deals. Meanwhile, the Laundromat Cafe (Elmegade 15) is an unpretentious choice and you can do your laundry as you eat – yay for multi-tasking.
Take the usual cheapskate precautions to maximise your money: buy one bottle of tap water and then refill it wherever possible; pack some cereal bars and light snacks (e.g. nuts, sweets) in your suitcase and top up your supplies at local corner shops; look out for big breakfast or brunch deals to keep you full for longer; try cafes near university buildings for student-led prices. Besides these points, bring tea bags or coffee sachets if you prefer your drinks decaffeinated, as I couldn’t find a cup of decaf coffee for love nor money.
Should You Buy the Copenhagen Card?
I tried the 48 hour card, 529DKK (£52.90), but couldn’t get enough value from the attractions because of their short opening hours. With hindsight, I recommend buying the 24 hour card, at 379DKK (£37.90) for adults, and using your time more effectively with high value sights, such as the Danish Design Museum and Amalienborg Palace,, where entry is normally 100DKK (£10) and 95DKK (£9.50), respectively. Also take the free boat tour to see even more of the city.
Some included sights aren’t expensive enough for visitors to get their money’s worth; for example the Rundetaarn, or Round Tower, is only 25DKK per person (£2.50) and has impressive city views from the top. Equally, seeing the ruins under Christiansborg costs 50DKK (£5) each, so save it for a day without the card.
The Copenhagen Card did encourage me to visit Rosenborg Slot, though. This castle looks a bit quirky from the outside but it’s well worth stepping inside for fairytale interiors, huge silver lion sculptures and the jazziest toilet in Denmark. Entry is normally 105DKK (£10.50).
Where to Stay on a Budget
Wake Up Copenhagen Borgergade (Borgergade 9) is a two star hotel which, on the basis of star ratings alone, sounds daunting. In fact, it’s got the basics covered, plus it’s very stylish, and rooms start at 400DKK (£40). Corners have been cut, quite literally, in design and amenities: no bedside table, no wardrobe or kettle, and a not-all-that-effective frosted glass screen to divide the bathroom from the bedroom. The embarrassment makes you take short showers, which is a plus for the environment. Flimsy wall divider and copious blushing aside, it’s easy to adjust to.
Breakfast is healthy – the usual granola, yoghurt, cereal, fruit, bread, hot food – with enough variety to keep most people happy and plenty of opportunities to smuggle out a snack for lunch. The shoddy hot drinks available to buy at reception, including very weak and overpriced tea, are a big minus. Pop to a cafe instead, or pack a travel kettle.
One super useful aspect is the luggage store downstairs with huge secure lockers available for a small fee. Another plus point is the easy check-out system: just drop your key card into a plastic bowl suspended from the ceiling. No queuing at reception, no awkward small-talk about your stay. Brilliant.
Have you been to Copenhagen without blowing the budget? Tweet me your tips – I’m @misspallen on Twitter.