Copenhagen is in the top 10 of the most expensive cities in the world. However, that doesn’t mean you should avoid all the cities on the list, especially with a backpacker’s budget. You just have to learn to travel smart and look for alternative ways to explore these places. So many secrets to uncover!
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The first time I visited Copenhagen, I fell into the tourist traps and left with the feeling of “Been there, done that “… let’s move on! I saw The Little Mermaid, paid $4 for my bottle at 7-Eleven, visited the Queen’s residence. I don’t need to go back there anymore.
However, three months later, I found myself back in Copenhagen to engage in a whole host of community initiatives and cooperative projects (the ones that precisely represent the image we have of avant-garde Scandinavian countries.) Let’s say that we have a lot to learn about this city, which is trying to become one of the first carbon-neutral capitals in the world. It’s no wonder Copenhagen won the European Green Capital Award in 2014.
Here are 50 alternative (and budget-friendly) ways to discover Copenhagen without being too touristy:
1. Talk to the locals
Start by finding a local to explain to you the concept of “hygge” and why it makes Denmark a country with the happiest inhabitants in the world.
2. Join a free guided tour
Are you addicted to history and want to know everything about Copenhagen? Join the free guided tour of Sandemann’s Europe Tours at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. You’ll have the word “tourist” stamped on your forehead when you move about as a group of 20 in the city, but it gives you a good overview as a first activity.
3. Get some exercise
Climb up the tower of Christiansborg Palace. It’s accessible for free and is the tallest tower in Copenhagen, 106 meters high, for a panoramic view of the city.
4. Get out of the Eurozone
Visit Christiania and “get out of the Eurozone.” A district founded by hippies in the 1970s when young people took possession of a former military base, it is now an organized community with its own political system and rules.
5. Get lost in the Nørrebro District
With its cafes, vintage boutiques and chill vibe, there’s no other place that I love so much in Copenhagen. It reminds me of Mile-End, in Montreal.
6. Download the Like a local app
You’ll be even more up-to-date with what’s happening.
7. Try the sidewalk trampolines!
Trampolines in the street? Yes! Go to the Havnegade promenade and discover this newly redeveloped oasis that the Danes take by storm when the weather is nice.
8. Relive your childhood joy at the Lego store
You’ll feel like a kid again!
Where to make your taste buds salivate:
9. Try street food
- Forget about restaurants and give your wallet a break with street food on Paper Island (Papirøen), a former warehouse turned into a huge food court with a choice of cuisine from all over the world.
10. Have a picnic on the water’s edge
Buy your food from one of Papirøen’s food trucks.
11. Satisfy your inner foodie
For foodies, go to Torvehallerne next to Nørreport station. It’s a bit of a fancy market, so you have to set your budget a bit higher. Otherwise, spoil yourself with the free samples!
12. Eat well at 7-Eleven
It’s totally possible to eat well at Denmark’s 7-Elevens, which offer a selection of paleo and healthy food.
13. Head to the Kødbyen meatpacking district
If you’re feeling like a jet setter (or just want to pretend you are and people-watch), eat here. Good food, good drinks, great people guaranteed!
14. Try a Noma spin-off restaurant
Forget Noma, known as the best restaurant in the world according to the Michelin guide. Instead, dine at a restaurant featuring the cuisine from former Noma chefs: Sanchez’s Bror, Manfreds, Baest and Hija are great options for a fraction of the price!
15. Pick fruits and vegetables for free
The Byhøst is a local initiative, an organic farm open to everyone, where you can pick fruits and vegetables for free. Locals are encouraged to update the city map with new public places to pick wild fruits and vegetables.
If you want to let loose:
16. Explore street art at the Candy Factory
Bolsjefabrikken used to be an abandoned warehouse, now managed by a team of volunteer “activists” who want to bring the place back to life by encouraging emerging artists and young musicians to play there. Make new Danish friends on Monday evenings with board games (Ludomanic Monday) or on Saturdays with underground concerts.
17. Visit the Carlsberg Brewery
If you are a beer lover, budget around DKK 95 for the entrance ticket to the Carlsberg Brewery. Otherwise, go to grocery stores like Netto and Lidl to buy their beer since it’s legal to drink in public places in Denmark!
18. Attend a concert
Go out to BumZen in Nørrebro, a performance hall run by a collective of young people on the fringes of society for underground shows that are more extreme left.
19. Take a coffee break
Surround yourself with young travellers and free spirits at Café Mellemrummet, a place entirely run by volunteers in a community spirit and where the profits are donated to humanitarian aid organizations.
20. Book a low-budget night out
The beer is cheap at Café Retro, a non-profit organization that features exhibitions and live concerts.
21. Check out the “illegal business” on Pusher Street
It’s the Copenhagen myth, but the reality is that you can buy pot and hash “legally” in Christiania! (Although as of this writing, many of the stalls have been removed and sales have dropped.) Please note, it is strictly forbidden to take photos at this location. Afterwards, you can chill with the Nemoland regulars at the beer garden located next door.
22. Visit a microbrewery in Christiania
Taste a microbrew from the Christiania Bryghus while strolling through this atypical community.
Where to rest between activities:
23. Stay at a youth hostel
When it comes to accommodation options, you quickly learn that unless you’re CouchSurfing, the best way to save money is to stay in a youth hostel. The choice is simple: make yourself at home at Downtown Hostel Copenhagen, which is part of the Top 10 party hostels in Europe and Europe’s Famous Hostel network. With activities every night, a club in the basement and a bar that’s always full, you’re guaranteed to have fun! The locals know that the Downtown Hostel bar has the cheapest beer in town.
Where to spend the money you don’t have:
24. Visit the Nørrebrogade flea market
The market is open every Saturday. It’s the place to find
hipster objects antiques, vintage jewelry or other curious finds.
25. Shop at the Prag store
You can find all kinds of things here, and you save 10% if you go on Sunday! Thrifting can be cool here.
Some ideas if you love art and design:
26. Visit the Designmuseum Danmark
The Designmuseum Danmark is free for students under 26 every day and all visitors on Sundays. The garden cafe is a secret little place to soak up warm rays of sunshine.
27. Check out the David Collection
The David Collection museum features a super interesting exhibition on Islamic art. Bonus: Entry is free, and you get a free audio guide.
28. Tour the Thorvaldsen Sculpture Museum
The Thorvaldsen Sculpture Museum is free on Wednesdays. If you go before 4 p.m., you’ll have the chance to do the tour with a blackjack audio guide.
29. Go to the Statends Museum for Kunst
The Statends Museum for Kunst offers a rotation of different exhibitions, but the permanent exhibition is free. It is the main museum in Copenhagen.
30. Explore the Glyptoteket
Constructed in 1897 by the founder of Carlsberg, the Glyptoteket is a museum where you can find all kinds of marble statues on display. People mainly go there for the building and the garden inside.
31. Get lost in Warehouse9
For wild and unconventional exhibitions, Warehouse9 is the place to visit. The museum is a mix of contemporary art, music and poetry full of limit-pushing provocativeness.
32. Stroll around the V1
Found in the Meatpacking District, contemporary Art Gallery V1 is a beautiful mixed media museum that features visual, audiovisual, and sculpture art. Afterwards, you are in the ideal corner for a drink!
33. Enjoy the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, an open-plan gallery located 40 km from Copenhagen, resides on the coast of Denmark. Rain or shine, it’s worth visiting the various exhibitions and lounging in the pretty gardens.
If you need green space to stretch your legs:
34. Hop on a bicycle
Be like the locals and explore the city by bike. Ask your hostel for the best deal nearby.
35. Mingle with deer
Dyrehaven is a considerably-sized park located about 10 km from Copenhagen, with over 2000 deer roaming free.
36. Bask on the beach
If you enter Dyrehaven through the Klompeberg entrance, you can enjoy the beach. Everyone is welcome during the summer season.
37. Go to the oldest amusement park in the world
Skip Tivoli Park, next to the central station and go to the Bakken, the oldest amusement park in the world. It’s over 400 years old, so it’s nothing like Monster at La Ronde. Admission is free. You can either walk around and look at the old rides or dig out some Krones from your back pocket if you’re in the mood for an adrenaline rush.
38. Take a walk in a botanical garden
The botanical garden near Nørreport station is home to multiple greenhouses containing no less than 13,000 plant species.
39. See the gardens of Rosenborg Castle
Rosenborg Castle (Kongens Have) is another little green paradise. The park, gardens and lakes surrounding the castle are free to visit, but you need to allow 60 DKK (student rate) or 90 DKK to go inside the castle
40. Spend time in a countryside museum
Located a little outside the city, the Frilandsmuseet is a free open-plan museum in the heart of the Danish countryside.
41. Go on a nature walk
Walk along the waterfront in Christiania or fully immerse yourself in the alternative culture by going for a walk in the woods.
42. Chill in a cemetery
Visiting a cemetery has never been so exciting! Assistens Kirkegård is a vast park where you can find the tomb of Hans Christian Andersen (known for having written The Little Mermaid), but it is also the perfect place to chill with friends.
43. Climb a wall in Bananna Park
Once a contaminated toxic waste site, Bananna Park is now a green space where you can go urban rock climbing.
44. Take a boat trip through the canals
You can’t go to Copenhagen and not tour the canals. Be sure to choose Netto-Bådene as your tour operator because they offer an economy tour for a fraction of the price of other companies (40 DKK for a 1-hour trek).
45. Charter your own boat
Be the captain of your own adventure with Goboats, a company that offers small solar-powered boats made from recycled materials. Pick up a couple of people from the hostel and pack yourself a picnic, beer and/or wine and explore the canals of Copenhagen. If you want to give back to the community, you can fish for litter and receive a little reward for your good deed.
46. Get a metro pass
If you buy a one-day metro/bus pass, you can also use it for the Movia buses. These are blue and yellow water taxis that allow you to admire the port and the buildings along the canal, such as the Black Diamond Library, Royal Pavilions and Christiania.
47. Sunbathe by the water
Join the locals on hot summer days and sunbathe on the docks and pontoons of Islands Brygge. You can even swim in the public baths to cool off. Courageous travellers can visit the baths in winter for a Nordic dip!
To put music in your life:
48. Go to the opera
First, ask a local to explain the story behind the controversy surrounding the opera house design. The architect and the financiers had a bit of a quarrel during the building phase, which ultimately ended with an added design element that gave a big nod to Christiania. The trick for opera is to buy a “standing” ticket. It costs around a quarter of the price of a “seated” ticket. You then wait until after the first act to upgrade your seat for free.
49. Attend a free summer concert
Find a free summer concert every Wednesday in churches and other non-traditional places.
50. Lew new dance moves
Are you a dance addict and reincarnate as Shakira as soon as you hear a Latin beat? In Fælledpark, you can join the people dancing salsa and rumba.
If you want to live the local-style experience and explore Copenhagen without breaking the bank, I highly suggest these alternative destinations.
Do you have any other tips for visiting Copenhagen on a budget?
For more ideas, check out Lonely Planet Denmark.
This article was originally published in French and adapted in English by Britney Claveau.