No need to blow the budget – here are the free things to do in Copenhagen…
17 free things to do in Copenhagen coming right up!
One thing that always comes up in conversations about Copenhagen is how expensive it is. You know the drill. Knowing looks. Sharp intakes of breath. Murmurs of appreciation caveated by, ‘Expensive though.’ And they’re 100% correct.
It’s hard to go to Copenhagen and not spend a lot of money. I learned that the hard way when we decided to have lunch al fresco at one of the pretty restaurants in Nyhavn harbour. Checking the bank app afterwards to see that our lunch had cost over £40 was pretty sobering, especially when I’d just had a smorrebrod and a diet coke!
With that in mind, I wanted to put together a list of 15 free things to do in Copenhagen. That way, even if you do accidentally blow the budget, there is still plenty to see and do without spending a dime. Here’s my favourite free things to do in Copenhagen…
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1) Visit Nyhavn
Nyhavn harbour will probably be one of the first pit stops for any visitor to Copenhagen and it’s pretty much as charming as it gets. Rows of cute, colourful 17th century townhouses line up in rows facing the waterfront. Even though you know it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city you just can’t help but be sucked in by it – it’s that lovely.
You can take a boat trip out onto the water, wander around some of the shops, or simply mill around the cobbles and people watch. One thing I loved about Copenhagen is that there are public toilets everywhere you need them – and the harbour is included.
2) Hans Christian Andersen’s house
Traces of the famous fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen are dotted around Copenhagen. He is the author of so many fairy tales that you’ll recognise: The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Snow Queen, The Little Match Girl and The Little Mermaid. He rented a room at No.20 Nyhavn and he was living here when his first fairy tales were published.
So where is his house exactly? Well, it’s not on the most photographed side of the harbour where all the bars and restaurants are. It’s on the other side a little further up the dock. Handily, there’s a plaque outside the door so you’ll know you’re at the right one.
3) Explore King’s Garden
It’s not every city centre park that has a full-blown castle in the centre, but King’s Garden in Copenhagen is a different story. King’s Garden is the country’s oldest royal garden and at one point restricted to royal use – for over a hundred years, in fact. Nowadays, the park is open to the public and gets around three million visitors a year. Lucky for us!
There are tree-lined pathways, interesting sculptures to admire, and, of course, the stunning Rosenborg Castle. You have to pay a fee to enter the castle and it’s well worth seeing the inside. However, it also looks pretty spectacular from the outside!
4) The Little Mermaid statue
Let’s talk about the Little Mermaid statue. Is it charming and understated… or one of the most disappointing tourist attractions in the world? I’d read the reviews but, for me, it’s always worth seeing something for yourself and making your own mind up.
The bronze statue is inspired by the Hans Christensen Andersen fairy tale of the same name, which was written in 1837. It stands at just 1.25 metres tall so it is tiny! However, it wasn’t that busy when we were there so I actually enjoyed the quiet, peaceful location.
5) The genetically modified Little Mermaid statue
A lot of people say that The Little Mermaid statue is a let-down. If you’re a sucker for punishment – or you simply want to see more of the lovely harbour area – then you might want to go and see the genetically modified little mermaid statue as well.
The statue is part of a group of sculptures in the area that are all misshapen and distorted, and it’s certainly a different take on the little mermaid. I’m not going to pretend this is one of the must-see sights in Copenhagen but enjoyed seeing this surreal interpretation.
6) Copenhagen walking tour
We did a walking tour with GuruWalk and it’s free… and but you are expected pay in tips. I thought it was worth including as it’s a good way to cover a lot of ground in an affordable way – you can also pick up nice travel tips from the other people on the tour.
This one was a tour of Christianshavn and took 90 minutes in total, one of the most culturally diverse neighbourhoods in Copenhagen. Our guide was friendly and funny and helped to bring some of the landmarks to life in a way you don’t get on your own.
7) Visit Freetown Christiania
Free town Christiania is a hippie commune located in Copenhagen that functions completely independently of the rest of the city. Made up of nearly 1000 people who have been there for three generations, it’s a self-serving society and even has its own flag.
So what’s the story behind Christiania? Well, in 1971 a group of people set up their own community in an old military base, and they’ve lived there ever since. It is an experience, particularly the pop-up stalls selling marijuana on the infamous Pusher Street.
8) Kastellet fortress
Star-shaped fortress Kastellet was founded in 1626 by Christian IV and it’s one of the best-preserved star-shaped fortresses in Northern Europe. It certainly intrigues from the outside – especially as it’s surrounded by a moat on all sides. Old school castle vibes right there!
Inside, there are barracks, a windmill, and a lovely walk around the perimeter. It’s raised up landscape you so get good views of the surrounding landscape. In the warmth of summer it would be lovely to spend more time in the citadel, so it’s up there as one of the best free things to do in Copenhagen.
9) Visit one of the free museums
Interesting fact: in Copenhagen some of the museums have one day of the week where entry is free. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out timing-wise when I was visiting. It’s definitely worth doing the research and seeing if you can plan around it for your trip.
If you visit the Ny Carlsberg Glypototek on a Tuesday entry is free! I paid the full entry fee and thought it was great value for money even then. There are mummies, impressionist art, a sculpture hall, and a wall of noses – you have to see this for yourself! I also loved the space itself – the leafy winter garden inside really is stunning.
Some of the museums in Copenhagen are free every day, including the Black Diamond. We didn’t have time to see this inside but the outside is seriously impressive.
10) Enjoy a free drink at ‘cosy hour’
OK… this one is a little bit of a reach as it depends on the hotel you’re staying at. But our hotel in Copenhagen – the Hotel Kong Arthur – did something called ‘Cosy Hour’ every night between 5 and 6pm. If you’re from Scotland that means a free bar for an hour. Jokes!
It’s actually an hour where all the guests from the hotel can hang out in the lobby and enjoy one free drink on the house. It’s a way of bringing hotel guests together and I really loved it, especially as the hotel was such a beautiful space. But then again, I am from Scotland!
11) See the Church of our Saviour
It’s not often that I walk into a church and my first word is ‘wow’. However, the Church of our Saviour really is spectacular and it’s worth going to see if you’re on the hunt for free things to do in Copenhagen. There’s a beautifully carved organ that will have you tilting your head skywards in awe. Meanwhile, the golds and blues and the intricate sculptures in the nave are totally beguiling.
You can also climb the golden spire of the church, although you have to pay to do this. If you can muster up the energy to climb the 100+ steps you’ll be rewarded with some amazing views. It does get pretty narrow at the top though – just a warning!
12) Spot the merman statue
Who says that Copenhagen is all about the Little Mermaid statue? You may not know that there’s actually a merman statue in Copenhagen as well. However, it’s actually underwater and really tricky to spot. You may not even be able to see it unless the water is still.
I first saw the signs for the merman statue when we were on the boat tour and we went past a sign. ‘Proceed with caution: Sculpture underwater ‘The Merman with Seven Sons’. We could barely see it really but we got another look during the walking tour.
13) Explore Norrebro
Norrebro was voted top in Time Out’s 2021 ranking of the world’s coolest districts. This area feels a little more characterful than some other areas in the city – there’s even some graffiti, shocker – and it’s said to be a real melting pot of different cultures and demographics.
What did I love about Norrebro? The restaurants for one. This is where we came to eat most nights as it was more affordable than the main tourist areas. There were tons of cool restaurants serving everything from sliders to Chinese dumplings – my favourite!
14) Wander around the Lakes
Our hotel was just a stone’s throw from the Lakes in Copenhagen. Lucky for us, we were able to enjoy the peace and the water as soon as we arrived. Even when we were exhausted from a 6am Ryanair flight and couldn’t check into our hotel room, I was struck by how calming this area is.
Although the pathways are busy with dog walkers and joggers there is a wonderful sense of space and serenity here. The water is lovely and there are lots of benches dotted around so you can just park up and enjoy the views. Be like me and bring snacks!
15) Check out the modern architecture
There are a lot of blockbuster buildings in Copenhagen. But alongside the charm of the 17th-century houses of Nyhavn harbour and the more traditional Danish styles dotted throughout the city, there are also some big-ticket modern architecture attractions.
The Black Diamond is one of the coolest buildings in Copenhagen. It’s the modern extension to the Royal Danish Library and it’s a really futuristic sight. The Blox building is another point of interest – to me it almost looks like something created in Minecraft.
16) Explore the amazing food markets
This is probably best to do when you’re not hungry. Trust me, getting around Torvehallen without wanting to buy something at every single stall was a challenge. Whether you go for porridge in the morning or grab a drink on the way home and enjoy the last of the day’s sunshine while the rest of the city rattles past, you’ll find something here.
There are also some other food markets in Copenhagen, one of which was closed when I was here. But if you get a chance to head to Reffen then definitely make time for it!
17) The changing of the guard
Coming from the UK I don’t know if I was quite as excited as other tourists may be about the royal family in Denmark. However, if you are into a bit of pomp and ceremony you can head to Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen to see the changing of the guard.
The ceremony takes place every day. The guard departs from Rosenborg Castle at 11.30 to arrive at Amalienborg for 12 midday. The best time to go is between September and April as the Danish royal family is in residence, which means a full version of the ceremony.