How to survive in one of the most expensive cities, without breaking the bank.
I am born and raised just outside of Copenhagen, where strawberries were bought in buckets where the grass ends in gooseberries and ribs. Back then, Copenhagen was a big city far away, but now I can jump on the train every 10 minutes, and be in the city center in less than 30 minutes. The distance is still the same but the city doesn’t feel that far away nowadays.
I love being in the city at summertime, spending my time biking or walking around, hanging out at a café having a coffee or a beer, go to Papirøen and eat at one of the many stalls at Copenhagen Street Food.
I often read or hear that Copenhagen are one of the most expensive cities to stay in, and that’s why many budget travelers avoid going here, but the truth is that you can actually explore Copenhagen without breaking the bank, so let’s dig into how that is possibly:
Most travelers arrive in Copenhagen by plane, and then have to go to the center of the city, and depending on where you will be staying you have to choose between the train and the Metro.
The train will take you to Copenhagen Central Station (Københavns Hovedbanegård, normally shortened to København H), and the Metro which departure at the end of Terminal 3, will bring you to Nørreport, where you can connect with the S-Train or get a bus. This will set you back 36 DKK, but the ticket is also valid for the S-Train and the bus if you need to change. You can also start saving already at the airport, and get a City Pass, which will give you unlimited access to busses, trains, Metro and harbor busses in Zone 1-4 for a limited period. Zone 1-4 covers most of Copenhagen. A 24-hour City Pass will set you back 80 DKK, and for a 72-hours pass it will be 200 DKK, it is half the price if you are under 16.
Things to do and see in Copenhagen
Since the city isn’t that big, it is very convenient to walk around from place to place, and if you have a few hours, you can get a great introduction to Copenhagen by one of the companies that run free walking tours in the city, you just tip the guide for what you think the tour was worth.
- Sandeman’s Free Copenhagen Tours have a 2.5 hours tour starting from the Town Hall, several times each day.
- Copenhagen Free Walking Tours have a few different tours. A 3 hour Grand Tour departing from the Town Hall, and a Christianshavn tour starting from Bishop Absalon’s Equestrian Statue at Højbro Plads.
Check the websites for availability and departure times, and to book the tour.
Copenhagen are home of some of the world’s best restaurants, like Noma, and with that comes a price tag that are not for a traveler on a budget, but just as you can find some rather expensive restaurants, it is also possibly to get your stomach filled up for a reasonable price.
- Papirøen: Christiansholm, in daily spech called Papirøen (The Paper Island) is the home of Copenhagen Street Food, where you can find dishes from all over the world at prices in the right end of the scale.
If you are into sushi, falafel or ostrich burgers, this is the place to be, and you can easily get a filled stomach for something between 50 and 85 kroner.
The last opening day will be December 31, 2017.
- Hot Dogs: When being in Copenhagen, you must try the Hot Dog, you find them anywhere, and for the price of 25-50 Kroner, they can keep you going for another couple of hours. Mostly they are sold from Hot Dog stands, or in Danish: Pølsevogne. Some of the best Hot Dogs are found at DØP, which you'll find close to Rundetårn (the Round Tower) on Købmagergade pedestrian street, or just outside Helligåndskirken (the Church of the Holy Spirit) on Strøget pedestrian street.
- Torvehallerne: Situated right next to Nørreport Station, you’ll find Torvehallerne, which offers more than 80 different shops. No matter if you are looking for fresh fish, vegetables, Danish delicacies or maybe some Italian specialties, Torvehallerne is the place to be.
- Kødbyen: The food market Kødbyens Mad og Marked, are located very close to the Central Station, and offers a variety of food Saturday and Sundays when the place got filled with food stalls, besides from the established restaurants in the area.
The Meatpacking district, known in Danish as Kødbyen, was once an area exclusive to butchers and wholesalers, but in the recent years the area has been going through a remarkable transformation, but still keeping the atmosphere from old days.
- Dalle Valle: In Fiolstrædet you can find Café Dalle Valle, - home of the nicest budget buffet in Copenhagen. There's a combined brunch and lunch buffet, served from 10am-16pm for 79,- DKK, at 16:00pm they change to the evening buffet for 119,- DKK. In the dinner buffet, you'll find mostly italian inspiret dishes. They are open daily from 10:00am-22:00pm.
- Smørrebrød: An open sandwich, in Danish called Smørrebrød are a “must try” when staying in Copenhagen. It won’t get any more Danish than that. An open sandwich is a piece of rye bread with different toppings, it can be anything from eggs with shrimps to roastbeef. Smørrebrød are the classic Danish lunch, and are one of the things I miss the most when being out of the country.
Don’t go to a restaurant to get your open sandwiches, as those can be rather expensive, but instead go to one of the Smørrebrøds stores, but look out for the prices, some can be a bit overpriced.
- Go for a Picnic: If the weather allows, there’s nothing better than head for one of the parks in Copenhagen for a picnic. You can buy your food in one of the discount supermarkets, - Netto is a good choice, and then head for one of the parks to enjoy the beautiful scenery while having your picnic. Staying inside the city, there are plenty of options, - Kongens Have (Kings Garden) with the beautiful view of Rosenborg Castle or Ørstedsparken could be the place to have a nice picnic. Both parks are located close to Nørreport Station. This is also a great way to get in touch with some of the locals, you will soon find out that you are not the only one having picnic that day. The parks are widely used for sunbathing, picnics and it is common to see people playing ball or with frisbees.
Great places for a picnic in walking or biking distance:
- Kongens Have (Kings Garden)
- Botanisk Have (Bothanical Garden)
- Kastellet (The Citadel)
- Østre Anlæg
- Det Kongelige biblioteks Have (The Roya Library's Garden)
- Frederiksberg Have (Frederiksberg Garden)
- Amager Strandpark
If you take the guided tour around Copenhagen, you will pass places and buildings that you might think it is worth to take a closer look at. You can either take a walk to those places, or you can rent a bike. Copenhagen are a bike friendly city, with bike lanes almost everywhere, so it’s an easy way to get around.
Many hostels and hotels have bikes you can use for free or rent for a small amount, and else you can find shops where they rent bikes.
In my opinion, the best place to rent a bike are at Baisikeli. It is a non-profit organization which collect bikes for Africa, and the money they get from renting out bikes are going to repairs, and to the transportation cost for getting the bikes to Africa. You can read more about that on their webpage. They are located just upstairs of Dybbølsbro Station at Vesterbro. The S-Train has special wagons where you can take your bike with you, so you can extend your range a lot this way.
Read more about how to bike in Copenhagen: Riding a bike in Copenhagen
Well up on the bike, - remember the helmet, we are ready to explore Copenhagen, but what to do in Copenhagen without going bankrupt, let’s take a look at that.
- Nyhavn: With the colorful old houses, the outdoor cafés and bars, this is a place that you must visit, but instead of going to the bar and spend the days budget on a single beer, then do as many locals do. Find a supermarket, and you will find a wide selection of beers, and at prices that you can afford. Buy a couple of beers or whatever you like to drink, and then head for Nyhavn, place yourself anywhere outside the serving area, and enjoy a little time there, while consuming your beer, or you can even have your picnic here.
- Christianshavn: Going from Nyhavn to Christianshavn are piece of cake. At the end of Nyhavn you can use the bike and walk bridge Inderhavnsbroen (The inner harbor bridge) and access Christianshavn on the other side of the harbor, and when you are there, why not eat at Papirøen. Take a walk or bike ride along the channel, and discover some of the old and idyllic Copenhagen.
You will also find Vor Frelser Kirke (Church of Our Saviour) in this neighbourhood, the church is easy recognized because of the helix tower with an external winding staircase that can be climbed to the top. If you want to climb the tower, and get the extensive view of Copenhagen, the entrance fee will set you back 35 DKK. There are 400 steps, with the last 150 being outside.
Vor Frelser Kirke
- Christiania: Christianshavn are also where you will find Fristaden Christiania (The freetown Christiania). Are you ready for another kind of experience? Christiania has been a freetown, a town in the city, since 1971, where a group of squatters were cutting holes in the fence to what then was an abandoned military area, and occupied the military barracks.
Christiania are a wide mix of creative houses, workshops, galleries, music places, cheap eating places and beautiful nature. When entering Christiania, you are entering a different world, and it is important to understand that it is not like the rest of Copenhagen. There are 3 rules you need to have in mind when going inside, - Don’t take photos, don’t run and don’t talk in mobile phone. When you are walking through Pusher Street you will know why.
Some people love it, some find it interesting while others can’t get out fast enough.
- Christiansborg: Home of the Danish Parliament, and placed almost in the center of Copenhagen, this is a nice place to visit. From the tower, which has free entrance, you have a stunning view over the city, and it is worth to take the tour up there. On a clear day you can see all the way to Sweden.
- The pedestrian streets: Don’t miss to take a walk inside the old city, where the main streets are pedestrian only, you can walk down Strøget, which starts at the City Hall, and end up at Kongens Nytorv, not far from Nyhavn, or you can walk at Købmagergade, passing Rundetårn (The Round Tower) and end up at Storkespringvandet (The Storks Fountain) in the middle of Strøget. The area is filled with shops of all kinds, museums, churches, cafés and restaurants. And even if you don’t intent to go shopping, this is a nice place to watch people, hear the street musicians and just relax for a while.
- The Round Tower: In Danish called Rundetårn is a tower in the middle of Copenhagen, and the oldest functional observatory in Europe. The Round Tower was build by the Danish King, Christian IV between 1637 and 1642. Getting to the top, you have to climb the winding, and beautiful whitewashed Spiral Walk, a 207 meter long spiral ramp which winds itself 7.5 times round the hollow core of the tower, and is the only connection between the individual parts of the complex.
Getting to the viewing platform at 34.8 meters above the street, you will have an outstanding view over the old part of Copenhagen with its many spikes and towers. With a height at 42 meters, Rundetårn isn't the highest tower in Copenhagen, but peoperly the most interesting tower to visit, and with an admission fee of 25,- DKK, it is very budget friendly.
- Amalienborg Slot: The palace is the residence of the danish monarch, and are guarded by the Royal Life Guard, and every day at noon you can watch the change of guards at the Royal Palace. The soldiers marches from the barracks at Rosenborg Castle through the streets of Copenhagen to Amalienborg. for the change to take place, and then there's a march back to the Life Guard barracks for the watch that has been relieved. If you want to follow the Guard through the streets, it starts at Rosenborg Castle in Gothergade at 11:27am.
- The Little Mermaid: With a height of only 1,25 meters, the statue of the Little Mermaid at the waterfront at Langelinje Promenade are worldwide regarded as a national symbol of Denmark. Known from the fairytale written in 1836 by H.C. Andersen, the Little Mermaid has been welcoming people to Copenhagen since 1913. Many tourists has been disappointed, and are standing with the feeling: "Is that really all?", because their expectations was way higher. The Little Mermaid are still a part of Copenhagen, and absolutely worth a visit, since the sculpture shows in a sensible way the mood that the story contains, just keep in mind that she might not be as big as you imagine.
Things to do outside Copenhagen
- Bakken. 14 km north of Copenhagen you will find Bakken, the oldest amusement park in the World. Founded in 1583, Bakken is a good choice for a ride outside of the center of Copenhagen. At bakken you will find a lot of entertainment for the whole family, and if you go on a wednesday, there are 50% of on all the things that you want to try, but only if you pay by cash. The park offer a perfect blend of fun rides, restaurants and bars. It doesn't have the biggest rollercoaster in the world, but the 82 year old wooden rollercoaster are definitely worth a visit. The entrance to the park are free, and you can bring your own food and have a picnic in the beautiful Dyrehaven, which is surrounding Bakken.
You can get there by train or bike. On bike it will take around 1 hour from the Central Station. It is a great trip on bike, which will bring you up along the costline, and pass by Charlottenlund Fort and Skovshoved Harbour, both worth a stop on the way. if you decide to take the S-Train, you have to jump on the S-Train for Klampenborg. From Klampenborg Station you can easily walk there through the woods. If you decide to go by bike, and get to tired to be biking back to Copenhagen, remember that you are allowed to bring the bike on the S-Train, and you doesn't need an extra ticket for the bike.
- Dyrehaven. (The Deer Garden) Right outside Bakken you will find yourself amongst ancient solitary oak trees and herds of deers. Around 2000 deers got their home in Dyrehaven, and the number of deers are being regulated to keep it down at this level, The 10 square kilometer big area has been left practically untouched for the last 350 years, and is a piece of primeval Danish countryside.
- Dragør. Only 12 km from the center og Copenhagen, on the isle of Amager, you will find the charming old village Dragør. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle in the city for a while, Dragør is a good choice as one of the best preserved old villages in Denmark, bursting with history and charm. Walking around the yellow houses, on the cobbled streets, you,ll get the very friendly and intimate feeling of the town. Besides the town itself, there a great little harbour worth visiting, but also the nearby Dragør Fort invites to a visit.
You can easily get to Dragør by bike, either via Amager Fælled, Kongelunde or the coastal line along Amager Strandpark (Amager Beach Park) or you can take bus 350S which goes directly from the center to Dragør, or you can take bus 35 from the airport.
While Copenhagen is an expensive city to visit, there are definitely ways to get around and check out the city without breaking the bank. Copenhagen on a budget is indeed possibly.
Bonus tips for being in Copenhagen on a Budget
- Travel outside the schools summer vacation, which are normally from mid-June till mid-August. The weather in August-September are mostly sunny, and that time in my opinion are the best time to visit Copenhagen.
- Ask for help or advice. Almost everyone speaks English so don’t be intimidated to ask questions or ask for directions.
- Pay with Cards. You can pay with cards almost everywhere, even most of the street food stalls, so there's no need to carry a lot of cash around. And you won’t end up with a lot of Kroner you have to exchange when you are leaving.
- Water. When heading out in town, don’t buy water in bottles, bring your own. The tapwater in Denmark are clean and safe to drink, and actually in many cases taste better than bottled water.
- Flights. I’m a frequent traveler myself, and I know how important it is to get value for money. Look out for the best deal when booking your flight. Copenhagen are the biggest airport in Scandinavia, and that means that it should be easy to find a cheap flight. Don’t just look for round trips, but also look at single fare tickets, sometimes it is cheaper to book with two different companies. When I’m going out of Copenhagen, the first place to look are always Norwegian, and then EasyJet. If I can’t find anything there, then I start searching at travelmax.dk, where I also search for cheap accommodation if I need that.
You can also read my tips on How to find cheap hotel deals
- Couchsurfing. Save money and stay with locals while you are in Copenhagen. There’s a big Couchsurfing community in Copenhagen, so it will be easy to find a place to stay, or local meetups to attend. Just remember that Couchsurfing is not just another place to stay, it is also about being social.
And then, - enjoy Copenhagen on a budget, it is worth every minute spent.
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