I recently spent a few days in Copenhagen, Denmark’s cosmopolitan capital. As a city that’s been on my list for years, its Scandinavian expensiveness meant it had never quite made it to the top!
When I had a work trip with flights that happened to go via Copenhagen, it seemed the perfect opportunity to finally make it there, so I booked myself a couple of nights in the city.
I was lucky enough not to pay for flights but I was still on a pretty tight budget for the weekend. Although it’s nice to be able to visit a city’s museums and tourist attractions when you can, they often involve entrance fees, which quickly add up. So I spent my time wandering around Copenhagen, seeking out ways to sightsee without spending a cent.
It’s such a beautiful city and if you’re travelling on a budget, here’s my top picks for free things to do in Copenhagen:
Wander Along Nyhavn
I would wager that when most people think of Copenhagen, they think of pretty, colourful buildings along a canal. Head to Nyhavn for these picturesque scenes.
The canal is lined with gorgeous 17th Century buildings, including the former home of legendary fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen.
There are tonnes of restaurants and cafes to lure tourists in but I simply enjoyed a leisurely stroll, taking in the colourful surrounds.
Hang Out With The Little Mermaid
Another of Copenhagen’s most famous tourist attractions is The Little Mermaid sculpture at Langelinie Pier.
Created over a hundred years ago to pay homage to the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the same name, The Little Mermaid is perched upon rocks in the harbour, solemnly looking to shore, searching for her beloved.
Yes, the site is swarming with tourists all trying to get their shot but I still found her quite magical.
Explore More in Langelinie
The Little Mermaid isn’t the only attraction worth visiting in Langelinie. I recommend a stroll though the whole area.
At the start of the harbour front is the Gefion Fountain, which depicts Norse goddess Gefion leading charging bulls. The impressive fountain is the largest in Copenhagen.
Carry on walking through Langelinie Park and you will pass the gardens and the Iver Huitfeldt Memorial Column. The column was constructed in 1886 in commemoration of the death of Admiral Huitfeldt and his men during a naval battle of the Great Northern War.
Finally, you will reach Langelinie Marina, where locals and visitors tether their impressive yachts. It’s a peaceful place to stop and watch the world go by.
It’s also a great place to hang out with a family of swans…
Check out the Maritime Monument right by the marina, which commemorates the Danish Merchant Navy Seamen who lost their lives in World War One.
Walk Around The Citadel Walls
Right by Langelinie, The Citadel is the star-shaped fortress of Copenhagen, founded in 1626. Surrounded by a large moat, it is today used as military barracks and offices. The grounds are open to the public and it’s free to visit.
The Citadel is one of the best-preserved in Northern Europe. Stroll through the cobbled streets to see the barracks, the Commander’s House, the church and the storehouses, and visit the moving war memorial – “Monument for Denmark’s International Effort since 1948”.
The best part about visiting The Citadel is that you can walk atop the grassy walls, around the full perimeter of the fortress. Not only can you see the Citadel’s windmill and the military canyons but you get some pretty amazing views over the city and the harbour.
See the View from Above at Christiansborg Palace Tower
If – like me – you always want to see a city from above, a visit to Christiansborg Palace is a must-do. Though you need to purchase a ticket to see the palace interior, a trip up the tower is free!
The tower of Christiansborg Palace is the tallest in Copenhagen. There’s a series of lifts that take you to the top, so no need to worry about climbing hundreds of stairs to see the spectacular views!
The palace was built as the Danish royal residence but nowadays it’s used by the Danish Parliament and for various royal functions and events and royals reside at Amalienborg Palace.
Watch the Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg Palace
Okay, full disclosure – I didn’t actually do this one; I missed the midday time frame both days! Oops!
However, if you do get your timings right, you can see the guards march from their barracks by Rosenborg Castle, through the city streets, ending up at Amalienborg for the midday ceremony.
It would have been great to see but I did still enjoy walking through the palace square. The palace has four identical buildings around a large courtyard and has been home to the Danish royals since the late 1700s.
Lose Yourself in the Hippy Neighbourhood of Christiania
Freetown Christiania is a self-governed “alternative neighbourhood” in the borough of Christianshavn. Located in abandoned military barracks, the neighbourhood was way bigger than I anticipated, made up of ramshackle houses, re-purposed buildings, workshops, and art studios.
Christiania is perhaps best known for being Copenhagen’s “Green Light District”. Although hard drugs are forbidden by the locals (as well as the law), cannabis usage is encouraged and there’s a lively trade along the famous “Pusher Street”.
The neighbourhood carries a bit of a rough reputation but my experience was not that at all. No one approached me on “Pusher Street” (I think they do a pretty decent trade without having to hustle!), the market stall and cafe workers were friendly, and I explored the quieter streets quite happily on my own. As long as you follow the community rules, I think the residents of Christiania are all pretty…”chilled”.
An unexpected surprise for me was the massive lake in the middle of the neighbourhood. I sat beside it for a good while soaking up the sunshine, bird watching, and just enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. Bliss.
The whole area is cash only, so make sure you have some on you if you want to buy any of the handmade jewellery, vegetarian food, or… other goods.
Explore the City’s Back Streets
I feel like one thing a lot of people miss out on when visiting a major city is exploring the back streets, or “suburbia”. Of course, tourist areas are popular for a reason but I also like to escape the crowds and get a feel for how the locals live.
I love seeing the different architecture styles of the houses, visiting locals parks, and stumbling up quirky cafes and shops.
Copenhagen’s streets are as eclectic as they are pretty. I could have wandered for hours on end.
Copenhagen is a beautiful city. It’s very walkable, full of interesting sights, and you definitely don’t need to spend a small fortune to see it.
Have you been to Copenhagen? What are your top free things to do?