A brilliant, budget-friendly weekend in Copenhagen

Before travelling to Copenhagen, I read lots of blog posts and articles about the city so I could know what to expect and plan my time well. Copenhagen is often described as ‘progressive‘innovative’, ‘liveable’ , ‘bike-friendly’ and of course ‘hyggeligt’ (In case you’ve not heard of ‘hygge‘, here’s a good description). However, the most common adjective bestowed on Copenhagen is expensive. When I told my friends and students that I was going there, they all warned me how costly it would be. I grew concerned: would this four-day weekend bankrupt me? How many pastries and smørrebrøds could I buy before that happened?

None of the bloggers (or real-life people I spoke to) specified what parts of the trip would be expensive and what exactly they’d cost. In this post, I’ll do just that! I’ll share lots of ideas for eating, drinking and sightseeing in Copenhagen, along with tips on how to save money when possible. You will also find a breakdown of costs in Danish krone and Euros (my current currency!) so you can budget accordingly and avoid excessive overspending!

Cost-cutting in Copenhagen

I travelled to Copenhagen with my friend K and we did several things to save money before & during our time there.

1) We travelled by train, from Hamburg (where we live) rather than flying. The journey took 5 hours each way and involved a 45-minute ferry ride from Germany to Denmark. The train actually slides into the ferry, all the passengers leave the train carriages and go upstairs to enjoy the ferry’s facilities (including a Duty Free shop, restaurant, mini-supermarket and viewing desk)

2) We did our research, reading blogs and articles about Copenhagen, along with restaurant and bar reviews. Before I travel anywhere, I always download a map of the city via Googlemaps (which can be used offline). I use stars to mark the city’s main landmarks & tourist attractions, along with every restaurant, café and bar that has been recommended by friends, family or strangers online. Avoiding tourist trips and overpriced eateries by researching ahead of time definitely saved us money (although we got caught once! More about that later….)

3) We stayed in this lovely Airbnb apartment where we rented a private room. Not only did it save us money, it also meant we didn’t have to bring much as our host kindly provided us with towels and a plethora of toiletries. He even made us fresh coffee every morning! The apartment was on the overground line near Svanemøllen station. It was six stops from the central train station (København H) and four stops from Nørreport, where the pedestrianised city centre is. In total, our train tickets to Copenhagen & three nights’ stay cost €150 per person.

4) The first thing we did when we arrived in Copenhagen was buy a 72-hour City Pass (Zones 1-4. 200DKK / €26). Our Airbnb wasn’t really walking distance from the city centre and rain was forecasted so we knew we’d be using public transport quite often. It was definitely worth buying the travel card for convenience and spontaneity to just hop on and off the trains and buses. If you are staying more centrally, near København H or Nørreport, it might be more economical to buy single tickets as and when you use public transport.

5) Once we’d checked into our Airbnb, we went to a nearby supermarket and stocked up on some basics. Breakfast and sandwich ingredients came to €10. We had breakfast at the apartment every morning and we had homemade sandwiches for lunch. This meant we were only paying for dinner, snacks and treats.

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So what is there to do in Copenhagen?

It is not the biggest, most jampacked city in terms of tourist attractions but there is certainly enough for a long weekend. The city’s main tourist attraction is a statue of the Little Mermaid. She is small and fairly underwhelming but if you are in the area, she’s worth visiting. Edvard Eriksen created her in tribute to Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen. Tourists love to pose with her but there are some violent Danes who seem to have it in for her! She has been beheaded twice, painted and blown off her perch by explosives. Poor Ariel!

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We really enjoyed the Design Museum (115DKK / €15 for adults). There were several permanent and temporary exhibitions including Danish design through the ages, haute couture fashion designer Erik Mortensen and of course one on the global success of the Danish chair! Rooms filled with practical-yet-stylist chairs – I wanted them all! There was also an exhibition called “Learning from Japan” which demonstrated how Danish artists and designers have been influenced by Japanese style and techniques in terms of crafts, architecture and graphics.

Top tip! If you’re visiting the Design museum on your birthday, inform the front desk staff and ask if they offer any special birthday discounts. K did this, showed her ID and was given free entry. A nice birthday present from the museum staff!

I am obsessed with brightly-coloured buildings, so we had to visit Nyhavn. It is a very popular area, lined with cafes and bars which are perfect for people-watching. Make sure to check the menus before sitting down to avoid over-the-top tourist prices.

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Imagine how much the colours pop when the sun’s out!

We did lots of walking around the city and passed the following:

  • Amalienborg (The queen’s winter residence, which has been occupied by the Danish Royal Family since 1794)
  • Kastellet (A star-shaped fortress from the 17th century, which includes a museum and regularly hosts free events and concerts)
  • Gefion Fountain (completed in 1908, showing Norse goddess Gefion charging through the sea with four oxen)
  • Christiansborg, home to the Parliament, Prime Minister’s Office and Supreme Court.

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Walking tours

We did two walking tours in Copenhagen and they were both great. The first was the Alternative Walking Tour (€16, pre-booking required). Our guide Martin, a native Copenhagener, gave us a real insight into life in Danish. The good, the bad…and the ugly! I won’t spoil too much of the tour’s content, but we visited the Red-Light district, Green-Light district, meat-packing district and much more. Martin gave us facts and trivia about different social issues in Copenhagen including prostitution, homelessness, hard drug abuse and alcoholism. It may sound depressing but it was actually fascinating. Denmark is put on a pedestal in terms of its citizens’ happiness, community, work-life balance and social security, so it was refreshing to hear a local’s perspective, without rose-tinted glasses.

We also did the free walking tour (with the same guide, Martin, pre-booking not required). Both tours lasted roughly 2.5, and during this one, we were told about Danish culture, the royal family and Copenhagen’s history in terms of political events and conflicts. The free walking tour is based on tips, at the end of the tour all the participants tipped what they felt the tour was worth.

Freetown Christiania

The most interesting part of our Alternative Walking Tour was learning about the Free Town of Christiania. It is unlike anywhere I’ve been before. The self-proclaimed anarchist district opened in the 1970s, when an 84-acre part of the city became available. Overnight, eight hundred people moved in. Now one thousand people live there, half of which are children. It is a democracy- if you want to move into Christiania, every resident must agree to it. They have their own currency, flag, radio station and website. Cars, weapons, hard drugs, stealing and violence are not allowed inside the district. Although selling marijuana is illegal in Copenhagen, you can see Christianians openly peddling it on the streets. There have been several clashes with the police of Copenhagen, who conduct raids and arrest drug dealers. There are three kindergartens inside, but children must go to school and university in the ‘outside world’. Many residents have regular jobs outside of Christiania, although there are shops, restaurants, cafes and bars inside. There’s even a resident doctor!

Tour guides are forbidden from entering but tourists are welcome. Our guide referred to the inhabitants as ‘hypocritical hippies’. They are anti-establishment and independent from the Danish government…. but they welcome tourists, sell Christiania merchandise, accept Danish krone and all major credit cards and run Facebook and Instagram accounts for their businesses. It is quite the contradiction and definitely an interesting place to visit!

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Public transport

Copenhagen is a very small, walkable city. It is known as the biking capital of the world, with apparently 65% of citizens not owning a car. The metro system is very easy-to-use and punctual; the trains are driverless and arrive every few minutes. Strangely, Copenhagen’s central train station (København H) isn’t connected to the metro system. It is only on the overground train line and you have to change to Nørreport for metro lines 1 & 2. We also found the overground train system very convenient. A word of warning: the overground trains have designated “quiet zones” which the Danes take seriously. In the UK, “quiet zones” are just areas where you shouldn’t make phone calls or play audible music, in Denmark they mean Quiet! No talking! I learned this by being shhh-ed, more than once!

Amusingly, shortly after reading that dogs which don’t fit in a basket/bag must have a valid child’s ticket, I spotted a resourceful woman pushing her dog around in a child’s pram. I guess she was using her own cost-cutting measures!

Food & Drink

If you’re looking for a cool place to eat (which the locals gravitate towards) you must check out the meat-packing district. Copenhagen’s meat industry businesses used to be in full operation there until the 1990s. The area became uninhabited, so illegal raves and squats popped up. In recent years, the area has had a makeover; now high-quality restaurants and cool bars occupy the space. There is a great atmosphere and a variety of cuisines. We had two delicious meals at Tommy’s burger joint and saw restaurants serving pizzas, tacos, seafood, curries, steak, organic food and Italian cuisine. This article might help you choose where to go first!

If you’re obsessed with food (like me!) you must visit Torvehallerne market. It is a beautiful market, spread across three buildings. One of the buildings has products to buy and enjoy at home, such as meat, cheese, wine, beer, tea, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The other is more for ‘eating in’ – with freshly baked bread, cakes, pastries, sandwiches, ice cream and fancy chocolates. The third building contains a restaurant. There is also an outdoor fruit, vegetable and flower market. You can guess which building we spent most of our time in! We fell in love with the cream snegl from Laura’s Bakery. Sngel means ‘snail’ and these delicious pastries are twisted round and round like a snail. They cost 25KR/€3.30 each. You could get them with chocolate, nuts and vanilla cream & cinnamon (I really recommend the latter!).

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We ordered smorrebrød at Hallernes Smorrebrød. These open sandwiches are one of Denmark’s specialities. A slice of rye bread, topped with numerous ingredients (usually fish). Mine had chicken mayo, mushrooms, bacon and chervil. It was tasty but not worth the 62DKK (€8.30) price tag. If anyone knows where to find cheaper smorrebrød, please let me know in the comments!

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I mentioned earlier that we got caught in a tourist trap! We enjoyed cakes at Conditori La Glace, along with hot chocolate & coffee, but the prices were really high. The menu said each slice of cake was €8.30 per slice and we were in a treat yo self mood! However the prices for hot and soft drinks weren’t on the menu and we ordered blindly. Turns out the coffee & hot chocolate cost the same as a slice of cake! Yikes! To be fair, the cakes did look and taste lovely. There were dozens of options but we eventually chose “Blåbær genskær” (blueberry mousse, chocolate with liquorice and a chocolate almond base) and the “Lucky You” (Meringue with caramelised and salted pumpkin seeds, chocolate mousse, raspberry and chocolate ganache). You can view the menu here. The jugs that hot drinks came in could be refilled once for free (and you know I went for my free refill!). However over €30 for two slices of cake & hot drinks is too much. If you are visiting Conditori La Glace on a budget, I suggest getting cake or a hot drink – not both!

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On Saturday evening, we visited Silom Thai Restaurant. We were craving Asian food and it was a short walk from our Airbnb. We had a main course each, a shared portion of rice and a soft drink each. The total bill was 312DKK/€42. The next day was K’s birthday and we celebrated with a delicious all-you-can-eat sushi dinner at Takii. The set menu included many different types of sushi, along with typical Japanese dishes like tempura vegetables, chicken satay, seaweed salad, meat and fish skewers. You could order as much food as you wanted for 198DKK/€26 (drinks not included).

We didn’t go out for drinks as much as we expected (as we were exhausted from so much walking everyday). Some of the most popular drinking holes are in the meatpacking district, such as the celebrated War Pigs.  This bar/restaurant is a collaboration between the American brewery 3 Floyds and the Danish brewery Mikkeller, serving American-Danish style brews alongside Texan barbeque.

K & I visited Dia’legd. It is great for beer lovers as there is a wide range of beers all coming from a small Danish brewery called Refsvindinge. Unfortunately I’m not a beer fan (trust me, my boyfriend has tried – and failed to convert me). Luckily the bar also had some very limited choices of cider and wine (35DKK/€4.70 for a glass of wine)

Malmö

We spent half a day in Malmö, Sweden’s third-biggest city which is a 30- minute train ride from Copenhagen. Adult train tickets cost 164DKK/€22. To get there, you cross the Oresund bridge, made famous by the TV show “The Bridge”. Don’t forget your passport or national identity card as they are checked by border control officers.

Malmö was a pretty little town, surprisingly quiet even though we were there on a Saturday. While there, we:

  • Visited the main square (Stortorget) and saw the Charles X Gustav of Sweden monument and Malmö Town Hall (Rådhuset).
  • Strolled around the harbour
  • Gazed at the beautiful ceiling in St. Peter’s Church (Sankt Petri kyrka)
  • Popped into art galleries and looked around arts and crafts shops.
  • Admired Malmö Castle
  • Photographed lots of bicycles and cute houses

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Other Copenhagen recommendations

These places have been recommended by my friends, family and travel bloggers. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit them – next time!

  • Tivoli gardens. Opened in 1843, the garden inspired the design of Disney’s theme parks. As we visited in March, the garden was closed but if you visit during the summer months, you can enjoy the roller coaster, restaurants, cafés, gardens, food pavilions and concert hall inside. There are free rock concerts every Friday night during summer.
  • The Round Tower – 36 metres high, with panoramic views of the city
  • Copenhagen Cathedral
  • Louisiana Museum of Modern Art – in Humlebæk, 35km north of Copenhagen
  • Noma, a two-Michelin-star restaurant, voted Best Restaurant in the World in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
  • Rosenborg Castle
  • Copenhagen Street Food court
  • Odense, the hometown of storyteller Hans Christian Andersen (1hr 30 by train from Copenhagen). There is a museum dedicated to Andersen and you can visit his childhood home.
  • The National Museum, which delves into Danish history and culture
  • Kronborg Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1hr by train from Copenhagen)

Useful references

Here are some of the blog posts I used to plan my Copenhagen trip:

If you have any other recommendations for Copenhagen, please share them in the comments below!

*You can receive a €29 discount on your first stay with Airbnb by using this referral code *

Ciao for now

The Curious Sparrow

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10 comments

  1. Super handy! I’ll probably have a long lay over in Copenhagen on my way to Norway in summer and was planning to spend some time in the city. Will def read your post again before I go! 🙂

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  2. When I backpacked Europe last year due to a flight change I had to give Copenhagen a miss and I was gutted. This post just confirms how much I want to visit! Not gonna lie, my main reason was for that insta fave pic of Nyhavn – so cool with the ice!! Would so love to see the Ariel statue too – how on earth the locals managed to behead her!?! Poor wee mermaid!!

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    • Thanks Faramagan, I appreciate your comments and hope you make it to Copenhagen soon 😀 I didn’t get the grisly details about her beheading but I am glad she’s been restored. It would have been creepy seeing her without a head!

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  3. Gosh, this makes me want to go straight back to Copenhagen, it’s such a vibrant city. Your photos of Nyhavn with sea ice are fascinating. Looks like you found some great budget eats,something I struggled with a bit here if I’m honest. With definitely check out your recommendations next time I visit!

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  4. […] Most Airbnbs have kitchens (which may or may not be shared with your host) and many hotels have communal kitchens, where you can prepare and store food. When you arrive at a new destination, find an affordable supermarket (such as Lidl or Aldi) and buy some essentials, like coffee, tea bags, cereal, milk, bread and some kind of spread. When I visited Copenhagen earlier in the year, my friend and I decided we would prioritise dinners and coffee & cake breaks over breakfasts and lunches, so we had breakfast at home and made sandwiches to eat on the go. You can read more of my budgeting tips for Copenhagen here. […]

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  5. Great post! I visited Copenhagen in feb last year and it was freezing but we managed to do most of the things you did! And I didn’t find it that expensive either, as we stayed centrally so walked almost everywhere!

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