Looking for affordable travel in Copenhagen? Here are our best budget picks for the Danish capital.
Copenhagen was our back-and-forth city as we planed our amazing trip through Europe. Would we or wouldn't we? On the plus side, Copenhagen was the next logical stopping point after Stockholm and easy transportation connections made it the perfect layover on route to Berlin. But could we really afford to visit two Scandinavian cities in one trip? Would Copenhagen have enough to hold our interest? Would it be too similar to Stockholm? Or so different that there was no point to try to see the sights in just a day or two?
We finally committed Copenhagen to our travel plans but I couldn't commit emotionally. I told myself that maybe I'd spend the time working. Or that it would be a good place to catch up on rest after being part of a busy conference. I needn't have worried at all. Copenhagen was WONDERFUL! I've never regretted adding it to our itinerary - and neither will you. Here's how we saved, splurged, and found great deal 'steals' in Copenhagen.
Save: A DIY tour
Copenhagen, like most major cities, has a number of free walking tours (you can see a list here). I loved that I could chose from traditional city highlight tours, themed tours, and neighbourhood tours but I also knew that free tours aren't really free.
The premise behind them is that you don't pay upfront but you generously tip what you think the tour was worth when you're done. It can be a budget friendly way to see a city but in Copenhagen I had other plans for my money (see the section on coffee below!) and opted to create my own tour.
"Tour" might be a generous term. With no more guidance than a vague idea of the direction of the Little Mermaid statue, Ryan and I headed out from our hostel for a day of discovery. It turns out that Copenhagen is the perfect city for a day of unplanned rambling!
We discovered gorgeous roses, charming row houses, funky shops (definitely just window shopping for us), tons of tempting cafes and restaurants that we made a mental note of for next time, and finally found ourselves in a large park that was perfect for some urban hiking.
With every street and turn I was squealing with delight. Copenhagen is a beautiful city! Finally, we reached our destination and came face to face with the sweet and whimsical Little Mermaid. It was just us - well, us along with a few hundred other people! Admittedly, this was a pretty "touristy" place but it just seemed wrong to be in Copenhagen and not see her. This was one tour where the journey was as nice as the destination.
What I love about the two photos above is that they are essentially the same image - one is just a close up shot. At first I was discouraged that there were so many other people around - how would I get my dream shot? But those people are just as much a part of the experience as seeing the statue itself. (Sneaky tip: there are so many tour groups you can easily linger at the back of one and listen for five minutes to learn a little bit about the statue.) All it took to get a clear shot was to walk a few steps around to the side. But, as it turns out, a much better shot awaited us...
We found our own little mermaid in Copenhagen, just steps away from the famous statue along the shore line. This gorgeous young girl was navigating the slippery rocks with an easy grace and it felt like I was watching the worlds of old art and new muses come together. It was a wonderful reminder that I always need to take the time to look beyond the main attraction and see what else is going on.
If our charming, real life little mermaid wasn't enough, just beyond her was another awesome discovery: Two fantastic dogs swimming in the harbour, chasing the balls their owner flung out into the water. I suddenly realized that the shoreline served a much greater purpose than just hosting a tourist attraction. This is where locals live their lives and walk their dogs. It was great to catch a slice of everyday life and the dogs were so fun to watch. Big, furry, goofy dogs are the same everywhere in the world!
We fueled up for the day at Andersen Bakery. This Copenhagen landmark is located directly across from Central Station. We originally chose it because it was so convenient to our accommodations and the station was the one landmark in town we could actually find! But Andersen Bakery wins for many reasons.
If, like me, you want to have a real Danish while in Denmark, you'll happily find it here. Everything is delicious. And they have a number of value priced breakfast combos that include cheese, meat, bread rolls, small pastries, and coffee in various quantities. You might even be able to split one! The open dining area/workshop lets you watch everything being made from scratch. (And I confess I also loved it because of the clean bathrooms (ask the staff for the code) and because there are frequently generous free samples to try on the counter.) When you leave, take a look at all the bikes around Central Station. Most of them aren't locked up - that's just how safe the city is.
Splurge: A meal at Tight
If there's one thing you need to splurge on in Copenhagen, it's a memorable meal. This is THE foodie capital of the world and all the top chefs and top rated restaurants are here. An amazing meal in Copenhagen isn't just something to eat - it's an investment in your travel memories.
Alas, it was an investment we could not afford to make. As much as we would have loved it, our splurge budget was around $100 - and that doesn't go far in Denmark at the best of times. But there was one restaurant that was consistently listed in many 'top 10' lists that we could afford - and there was also an extra special reason why we wanted to go there. Here's why you need to put Tight on your Copenhagen food list.
Tight makes fantastic contemporary Danish cuisine with a Canadian twist. Canadian food in Denmark? We had to go there! There are subtle touches, like seeing maple syrup listed as an ingredient, and then there are more overt Canuck references such as offering Nanaimo bars for dessert. It's set in a stone building that dates back to the 1800's and we were able to enjoy fancy cocktails, appetizers, and main courses for about $80 - a terrific value. Another bonus - we just walked in without making reservations (though you might want to do so during peak season).
Speaking of appetizers, I have to give a special mention to their Indian spiced potato croquettes (with the tomato chili dipping sauce!) and especially to their homemade onion rings. It feels a bit strange to emerge from the foodie capital of the world and say that you absolutely MUST try onion rings, but it's the absolute truth. They're the best I've ever had and I still dream of them. Overall, it was a great meal with good service and I would absolutely eat there again.
How can you afford your meal? Stay in a Copenhagen hostel.
Whether your idea of a great splurge is a memorable meal or something else, costs can add up fast in Copenhagen. My best advice for carving a little extra room in your budget is to save on accommodations and stay in a private hostel room. Hostels throughout Scandinavia are invariably clean, convenient, with plenty of amenities, offer great value, and private rooms give you the individual space you crave, all at an affordable price.
We stayed at the Copenhagen Downtown Hostel and it had many of the features we love in a hostel private room. We loved that we had our own en-suite bathroom and that the comfy mattresses provided excellent afternoon naps (hey, we walked A LOT - we deserved a rest!) The location was perfect for both exploring and early morning trips to the train station and the view was gorgeous. We also loved that there were a lot of amenities (including laundry. Oh my goodness, we were so happy to get laundry done!) and we thought it was terrific that there was a free evening community meal - this is what hostels are all about!
There was, however, one big downside for us - but it might be an upside for you, depending on your travel style. Copenhagen Downtown Hostel is a party hostel. And for some people, that is awesome and the best thing about hostels- cheap beer and endless new friends. But for us, it was the opposite. We didn't sleep at all as the reveling keep on into the wee hours of the morning. It never felt unsafe - everyone outside was cheerful and the hostel has good security. It was just LOUD. And never ending.
Realizing that we were suddenly the old fogies of the hostel scene was a bit disheartening. Had we really outgrown late night parties? But there's a style of hostel for everyone! While this property was a much better fit for younger travelers, we were still able to see all the great benefits of staying in a Copenhagen hostel in general and there are lots of affordable options throughout the city, no matter your travel preference.
Steal: Kafferiet Kongens Have
I don't know about you, but I find a cute cafe irresistible and there were plenty of temptations in Copenhagen. But they aren't exactly a budget friendly destination. A cafe stop in a Scandinavian country is enough to bring you to your knees with sticker stock if you aren't careful. It's not that things are expensive per se - it's more the result of a higher minimum wage and higher cost of living throwing things out of proportion for foreign guests.
With this in mind, there's one cafe in particular that absolutely won over my heart and I knew immediately that I was a local, I'd be dropping in all the time. Welcome to Kafferiet!
Kafferiet is focused on slow coffee - quality brews and treats that encourage you to stop and smell the proverbial roses. Their charming logo is a coffee bean shape positioned like a turtle shell complete with little feet! There's a notice that welcomes dogs with the promise of free dog biscuits and some sunny spots to sit in the garden. Kafferiet has several branches throughout the city, but my favourite is the absolutely tiny one next to the Kongens Have gardens. It's the perfect place to grab an iced vanilla latte (just like I had!) and stroll around the park. I can't remember how much I spent and I don't care - I was absolutely smitten. This is your spot, dear friends. This is your spot.
(Honorable mention goes to The Laundromat Cafe, which -as the name suggests - combines a cafe and a self-serve laundry service (plus books and wine and more). We were able to use our hostel's laundry machines and thus we never had the need to visit during our brief stay. But I've heard lots of people rave about it and we're putting it on our list for next time.)
Copenhagen is for all ages and all budgets
Copenhagen is never going to be one of those destinations where you can get by on just a few dollars a day - even if you eschew most costs and make your own adventures. But with a bit of careful planning you can find tremendous value, great food, plenty to do, and fantastic travel memories.
During our visit, we kept looking at each other and saying what a livable city Copenhagen was and how great the quality of life was. The city falls into the rare category for us of being a city that we wouldn't necessarily rush back to but that we would always welcome the chance to have a return visit, be it in a few months or a few decades. We really felt at home - which is always a great reason to leave home and return once more.
Have you been to Copenhagen? What were your favourite things about the city?
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Our accommodations at Copenhagen Downtown Hostel were complimentary. All research, writing, and opinions are our own.