Top Free Things to Do in Copenhagen, Denmark
Updated: Apr 1
If you’ve never been to Denmark, Copenhagen is a great gateway into the country and its culture. While a part of Scandinavia, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a few days in the city. It rained almost the entire time I was in country, so some outdoor activities were, let’s say, less enjoyable for me. However, there are many free or budget-friendly things to do throughout Copenhagen. Below are the top 8 things to do for free while in Denmark!
Denmark is known for its smørrebrød or “butter and bread” which is generally an open-faced sandwich with various toppings such as cold cuts, fish or veggies.
If you have a little time to wander, you can trek down to the water in search of the famous Little Mermaid. Be not alarmed, it is in fact that small. Word on the street is that she has been beheaded twice, painted numerous times and even had an arm sawed off. Of course, the Danes work quickly to repair any damage and she was perfectly intact when I arrived. The Little Mermaid statue is in dedication to Hans Christian Andersen for his prolific writing of poems, plays and fairy tales. If you haven’t read some of his original fairy tales, I’d encourage you to do so. Most are extremely dark and depressing. The Match Girl is about an abused little girl who wanders the streets trying to sell matches. She has no customers and continually lights a single match to stay warm. She eventually freezes to death with visions of her grandmother. Not exactly Disney’s Frozen.
This is not Amsterdam, and while drugs are still illegal in Denmark, this area of town certainly likes to take risks. The commune is a hipster area filled with street art, skateboarders and, let’s say, herbal offerings. It began in 1971 as a ‘forbidden city of the military.’ Today, there are more than 1,000 residents over 19 acres with parks and very little parking! I was drawn to the area because it is one location to find Thomas Dambo’s hidden trolls (more on that below).
You can get lost in the small alleys in the Christiana neighborhood, exploring the street art and people watching. There are a few shops and lots of little cafes for a bite to eat. The area is now a top tourist attraction, though it can be quite rough and a little dodgy. I wouldn’t recommend visiting at night.
Dambo’s Hidden Trolls
If you remember in our Maine itinerary, we found the hidden trolls in the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Since Dambo is Danish with his studio in Copenhagen, I had to see one in the country where it all started. He has six different locations throughout Copenhagen with hidden trolls. The one in Freetown Christiana is close to the entrance (I’ve pinned it here), but the other five are definitely off the beaten track.
If you’ve ever seen a picture of Copenhagen, I’d bet it was of the famous houses on the canal at Nyhavn. The No. 9 house is the oldest one, dating back to 1681. The area was once considered the “red light district” of the city with sailors coming into the canal for entertainment and accommodations. Hans Christian Andersen lived in three different houses on the quay. Today, it is a wonderful café-lined stroll with locals and tourists alike enjoying a drink with a view. This is one of the top things to do in Copenhagen!
Frederik’s Church & The Amalienborg Palace
Frederik’s Church, or the Marble Church, is known for its perfect alignment with the Amalienborg Palace and sweeping views of the city. I popped into the church to duck out of the rain, but I’m so glad I did. It’s absolutely beautiful inside, though not actually made of marble. That was the plan in 1749, but the original architect, Nicolai Eigtved, died with the project incomplete. The construction sat for more than 100 years before finally opening with limestone blocks in 1894. Entry is free, but silence is requested for prayer.
Across the street sits the Amalienborg, which is technically four palaces and the royal winter residence of Queen Margrethe II. Built in the middle of the 18th century, the four buildings look onto a square. Every day at noon there is a changing of the guards in the courtyard. While I was visiting, the Queen was in residence, so the King’s Watch ceremony is accompanied by the Royal Guards music band during the change. If a royal is not in residence, there is no musical accompaniment, and the ceremonial guard change is called the Manor Watch.
Did you know that the average military service in the Royal Danish Army is only four months? Denmark has mandatory conscription, meaning all eligible men over 18 must complete military service if called in the lottery. Denmark is also making plans for mandatory female conscription in an effort to increase their military defense and have more women in the Royal Army.
Queen Margrethe II enjoys a high approval rating as “cool and hip” with an archelogy background, love of sport and ability to relate to the people.
Free Walking Tour
Every time I come to a new city, I try to start my adventure with a free walking tour. It helps orient you in a new city and the guides usually provide some great tips for local restaurants and nearby activities that your guidebook (or me) might have missed! Guruwalk is a great resource to see what’s available in your area. Usually a reservation is required, though it’s free to cancel should your plans change. While the tours are free, the guides do make a living from the tips, so usually €5-€10 per person is recommended depending on the time and how well you enjoyed the tour. If you are looking for something a bit unique (and maybe offensive), check out Politically Incorrect Tours. I took one from an atheist with two priests as parents! It was interesting to say the least.
Rosenborg Castle & the King’s Garden
Copenhagen is home to one of the world’s oldest monarchies. As such, there are several palaces and castles to explore in and around Copenhagen. Set in the heart of the city’s center, Rosenborg Castle was built almost 400 years ago by King Christian IV. The castle houses the Crown Jewels and the Royal Regalia. It
It's free to wander the King’s Garden, but you pay for castle entry to see the collections on display. If you are interested in visiting several museums, palaces and castles, I’d recommend the Copenhagen City Access Card. It can be purchased for single or multi-day use and provides free entry into 80+ museums and activities. If you want to explore some places outside the city, consider this half-day tour of Fredriksborg Palace and Kronborg Castle.
Even with a tight budget (or virtually no budget at all), you can explore the heart of Denmark! These top free things to do in Copenhagen can be enjoyed year-round!