A true Epicurean knows when to save and when to splurge and it’s easy to do both in Copenhagen, one of Europe’s most elegant cities. By seeking out free and affordable opportunities without sacrificing quality you’ll be able to set aside your Danish krone for those indispensable splurges found only in Copenhagen. Based on a recent stay, here are my top suggestions for a boundary pushing visit that won’t break the budget.
Before heading out onto the cobblestone city streets, I invested in the Copenhagen Card, which provides free entry to more than 70 museums, free public transport by bus, train and Metro, multiple discounts on restaurants and attractions. Riding the metro, I found the card handy and convenient as I avoided having to dig into my pockets for change and figure out the different krone needed.
With the card in hand, I headed off to City Hall where I joined up with my guide from Copenhagen Free Walking Tours. This is a no-charge, tip-based tour giving an excellent overview of the high points of the city with a dash of history and a bit of folklore thrown in for more interest. I used the tour as a guide to places I wanted to revisit and explore in more depth. Here are some of my favorites.
Nyhavn. Blessed with warm sun or a cool mist, my favorite adventure is a leisurely stroll along the waterfront in colorful Nyhavn where wooden boats sit dockside and friendly cafes beckon. Pedestrian walking streets straddle both sides of the harbor with brightly colored houses and cafes lining one while stately old homes line the other. Stroll past the former home of Hans Christian Anderson at 67 Nyhavn where a memorial plaque honors the fairy tale author whose tales of The Little Mermaid and The Emperor’s New Clothes have entertained generations. Here in Nyhavn, you can use your Copenhagen Card to hop onto one of the harbor boat tours for a cruise out on the water and watch the sun set over the city.
On Two Wheels. Copenhagen accomodates cyclists with bike lanes and paths raised from the road in many places. Walking around, I noticed many more bikes than cars on the city streets. For travelers, a great option is the city bike program where you can borrow a city bike and comfortably navigate the center. Bikes rental costs 25kr per hour and they come with a built in GPS. You can borrow and give back your rental at stands all over the center.
Tarnet of Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen’s highest point. Located in central Copenhagen, I found the entrance to Tarnet (the tower) at the King’s Gate, a very large gate just below the tower. I had heard that a vantage point at the top of the tower offers a superb photo opportunity with its panoramic view over the city’s rooftops. It was quite a climb encompassing two elevator rides and a stairway trek to the peak. But worth every step for the 360 degree view spread out before me. An overcast sky gave the scene a fairy tale cast and though it wasn’t visible, the gentleman standing next to me mentioned that on a clear day, one could see Sweden in the distance. Owned by the Danish Parliament, the tower is open to the public and free of entry every day except Monday. taarnet.dk/info
Restaurant Tarnet. The tower is not all that can be found here. Restaurant Tarnet, founded by well-known restaurateur and chocolatier Rasmus Bo Bojesen, is a dining experience like no other. This is one place where you’ll definitely want to splurge. The dining room is set in a restored area of the palace, almost hexagonal in shape with soaring ceilings–a rare space evoking classic old Danish architectural style with a dramatic circular staircase, beautiful brickwork and a scattering of fascinating old stone sculptures–yet somehow imbued with a clean, modern, cozy feel. (You can actually sit on the large staircase and have a before-dinner drink.) Go for lunch, afternoon tea and dessert, or for dinner where you’ll always find organic, creative Danish cuisine so divine you’ll want to return soon. Set the mood for a memorable feast beforehand with a view of the rising moon or the setting sun from the tower overlook.. Read more about the restaurant, see the menu and book a table at taarnet.dk/restaurant.
King’s Garden and its magnificent tree-covered grounds surround Rosenborg Castle, a 400-year-old renaissance castle built by Denmark’s colorful King Christian IV. Pack a picnic lunch and sit on the lawn overlooking the peaceful pond, sun bathe in warm weather or frolic with a frisbee.
Wander sandy paths lined with rare plants or explore scattered sculptures surrounded by flower beds.You’ll find another depicting the beloved Hans Christian Anderson here. I stopped by the sweet cafe in front of the Castle where, while savoring a cup of warm hot chocolate, I enjoyed the cafe’s classic Scandinavian interior with its simple but tasteful decor in Nordic blues and greys. (Free entry to Rosenborg Castle with the Copenhagen Card.)
The gardens were featured in the film, The Danish Girl. I was so inspired by the film’s fascinating scenes of the city, many still visible today, that I visited Copenhagen and wrote about my time there.
Puppet Theatre. From early June through August, the Puppet Theatre, also located within the gardens, stages afternoon open-air performances daily except Mondays. Shows are performed in an open pavilion regardless of weather as long as there’s an audience. Entrance is free.
Torvehallerne. A gourmet wonderland where you’ll see first hand why Nordic cuisine wins accolades.Two greenhouse-style food halls wrap around an outdoor flower and fresh produce market with lots of seating in between. I splurged on smorrebrod, an open-faced sandwich artfully arranged with a generous serving of wild smoked salmon, topped with a sprig of dill, crispy radish and cucumber slices. You’ll also find a tapas counter, fishmongers hawking the morning’s catch, bakeries boasting Danish delights, hand-dipped chocolates, cheeses and juice bars. Vendors everywhere were offering samples of tasty morsels. You may be lucky enough to catch a live musical concert played in the open space between the two foods halls. Much is free or affordable.
Wanting to know more, I signed up for a four-hour food and walking tour with Maria of Copenhagen Food Tours. While the tour is not free, we sampled enough food–cheeses, breads, mini-sandwiches and tea–to make a full meal and topped it off with a beer flight for good measure.
The tour began and ended at the food hall where we sampled delectable Danish dark chocolate accompanied by artisanal tea. After, I shopped for gourmet gift items to bring home, spices, teas, jams and honey, all natural and organic.
Ibsen Hotel. After much research, I chose the centrally located Ibsen Hotel for my five-day Copenhagen stay. Ibsen’s personifies the Danish word, hyggi, Pronounced hoo-gah, it means coziness, the idea of embracing happiness and comfort. My toasty room with wooden rafters and a lovely view of the garden included a sumptuous breakfast buffet and complimentary afternoon Happy Hour. Breakfast oatmeal with yogurt or skyr, apple compote, almonds and granola warmed my heart and bones each morning. Add to that the thick toasted slices of crusty rye bread that I slathered with fragrant homemade jam and I was well fortified for the day. Once or twice I managed to return for the five o’clock Happy Hour, content to sit in the comfortable lounge where a local musical trio performed as I sipped my glass of Merlot. I can very confidently recommend the Ibsen for your stay in Copenhagen.
On my last evening, a friend and I wandered into one of the city’s quiet enclaves where the cobbled streets and 16th century houses remain relatively unchanged. We sat at an outdoor cafe table snuggled under cozy blankets. Ancient street lanterns cast a warm shimmer on the cobblestones as we indulged in crème brûlée, passion fruit mousse, and warm mulled wine. Memorable, affordable and luxurious.
This is a partial list of my favorite ways to enjoy Copenhagen on a budget while experiencing luxury at every turn. I’ll post more in my next article on Free and Affordable Copenhagen.
If You Go: Visit www.visitcopenhagen.com