Copenhagen, Denmark is an eclectic mix of old-world charm and modern innovation, all wrapped up in one intriguing city. The Danish capital is also known as the “City of Spires” because of its iconic architecture. This rather expensive city is not known for being budget-friendly and you can expect to spend quite a bit when visiting. But if you keep your eye open for free festivals and happenings like the changing of the guard for Danish royalty, you'll have plenty of unique things to do that won't cost a dime.
Imagine strolling through a Christmas market in the winter or ice skating in a local frozen lake. In the summer, picnic at Frederiksberg Garden as you gaze at the majestic Frederiksberg Palace. Browse through independent shops with no pressure to buy and then plan a walk at Tivoli Gardens, where you can stroll for free.
There are plenty of free things to do in Copenhagen! From free walking tours of historic neighborhoods to viewing the Little Mermaid statue to visiting free museums, you will find lots to keep you busy without breaking the bank. Before you start your adventure of enjoying the free things in Copenhagen, drop your things in a Copenhagen luggage storage locker for safekeeping. Don't let the extra weight slow you down!
It does not cost a thing to stroll down along the harbor in Nyhavn with its colorful buildings and iconic tall ships. This nautical destination is a great place to spend an hour or two. Avoid the crowds and head to the opposite side of the harbor with its vibrant houses and amazing views of Copenhagen and the harbor.
Look for house number 20, this is where Hans Christian Andersen, the beloved Danish author, lived in 1835 when his very first fairy tales were published. Hans Christian Andersen's best known writings include The Red Shoes, The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Mermaid, just to name a few. Grab a snack and some drinks and have a picnic along the harbor!
The Little Mermaid
While you may stroll right past this smaller sculpture without even noticing it, except for the large crowds that tend to flock to it, The Little Mermaid is quite an unassuming monument even though it is a popular tourist destination. But it is one that people from all around the globe have come to Copenhagen to see. Made famous by Hans Christian Andersen, this little mermaid is perched on a rock staring out at the sea.
It is completely free to visit The Little Mermaid and you can even snap photos with the sculpture to memorialize the moment you came face to face with the iconic mermaid straight from the fairy tales. The sculpture was installed on Langelinie promenade in 1913 and has become the most visited monument in Copenhagen.
While a visit the Christiansborg Palace is not entirely free, there are a few things that will not cost you a thing. The palace is home to the Royal Reception Rooms and the Danish Parliament and it is truly a sight you have to see in person to appreciate the wonderful architecture. You do have to pay a small fee to take a tour of most of Christiansborg Palace.
However, you can enter the Christiansborg Tower. The tower is the highest viewpoint in Copenhagen and offers amazing views. Look out across the sea and catch a glimpse of Sweden or look out over the city for jaw dropping sights. You can also check out the Royal Riding Ring for free where you may get the chance to see a few of the Queen’s horses during a training session.
Museums are always a fabulous activity. Especially when the admission is without charge! Dedicated to the works of famous Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen, the museum is home to several of his works as well as his own personal art collection which has several amazing pieces by European artists. You can spend a lazy afternoon learning more about this great sculptor and then sit in the outdoor courtyard and enjoy a cooling refreshment.
The Thorvaldsens Museum is next door to the Christiansborg Palace so plan to visit both on a Wednesday when general admission to the museum is free. These are two wonderful free things to do in Copenhagen that provide a little history lesson and a bit of culture to your day.
Copenhagen's Botanical Garden
With over 9,000 plant species and located in the heart of central Copenhagen at the University of Copenhagen, this amazing oasis is the perfect place to visit when you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The Copenhagen Botanical Gardens is home to the biggest collection of living plants in Denmark and one of the largest green spaces.
The gardens date back to the 1600s when the university planted its first garden and opened it to the public. Today, you can enjoy strolling among the greenery and then making your way to Observatory Hill, which is the highest point in the inner-city part of Copenhagen. Take a seat by the wooden wharf next to the lake and watch the ducks playing on the water.
National Gallery of Denmark
With over 700 years of artwork on display in the permanent exhibitions at the National Gallery of Denmark, this is one museum you do not want to miss. Admission is free for the permanent exhibits but you do have to pay a fee for many of the special or temporary exhibits. Some special exhibits are also free for everyone.
Artwork includes Nordic art and Danish, European, and French. Art buffs will fall in love with the National Gallery and be delighted to see workds by Vilhelm Hammershoi and Christian Kobke. Sculptures by Ann Lislegaard and David Shrigley also grabs your attention with the amazing detail of each piece.
Overlooking St. Alban’s Church, this mythical fountain is truly a sight you do not want to miss. It features a rather imposing group of oxen pulling a cart being driven by Gefion, the Norse goddess. This large fountain is in the Nordre Toldbod area just south of Langelinie and next to Kastellet. It is free to visit the fountain and you can even toss a coin in for good luck.
The fountain sits in front the star-shaped fortress known as Kastellet which was built during the 1600s as one of the first defenses against invaders and threats to the city. It is also free to visit Kastellet where you can meander through the grounds and check out several of the historic buildings, including an amazing wooden windmill.
This popular shopping street runs through Copenhagen’s city centre and has amazingly historic squares, buildings, and fountains along the way. It is one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in the entire world and is a mecca for shopaholics and fashionistas, filled with Danish designers and fantastic boutiques. Look out over Copenhagen Harbour while you are here.
While it is free to stroll along Stroget and take in the sights and sounds of this popular avenue, it will cost you a pretty penny to dine or shop along the way. So, do a little window shopping and bring along a snack to enjoy when you need refreshments to keep from spending money or you can grab a quick snack and drink at one of the street food vendors that are bound to be around.
While Copenhagen is filled with several great green spaces, the King’s Gardens are especially amazing to explore. The gardens surround the magnificent Rosenborg Castle, built in the 1600s as the summer house for the Danish royal family. The castle is now a museum and if you happen to have a Copenhagen Card, admission is free.
You can explore the gardens totally free. Wear comfortable shoes and stroll along the manicured paths imagining the royal family and their guests doing the same. The sculptures and statues found throughout the garden are eye-catching and make great backdrops for photos. Sit on one of the benches and soak up the peacefulness of the gardens.
Do you like to hike or take long walks? Another fantastic botanical garden, Botanisk Have covers over 24 acres of lush land. With over 13,000 plant, tree, and flower species at this garden, it makes it feel like you have stepped into the garden of Eden. Visit the 19th century glass greenhouse called Palmhaus. This greenhouse is filled with wonderful and exotic plants from around the world.
Next to the Palmhaus is the Danish Quarter which is home to several different rotating or special exhibitions that you can visit for an entrance fee. Free entry to the Botanisk Have allows the entire family to come explore the garden and enjoy all the natural beauty no matter what time of the year you are there.
This is the official residence of the Danish Royal Family when they are residing in Copenhagen. It is indeed a place you do not want to miss. The grandeur of the royal palace will leave you in awe and while admission to the main courtyard has free admission, if you are looking for a guided tour, you will have to pay a fee.
The best time to visit the palace to experience the best free activities is at noon. This is when the Changing of the Guard occurs. The guard ceremony occurs every day and you can watch as the Royal Life Guard marches through the streets of Copenhagen from their barracks to Amalienborg Palace. The Danish Royal Guard will march around the courtyard in full uniform during the ceremony.
It is free to visit the Torvehallerne Market, filled with fresh, local produce and plenty of amazing street food vendors. The market is comprised of two glass-enclosed halls as well as several outdoor vendor stalls. You can stroll along and maybe even enjoy a free sample or two. Danish people come here to find some of the best produce and freshest ingredients.
It will cost you some money if you see goodies you would like to take home with you from fresh produce and herbs to tasty chocolates, quality teas and fragrant wines. You can even sit at one of the many cafes around the market. Some of the cafes off the beaten path are cheaper than those right in the thick of the market.
The Freetown Christiania is located on the island of Christianshavn and is a very unique place to visit. The area was first established in 1971 during a housing shortage in Copenhagen. Squatters moved into an old, abandoned military base to form a more progressive society. It is not the type of neighborhood you want to visit at night but by day you can stroll through without being bothered.
There are several nature trails and even a lake you can visit for free or you can wander by the old military base and see how many of the buildings have been transformed into homes, restaurants, and bars. Street art abounds here and makes the area come alive with colorful, vibrant art.
The Royal Library
Located on the island of Slotsholmen, the Royal Library is a mix of old-world charm and modern extension with newer architecture. It is split into two different sections; the original building which opened in 1648 and the extension that was opened in 1999. The newer part of the library is called the Black Diamond and sits on the shores of Copenhagen harbor.
Books dating back to 1482 are displayed here as are almost every book that has ever been printed in the Danish language. So, if the history of the books does not grab your attention, the fascinating architecture of the oldest part of the library will definitely leave you in awe. The central hall is open to the public for free.
Put a Free Walking Tour at the Top of the List
With all the great free things to do here, you can easily spend a weekend exploring this magnificent city without breaking the bank. Visit Copenhagen even if you do not have a lot of money to spend once you get here. Sign up for a free walking tour or two so you can learn more about the city, visit some of the free museums and botanical gardens, and get to know this Danish capital.