Charming, creative and captivating, it’s hard not to fall in love with Copenhagen. At one with its rich history, while showcasing the latest in design and innovation, Denmark’s capital is a popular stop on a European cruise.
As one of the most liveable cities in the world, Copenhagen’s compact layout makes it ideal for anyone looking to make the most of their time here. And with its bicycle-friendly design, you can make your way around freely, allowing you to unlock even more of the city’s hidden gems. But if you’re watching the pennies or want to make the most of the budget you have, we’re here to guide you through the top free things to do in Copenhagen.
Check out the jazz festival
One of the biggest events of its kind in Europe, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival makes the city come alive with music each summer. The streets, city squares, jazz clubs, concert halls and more bounce with vibrant jazz performances from 7th to 16th July. More than 250,000 people embrace the genre at one of Copenhagen’s oldest music events.
During the course of the 10-day festival, the city transforms into a hub for music, with more than 1,000 concerts across 100 locations available for everyone. There are so many opportunities to catch some brilliant musical performances and if that isn’t enough to tempt you, there are plenty of free performances across the parks, squares and streets.
Enjoy a free walking tour
Free walking tours are a brilliant way to ensure you get to take in all of Copenhagen’s main sights. We highly recommend taking a tour with Copenhagen Free Walking Tours who offer a Grand Tour of Copenhagen, a Tour of Christianshavn, a Classical Tour of Copenhagen and even a pub crawl.
The tours range from 90 minutes to three hours and run at various points throughout the day. When a new city can be daunting, these walks allow you to take in the most significant sights while learning more about the history and culture.
Experience the world’s oldest amusement park
Venture 10 minutes outside of Copenhagen and you’ll find Dyrehavsbakken, the oldest amusement park in the world. Opened in 1583, the amusement park, which is known as Bakken for short, is known and adored across Denmark. The park has evolved over the years but still retains its original charm thanks to its merge of unforgettable history and modern amusement rides.
With 33 roller coasters, Ferris wheels, drop towers and lots of vintage games and amusements, Bakken has more rides than any other park in Scandinavia (the highlight of which is the parks 82-year-old wooden rollercoaster). We were lucky enough to chat with Nils-Erik Winther, CEO of Bakken Amusement Park who told of the unique attractions and idyllic location, “Bakken is the world’s oldest amusement park and for more than 400 years it’s been located in the amazing ancient forest Dyrehaven, just north of Copenhagen. Everybody is welcome to go for a walk in the amusement park and enjoy the colourful stalls. The park is free to enter which allows you to easily combine a visit to Bakken with a trip to lovely Dyrehaven. Quite often you’ll find that we have free open-air concerts and free entertainment at Bakken Amusement Park and every single day you can enjoy Bakken’s very own Pierrot when he makes his funny appearances at his green wooden house.
“A trip to Bakken is a nostalgic trip to a historic piece of Danish culture. If you’re up for it you can also take a trip on one of Bakken’s thrill rides - for instance, the wooden rollercoaster from 1932 also known as ‘The Old Lady.’ Or you can have lunch or dinner at one of the cosy restaurants and enjoy the traditional Danish dishes such as open sandwiches called smørrebrød.”
You may recognise some parts of Nyhavn from The Danish Girl, an Oscar-nominated film from 2015. This colourful harbour is particularly popular among visitors with its 17th-century houses and stunning boats setting a stunning scene. It is also one of Victoria’s (from Pommie Travels) favourite things to do in Copenhagen: “My favourite thing to do in Copenhagen is simply stroll around the waterfront area of Nyhavn and look at the colourful buildings. In the summer months, you can sit and soak up the sun then grab a beer in one of the restaurants afterwards.”
If you’re looking for somewhere to sample traditional Danish herring then you’re in luck. There are many nautical-themed spots offering great food and a really laidback atmosphere. And, if you happen to be out at dusk, thhe lights from the bars, restaurants and houses that line either side of the harbour make for a brilliant photo opportunity.
Go to a museum
Copenhagen is blessed with a wide range of museums, from the National Museum to collections gathered by Carlsberg. Although some can warrant a fee for entry, the museums we have included are free.
Frilandsmuseet in the north of Copenhagen is among the oldest and largest of its kind in the world. With more than 50 farms, mills and houses dating from 1650 to 1940 occupying the 86 acres of land, Frilandsmuseet allows you to explore Denmark in its entirety in just a few hours. Almost every region in Denmark is represented at the museum, including the Faroe Islands, former provinces of southern Sweden and northern Germany.
Built in 1743 and situated right in the heart of Copenhagen, the National Museum of Denmark covers every corner of the history of the country. With exhibitions from the Stone Age to modern Danish history, the museum can be found in The Prince’s Palace. Guided tours do cost money but you can explore the exhibitions by yourself which includes a number of permanent displays including the Danish Prehistory collection, Danish antiquity and much more.
Head off on a bike ride
One thing you will notice when you set foot in Copenhagen is that everyone cycles. It is one of the most cycle-friendly cities you are likely to visit and rightly you should take advantage of this.
You can find free cycle hire across the city which allows you to easily glide from landmark to landmark. There are several thousand to choose from and do require a 20kr deposit but you will get this back when you return with the bike. Each bike has a map between the handlebars which shows you where you are going and anything you should be made aware of. While riding on British roads can be rather intimidating, cycling in Copenhagen will make you fall in love with bikes once again.
Marvel at historical sights
Copenhagen is full to the brim with historical sights. The winter residence for the Danish royal family, Amalienborg Palace is actually made up of four different palaces flanking a square. For anyone interested in royal history and architecture, a visit to Amalienborg is a must.
While you can spend plenty of time marvelling at the buildings, there are a number of particular attractions not to be missed, including the changing of the Royal Guard. Called Den Kongelige, you can see them changing guard at 12 pm every day. Currently the official city residence of Queen Margrethe II, the sight of the soldiers dressed in their distinct bearskin helmets and armed with their rifles is a real spectacle.
Dating back to 1625, Børsen is one of the oldest and most interesting buildings in Copenhagen. It was King Christian IV who understood the importance of increased trade and commerce and chose to have this magnificent building built. The building is among the most significant in the city. Not only did it become the hub for finance for the whole of Denmark but the roof itself was stripped away to create cannonballs during the Swedish occupation of Copenhagen. King Christian had made the roof from lead but this was removed to make the cannonballs. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the roof was fixed, having previously been only partially covered with tin and tile.
One of the most stand-out features of Børsen is the dragon tailed spire. Four intertwining tails are topped by three crowns which symbolise the Scandinavian empire (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) and according to legend, the spire is said to protect the building from enemy attack and fires.
Swim at Harbour Bath
A favourite among local families, swimmers and beach lovers, Islands Brygge Harbour Bath is a great way to fully engage in Danish culture and customs. Here, you can enjoy open-air swimming and the city’s stunning skyline without spending a penny. Tara from Where is Tara? explained why Islands Brygge Harbour Bath is one of her favourite places in Copenhagen: “My favourite free thing to do in Copenhagen is to head to the Harbour Bath at Islands Brygge. It’s a free bathing area with a diving platform where they often hold competitions. If you don’t want to swim, you can just chill out on the floating deck. Or take a picnic and sprawl out on the green areas around the Harbour Bath for some incredible people watching.”
Visit The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid is one of Copenhagen’s most iconic attractions. Perched on top of a boulder at Langelinie Pier, Edvard Eriksen’s sculpture celebrated its 100th anniversary back in August 2013. Modest and unassuming, she sits gazing out across the harbour looking for her lost love, as thousands head down to this quaint corner of Copenhagen.
Commissioned by the heir of Carlsberg, Carl Jacobsen, the statue is based on ballerina Ellen Price who enthralled Jacobsen during a performance at the Royal Danish Theatre back in 1909. He then chose sculptor Edvard Eriksen to create the statue. To Danes, she symbolises the ‘love and wonderfulness’ of the capital city and has become a representation of Denmark and a sense of self.