Travelling on a Budget: How To Survive Like a Student in Copenhagen

Copenhagen was ranked the seventh-most expensive city in the world in 2019
Copenhagen was ranked the seventh-most expensive city in the world in 2019 | © kavalenkava volha / Alamy Stock Photo
Caroline Hadamitzky

Copenhagen is one of the most beautiful cities in the world – but also one of the most expensive. Here, students based in the Danish capital share their best budget tips for making the most out of a trip to the city without breaking the bank.

Vibrant Copenhagen attracts visitors from around the globe, who come to experience its historical charm, Nordic style and emerging food scene. But the capital was also ranked the seventh-most expensive city in the world in 2019 by Business Insider – a latte here can cost you up to 52 Danish kroner (£5.90).

However, the city is filled with students, so who better to share the secrets of experiencing Copenhagen on a budget? Culture Trip asks students studying at the city’s universities for their advice on how to seek out the best affordable deals and reasonably priced experiences in the capital.

Discover Copenhagen’s sights for free

Main sights such as Nyhavn, Amalienborg Palace and ‘The Little Mermaid’ statue are easily explored on foot

Copenhagen is an incredibly walkable city, with main sights such as Nyhavn, Amalienborg Palace and The Little Mermaid statue clustered together in the city centre and easily reachable on foot. The Inner City’s eclectic surrounding neighbourhoods are worth visiting too and are a great way to see a more local side of the city.

If you’re not sure where to head, why not take a walking tour? “There are digital guided walking tours called Know Your ‘Bro,” suggests Charlotte, a student from Germany, who recommends the Vesterbro tour. “I liked it a lot. And it is for free if you have the internet on your smartphone.”

There are also free walking tours departing daily from Rådhuspladsen. These entertaining two-and-a-half-hour tours will introduce you to the must-see attractions in Copenhagen – they are free to join, with participants tipping guides the amount that they feel the tour was worth.

Eat out on the cheap in Copenhagen

Dining out in Copenhagen can be expensive, even without visiting one of its many Michelin-star restaurants. The city’s students know where to head for cheap eats, with Middle Eastern cuisine often being the best value for money.

Nørrebro is the place to go for the best Middle Eastern food in Copenhagen. “Falafel Kælderen is a paradise for falafel – but also for kebab,” raves Pedro, a student from Spain. “It serves the pitta or dürüm with hummus and tabbouleh, and it is beyond good.” Pedro adds that the food served at the Lebanese restaurant is “ultra-cheap and with amazing flavour”. Nørrebro’s Durum Bar and Shawarma Grill House on the Strøget pedestrian street also come highly recommended by Copenhagen-based students for flavour and price.

Jess, who is from the United States but is studying in the capital, adds: “I would recommend checking out burger places in Copenhagen at lunchtime because they often have offers where you can get a burger for significantly cheaper than at dinner time. Burgerklubben or Halifax Burgers are some examples around the city.”

Try communal dining to save money on food and hang out with Copenhagen’s residents

For a unique experience in Copenhagen and the opportunity for affordable meals, try fællesspisning – communal dining – which also gives visitors the chance to meet Copenhageners.

Perhaps the most popular fællesspisning in the city takes place daily at Absalon community centre in Vesterbro: “Absalon has dinners every day for 50 kroner (£5.60) and 100 kroner on (£11.30) Fridays and Saturdays,” says Danish-American student Nina. “The tables seat eight, so you can bring a group, or you will be seated with others so that you fit at a table. Each table is served family-size portions, and you all share the dishes at the table. During the day, they have breakfast and lunch as well, and it’s very reasonably priced and tastes good!” And it’s not just communal dining that Absalon organises; it also has activities such as yoga, bingo and morning disco. Buy your dinner ticket online to avoid disappointment.

Recent Copenhagen graduate Constance recommends GONZO, which puts on fællesspisning dinners every Monday, offering two courses for 100 kroner (£11.30). For an alternative cheap meal in the city, she suggests trying One Bowl, a vegan café where diners choose their own price for their dish.

Hang out where the Copenhagen locals go

Copenhagen’s newest street food market, Reffen, is a popular spot to spend time in the warmer months. Created from shipping containers, Reffen lies in the former industrial district of Refshaleøen, which is now an up-and-coming area. Student Jean-Baptise from Belgium recommends it, saying, it’s “not very touristy, damn good and nice to chill at. You can find street food from tons of different countries for a price of around 50 to 100 kroner (£5.60-11.30).” He also praises the location, describing it as having “a music festival atmosphere with a nice view of the harbour”. Reffen is home to local artisans and hosts many events, including parties, workshops and quizzes.

For a cosier spot to while away an afternoon, Sabrina, a student from the USA, shares her favourite hang-out: “I like Bastard Café – it’s a board game café. My boyfriend and I spend hours there, and you don’t have to pay to get in.”

Check out Copenhagen’s museums for culture on a budget

Thorvaldsens Museum is free to visit on Wednesdays

Copenhagen has no shortage of museums, and most of them have free admission once a week. “I like the Design Museum because it shows everyday Danish products, including cutlery, lamps and furniture, designed years ago but still popular in Danish houses, offices and hotels. You can learn about their history, creators and the ideas behind them,” shares Ada from Poland. Admission is free for students and under-26s, and on Sundays, the museum offers 30-minute guided tours at 2pm and 2.30pm. On Wednesdays, Thorvaldsens Museum, Nikolaj Kunsthal and Kunsthal Charlottenborg (after 5pm) are also free.

Anneliese from Australia particularly enjoys the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, which features sculptures, paintings and artefacts. “The Glyptotek is free on Tuesdays. It has the most beautiful winter garden inside, as well as exhibitions.” Under-27s and students get a reduced entry fee to the Glyptotek every day of the week.

Dive into Copenhagen’s café culture

Popular with Copenhagen’s students, affordable café Studenterhuset is located right next to Copenhagen University. “Studenterhuset is an institution among students for budget coffees, food and events,” says Natalie, a student from the USA. This lively spot is open through the day and into the evening, with free events such as improv workshops, swing dancing and flea markets. Drinks are cheap, and every Wednesday evening from 7pm to 8pm, students with a valid ID can enjoy a healthy meal for just 30 kroner (£3.40).

Jack from the UK also shares his favourite coffee spot: “Zaggis is a great stop on your way through the city. It’s always humming with activity from a young crowd. The quality of the coffee is great, especially considering the price – everything is 15 kroner (£1.70) – and it has basic sandwiches and decent cakes too. For location, atmosphere and value for money, Zaggis comes out on top, every time.”

Save some money by using apps

Ada loves the money-saving food-sharing app Too Good to Go, which alerts users to nearby deals on food that would otherwise be wasted. “You can choose filters, location and hours in which you want to find food, and you can use the app in English for searching. Almost all of the companies write descriptions of offers in Danish, but you can quickly learn key words – for example, selvfyldt means that you will get a box to fill from a buffet, while personalefyldt means that a worker has already filled a box or bag for you.” Ada adds: “I especially like places with a buffet – for example, by using Too Good to Go, you can fill a box with a dinner from Dalle Valle for 29 kroner (£3.30) instead of 119 kroner (£13.40).”

Catalina from Romania also likes Dalle Valle’s own app, which features offers from the already-affordable restaurant. “Another good mobile app is Dalle Valle, which has offers such as a two-for-one buffet for 119 kroner (£13.40).”

Scope out reasonably priced local events

Copenhagen has many free events throughout the year, including its Christmas markets

Events take place year-round in Copenhagen, so be sure to check what’s on when you’ll be in town. “I mostly use Facebook Events to keep up to date with what is going on,” says Anneliese. “The Scandinavian Standard’s website also does a good monthly summary of upcoming events.” Some of Anneliese’s favourite seasonal activities are the Christmas markets, J-Dag (when Danish brewer Tuborg releases its popular spiced Christmas beer and hands it out for free) and Distortion, a music festival that takes place in early summer. The five-day event includes free street parties and many free or affordable performances by a variety of artists.

Distortion is one of my favourite events. The city closes off the main streets in the Nørrebro and Vesterbro neighbourhoods for a street dance party with different DJs, and there are parties and events from the early afternoon into the night,” explains Anneliese. “Young people completely let loose, dance, celebrate freedom and have fun with their friends.”

Save money and get active at the same time

The most popular way to get around Copenhagen is on two wheels – up to 60 percent of the city’s residents commute by bike to work or school. It’s a great way to see the area and enjoy the fresh air simultaneously. Many hostels and hotels offer their guests affordable bike rentals, and the Bycyklen programme has self-service electric bikes around Copenhagen. Alternatively, you can use a bike-sharing app such as Donkey Republic.

For another way to enjoy Copenhagen’s outdoors, Bryony from the UK loves spending time at Havnebadet Islands Brygge, one of the city’s harbour baths. “On a sunny summer day, Islands Brygge is one of my favourite spots. There are free public swimming pools and a diving board into the main waterway of the capital. It’s amazing that it’s clean enough to swim in the city centre of Copenhagen. The area has a really nice atmosphere of people swimming, sunbathing, listening to music and barbecuing.”

Enjoy Copenhagen’s natural surroundings for free

Copenhagen has plentiful pretty green spaces to visit, including Rosenborg Castle

Copenhagen is packed with green spaces, including the beloved King’s Garden, home of the 17th-century Rosenborg Castle. Student Sabrina recommends the nearby Botanical Garden, describing them as “very lovely, and free”. The series of lakes dividing the Inner City and Nørrebro are lined with paths and benches – perfect for a stroll or picnic by the water.

If you’re looking to escape the city, Anneliese recommends Dyrehaven, a nature reserve 20 minutes from central Copenhagen. “Dyrehaven is a great place to spend the day – all you need to pay is the train ride there.” The park features around 2,000 wild deer and is a fantastic place to walk, run or bike – it’s also home to Bakken, the world’s oldest amusement park, which is free to enter.

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