Five days and with only £100 spending money, I find out whether Copenhagen, one of the world’s most expensive cities, can be a budget holiday destination.
With tall, slim, bearded men on bicycles, laughing gas bars and Christiania, a self governed community at the heart of the city, Denmark’s capital is a hipsters’ paradise. Frequently named as the world’s ‘most liveable’ place, and soon to be the world’s first carbon neutral capital, it’s no wonder that Europe’s Green Capital of 2014 oozes an unpretentious quaintness that other cities only aspire to have.
Anyone looking for a budget holiday though, may be discouraged by Copenhagen’s most recently adorned title –one of the top ten most expensive cities in the world. But don’t be deterred –a friend and I recently took on the challenge of discovering Copenhagen in five days – each with only £100 in our pockets (excluding our £100 return flights). And did we succeed? Oh yes – in fact, we took this challenge by storm. And what’s more? We both came home with extra Kroner in our hands and Danish cheese to scoff on the plane.
So after hearing the worried cries from our friends about the ludicrous prices of Denmark, we ignored them all, and went on our way. And of course, yes, Copenhagen has expensive cafes, and eating out can be extortionate – £4.00 for a cup of PG tips, for example, or randomly, £80 for a small lamp. But thankfully, we brought our own tea bags and luckily, we didn’t need any extra lighting. Phew. Nevertheless:
Copenhagen is a city full to the brim of exciting and budget places, not-for-profit eateries, free sightseeing attractions and incredibly hospitable people.
Plus, with everything in reasonable walking (or cycling) distance, public transport costs don’t have to be an issue –although if you get lost a lot like us, then the blisters on your feet will be.
After sorting out free accommodation through Couchsurfing, a reputable website for travellers offering available spare rooms (or actual couches…), one of our biggest money worries had been taken care of. As like anything, you have to do your research and ensure that your host has nothing but glowing references. But once you have rigorously read through dozens of profiles and secured a room, Couchsurfing isn’t just a place where you can self cater but a great way to meet the locals and to become thoroughly submerged in the Danish culture – and this was part of why our trip was such a success. Yet, all is not lost if Couchsurfing doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, as there are very reasonable deals to be found from websites like Air BnB, or if you’re keen to socialise, hostels like Downtown.
Image Vibes Apotek bar Copenhagen. Via Facebook page.
Arriving in Nørrebro in Copenhagen, we were greeted by bikes (thousands of bikes) and also our host, Jens, who thankfully came well prepared for lost sheep. Taken under his and flatmate Pawel’s wing, we were shown Copenhagen from their perspective. No Little Mermaid or open top bus tours for us. In fact, our method of transport was far less fancy than a tour bus – bike backies (in the rain, I might add). Thrown in at the deep end, and clinging on for our dear lives, our night out wasn’t in Copenhagen’s trendy (and costly) Meatpacking district. Oh, no.
Once we had lined our stomachs with free food from a Rub & Stub event (a non-profit restaurant that uses surplus food waste and is ran by volunteers), we ended up in Vibes Apotek – a back street bar that sells cheap cocktails, beer and laughing gas . And boy, did we laugh. Accepted into our hosts’ friendship group like one of their own, we drank and smoked our night away in some opium den-like, soft walled, psychedelic cave. Sadly, that and some Polish honey liquor means that everything after that is pretty hazy. However, our glimpse into Copenhagen nightlife was already enough to reveal that if you scratch away at the exterior of its fancy bars, underneath you will find a vast selection of organisations and communities that fill you with delicious food and provide you with hours of fun for hardly any money at all.
A beautiful, home cooked lunch from Pawel the next day, and we were eventually coaxed out of bed to explore Copenhagen in what was left of the daylight. Miserably, it turns out that Copenhagen’s climate is pretty much the same, if not, worse than Manchester’s – and our weekend was mostly hit by torrential rain. Despite this, and after momentarily mourning the loss of time I had spent shaving my legs, we remained upbeat from what Copenhagen had to offer. Its Botanical Gardens are, like the majority of places in Copenhagen, free to look around. Being typically British and dressed head to toe in our anoraks, we managed to explore the scenery and even have a picnic (yes, in the rain – hardcore).
The only thing we were missing was a flask of tea – but we got over this pretty quickly by investing in beer from a corner shop. Unlike parts of Britain, and thankfully for us, it’s legal to drink in public in Copenhagen. In our sodden clothing and clutching our cans of Kronenberg, we headed on to an art-filled day. With The David Collection apparently being the number one attraction in Copenhagen, I had high expectations. Not only is it all completely free, but they offer English speaking, digital tour guides, learning resources and an incredible wealth of artefacts and knowledge. It really was impressively suave. The only downside of the experience was getting lost in its maze of rooms five minutes before closing time. Despite this, and the fact that its dark and almost intimidating interior is perhaps something that ought to be saved for a rainy day, this is definitely something not to be missed.
Never ones to pass up art (free art at that), the National Gallery was a must on our list of things to see. Being in Denmark and intrigued to breathe in more of its culture, we (perhaps naughtily) skipped to the Danish art sections – pre and post 1900s. Here I discovered art, which, like most of the Danes we had seen, was truly beautiful. And although possibly seen through rose-tinted glasses, I instantly fell in love with – particularly artists such as Hammershoi.
His art known for being serene and simple, yet still magnificent and complex, I couldn’t help but feel as though he was a fantastic parallel of Copenhagen itself. And after spending all afternoon admiring his works, we treated our weary feet by venturing to the extremely cosy Cafe Retro.
With cheap snacks and big, comfy armchairs to sink into, this non-profit cafe is an excellent representation of Copenhagen’s low cost culture. Not only is it affordable, but as part of the organisation Retro, the cafe is run by volunteers and the profits go to India and Africa. An afternoon of art, admiration and cake all for under a tenner, Copenhagen once again delivered.
In contrast to Hammershoi’s modest work, Frederik’s Church, one of Copenhagen’s many beautiful churches, we found to be a magnificent but cheeky old chap. Peeping out from behind scaffolding and large buildings, it hides away amongst the side streets of the inner city- and although having nearly escaped us, once found, is definitely worth a visit. Other typical tourist attractions that we felt obliged to see were areas like Fristaden Christiania and Nyhaven; two ultimately contrasting places, in both ways of life and ethos, but both as much as an attraction as the other.
Nyhaven is a beautiful and bustling canal, laced with expensive cafes and bars, and was once home to Hans Christen Anderson. And although its prices reflect this, just a walk down the canal side will certainly brighten your day. Christiania, on the other hand, is a self-founded community from the 1970s, which declares itself outside of the EU, sets its own rules, and where weed is openly smoked. Despite sadly not getting to spend much time there, Christiania’s atmosphere is electric – with vegetarian and vegan restaurants offering cheap food, live jazz nights and extraordinarily shaped houses and shops, it is a town that sets all your senses alight.
Our visit to Copenhagen did have some downsides – however, these were mostly down to us not having enough time (forever) to explore or because, ludicrously, the Aldi there doesn’t sell chopped tomatoes. Five days is certainly not enough if you want to experience Copenhagen in its entirety, but it is enough for you to realise that it is one of a kind. And if you look beyond its gleaming surface, you can certainly get your money’s worth. With so many niche non-profit organisations, public kitchens (Cafe N in Nørrebro holds a weekly event that offers affordable food) and home to probably the best falafel wrap I have ever tasted, it is easy to see why Copenhagen is supposedly home to the world’s happiest people. It’s affordable, and chopped tomatoes aside, Denmark’s capital lures you in, so much so, that you almost want to call it home.
Books about Copenhagen
An insider’s guide to Copenhagen and its hidden secrets and addresses.
An indispensable guide for those who thought they knew the city well or would like to explore its other face.
The most beautiful guide to the Danish custom of hygge, the everyday life philosophy for better living.