Free Things to Do in Copenhagen, Come Rain or Shine

Despite Copenhagen's reputation as an expensive city, visitors can take comfort in the many free attractions the city has to offer. Things to do in Copenhagen without spending a cent include browsing the exhibits in museums and art museums, kicking back in the sunshine in parks and gardens, and free events and daily happenings, such as the Changing of the Royal Guard or those on offer at amusement park Bakken.

With world class museums such as the National Gallery of Denmark, Statens Museum for Kunst and the National Museum (Nationalmuseet) now opening their doors for free, there's no excuse for not stepping in and learning a thing or two about Danish history and art. Both museums offer great facilities for both children and adults, and are nowhere near as crowded as similar institutions in other European cities. The National Museum also has an out-of-town annex, Frilandsmuseet, which makes for a great family day out from spring to October.

Sightseeing is always free if done independently, including a walk up to Copenhagen's best landmark the Little Mermaid, witnessing the royal changing of the guard at Amalienborg Palace or an excursion north to Klampenborg and Dyrehavsbakken. You can even find free guided tours, courtesy of Sandemans New Copenhagen tours that kick off from outside the City Hall on Rådhuspladsen seven days a week.

Copenhagen has some excellent parks and gardens; one of the largest, stately Frederiksberg Have, has a boating lake and views to the adjacent zoo, while the Botanical Garden is an often overlooked patch of paradise not far from Nørreport Station, with numerous glasshouses should the weather not play fair.


Nansensgade Quarter
Botanisk Have
Photo courtesy of Ty Stange / Copenhagen Media Center

A part of the University of Copenhagen's Natural History Museum, Copenhagen's botanical garden may be a place of scientific research and conservation value to the academics who nurture it, but to visitors, it is a vibrant, blossoming oasis in downtown Copenhagen. With trees, flowerbeds, a lake and a cafe, visitors are welcome to relax in the garden's natural ambience at no charge; however, as a research facility, there are strict rules about behavior: No running, cycling, climbing trees or picking flowers is allowed. If you can handle that however, enjoy the peace and if it's cold or raining, go in the old, 19th-century Palm House - a wonderfully romantic refuge with a distinctly tropical climate.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: This green oasis in central Copenhagen can be visited in all weathers, as the gardens are both open and covered.

Jane's expert tip: The Botanical Garden also has a shop where plants and flowers are sold.

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Post & Tele Museum
Photo courtesy of Post & Tele Museum

While a museum of postal and tele communications might not seem particularly fascinating, this museum, located in the old Copenhagen post office not far from the Round Tower, has done a great deal to make its exhibts appealing to families in particular with large play area, free entry, digital and interactive exhibits, kids' activities during school holidays, and a top floor cafe, Hovedtelegrafen, with one of the best views in Copenhagen. It's also accessible for the disabled, with provision for both hard of hearing and visually impaired visitors. Permanent exhibitions follow communications in Denmark, from the establishment of the King's Postal Service in the 1600s through to today's digital age.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Post Museum has made an effort to attract families and with free entry, it's an ideal rainy day activity.

Jane's expert tip: Check out kids' play area "inside the stamp", a playground cum exhibition that's sure to stimulates kids' imagination as well as tire them out.

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Changing of Guard
Photo courtesy of Klaus Bentzen

Amalienborg Palace, the residence of the Danish Royal family, is guarded by a team of blue trouser-clad soldiers in tall black furry hats who stand watch around the hexagonal royal 'square'. Changing of the guard takes place daily at noon at Amalienborg Palace regardless of the weather. After 24 hours on duty, the guards are relieved by the next shift, who arrive from Rosenborg Palace in Kongens Have in formal marched parade. Whether or not music will accompany them depends on the royal circumstances: When the Queen, Dronning Margrethe is in residence, the guards will be accompanied by marching band; when a prince regent is present (Prince Henrik or Prince Joachim or Frederik, acting as regent), by flutes and drums.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The changing of the guard is a daily tradition and reminder of Copenhagen's royal presence, connecting two royal palaces.

Jane's expert tip: On special days such as Queen Margrethe's birthday on April 16, the guards wear special uniforms.

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Den Lille Havfrue
Photo courtesy of Erling A

The small, unassuming figure in bronze of Hans Christian Andersen's tragic heroine sits patiently on her rock, her head bowed, climbed on by tourists and buffetted by the waves. You might want to hate her, this rather over-rated tourist attraction that's been the icon of all things Danish since she was first unveiled back in 1913, but you may leave Langelinie feeling sorry for her, she who has falled victim to graffiti, politcal actions and even her own beheading in a famous artist's happening of the 60s. Still, the walk up here from Nyhavn is pleasant, and the nearby Amaliehaven Park looks lovely on a warm summer's day. Alternatively, many people take in the landmark as part of a canal tour.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: One of Copenhagen's best-known landmarks is easily accessed from the cruise port, and comes with no entry charge.

Jane's expert tip: Whilst here, don't miss the Little Mermaid's mutant siblings just a few minutes' walk away in Bjorn Norgaard's sculpture, 'Paradise Genetically Altered'.

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Outside the city
Photo courtesy of Tuala Hjornø

If entry charges to Tivoli seem a little steep for your pressed budget, you might want to check out Bakken, generally considered to be the oldest amusement park in operation in the world (it dates from 1583). While the rides will cost you the price of a ticket (multi-ride armbands are also available at the ticket booth by the entrance), there are still a lot of free attractions in here, including the regular musical shows for both children and adults, the many bars and cafes - and of course the chance to wander around the surrounding area, a beautiful royal hunting park, Dyrehavsbakken. Located north of Copenhagen, Bakken is a short walk---or pony and trap ride--from Klampenborg S-Toget station and attracts over two million visitors each season (from late March to end August).

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Open in summer season, Bakken is a great free day out with plenty to do for young and old alike.

Jane's expert tip: Multi-ride wristbands cost DKK 249/179.

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Outside the city
Photo courtesy of Christian Alsing

The Frilandsmuseet, or Open air Museum, is an annex of the Nationalmuseet located in Lyngby, a rural suburb about 20 minutes by S-Bahn from downtown Copenhagen - get off at Sorgenfri and then take bus no. 184 or 194 to the museum gate. An ideal day trip for families - at least on a day of good weather, as (like the name suggests) almost everything here is outside - Frilandsmuseet is an authentic recreation of farming life in Denmark over the past 350 years, with houses, and mills having been literally moved here from other parts of Denmark. Farm animals, from pigs to hens, roam freely, staff wear period costumes and historically-accurate activities take place in the many open farm buildings.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Frilandsmuseet is a great place to take the kids on a summer day, without splurging on cash.

Jane's expert tip: With the exception of the first two weekends in December, Frilandsmuseet is open May to October only: Free entry.

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Frederiksberg Have
Photo courtesy of Jakob Botter

Definitely one of Copenhagen's best parks as well as its largest, the romantic landscaped gardens of Frederiksberg Have date from the late 18th century and were built in the English style popular at the time. The long lawns and avenues of trees lead up to the royal Frederiksborg slot (now an academy for Danish military officers and not open to the public), and are hugely popular during summer for picnics and ball games. Paddle boats can be hired for fun on the park lake in season, and there is a large children's playground on one side of the park (restrooms can be found nearby). Other attractions include the Chinese pagoda and Apis Temple of 1802. A wilder expanse of public park, Søndermarken, extends southward from Frederiksberg Have, as well as the local zoo.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Frederiksberg Have is one of Copenhagen's best parks and a great free way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Jane's expert tip: It's possible to watch the elephants of the adjacent zoo through a fence on the edge of the park.

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Sandemans New Copenhagen Tours
Photo courtesy of Ty Stange / Copenhagen Media Center

Should you be hard-pressed to run to the price of an ordinary guided tour, free guided tours are offered by Sandemans, similar to the city tours offered by the company in other European cities. The tours are run by a number of international volunteers, all of whom have chosen to make Copenhagen their home, and who can be found outside Copenhagen City Hall on Rådhuspladsen at 11am and 2pm daily; just look out for the red Sandemans T-shirt. The tours take on 6,000 years of local history, starting with Bishop Absalon and taking visitors through the Viking era, the abodes of Hans Christian Andersen and Copenhagen's contribution to World War II resistance, up to the present day's Royal Family. All tours are in English.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Guided tours can take quite a dint out of visitors' budgets. Sandemans pose a viable free alternative to paid walks.

Jane's expert tip: You can reserve a place online is you wish.

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Statens Museum for Kunst
Photo courtesy of Morten Bjarnehof / Copenhagen Media Center

The National Gallery of Denmark is located a short walk out of the city center in the midst of an attractive park, Ostre Anlaeg, which was once part of Copenhagen's ramparts, The architecture is a fascinating melding of the original, red brick building designed by Dahlerup in 1896 and the modern wing, linked by the glass-roofed Sculpture Street, a vast corridor flanked on one side by immense windows giving way to a beautiful view of the surrounding park and lake. The museum's permanent collection includes Renaissance masterpieces, French art from the early 1900s, older Scandinavian works and an extensive 20th-century collection, spread over some three floors. The museum is user-friendly, with elevators, electronic guides, free buggies and a kids' section. Admission is free: changing exhibitions come with a separate charge.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Statens Museum for Kunst offers three floors of art history and great facilities - all free of charge.

Jane's expert tip: Families should check out the museum's facilities and areas for children.

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Meet Jane Graham

After touring most of Europe in her twenties, Jane was charmed by Copenhagen's relaxed tempo and moved there from her native northern England in 1999. Four young children at home has meant...  More About Jane