Pillow fights, bunk beds and supermarket raves: How I did Copenhagen on the cheap

The colourful façades of Nyhavn - a major tourist attraction (and tourist trap) in Copenhagen.

The colourful façades of Nyhavn - a major tourist attraction (and tourist trap) in Copenhagen.

Copenhagen is a fairy tale city. The beautiful intricacies of the architecture, the surprisingly low-lying, yet distinguished skyline and a rich history all help form the very core of its charm.

It is a realm befitting of its royal past and present, so pristine that it was almost as though it never was intended to be graced by those carrying thin wallets while donning Primark wardrobe, and backpacks to boot.

It’s true – Copenhagen is as expensive as European cities get. Up there with its Nordic brethren in Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki and Bergen, it was rated in the European Backpacker index of 2016 as the eighth most-expensive major destination on the continent.

But the Danish capital’s reputation of an uber-expensive haven is, I was determined to prove, undeserved. Or so I attempted to convince the lady behind the desk at my hostel of as I checked in.

“I don’t understand,” she replied, with a wry smile.

Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel - a centrally-located and fantastic rates - you can't go wrong.

Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel - a centrally-located and fantastic rates - you can't go wrong.

It was difficult to decipher between whether she didn’t grasp a word I was saying or if, specifically, she was questioning the intention to spend a long weekend fully exploring the city while sticking to a backpacker’s budget.

Surely neither was that hard to comprehend as a receptionist at Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel (copenhagen-backpackers.dk, from £12 per night), or maybe it was a conquest that she had seen many people defeated by before.

After all, it’s not as though any perceived humour in my words was unfounded. Scandinavia is well known for being an expensive destination for outsiders, with it being less of a worry for residents who have the wages and salaries to match.

Copenhagen city centre at night.

Copenhagen city centre at night.

She didn’t know me, either. A student who had flown from Manchester to Dublin, then on to Copenhagen with Ryanair (ryanair.com, from £24.98 each way) because it was almost £20 cheaper than flying direct with a different low-cost airline. That was the sort of determination I was eager to deliver.

Nevertheless, my enthusiasm was not soured and only procured further when she handed me a couple of pamphlets, my key and then informed me that I would be staying on the top bunk.

“The top bunk?!” I exclaimed.

For a couple of minutes, everything became irrelevant because I was about to revisit a childhood dream. King of the hill and top of the world again! Perhaps this budget travel lark isn’t so difficult, after all.

Peter Eriksen, partner and co-founder of Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel was more understanding of my plight than the staff on his front desk, however.

He explained the idea behind Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel which, for its unrivalled location and price is a great starting point for anyone looking to do things on the cheap.

The communal area at Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel.

The communal area at Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel.

“People should spend less on accommodation and more on doing other things – that’s the way to do Copenhagen!

“We are a small hostel built by three guys that had travelled to great parts of the world. We thought that Copenhagen was missing a small and cosy hostel run by someone else other than these big corporations.

“The hostel is also situated just next to the central station and our prices pretty much follow the market. But on the most part, we are actually one of the cheaper hostels here in Copenhagen.”

Trying to get a picture alone with The Little Mermaid was difficult, as it's such a popular tourist attraction. I managed it after about five minutes of waiting, though.

Trying to get a picture alone with The Little Mermaid was difficult, as it's such a popular tourist attraction. I managed it after about five minutes of waiting, though.

I had already pencilled in the main sights and The Little Mermaid was atop the list, an attraction which captures the very essence of the city.

Commissioned by Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of world-renowned beer Carlsberg, Edvard Eriksen’s masterpiece was sculpted between 1909 and 1913 and depicts a scene from the story of the same name by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. One of the greatest things about the statue is that although it is popular and, therefore, extremely busy and crowded, it comes at no cost and is walking distance from the centre.

As I would later find out, I’d timed my trip just right. It was the beginning of April, the second, to be precise. What’s the significance of that date? Well, it’s International Pillow Fight day – a feather-filled occasion that Copenhagen really takes to heart. DJs, food vans and even the local press were all on board as chaos ensued in Town Hall Square.

Mid-pillow fight in Copenhagen.

Mid-pillow fight in Copenhagen.

Funnily enough, it was advertised on one of the leaflets I was given when I arrived at the hostel, but I gave it a wide berth from the off, even if you could use the hostel’s supply as it was supposedly BYOP (bring your own pillow).

Though true to Copenhagen’s fine form, I happened to stumble upon it on the way to another attraction. I was dismissive on paper, yet I soon found myself joining in the mayhem, ingesting feathers as I waged war on newly-acquainted foes.

Spring snowfall: The aftermath of the pillow fight.

Spring snowfall: The aftermath of the pillow fight.

When all was said and done, the square looked like it had been battered by the fiercest snowfall of winter and the feather tornado began to settle. It was unexpected, but was also no expense. Copenhagen had given more evidence that their budget-priced offerings were plentiful.

But, really, any budget traveller can’t fully experience a place without some form of financial outlay, and there are a lot of paid attractions that any visitor to the city should definitely visit.

I wanted to climb the spiral ramp way and experience the views from the top of the wonderful Rundetaarn (Round Tower), explore the royal residences at Amaelienborg Palace and ascend the steeple at the Church of Our Saviour. All of that, unlimited use of the city’s public transport system and a whole host of other attractions were available for a single payment, and so I bit the bullet and bought a Copenhagen Card. (copenhagencard.com, from €12)

Rosenborg Castle should also be on the itinerary for anyone visiting Copenhagen for the first time.

Rosenborg Castle should also be on the itinerary for anyone visiting Copenhagen for the first time.

“You can save a lot of money with the card as you have free entrance to 73 museums and attractions and free transport with bus, train and metro throughout the entire Capital Region of Denmark,” explained Marianne Skafte, head of Copenhagen Card.

“Many tourists appreciate that you do not have to think about tickets and entrance prices, as almost everything is included in the card.

A less-traditional afternoon I spent watching FC København defeat SønderjyskE 1-0. Tickets for the game were a measly £13 - a bargain when you are used to Premier League prices.

A less-traditional afternoon I spent watching FC København defeat SønderjyskE 1-0. Tickets for the game were a measly £13 - a bargain when you are used to Premier League prices.

“Alternatively, you don’t have to buy one. You can also walk around the city and see its beauty that way.”

On its face, I thought it was a great idea. This piece of plastic was terrifically convenient and appeared to save money. But across the 72 hours it was valid for, it didn’t end up creating the anticipated savings.

Frederik's Church, more commonly known as the Marble Church, is one of the city's cost-free attractions and is simply stunning both inside and out.

Frederik's Church, more commonly known as the Marble Church, is one of the city's cost-free attractions and is simply stunning both inside and out.

Someone who had a similar observation was Neil Barnes, the successful writer behind travel blog Backpacks and Bunk Beds.

“I had use of a Copenhagen Card, which I won, the second time I went to Copenhagen. I liked the card, and found it really useful,” he said.

“But at the same time I did a few calculations once I was back home and worked out that had I paid for the card, it wouldn't have actually saved me that much than if I had paid for transport and entry fees on the door.

“However, that was because of my own personal itinerary. Obviously How much you save would depend upon where you go and how you get there.”

He also made the suggestion to rent a bike, a notion made obvious upon arrival. Like Amsterdam on steroids, the Danes love manual travel on two wheels and it is a cost-effective and eco-friendly way of getting around.

It was difficult enough navigating on foot with the traffic, cyclists and other pedestrians to all take into account, but Neil had some first-hand advice to offer.

“I definitely took it [cycling] slow to begin with, and what with cycling on the wrong, or other, side of the road made it a tad more challenging.

“The bike lanes and bike lane specific traffic lights take some worry away, and it’s pretty easy to follow.

“It's very different to cycling in London where I live, for example. Not that I cycle in London anymore. Once was enough!”

Peter’s enthusiasm for pedalling was also apparent. “Rent a bike,” he said! Don’t spend your money on busses, metro and trains. You spend too much money and time – something which I find most visitors don’t have a lot of.”

It’s actually a good thing I didn’t end up renting a bike on the day of the pillow fight. Chances are I would have missed it if I hadn’t been on foot. To add to that, I was nursing a hangover from the night before, and piloting a moving vehicle might not have been the greatest of suggestions.

Blame Somersby for that one, the cider brewers owned by Carlsberg. To introduce their new blueberry flavour, they took over a branch of the convenience store chain 7-Eleven and turned it into a pop-up club.

Despite the bevy of free drink available, which was an unlimited supply of this new cider, and the inside filled with confetti, disc jockeys and ravers, the store was still functioning as normal as it possibly could.

This supermarket rave had all the pizazz of a Miami beach bash, yet retained the characteristics of a house party. It was a delightful blend, especially when the zero price tag was factored in.

I was there with an Italian traveller, Marcello. In his words, it was “the greatest thing ever seen.” Though as he spoke in broken English, one could only assume he meant that on a personal level.

Copenhagen had done it again.

Perhaps the one thing that did underwhelm with regards to Denmark was their food. Breakfast was more than delightful, with the likes of 7-Eleven and smaller convenience stores offering famed pastries on weekday mornings for 10 DKK (approximately £1.10).

Enjoying a burger, fries and a drink at Cocks & Cows Copenhagen.

Enjoying a burger, fries and a drink at Cocks & Cows Copenhagen.

Personally, I didn’t try Danish fare in the evening time as I couldn’t find any of that particular cuisine for a reasonable price. I did try out the self-proclaimed ‘best burgers in Copenhagen’ at burget join Cocks & Cows. Their burgers came in at around 100 DKK (£11), with sides starting from 30 DKK.

Hard Rock Cafe was another one of my food choices in Copenhagen - even if it was a little on the pricey side.

Hard Rock Cafe was another one of my food choices in Copenhagen - even if it was a little on the pricey side.

I wasn’t alone in that, Neil also sampled little Danish food. “I didn’t eat a lot of traditional Danish food, instead choosing to check out the cool restaurants in the meatpacking district, or eating on the cheap at our hostel.”

It soon came time to leave Denmark and cross the Øresund Bridge into Sweden. My pockets still had change in them and my head was held high knowing that the end of that last chapter was both cheap and cheerful.