With in increase in cheaper flights to Copenhagen on Norwegian, Wow Air and Icelandair, it’s past time to ask the question: How do we keep the budget-friendliness going once the plane lands at Kastrup? The answer is simple—stay in Sweden.
Huh? Fun fact: Denmark’s vibrant capital is actually a border town—convenient commuter rail connections serve the neighboring city of Malmö, Sweden all day, every day. Copenhagen’s airport is actually the last station stop before Malmö.
There’s a reason why everyone doesn’t already stay here—Malmö is nothing like Copenhagen in the way that Sweden is nothing like Denmark. (It’s kind of like coming to New York City, but staying in New Jersey: a smart move for diehard budget travelers, maybe a little less exciting to others.)
Just across the Öresund, via the bridge made famous in the smash-hit TV show (called The Bridge, natch), Malmö was the one where all the super uptight, uncool people came from. Copenhagen was the one where the fun, devil-may-care people lived. (Such it is in real life, at least according to the Danes.)
There’s a point to all this. Malmö will never compete with what Copenhagen has to offer—there’s no Tivoli, there’s no Christiania, no Nyhavn, what have you. The Old Town has its moments, but the nightlife along the visually arresting Stortorget feels about twenty years past its sell-by date, like you’re in some vaguely creepy Eastern European backwater; the Kungsparken is gorgeous for a summer morning’s walk, but again can’t compete with the many parks in Copenhagen.
Still! With the Swedish government cancelling its temporary passport control measures on their side of the bridge, Malmö is once again back as an affordable alternative so convenient, it’s almost crazy not to give it some thought. The train ride costs roughly $12 for adults and $6 for kids; a minute or two on foot from the beautiful central train station, serving Copenhagen all day and all evening, the top-rated Mayfair Hotel Tunneln is going for less than $95 for entire weeks in July, breakfast included. At the foot of the bridge, upstairs from the Hyllie station, the Quality Hotel View is a true find for single travelers, with rates up until the final summer crush in late August starting below $75 a night on their very nice single rooms. (Doubles go up to about $95, still a great value. And yes, breakfast is included.) Compare that to TK in Copenhagen—no contest, really.
The best hotels in Malmö (with rates for this summer)
The best hotels and the best deals in Malmo
How to do the trains
Immediately head to the customer service center at Malmö’s central station and purchase a Jojo card for about $2.50, which you can then add as much money as you want—with the card, the one-way fare over the Öresund is just $11.50 for adults and about $5.50 for kids; most able-bodied travelers will find the Copenhagen metro unnecessary for casual visits; the city is eminently walkable. You don’t need a Jojo card, but you will pay about $1 more per ride. If you’re here for a week and traveling back and forth every day, it’s worth it. Alternately, you can download the Skånetrafiken app and just purchase tickets through there, making sure to activate the purchased fare within the app when you board, just in case the ticket takers come to check. (They deal with fare dodgers all day long, so if you get caught red-handed, don’t expect much in the way of understanding.)
Things to know about the trains
Operated via bi-national agreement, the Öresundstag is nothing like the sleek, well-ordered Scandinavia you’re probably expecting. It’s a grubby, delay and cancellation-prone, often overcrowded train that lays bare just how poorly Denmark and Sweden seem to work together—and how hesitant they are to actually spend money on things that matter, contrary to what visitors might be expecting. This isn’t to say they’ll ever leave you stranded or that the trains are dangerous—it’s more just a caution to manage your expectations. This isn’t Japan and the Öresundstag is not the Shinkansen. Just be aware. For best results, avoid trains that make you change at the airport, as can happen; the only time you want to set foot on those often hopelessly crowded platforms is when you arrive and depart Copenhagen. Other than that, outside of the peak rush hour, you will find the central stations in both Malmö and Copenhagen relatively easy to navigate and deal with.