Greentraveller Guide to Copenhagen, Denmark part 1
Copenhagen is known for its high quality of life yet the city's enlightened urban development is equally impressive: cutting-edge design juxtaposed with unspoilt medieval architecture, trendy cafés and gourmet dining, pedestrian streets packed with designer shops and an abundance of open green spaces. The city also takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. Here are a few of our favourite ways to spend a long weekend in Copenhagen:
Getting around the city by bike
There are few places in the world where two wheels are more welcome than in Copenhagen. The city has more bikes than residents, and more than a third of Copenhageners whizz to and from work or school by bike.
If watching cyclists battle through rush-hour traffic in the UK has put you off cycling in a busy city, be assured that Copenhagen is entirely different. The city has 350km of dedicated cycle lanes, a bridge just for cyclists, and special traffic lights which operate a 'green wave' to help bikers get across junctions quickly and safely. Some traffic lights give bikes a 12-second head-start over cars, and even during rush hour, motor vehicles are extremely patient.
Copenhagen was the first city in the world to introduce a bicycle scheme 15 years ago, and there are 1,500 City Bikes dotted around the city during the summer months. They're free to use (though use is limited to a central area) and require just a 20 Krona coin as a deposit. They're clunkier than London's new bikes but they are all to be replaced by 2013.
For a guaranteed bicycle, or to go outside the City Bike area, it's best to hire one. Check out Baisikeli, a bike hire company which uses its profits to send bikes to Tanzania and Sierra Leone. Most hotels will arrange for bikes to be delivered to the hotel for you, and some include bike hire free of charge; taking a guided bike tour is a great introduction to the city.
Copenhagen's drive to become the "world's best bike city", is part of its Eco-metropolis goals for 2015. An ambitious 50 projects include reducing the city's carbon emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels; increasing the amount of organic produce consumed in the city to 20% of the total; and expanding parks and beaches so all residents can walk to one of the city's natural areas within 15 minutes.
Electric car hire
If your feet do tire of pedalling, you can still travel round the city reasonably guilt-free: jump on an electric-powered CityCirkel bus, or hire an electric car. There's an increasing number of charging points around the city, and it's free to re-charge and also to park such cars. Even the water buses on the canals are trying to go green, having recently trialled the use of biofuel. As a last resort, look out for Copenhagen's most eco-friendly taxis: Amager Obro offsets all of its vehicles carbon emissions. Taxis in Copenhagen normally have a bike rack, too.
What to see
Copenhagen is a world centre for design and architecture, and has excellent museums like the Danish Architecture Centre and the Danish Design Centre. Copenhagen X runs guided tours of the city's architecture, with an emphasis on sustainable development, and also suggests cycle routes which take in key buildings and neighbourhoods.
For a lesson in the basics of sustainability, pay a visit to the fascinating 'free town' of Christiania in the Christianshavn district. Originally the site of military barracks, the land and its buildings have been occupied since the 1970s by locals and immigrants who've created an alternative society. They pay the Danish state for water and electricity but pay rent to the community itself, which has caused friction with the government. Inhabitants help each other to build homes from recycled materials, and there's a warehouse where everything from old doors and windows to reconditioned washing machines can be bought at low cost. The police generally tolerate the use and sale of marijuana here, so 'Pusher Street' feels a little edgy (don't take photos). But Christiania is safe to visit, and the community even runs its own guided tours.
Tivoli Gardens is one of Copenhagen's oldest and best-loved attractions, with rollercoasters, fairground rides, concerts, and lots of restaurants including two with a Michelin star. Altogether, that makes one almighty carbon footprint, but the park has invested in a huge wind turbine and hopes to be the world's first carbon-neutral theme park. Tivoli Gardens is already very committed to recycling, with a sort of reverse-vending machine where you deposit your glasses and bottles.
After massive effort to clean up the water of Copenhagen's harbour and canals, they were declared safe to swim in 10 years ago. If you visit in the summer months, take your swimsuit so you can join the residents at one of the city's harbour pools or artificial beaches.
- Find out about trains from London to Copenhagen and book tickets
- Read Paul Miles' tips for travelling to Denmark by train
- If you'd like to take your own bike to Copenhagen, see our guide to taking your bike on trains in Europe
For tips on where organic dining and green accommodation in Copenhagen, see Green Guide to Copenhagen, part 2.