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Taking the train from London to Copenhagen

Posted by Paul Miles at 09:53 on Thursday 03 December 2009

London to Copenhagen by trainAhead of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, Paul Miles provides some helpful hints on taking the train to the Danish capital, including a useful tip on what to do if you miss any of the connections...

So you’re off to Copenhagen to be part of the climate summit? When you get there, the Christmas tree lights in City Hall Square will be pedal-powered. Hopenhagen they’re calling it. If only every city could be as green, always.
 London to Copenhagen in less than 24 hours
photo by Paul Miles

In Copenhagen, even when there isn’t a UN summit on climate change, the roads are thronged with city workers beetling about on bicycles, following well-marked cycle lanes. As a visitor, perhaps temporarily forgetting which way the traffic flows, you’re more likely to get run over by a pack of pedalling commuters than by a car. If you feel brave enough to join the throng, there are free public bikes. Long before Paris launched its much-publicised Vélib scheme, visitors to Copenhagen were pootling off to the beach on a city-owned sit-up-and-beg. Unlike in Paris, you don’t need a credit card and the mind of Einstein to work out how to use one. You just insert a 20 Kroner coin that is refunded when you return the bike, a little like a pound-in-the-slot supermarket trolley. In summer 2008, bikes from outside the central train station were hard to come by, so finding one available when the city is full of eco-activists may prove even more difficult unless the authorities have bought some more (for tips on other places to hire a bike see the "Hiring a bike" section below). The bike I used was adequate but rather clunky and slow but, as Gandhi said “there’s more to life than increasing its speed.” (Fitting that this presently appears on posters in British train stations.)

I’ve travelled to the Danish capital from the UK twice in the last two years. In February this year I went by train (just over 18 hours). In July 2008, I went by ferry and car (about a 19 hour ferry crossing followed by three hour road - or train - trip).

The train journey was via Eurostar to Brussels, where the station does its best to meet all the cruel comedy stereotypes with its greyness. Despite this, someone seems to have been stealing the floor tiles. The departure boards only show trains departing within the next 20 minutes, which, considering the size of the station, doesn’t give you long to get to your platform if you have packed your wooden wind-turbine kit or have mobility problems.

[right: looking out over the Nyhavn, the oldest part of Copenhagen's harbour, photo by Richard Hammond]

The two-and-a-bit-hour journey from Brussels to Cologne continued to confirm European stereotypes with German comfort and efficiency (but actually I think it may have been a French train, final destination Frankfurt.) The carriages were wide, the lighting discreet and the seat designers appreciate that passengers may have shoulders, unlike on the Southern service from London to East Grinstead. In first class, there are individual recliners with fresh, clean headrest covers. A suited steward will take your order for “any drinks or refreshments?” But don’t be fooled by the charm. That cup of tea is not complimentary. It will set you back three euros. The way to get best value out of the menu is to read it. Small superscript numerals next to each item refer to certain nasties lurking in the food and drink: ‘5’ is ‘nitrite pickling salt’ and ‘10’, caffeine. Oddly, on this menu at least, neither coffee nor tea contains caffeine.

Even if you’re not a railways buff, it’s fun to go into the (1st class) compartment at the very front where, separated by a smoked glass window, you can sit on raised seats behind the driver and imagine you’re on Starship Enterprise.

If you’ve left London on the 1434, by the time you arrive in Cologne you may well be ready for a beer at one of the station bars before continuing onwards for 12 hours to Copenhagen on the overnight sleeper, romantically named Borealis.  Sections of it continue to Moscow, Prague and Warsaw.

A second-class ‘six berth couchette’ has three narrow beds on either side of the compartment, one above the other. You have to reserve in advance and, unless there are six of you, you have no idea who you will be sharing with, except that they will be the same sex. On the night I was travelling – alone - it was carnival in Cologne. Two people in clown outfits and someone dressed as a bear wandered through the station. I had feared my overnight companions would turn out to be five young revellers wanting to stay up all night partying (although maybe that would have been interesting?). Thankfully though, there were only two other men, both in their fifties, neither in fancy dress. One did have a peeling nose and sunburnt face though and a bag containing six pairs of skis. We exchanged a few pleasantries and then settled down for the night.
[above: a smorrebrod of fresh local produce, photo by Richard Hammond]

Travelling to the climate conference, you may wish to spend all night discussing the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes or the best way to make a composting toilet but the chances are others will want some sleep. Bedding is provided – sheets, a blanket and pillow and there are individual reading lights but the seasoned traveller remembers to pack an eye mask and earplugs. The three of us seemed to like the compartment at the same temperature so there was no squabbling over the thermostat but sometimes they can seem very hot.

As the compartment was half empty, there would have been enough room (just) for that wind turbine kit but it may not always be so. I prefer the top bunk, which has space for luggage right next to your head but it does mean negotiating a small ladder to get up and down. If you think you’ll need to pop to the loo at the end of the carriage during the night, you may be better off choosing the bottom bunk when you make your compulsory reservation. As for food and drink, bottled water is provided in first class only, so pack a picnic or spend a month’s wages in the buffet car.

If any of the journeys are delayed and you miss an onward connection, make sure you get your ticket stamped with some magic words. Before I’d even left UK, my plans had been thwarted with a delay of over an hour on my initial Birmingham to London sector. Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence. Despite sprinting from Euston to St Pancras International, I missed the Eurostar to Brussels on which I was booked. If my ticket hadn’t been fully flexible, I would have had to buy a new one. I could still get to Brussels but I wondered what the consequences would be for my onward reservations to Cologne and then Copenhagen? I went to the Eurostar office in St Pancras to enquire.

[Returning from Copenhagen by train: crossing from Rodby in Denmark to Puttgarten in Germany, the train fits onto a ferry below deck, while you enjoy the fresh air, photo by Richard Hammond]

Despite being sweaty and dishevelled, the woman behind the counter kindly stamped my Eurostar ticket with the words: “CIV Article 11 Connecting journey was delayed”. (This comes from the EU’s Uniform Rules concerning the Contract of International Carriage of Passengers by Rail). It meant that I would be able to travel the next day and I would have no trouble using my out-of-date seat reservation on the Brussels to Cologne leg. I would also be entitled to reclaim the extra reservation fee (€20) for my 2nd class sleeper from Cologne to Copenhagen. Of course, if I had been in more of a hurry to get to Copenhagen, there were various other options I could have considered but they would have meant several changes in the middle of the night. Thankfully though, on this occasion, I could reschedule for the next day as time was not an issue. I’m with Gandhi on that one.

And so, finally, less than 24 hours after leaving London, I was chugging in to Copenhagen, its rooftops covered with a layer of snow. I then immediately changed to another train for Sweden and ultimately that day, on to Norway but for those of you going to COP15, this is your destination.


Useful information:

Getting there
By train: Bookings for international European rail travel can be made through Rail Europe (which sponsored my train trip as part of a feature I was writing for a newspaper): www.raileurope.co.uk, telephone 0844 848 4070, call into the Rail Europe Travel Centre at 1 Regent Street, London. Also, a good website for planning European train journeys is www.bahn.de

By ferry: If you plan to travel by road from the UK, perhaps the best way is to take the ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg, from where it’s a 300km drive, including a splendidly long bridge. The overnight ferry has comfortable cabins, some with outside windows and, in the restaurant, the smorgasbord has many Scandinavian treats. There are also regular trains from Esbjerg to Copenhagen that take about three hours. There are three crossings a week between Harwich and Esbjerg, departing Harwich at 1745, arriving Esbjerg at 1300 the next day. www.dfdsseaways.co.uk Return journey departs Esbjerg at 1845 and arrives in to Harwich at 1200.

Where to stay (by Richard Hammond)
Copenhagen's greenest (and cheapest) youth hostel - conveniently located near the centre of town - doesn't get many points for style, but it is run by a youth development charity, which aims to reintroduce young offenders back into work, and is a decent place to lay your head for a night or two. You sleep on bunk beds in dorms, there's just one large shower room and a small dining area where you can eat organic breakfasts and access free wi-fi. Don't be put off by the graffiti-covered stairwell outside the reception, at 120 DKK a night you get what you pay for, and your custom helps the staff hold down a job. There is also a secure area for bikes. For info and directions from the central train staion see www.sleep-in-green.dk, tel +45 (0) 3537 7777.

If you're looking for somewhere more comfortable, there are three smart Scandic Hotels in the centre of town. Scandic is one of the few hotel chains that has genuinely tried to green up its act: it has committed to eliminate half its fossil CO2 emissions by 2011 and all by 2025. The majority of its hotels have been awarded the Nordic Swan eco label and the group has announced it will no longer buy in bottled water, instead offering bottled filtered water from its own taps. So while their hotels might look like huge corporate beasts, they do have an impressive green underbelly. For details of all Scandic hotels, see www.scandichotels.com. For details of Scandic's environmental policies see www.scandic-hotels.com/betterworld.

Hiring bikes in Copenhagen
There are several places to hire a bike in the city, including an enlightened scheme at Baisikeli, a 5min walk from Norreport station where part of the hire cost goes towards delivering second-hand bikes to villages in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. For bike hire prices, suggested itineraries and guided tours see www.cph-bike-rental.dk, tel +45 (0) 2670 0229. Ask for the excellent copenhagen cycling map (also available from tourist offices), which includes details of cycling routes away from heavily trafficked routes. To hire a bike at the Central Station visit www.copenhagen-bikes.dk, where you can join an excellent "Bike with Mike" guided tour to see the city's sights: www.bikecopenhagenwithmike.dk (tel: +45 (0) 2639 5688.

The above information, written by Richard Hammond, is taken from 'Clean Breaks - 500 new ways to see the world' (Rough Guides, £18.99).

For more information on travelling between London and Copenhagen, follow the links below:

Plan your journey | Plan your journey by train from London to Copenhagen | Plan your journey from Copenhagen to London

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