Cycling in Copenhagen

by Mark.Rowe

The Danish capital of Copenhagen – the location for the 21st century’s first major climate change treaty - is a joy to cycle around

Scandinavia has always been perceived as a sustainable, green place to visit, and now one of the region’s major cities is to attach its name to the next major international climate change treaty. The Copenhagen consensus, which – horsetrading permitting – will be signed in December 2009, is portrayed as Kyoto II, the follow-up that picks up the bits and pieces of our efforts to live in ways that pollutes the planet less vigorously than has historically been the case.
 
For those visiting Copenhagen from the UK, the cheapest and quickest way is to fly. This of course, raises the question of aviation’s contribution to climate change, so I chose to travel by train. The train cannot compete with flights on this journey: around 1hr 45mins by air and 17 hours by train. But the rail journey was stress-free and blissful. After the quick zip to Brussels, I changed to an almost-as-fast Deutsche Bahn service to Cologne, two hours away. From here, a 10pm departure brings you to Copenhagen central station at 8am the following morning. The sleeper, operated again by Deutsche Bahn, was modern and even came with a light breakfast. My ticket even allowed me to break the journey in Cologne for 24 hours. And, according to the CE Delft environmental consultancy, the train journey saved 596 kg of CO2 emissions compared with flying.
 
Refreshed after my night’s sleep it was time to take to the streets. Bicycle hire outlets abound, but the city also allows free use of more than 2,000 bicycles to tourists and locals. They can be picked up from any of 110 city bike racks – all you need is a 20 Danish Kroner coin to drop in a deposit slot, like a supermarket trolley. Thanks to this innovation, last year City Bike Copenhagen won the 'Best low carbon transport and technology' category at the Responsible Tourism Awards.
 
To start with, all I could think of was just how long such a system would last in London, but soon I found myself moving quickly from point to point across the city’s sights, from Tivoli Gardens to an assortment of churches. The sensation is unsettling: to start with I just wasn’t used to having so many cyclists around me. We even had dedicated lanes, and car drivers seemed to have undergone training to enable them to tolerate the presence of two wheels on the city’s streets.
 
Denmark’s capital has a more vibrant, raffish air than is usually associated with Scandinavian cities. Not only does it offer visitors a range of truly world-class museums but it has a thriving café, bar and restaurant culture. And you can relax with a latte, fairly confident that your bike will be there when you go back to it.
 
Apart from the main central street of Stroget, surprisingly little of Copenhagen is pedestrianised, but this does not seem to matter.  I peddled serenely along major thoroughfares to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, the pick of Copenhagen’s numerous and outstanding museums. Founded by the brewer Carl Jacobsen, it boasts superb international displays of paintings and sculpture and a stunning Egyptian collection, including tombs berthed in an atmospheric vault. The structure is an elegant sight in its own right, a mixture of classical and modernist lines, based around the Winter Have atrium, filled with tropical plants.
 
In search of the city’s origins, I visited the former Royal courtyard of Slotsholmen for the Ruinerne (ruins) of the 12th-century Absalon’s castle and 15th-century Kobenhavns Slot. There are two huge subterranean rooms here, well interpreted and unseen by most visitors to the capital. From here, it was a short ride along cobbled streets to the bars that lined the canal pavements of Nyhaven.
 
The logical place to end my cycle ride in this liberal city was in the quarter that has the most liberal reputation. The quarter of Christiania lays claim to the status of a “free city” within the city. It has evolved since 1971 when homeless people moved into empty army barracks, and in the past it has been perceived as a high altar for hippies, a bolt-hole for alternative types for whom even Copenhagen is too institutionalised.
 
Under the threat of government action, Christiania has smartened itself up a little in recent years, and the cannabis bars have been closed down, but it merits exploration. After nosing around the area, I settled into a chair at Café Wilder, Wildersgade, on the edge of Christiania, reminding myself again that it didn’t matter that my locked-up bike was not in view; and ordered myself a Danish pastry, which, a little unexpectedly, Copenhageners call a Weinerbrod.
 

Recommendations

Hotel D’Angleterre, at Kongens Nytorv 34, is among the most classically sumptuous properties in northern Europe. Churchill is listed among previous guests. Doubles from £270, b&b.
 
Rail Europe offers return fares of £260 from London to Copenhagen, which involves an overnight train between Brussels and Hamburg or Cologne. From London, the trip takes around 17 hours.

Mark.Rowe

I trained as a local journalist on the Grimsby Evening Telegraph, before working abroad on English-language newspapers in Moscow and Estonia. I then moved to London where I worked on several national newspapers and at the BBC, and was a staff reporter at the Independent and Independent on Sunday. Nowadays, I specialize in travel and environmental issues and write for a range of national and international newspapers and magazines. I tend not to write only about destinations but about issues relevant to the industry, such as responsible tourism, cultural impacts of mass tourism and the future of aviation. I also write for a range of BBC magazines, including BBC Wildlife, Countryfile and History, and several specialist scientific titles. Favourite places For amazing landscapes, it has to be the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway, razor sharp as if carved by a scapel. For overseas cities, it is a dead heat between Singapore and Melbourne. But best of all? The staggering stretch of Cornish coastline between St Ives and Land's End. We're not gobby in this country about our special places - Australians would stick the coves and cliffs around Zennor on every piece of promotional literature and give them a name such as "The Three Pasties". I'm rather pleased that we don't.