A green and glorious city
The Danish capital aims to become carbon-neutral by 2025
THE fairytale city so long identified with Hans Christian Andersen is creating a new image for itself. Palaces, cobblestoned streets and canals may be part of Copenhagen’s enduring charm, but these days the city’s ecocredentials also draw admiration. Ranked at the top in a European Green City Index, Copenhagen aims to be carbon-neutral by 2025.
Wind power is gradually replacing coal. Electric cars beetle around between recharging points. Air quality encourages walking, and the water is so clean that perfectly sober people dive into canals on hot days. Bicycle jams are the most likely cause of stress in peak hour. Sustainability is more than a buzz word in Copenhagen; it is a way of life. Almost one-third of its 1.2 million residents cycle to work each day. A large part of the energy requirement for all that pedal power is met by organically grown food.
Restaurants, hotels and delicatessens identified by the swan logo are participants in a scheme to lift organic produce to 90 per cent of total food consumption by 2015.
Visitors can tap into the progressive mood of this city while savouring its historic attractions.
If you want your ecological intentions to be taken seriously, don’t forget to hone your cycling skills before travelling there.
Best city transport: Bicycles, of course. Copenhagen boasts nearly 400km of cycle paths and most hotels have bikes for hire. Free wheels are available through a scheme called Bycyklen Kobenhavn, which provides 110 bike racks throughout town. A mere 20 krone deposit ($3.50), refundable on return, puts you behind the handlebars. These bikes are notoriously heavy, however, and are restricted to the city centre. Superior bicycles can be hired from Baisikeli, a business whose profits fund a scheme to collect and send used bikes to Africa.
Alternatively, you can sit back in a rickshaw while a fit local steers the nation a little closer to carbon neutrality. More: bycyklen.dk; baisikeli.dk.
Best shopping: Illums Bolighus is a department store that has been serving Copenhageners since 1925. The stylish homewares and gifts on display here are exemplars of practical Danish design, often featuring a quirky, arty twist. Contemporary items, as modern as tomorrow, are interspersed with classic pieces designed decades ago.
Illums Bolighus is located on Amagertorv, one of several streets that comprise Stroget, Europe’s longest pedestrian zone. This vibrant, 3km thoroughfare is the place to head to if you have limited shopping time.
Best restaurants: For the second consecutive year, Rene Redzepi’s Noma is top of S. Pellegrino’s annual list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Redzepi takes obscure Nordic ingredients, foraged from field and forest, to create truly original cuisine. Don’t drop in expecting a table; bookings must be made at least three months ahead.
BioMio, in the revitalised meatpacking district, is the city’s most unconventional restaurant. Patrons place orders directly with chefs who cook in open, central kitchens, and return to collect the meals themselves. As keen to save the planet as it is to save on labour, BioMio is constructed from ecologically sound materials and serves only organic produce. More: noma.dk; biomio.dk.
Best palace: Amalienborg Palace is near the waterfront and offers a daily changing of the guard ceremony when Queen Margrethe, the Danish monarch, is in residence. Home to Danish royalty since 1794, Amalienborg is comprised of four identical rococo mansions facing a vast square. One of these is occupied by Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary. Another houses a fascinating museum in which visitors can wander through a series of rooms filled with the furniture and personal possessions of monarchs dating back 150 years. It is so intimate, one almost feels like an intruder. More: copenhagenet.dk.
Best cultural attraction: If you have a lazy $500 million, why not build something lasting for your city? Shipping magnate A. P. Moller did just that, financing the construction of the Copenhagen Opera House, which opened in 2005. Though designed by architect Henning Larsen, it seems Moller had a lot of input — the glass facade is partly concealed by a metal grid because the city’s benefactor apparently wished it to be so. Resembling wraparound sunnies peering out from under a crushingly heavy hat, the building is nevertheless striking, and its position on an island facing Amalienborg Palace highlights the easy relationship between tradition and modernity in the Danish capital. More: visitcopenhagen.com.
Best family fun: Tivoli Gardens, the inspiration behind Disneyland, is 6ha of pure entertainment. Established in 1843 by George Carstensen, it is a slightly peculiar mix of fun fair, fanciful buildings, cafes, concert halls, illuminations and gardens. Carstensen’s friend Hans Christian Andersen was so entranced by Tivoli’s Chinese-style buildings and gardens that it spurred him to write The Nightingale. Copenhageners, who flock here on Friday nights for meals, drinks and live performances, consider this sprawling parkland in the middle of the city to be a traditional part of summer fun. More: tivoli.dk.
Best beach: Copenhagen has white-sand beaches that draw crowds on hot summer days. Most are well out of town but a new harbour beach at Svanemolle, created last year, is popular with city dwellers. Though quite small at 4000sq m, it offers safe swimming in crystal-clear water. It would have been unthinkable a few years ago to swim in the harbour, but the storage of polluted water after heavy rain now enables people to take the plunge.
Unlike on Australian beaches, chairs and umbrellas are not allowed. It seems the Danes, thawing out after a long, snowy winter, refuse to tolerate anyone blocking the summer sun.
Best-value tip: Anyone travelling to Denmark should purchase a 24-hour or 72-hour Copenhagen Card, which starts paying its way on the trip from the airport to the city. The card grants admission to 65 museums and attractions such as Tivoli Gardens. Discounts apply on car hire, most tours, meals and purchases in a range of stores. Cards can be bought online (allow 10 days for postage) or at hotels and stations. More: visitcopenhagen.com.
Best atmosphere: The most festive gathering place for tourists and locals alike is Nyhavn. This narrow harbour, lined by colourful 18th-century houses, hotels and restaurants, has been described as the longest bar in Europe. There is no happier way to imbibe the carefree spirit of Copenhagen than by clutching a beer at a sunny outdoor cafe or perching on the quayside to watch the canal tours set off. Andersen, who lived here for much of his life, would no doubt have agreed.
Best tour: Canal barge tours from Nyhavn are a relaxing means of seeing the city. Guides provide a commentary in English during a one-hour trip that covers all the main sights, including the Little Mermaid, the new Opera House, and Christiansborg and Amalienborg palaces. These tours also pass waterfront apartments, canal-side cafes and locals lazily consuming a few drinks on the decks of their houseboats. Sitting on a sunny barge, it is difficult not to feel like a native of this wonderful, salty old town. visitdenmark.com emirates.com/au
Nyhavn is the city’s most festive gathering place for tourists as well as locals, and a barge cruise on its canal is a relaxing way to see Copenhagen’s main sights
Copenhagen Opera House was a shipping magnate’s $500m gift to the city
Its 400km of bike paths make cycling a pleasant way to tour Copenhagen
71 Nyhavn Hotel