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Five unique ways to experience Copenhagen, Denmark's eco-friendly capital

Denmark has declared 2022 the ‘Year of the Bike’, ringfencing £49 million to expand its cycling infrastructure, and there are few better ways to experience the full force of the country’s sustainability credentials than on a ride through leafy Copenhagen.

By Sarah Marshall
Published 28 May 2022, 06:04 BST
Litter picking with Green Kayak, Copenhagen.

Litter picking with Green Kayak, Copenhagen.

Photograph by Rasmus Falck

Hovering above Copenhagen’s concrete skyline, a kaleidoscope of birds, bees and butterflies has gathered for an extraordinary feast. Being the height of spring, flowers are blooming, and the air is thick with sweet nectar. But what makes this pollination party so special is the location — a garden 280ft above street level on the roof of an incinerator.

Capable of converting 440,000 tons of waste into clean energy annually, CopenHill is testimony to the Danish city’s ambitions for becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. The offbeat attraction is also a highlight on an eco-themed ride organised by non-profit organisation Green Bike Tours, led by expert guides with a background in sustainability studies. During the three-hour experience, I learn about sustainable city planning initiatives such as green roofs and rain management systems. Better still, I’ve saved 1.1kg of carbon by doing the tour on a bike rather than touring by car.

Flat, easy to navigate and equipped with around 240 miles of curb-separated cycle tracks and bridges, Copenhagen is a city made for two wheels. Since 2015, it’s deservedly claimed the title of world’s most bicycle friendly city, according to an IPSO index that graded features such as infrastructure, policy and local culture. 

Building on their success, the government has declared 2022 the Year of the Bike, backed up with a commitment to invest millions into improving cycle paths and traffic safety. Confident I can pedal at the same pace as the locals, I set off on an independent ride through the city. Known as the Green Path, the Nørrebro route runs along an old railway track in Frederiksberg. It’s not long before office blocks are replaced by allotments, while lampposts and pillars soon make way for twisted tree trunks supporting a ceiling of sky. Running for almost six miles, from Lyngbyvej in the north to Valby in the south, the route crosses over so many parklands and green spaces, any distinction between town and country is easily erased.
But green isn’t the only colour decorating nature-loving Copenhagen. Islands are wrapped with blue ribbons of waterways, all traversed by a network of architecturally striking bridges with generous cycle lanes. 

Opened in 2014, Cykelslangen (the ‘bicycle snake’) is one of the most aesthetically pleasing and promises some of the best views. Starting in Vesterbro, it curves above the Havnebadet Fisketorvet harbour swimming baths and continues to Islands Brygge. Along the busy 720ft route, I join business executives racing to the office, hipsters peddling between coffee shops and parents doing the school run with a side-buggy in tow. An invention exported globally, these bike trailers started life in hippy, car-free commune Christiania in the 1970s. Initially made from recycled materials and old bed frames, they’ve evolved into sophisticated pieces of kit used for much more than ferrying small children around town. Street food trader Michele Lucarelli from Bike and Bake has customised his trailer with a pizza oven, while Rustvogn Cyklen use their flower-festooned chariot to carry corpses to funerals. 

The most inventive adaptation, however, goes to Nordic Cryobank, whose Sperm Bullitt speedily transports donor samples to fertility clinics. As much a novelty as those birds and bees spreading seeds on the roof of a rubbish dump, it’s another part of the great creation steadily transforming Copenhagen’s green streets.

How to do it: A three-hour tour with Green Bike Tours costs 250kr (£28) per person. Alternatively, borrow a bike from your hotel, use the Donkey Republic app or rent one through Bycyklen, who have more than 100 stations across the city. 

There are nearly 250 miles of cycle tracks and bridges in Copenhagen.
 

Photograph by Ulf Svane

Four more adventures in Copenhagen


1. Camp overnight on a floating pontoon 
Proving you don’t always need dry ground for a successful camping trip, The Floating Shelter — a wooden cabin set on a raft — is anchored in the harbour. Sunrays beam onto an outdoor deck during the day, providing enough energy to power lamps long into the night. It’s not accessible by land, so you’ll need to make your own way over by boat. From 600kr (£67) per night. 

2. Litter-pick while you paddle 
It’s free to borrow a kayak from the Green Kayak, which has several outposts across the city. The only condition is that you bring back a bucket of rubbish. On a mission to keep the city’s canals clean, the company has collected more than 60 tons of waste across their sites in Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden since 2017. Use litter pickers to remove unwanted debris and enjoy a pleasurable paddle at the same time. 

3. Bed down in the docks
Take a morning dip metres from the Copenhagen Opera House, watching the sun peep above the city’s skyline. A cross between a hotel and a houseboat, Kaj Hotel’s two-person property made from reclaimed materials can be found in water-bound neighbourhood Holmen, which was once used as a Royal Naval Base. Laze around in blanket robes or use kayaks to explore further afield. From 2,500kr/£280 per night. 

4. Rock climb on CopenHill 
There’s barely any elevation in pancake-flat Denmark, but CopenHill, an artificial concrete mountain, is an exception. A collection of colourful overhangs run up the 280-foot wall of this waterfront power plant, creating complex routes designed for experienced and trained climbers. For courses and opportunities to climb, email climbingwall@copenhill.dk.

Published in the June 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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