Denmark / Travel

Captivating Copenhagen

 

Everyone loves a warm welcome, and if you travel into Copenhagen by train, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Take a few steps outside the central station, and the first sounds you’ll hear are joyous laughter and roller coaster screams from visitors to Tivoli Gardens, which is directly across the street.

Copenhagen has many unique characteristics, and this 170 year-old fun park (smack in the center of town) is at the top of the list.

Like most European capitals, Copenhagen has a long history. Preservation is important, and the city is dotted with 18th and 19th Century churches, palaces, monuments, and statues. The Danes respect the past, but don’t dwell on it. Denmark is famous as one of the design capitals of the world, and its modern architecture, furniture, and household items are known internationally. This juxtaposition of old and new is another characteristic that makes Copenhagen captivating.

Terri and I have visited Copenhagen twice before, once on our whirlwind, Eurail pass trip years ago. And when we lived in London, we were here on business. Embarrassingly, our memories of the city are pretty much a blur. This trip is changing that.

Royal Guard

Copenhagen was home to the Godfather of Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Andersen – author of The Little Mermaid. This prolific fantasy heavyweight also wrote: The Snow Queen, The Ugly Duckling, and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Predictably, the tourist business leans quite heavily on ol’ Hans. There are HCA tours, books, T-shirts, and impersonators wandering the streets. But on the less-entrepreneurial side, there’s a lovely (distinctly non-Disney) sculpture of The Little Mermaid overlooking the sea.

IMG_6430 - Version 3

Another unique facet of the city, which is also obvious after a few steps outside the train station, are bikes – thousands and thousands of bikes. Depending on which survey you prefer, Copenhagen is the #1 or #2 most bike-friendly city in the WORLD.  As a cyclist, I can tell you that it’s a bike utopia.  According to Travel & Leisure magazine:

“In Denmark’s capital city, 36 percent of people going to work or school
on an average day are on a bicycle, according to government statistics.”

Bikes everywhere!

A population of roughly 1 million, makes the math easy. Each day there are 360,000 bikes on the streets! It’s fascinating and encouraging to be in a city that places so much emphasis on cycling, but it takes a bit of wariness for two newbie pedestrians. On our walk from the station to our hotel we learned that if you accidentally stepped off the sidewalk into the street, the good news was that you weren’t going to be hit by a car. But the bad news is that if you step off the sidewalk into the bike lane, there’s a really good chance of being nailed by a cyclist … right after you hear ching-ching-ching.

Happy Trails,
James

Copenhagen Bike

77 thoughts on “Captivating Copenhagen

  1. I absolutely love Copenhagen and stayed there for a year as an exchange student. These clicks are such a flashback for me. Tivoli, Radhusplasden and Stroget (spellings are probably wrong hehe), so many places that I’ve spent so much time at and have so many memories of 🙂

  2. James I love the term bike Utopia! How fantastic is that. I’m hopefully you and Terri managed to her the ching ching before actually being nailed by a cyclist?
    Love the bright colors in the photos and my top pick is that smorgasbord of bikes. Wow!

    • Sue, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, but it’s the only place on earth (it and Copenhagen change places as #1 and #2) that can equal Copenhagen for bike friendliness. In fact, it goes well beyond bike friendly. It is a total governmental and societal mindset that is wonderful to see. As cyclists, you and Dave would love it. And, it has the added benefit of being flat! ~James

      • We have never been to either James. Sounds like our kinds of places. In all honesty we thought we might wait for a cycling trip there when we are a little older as we had heard of the lovely flat roads. 🙂

  3. Love that such a green and healthy option such as cycling looks so strong!

    Funny that you’re in Denmark, as recently I began to ponder (for no apparent reason) whether we might be able to squeeze a visit in as part of our trip! 🙂

    • Chris, try to squeeze in a bit of time here if you can. It would only take 2-3 days to get a good feeling for Copenhagen, and it’s worth the trip just to see how a forward-thinking city develops alternate modes of transport that don’t involve hydrocarbons. It’s a pleasure to see. ~James

  4. Awesome! I know the Netherlands are up there with biking too, but I really don’t understand what the hold up is in America for the bike parking gigs like they have in Spain. Oh, but wait, it’s America-that’s the explanation :-). In any case, fun post to read; I haven’t been to Denmark yet, but it looks fabulous!

    • You’re right Laura, Amsterdam and Copenhagen are #1 and #2 on the list. But, I’ve been to both, and I think that given the number of people using bikes each day would make Copenhagen #1. It’s such a routine part of life here, and it’s so ingrained that it isn’t anything special. People have worked it into their lives, and it’s totally normal. If most US cities could be 1/4 as bike friendly as Copenhagen, that would be a huge improvement. ~James

  5. I spent one night in Copenhagen on my Eurail whirlwind trip also and don’t remember much. I do remember those bikes though and drawing the ire of many locals when I got in the bike path. We also went to the Freetown of Christiania which was eye-opening and just plain awesome to my 23-year-old self.

    • Jeff, your Eurail experience sounds similar to ours. We didn’t have lots of money in those days,so we were determined to get every mile out of our pass. It was a wonderful trip, but we both realize that we’d do it very differently now. But what a hood at the time. ~James

    • Thanks Tosh. You’re right that the bikes rule the road, and what a delightful change. As a cyclist in the US, I have to be constantly on guard for oblivious drivers and what they’re going to do. Here, bikes are just another vehicle, with the same rights, and rules, and it works great. ~James

      • The only thing (I cycle in the states as well), I was surprised at the lack of helmets. Which I guess means they don’t have a lot of car/bike accidents. I wouldn’t dream of riding without one in America.

  6. I had to ching-ching-ching a few people myself the other day ;-). The bike lanes can be a bit like the Autobahn in the morning and I think the fine for failing to signal is death by firing squad, but I love my bike. We don’t have a car here, we are solely bikes and public transport for now. It’s such a great way to see the city as well. So glad to see that you are enjoying Copenhagen!

    • Dina, we live on a small island off the coast of SE Georgia, and for the US, it’s incredibly bike friendly. So luckily, we’re able to use our bikes not only for recreation, but for shopping, etc. I’ve been a cyclist for more years than I care to admit, and I know that if I lived in a place like Copenhagen that I could absolutely get by without a car. And bully for you for doing it. When we lived in London, Terri had a company car, and with traffic, and impossible parking, it was almost more trouble than it was worth. ~James

    • Face it – the Dutch were waaaay ahead of the curve on bike culture, and they know how to do it. Like Denmark, in the Netherlands cycling is just a normal part of life, and the quality of life benefits are amazing. ~James

  7. Ching, ching has a very different meaning in Denmark! Not just clinking glasses, better perhaps. How can one ‘not’ be happy there?

    You’re in one of my favorite places. I loVed seeing Tivoli Gardens all lit up at night in the little white twinkle lights. Christiania is a trip, but what a lovely mosaic of life all Denmark’s bits and pieces make.

    An interesting paradox maybe you can explain: Scandinavian regional neighbors, Denmark and Finland- one is known as the happiest country on earth (always highly ranked at least); the other known for one of the highest alcoholism and suicide rates… genetics? Politics? Too close to Russia?
    Your thoughts?

    • An interesting question Jonelle. I’ve spent some time in both countries, and you’re right, the differences in the people and their cultures are immediately evident. I try to be careful with generalizations, but I think that the major influence on the differences has been decades of exposure to Western Europe vs. Eastern Europe/Russia. Other than the Nazis in WWII, Denmark has been independent for 200 years. Finland, on the other hand has been ruled by Russia a couple of times in that same period, and given geography, they’re always in Russia’s shadow. I haven’t been to Russia, but I’ve been to lots of countries in Eastern Europe that were a part of Russia. And bottom line, people in Eastern Europe (including Russians) have a different outlook on life – and their idea of happy is different than happy for Western Europeans. I make no good/bad judgements, but I know which camp I want to be in. ~James

      • Well said. Spoken like a true diplomat!

        I find it fascinating, this issue of nature versus nurture. Hypothetically, and very generally, what would it take for group a to thrive under group b conditions or vice versa, to overcome deficiencies left by history.

        When we travel, I like to stop and think of what the people had to work with, what they overcame to leave the legacy we are able to view today.

        An early post-Soviet builder in Baku told me they had to import everything but sand and water for the first modern apartment towers. Every nail, screw and board. Imported.

        What about beautiful places like Florence or Venice? What were they like “before” the great churches and piazzas were completed. ..

        This is why I travel. And, why I read Gallivance… Of course. 😉

  8. Now that you are revisiting some of the places you went on your whirlwind trip, I bet you’ll have a better appreciation for everything you see. Being a much more seasoned traveler, you know what to do that is touristy and what to seek out off the beaten path. Kudos to all those bikers!

    • You’re exactly right Laura. With experience comes wisdom, and we can appreciate things so much more now. Our motto is that: “We see what we see.” and we’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what interests us. We have nothing to prove, and it’s basically quality vs quantity. ~James

  9. This post invigorates me. I have no idea how or why but I will say it’s one of your best posts. The photos are exceptional (all your photos are) but these speak to me. I want to pack my bags and go. Meet you guys for lunch? 😀

    • You’ve read lots of our posts Tess (Thank You), and these are very kind words indeed. It’s really fun to be back in Copenhagen and be able to take the time to appreciate some of the things we missed (or forgot about) on the first two trips. If, for instance, on your next trip abroad you decided to visit Denmark, I promise that it would be tons easier than China. ~James

      • 😀 😀 Are we talking washrooms? Don’t care anymore. The squats were just as messy as public washrooms in the U.S. We didn’t see the really awful ones.
        China was about intense touring to see everything. Because we had guides, we were insulated and our hands held.Nothing to worry about.
        Anyway, can”t compare because my experience is narrow.

  10. Love your post! Now I want to go! We just got back from Amsterdam and had a similar experience with all the bike traffic! I have a photo of an actual bike garage near the Central Station. I can’t wait to post my travel experiences in Holland and Belgium! I had no idea Denmark was the same!

    • Thanks Dixie. As I said to another commenter, the only other place that I’ve seen more bikes in one place was the Amsterdam Central Station. I read a post recently about Amsterdam folks and their bikes. Apparently, most people ride a ratty bike during the week (and park it at the station), but they have their nice “Sunday bikes” that they save for the weekends. Isn’t that a hoot? ~James

  11. Great post and photographs! I love Copenhagen, as you know, and was totally amazed by all of the bikes and riders and am so lucky I didn’t get plowed over when I was distracted by taking photographs. In some places, there were two tiers of bikes. You’d really have to remember where you parked your bike. I read that thousands of bikes are unclaimed every year.

    • Thanks Cathy. It’s funny that Terri and I have both said that we feel like we’re visiting Copenhagen for the first time. It’s Europe and it’s Scandinavia. It’s large and yet, it’s small. It’s old, and very modern. The bike culture makes me feel like there’s hope for us. I enjoyed your post on cycling in Copenhagen, and for all you readers out there that want a good read and nice photos, check out Cathy’s post:
      http://catherinesherman.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/cycling-in-denmark/
      ~James

      • Thanks for linking to my post. Yes, Copenhagen is a modern city rooted in the old! I had to laugh when I read the history of some of the old buildings that were considered relatively “new,” because they’d replaced much older buildings. We have a much different idea of old in my part of the country.

    • Thanks Joyce. It is a beautiful city and it’s nice to be back. You should be here to see all the bikes. It’s crazy. But, the weather is nice and cool, and we love that. Hope all is well in BG. Say hello to Dascal. Love, JH

  12. Copenhagen sounds very captivating! Beautiful photos.

    Amazing number of bicycles. It would be a sight to see.

    I cannot wait to get a bike rack to carry my bicycles to area trails. I sold my truck like a dummy! 🙂

    Have a great day,

    Boyd

  13. Even though I’m done with my cycling days (boohoo, but I can use a stand-up e-scooter!), your photos and stories are tempting enough to assure me that I’ll be able to WALK around town instead. Thanks for sharing.. and I love that you take so many shots while LOOKING UP too 😉

    • Thanks so much, Amit. We love looking up – it seems that some of the greatest details (and touches of whimsy) are found at the tops of buildings. 🙂 So glad to hear that you can use a stand-up e-scooter – that must be fun! And yes, you will love walking around Copenhagen – it’s so pedestrian-friendly. ~Terri

    • Bama, the cyclists in Copenhagen are road warriors. There’s not noodling around in the bike lane for these folks – they really move along. But, I guess if I road my bike everyday to and from work, I’d be anxious to get where I’m going as well. ~James

    • Thanks Anita. As a matter of fact, it’s very pedestrian friendly; assuming the pedestrians, bikes, and cars follow the rules. City government has designed and implemented a plan which ensures that everyone has equal priority. It’s wonderful to see, and such a nice change from the auto-centric existence we suffer in the US. ~James

  14. I spent 2 weeks in Denmark (a week in Copenhagen) this summer– my 3rd time there. I still haven’t posted about it… but I may just reblog yours! You’ve nailed all the wonderful highlights. 🙂 The cyclists were by far one of the most amazing things! So impressive how when the light changes, hundreds of bikes surge forward! What a wonderful post.

    • Thanks Dawn. Our revisit to Copenhagen has been lots of fun. Having two weeks to explore must have been wonderful, enabling you to discover all the interesting nooks and crannies. As a cyclist, it’s been rewarding to see that pedestrians, bikes and cars can peacefully coexist. And BTW, we’d be honored if you reblogged out post. ~James

    • Copenhagen is a fun and interesting place Joanne, so I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it. It’s rather expensive, so prepare yourself for a bit of sticker shock … and be careful to stay out of the bike lane. ~James

  15. I visited Copenhagen 2 years ago and that’s exactly what I thought about bikes. I almost got hit by 3 the day I arrived. I will always admire people who bike in winter, with snow and all. I admit I don’t bike enough in Chicago, but this post is encouraging. What did you like most about the city?

    • We stayed in the center Virginia, and this was the perfect choice. What I enjoyed most was the scale of the city, and being able to walk to see what I wanted to see. I understand the need for mass transit, and am a believer. But, at the end of the day, I’d rather walk and take in the details. How about you, what did you like most? ~James

    • I’m a cyclist in the US, where bikes as a primary mode of transportation are, in most places, the exception. I always have to ride defensively. In Copenhagen, there’s the bike lane and the cyclists treat it like it’s their space. There are traffic signals for the bikes, the cars respect the bikes, and By God, the pedestrians should do as well. In Copenhagen bikes, cars and pedestrians peacefully coexist. Pretty cool really. ~James

  16. It must be wonderful to revisit a city with fresh eyes and a slower pace. I love to see cities that have stepped back from cars and taking to the streets with bikes.

  17. Visited Copenhagen many years ago and loved it, but then I love Denmark. Tivoli was a memorable visit, but what really made an impression on us was Louisiana, the art gallery just outside the city. We were blown away by its history, the situation, the views from inside, everything about it. And everywhere you go there is this wonderful preservation of the past alongside the best of modern design.

    • Unfortunately, we ran out of time and didn’t manage to make it to Louisiana. It was on our list, but we decided a trip to Malmo would be more fun. Maybe next time. Terri and I both love Danish design, and we visited a couple of galleries. Very cool. ~James

  18. I’d heard about the bikes! And that it’s pretty expensive, but that depends what you do, doesn’t it, James? I’d walk everywhere. (cautiously!) It’s a city I’d love to visit. 🙂

    • As a cyclist, it was a pleasure to be in a city where cyclists are the rule rather than an exception. And most of the folks that I saw cycling were very fit-looking, which is another benefit. All the best in the New Year Jo. ~James

  19. Our daughter is in the Netherlands for a year. First thing she did to join the Dutch culture – she bought a bike:) We’re planning on visiting her in the spring and travelling from there. I’ll be Adding Copenhagen to my wish list for the region. – Ginette

    • We lived in Amsterdam for three months Ginette, and saw their bike culture first hand. The only significant difference I saw between the two cities was that the Danish have higher end bikes and take much better care of them. There were always lots of rusty beaters on the streets in Amsterdam. ~James

  20. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited the city twice and it is a beautiful city. Tivoli Gardens is particularly interesting. Having gone in my teens, I would appreciate it more now I think, and hope to go back.

    • Thanks for the comment Chris, and for dropping by the blog. Like you, I had been years before, and was passing through for work, so I couldn’t really appreciate it. It’s an interesting place and has unique qualities that make it a good destination. And I loved seeing such an incredibly bike-friendly city. ~James

    • Jean, I agree that Copenhagen is Nirvana for cyclists. And it must be the perfect place to hold a cycling conference. No field trips necessary to see cycle policy in action, just look out the window. ~James

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