If you want to understand why Copenhagen is Europe’s greenest city, make your way to Dronning Louise's Bro (Queen Louise's bridge) in downtown Copenhagen during morning rush hour. An estimated 35,000 bicycle commuters stream across this bridge every day, making it one of the busiest cycling spots in the western world.
It is not just the absence of hills that makes Copenhagen a cyclist’s city. It is that environmental awareness is both fundamental public policy and a way of life here. Copenhagen, was the first city in the world to adopt a planet-cooling mandatory green roof policy, and it has plans to be the world’s first carbon-neutral metropolis by 2025.
Recently named Europe’s coolest green city by the Ecologist magazine, Copenhagen is a showcase of climate-friendly Denmark. It is a place of environmentally-conscious transport, organic restaurants, carbon neutral beers, eco-shopping, enviro-hotels and green spaces to revel in – all right in the heart of the capital.
Hop on your bike
Each day 1,200,000km are cycled in the Danish capital. Nearly 40% of all Copenhageners get to work or school by bike, and the city plans to have half of its citizens commuting on two wheels by 2015.
For visitors or citizens that do not own a bike, Bycyklen Kobenhavn is Copenhagen’s free bike-share scheme, with more than 100 depots throughout the city centre. Turn up, put your 20 Danish krone coin in the slot as a deposit, and you can ride all day. There are also guided bike tours of the city from April through September.
If you are not a cyclist, you can still travel low-carbon aboard Copenhagen’s little yellow CityBus 11A. It is electric, emits zero exhaust fumes and cruises down the narrow city centre streets to all the classic sights.
Eat organic, drink carbon neutral
Eating and drinking in Copenhagen is one of the ways locals cast a vote for the environment. The city is Europe’s largest consumer of organically-grown food – with an emphasis on local where possible. Downtown, there is an entirely organic supermarket, Øko Best, and several outlets of the mostly-organic fruit and vegetable market chain Din Baghave (which translates as 'Your Backyard'). Look out for products marked with a red “ø” for økologisk (Danish for organic). For fancier food (much of it environment friendly), try the smart new downtown Torvehallerne farmers’ market.
Copenhagen’s eat-organic ethic extends to its restaurants. Decorated in gorgeous deep colours and with a very Danish 'hygge' feel, atmospheric Cap Horn in the waterfront precinct of Nyhavn serves beautifully homemade organic fare. A slow summer brunch on the terrace overlooking the Nyhavn canal is about as perfect as you can get. At BioM, you can eat organic smørrebrød (a Danish open sandwich) accompanied by organic beer and wine – in fact the place is so organic, the whole restaurant gets Denmark’s official red “ø”.
To slake your thirst in an environmentally-sound manner, seek out Globe Ale, Denmark’s first carbon neutral beer. It’s served most places that stock any boutique beers.
When you are done eating and drinking eco, hop on your bike and shop Copenhagen sustainably. The alleys off Strøget, the main shopping street, are stocked with local eco-labels like Jackpot, Noir and Gongini, and many vintage shops sell recycled cool. At Ecouture by Lund, you will find natural materials (organic cotton, silk, flax, hemp, bamboo and wool) styled into unique and gorgeous clothes, with just a hint of the bohemian. Or drop by the base of the enfant terrible of Danish fashion, Henrik Vibskov on Krystalgade and browse through his organic clothing collection.
In Copenhagen you can sleep with a clear environmental conscience, too. The C02-neutral Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers bills itself as the world’s greenest hotel. The building integrates northern Europe's largest solar array into its façade, has a groundwater-based heating and cooling system, and consumes 90% less energy than other comparable hotels in the city. Of course – this being Copenhagen, the Paustian-designed interiors are eminently stylish too.
If small, intimate hotels are more your style, try Hotel Alexandra, a chic Green Key award winner where the organic breakfast makes a perfect start to an environmentally sound day. Likewise, Green Globe-accredited Hotel Axel Guldsmeden in Vesterbro takes its environmental responsibility seriously. Everything from the power to the cleaning products – even the mini bar -- is sustainable or organic, plus there is an organic cafe on site.
Get into the green
If part of being green means having outdoor spaces to revel in, then Copenhagen does that consummately. The city has wonderful parks and gardens, the biggest of which is tranquil Fælledparken, Copenhagen’s “commons” which has expansive lawns, forests, jogging tracks and plenty of space to breathe in nature. Southwest of the city is Kalvebod Fælled Vestamager – a seaside meadow and marshland that is the largest expanse of natural landscape this close to a metropolis, anywhere in Europe. It is an important habitat for wading birds and a great recreational resource for Copenhageners.
Just five kilometres from the city centre is the clean white sand of Amager Strandpark, Copenhagen’s summer beach hangout. But the best testament to how clean and green Copenhagen really is can be found in the heart of the city. The harbour pool at Islands Brygge is one of four, centre city summer pools. It is hard to believe that the harbour in a metropolis of 1.2 million people can be good enough to swim in – but the water quality is consistently scored as being ocean-clean.
Perhaps that is what Copenhagen does best. It takes environmental awareness, turns it into fun – and then dives right in.