For a city whose biggest attraction is a bronze statue of a mermaid, Copenhagen has a lot to offer. The Danish capital is Scandinavia’s chief economic and cultural centre, a status underpinned by strong sectors in information technology, shipping and banking; and a horde of residing designers, artists and chefs. Here, narrow cobblestone streets and old buildings blend with wooden houses along the channels and avant-garde architecture; a combination of Amsterdam’s carefreeness, the Nordic Oslo and the historical charm of an eastern European city, such as Prague.
Copenhagen is also among the world’s greenest, happiest and healthiest cities. It aims to become the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025, and in 2009 it targeted an emission reduction of 20 per cent from levels in 2005 by 2015 – a feat it achieved as early as 2011. (It also hosted the UN’s climate change conference in 2009.) The city is a world leader in consuming organic food and, according to its tourist board, 63 per cent of the hotel rooms are eco-certified. The inner city water is so clean you can even swim in it. Try doing that in London or Budapest.
So, what to do?
Cycle, cycle, cycle
Geographically, Denmark is flat as a pool table. This makes it perfect for cycling, and Copenhagen is no exception. Each day, 55 per cent of the population cycles to work, and there are more bikes than people. Rent one, try a bike taxi, or embark upon a city tour. For £20 a day ($32) you can rent an audio-visual GPS bike guide, which is excellent for combining geographical and historical exploration.
See the mermaid
So goes the story of The Little Mermaid: in 1909, Carl Jacobsen, the founder of Carlsberg Breweries, saw a play titled ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the Royal Theatre. Moved by the performance, he commissioned sculptor Hans Christian Andersen to create a statue in its honour. So Hansen did, using his wife as a model, and in August 1913 it was unveiled as a gift to the city.
Copenhagen is spoilt with organic restaurants. At BioMio (Halmtorvet 19) you watch the chefs cook before handing you the food – without a waiter in sight. FireFlyGarden (Frederiksborggade 26) serves vegan food only, and has replaced its paper menus with tablets for electronic ordering. Other options are simpleRAW (Oehlenschlægersgade 12), Cap Horn (Nyhavn 21) and Restaurant Julian (Ny Vestergade 10).
The wooden houses and majestic sailboats of Nyhavn (‘New Haven’) is Copenhagen at its charming best. Ships from across the world used to dock in this commercial port. The buildings have since been renovated, and bars, restaurants and cafés have sprung up. Prices are steep – like always in Scandinavia – but if food doesn’t tempt you, a casual a stroll along the quayside is no bad alternative.
This famous breakaway freetown was formed in 1971, becoming a community where around 1,000 rebels freely traded hash and pot. Some built their own houses, giving the area a distinct character. While historically and culturally fascinating, the area is rough, and a series of visiting rules apply (no photos, no running, no phones). Guided tours are recommended.
Location: on the eastern tip of Zealand, Denmark’s easternmost island
Area: 88 square kilometres
Currency: Danish Kroner (DKK)
Time zone: GMT +1
Photos: Nadezhda1906, Tyler Olson, mffoto, JPF, Yarygin, nicolasd [all via Shutterstock.com].