Copenhagen is a dream city for cyclists with its fantastic bike routes and passion for everything on two wheels.
There aren’t many capital cities which you can ride around on a bike without feeling like you’re going to die horribly on their congested roads or get crushed by a truck at a junction.
So it comes as a breath of fresh air to find cycling around Denmark and its largest city to be one of the most relaxing experiences anywhere in the world.
Cyclists have priority at road junctions, there are bike lanes almost everywhere and the bicycle is truly ‘king of the road’.
Although I’m not the most confident city cyclist, I felt comfortable and relaxed on my two wheels whether in the suburban outskirts or whizzing through the main city centre.
Kings of the road
Copenhageners love their bikes – 50% of them cycle to work and there are more bikes than people in this city.
My cousin Paul and his Danish wife Bettina live in Copenhagen with their two young children – for them, cycling is a way of life whether travelling to work, school or the shops.
They don’t own a car and can’t see the point in having one – in common with many fellow Copenhageners.
Paul used to be a bike dispatch rider so he remembers only too well the perils of cycling in London whilst his Danish partner Bettina can’t believe that the Brits have a negative attitude to pedal power.
Why would you think about any other form of transport in a big city, unless you were delivering furniture or driving a delivery truck?
With the relatives’ advice and local knowledge we set out on a bike tour around Copenhagen’s historic sights and attractions, starting from our City Camp RV site not far from Central Station.
Leaving the camp site before lunch we were straight out onto a fast bike lane into the city centre, arriving in the Old Town in only 12 minutes.
First stop was Copenhagen’s oldest street, Magstraede, with two historic buildings dating from the 16th Century.
Rather like London, Copenhagen had its own version of the Great Fire which destroyed many of its original timber houses and Medieval buildings.
As a result there are few structures dating from before the 1700s but there are still some older buildings which survived, especially around Magstraede.
Back on the bikes we carried on up to Snaregade, an old-fashioned street, which also has several historic buildings from before the great fires of 1728 and 1795.
Also worth looking at is Studiestræde in Copenhagen’s old Latin Quarter, now a big gay area, and Grønnegade with its attractive half-timbered houses.
We parked the bikes at Gammeltorv, the oldest square in Copenhagen, which dates back to the 13th Century when the Old Town hall was built here.
At its centre is the exquisite Renaissance Caritas Fountain with a statue of the goddess of generosity on top of its water bowl.
At the far end of the old square is Nytorv where public executions used to take place – apparently the blood used to run into the gutters.
The last executions were carried out at the scaffold in 1758 when Frederik Hammond, the owner of an iron works, and his assistant were beheaded for counterfeiting activities.
Although the scaffold was removed a few years later, branding and whipping continued at the Nytorv pillory until 1780, a sobering thought!
Today it’s a magnet for late afternoon drinkers as well as being a popular meeting place – it’s a good stop-off for a quick beer whilst watching the buskers and street performers.
Wander off the main square and you’ll find several decent sandwich shops down the side streets if you fancy a quick bite to eat.
Copenhagen’s largest shopping area is centered around nearby Strøget, a long pedestrian streets with the usual mix of big name shops. We gave this a miss because the retailers are those that you get in any big European city.
We skipped the corporate retail offer in favour of the intriguing back streets and I suggest that you do the same.
The Killing TV locations
Back on the bikes we drove towards Copenhagen Town Hall or Radhus with its distinctive red-brick clock tower which dominates the City Hall Square area.
This impressive fusion of Romanticism, Medieval Danish design and Italian architecture featured in the Nordic Noir TV crime thriller, The Killing.
Sadly, and despite my best efforts, I didn’t spot anyone wearing Sarah Lund’s famous Gudrun and Gudrun jumper in the vicinity as I sped by on my bike.
Look out for its elaborate clock – and perhaps stop to climb to the top of the tower, if you have time, for panoramic views of the city.
Further along this route we cycled past the Copenhagen Politigården (Police Headquarters), an austere Neo-Classical building, which also featured in the The Killing.
Given a little more time, we would have parked up and booked ourselves onto The Killing tour which follows in the footsteps of police officer Sarah Lund.
If you have time this is a great way of spending the early evening on a Saturday – the tour runs from 18:00 and lasts for around two hours.
We were tight for time so cycled onwards to the Amalienborg Palace in Frederiksstaden, the winter home of the Danish royal family.
Royal palaces and famous landmarks
The Amalienborg Palace is a more tasteful version of London’s Buckingham Palace – and it’s remarkable that you can cycle pretty much right up to the door.
When the royals are in residence, there’s a good chance of spotting the crown prince popping out for an official engagement.
If you arrive on your bike around noon, there’s the daily changing of the guard to take in, if that’s your cup of tea.
We stopped to check out the palace’s beautiful classical facade before pedalling towards the docks where there’s a great view of the controversial new Copenhagen Opera House on the other side of the water.
Having bumped over the cobbled streets on the bikes, we continued along the waterside on a slight detour to see the Little Mermaid, Copenhagen’s most famous landmark.
This small bronze statue, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year, is a little underwhelming on first view – and the whole area is inundated with happy snapping tourists.
The mermaid is small and slight, but you have to call by to say you’ve seen it because everyone always asks what you thought of this iconic work, whether you like it or not.
As our attention waned, there was the amusing sight of a young herring gull catching a crab in the waters next to the statue.
As the tourists flashed their cameras, the bird was unaware that it was enjoying a starring role in their holiday snaps as it battled to eat the crustacean on the rock next to the Mermaid.
As well as being out-shone by a large white bird, you have to feel sorry for the Little Mermaid which has had every part of its anatomy chopped off by vandals down the years.
There’s little left from the 1913 original by Edvard Eriksen but the new, improved version continues to be the most photographed statue in Scandinavia.
Overall, it’s worth the bike detour to visit this part of town; there’s a marina next door and you’ll also be rewarded with some interesting views of the waterfront.
Just beyond the Mermaid is the old Copenhagen fort, an optional detour for those interested in military history.
After the ‘Mermaid moment’ we retraced our bike route back to the docks and headed towards the best-known area of Copenhagen, Nyhavn docks, with its colourful bars, attractive boats and canal trips on barges.
Once the preserve of merchants and traders, this is the place to be for socialising, eating and drinking but we cycled on because we had one more stop before returning to look around properly.
We continued cycling to the Rosenborg Slot, a Renaissance palace and gardens, which is a great place to unwind with a glass of wine or a beer.
There’s a small café bar called Herkules in the middle of the park – but if you prefer, you can opt to look around the Royal Apartments in the castle before it closes for the night.
The castle has survived the ravages of war and fire since it was built in 1633, and today it’s one of Copenhagen’s most popular tourist attractions.
If you like eclectic collections of ivory coronation chairs, regal baby shoes, large silver lions and royal crown jewels this could be the place for you!
But I’d seen one too many palace on this trip so we skipped the castle and rested up with a glass of wine in the surrounding gardens.
If you have kids, this is a great place for them to run around and let off steam, although my cousin’s youngest child got so over-excited that she got stuck up a tree. You have been warned!
Having rested our bike legs and enjoyed a drink, we cycled back to Nyhavn, parked up and had a quick look around its many bars and restaurants.
My cousin tells me that the best way of saving money is to buy your alcoholic drinks from a kiosk and then sit outside to drink them anywhere along the waterfront.
There’s also the option of taking a river boat or canal cruise in the early evening.
Alternatively, thrill seekers should cycle down the road to the Tivoli Gardens for the rollercoaster rides plus a wander around the illuminated gardens by night.
Why not top off the whole evening with the nightly fireworks display at the gardens.
Or lock up your bikes and wander around the back streets in search of slightly cheaper eateries before cycling back (sober!) to your hotel or the City Camping site.
Sightseeing by bike
After breakfast the next day, we cycled back into the city centre and parked up by the National Museum (free admission), one of the best attractions in Copenhagen.
As well as impressive Iron Age tools, Bronze Age finds, Viking treasures and Rune stones, there’s a wealth of Danish culture and archaeology to admire as you wander round its many corridors.
The museum is huge and you could spend several hours here so I’d recommend the highlights of the collection on the ground floor including the Vikings and the pre-history section.
Some beautiful pieces are on display including this star exhibit, a large silver cauldron from Gundestrup with its superb craftsmanship and illustrations on the inside and outside.
Another favourite was an exquisite 3,500 year old Sun Chariot which is pictured below. It was found in 1902, when the former bog Trundholm Mose in northern Zealand was ploughed for the first time.
The Sun Chariot illustrates the idea that the sun was drawn on its eternal journey by a divine horse and it’s supposed to represent our journey through life and death. It’s a piece that it’s hard to take your eyes off.
There are also other famous ‘bog bodies’ including the woman from Huldremose whose clothes are very well preserved, despite being almost 2,000 years old.
Although we allowed a couple of hours to see the archaeological and historical displays, we found ourselves delving into the upper floors and getting lost in religious clothing, altar pieces, and 18th century furniture, a bit of a mistake!
During our visit there was also a special one-off Viking exhibition which is a brilliantly presented, dramatic presentation of the Viking story with pieces including the remains of a large Viking boat and other artefacts.
If you have time, grab a snack lunch in the museum cafe or venture further afield into the surrounding streets to find a Danish restaurant serving traditional Scandinavian smorgasbord for lunch.
After a brief lunch break, we were back on the bikes for a couple of hundred metres till we arrived at the NY Carlsberg Glyptotek Gallery with its fine collection of antiquities and French Impressionists.
Founded by the 19th Century art collector Carl Jacobsen, it’s renowned for its great collection of French Impressionists including Cezanne, Monet and Renoir.
The gallery also has one of the best single collections of paintings by Gauguin who lived in Copenhagen for a time with his Danish wife.
But I was gutted when I found that the 35 Gauguin works weren’t on display and had been temporarily removed to make way for the blockbuster Degas exhibition!
The Glypototek also houses an impressive collection of Etruscan treasures including a winged lion, sarcophagi, pottery and stone statues.
I had to run around the exhibits on my own because my partner Tony had collapsed with exhaustion in the gallery’s glass domed conservatory where he took a well-deserved rest.
He claimed that his inability to walk a single further inch was brought on by a bout of “looking at too much art and history stuff”.
It seems this was a case of one museum and gallery too many!
Even Tammy had to admit that she had a really bad case of sore feet after trying to race around the museum’s many beautiful but extensive collections.
If art isn’t high on your agenda and you fancy a longer bike ride, take a detour to Christiania, Copenhagen’s alternative boho community or ‘hippy heaven’ where anything goes!
This abandoned military base on the edge of the city centre was taken over by squatters in 1971 declaring it a ‘free state’, subject to its own laws.
We left our bikes at the entrance and took this one photo before being told that there is ‘no photography inside’.
Once in the thick of the community, you can see why, as drugs are freely consumed and there’s a liberal attitude towards most everything.
It’s like one giant hippy commune with ‘alternative everything’ including men running around nude in the showers!
It’s a fascinating and truly unique experience – I can’t think of anywhere like this in the world (perhaps with the exception of Slab City in the USA).
On leaving Christiania there’s a sign to proclaim that “You are now returning to the EU” which raised a wry smile.
Nearby there’s a strange-looking church – Vor Frelsers Kirke – which is worth calling in at if you have time to climb its outdoor staircase to the top – but it’s not for those with vertigo or the faint-hearted!
I’m told that the stairs get narrower as you get higher and higher. I cycled past at great speed before Tony suggested we made the trip to the top.
Finally, the 24 hours in wonderful Copenhagen was over. It’s a brilliant city for biking and sightseeing – no wonder it’s been voted the world’s best cycling city.
So next time you’re thinking of a cycling holiday – think bike, think Copenhagen!
Tammy’s Top Tips – Cycling in Copenhagen
If you don’t have a bike, why not hire one for the day. Copenhagen Bicycles (Nyhavn) and Baisikeli are two of the recommended bike rental companies. Bikes can also be carried on the Metro except at rush hours.
There’s also a free bike scheme called Bycykler – City Bikes – where gearless bikes can be rented for free. Good luck with that if you’re a confident cyclist. Like Boris Bikes in London they are available at key locations including S train stations.
Keep up the speed on cycle ways – and if you’re going slowly, keep to the far right so others can overtake, so avoiding bike rage!
Watch out for scooters which are also allowed to use bike lanes – they can come up quickly on your blind side.
Look out for cycle traffic lights which control the flow of bikes at some junctions. Don’t overshoot at these junctions, even if you see some locals misbehaving.
Study how the locals ride their bikes in Copenhagen and follow their biking style. To stop suddenly pull your hand above your head downwards (like you’re ringing a bell) to show you’re slowing down and coming to a halt.
If biking is your passion, why not head out of Copenhagen to northern Zealand for a longer bike trip, staying in local hotels or camp sites. Once again, there are plenty of bike lanes and the flat landscape makes this an easy longer distance trip if you want an easy ride.
Tourist information on Copenhagen can be found on the city’s tourism website. Don’t forget to pick up a free city map from your hotel or an information centre to make the most of your biking and walking trips.
Biking foodies might be attracted by one of the new breed of Danish restaurants serving top end cuisine, from Noma (book well ahead) to a spin-off run by ex-Noma chefs called Bror, which is slightly cheaper (also book in advance).
Camper vans with bikes on their racks are a great way of reducing the price of a trip to Copenhagen, which is notoriously expensive for hotels and accommodation.
The Copenhagen City Camping site is a large car park-turned-camping park with full facilities, located a short 12 minutes ride from the city centre along bike friendly lanes. It’s not pretty but it is a very easy bike ride from town.