Copenhagen: Europe's coolest green city

Cutting edge architecture, miles of cycle routes and green spaces galore have made the Danish capital a hotspot for green travellers. Ruth Styles packed her bags for a weekend in Europe’s greenest capital city

If you thought doing local, seasonal food Danish-style meant 101 ways to cook herring, then think again. I’m sitting in the brasserie at Nimb – a white Moroccan style confection in the middle of the Tivoli Gardens - and there’s not a fish in sight. There’s local game, seasonal nuts and berries and an absolutely sensational sheep’s milk bavarois but definitely no herring. It’s still typically Danish but its also unexpected, interesting and, of course, green.

On this side of the North Sea, we’ve been hearing about Denmark’s whizziness on all things eco-friendly for years but what does that really mean in the Nordic capital of cool? As far as the culinary scene is concerned, it means seasonal and with Noma’s René Redzepi leading the charge, it also means unexpected, quirky and precise. Take Nimb for example. Located in what used to be known as Carsten’s Bazaar, its wedding cake of an exterior is belied by the chic, serene décor inside, and the ultra-modern take on seasonal food on offer in the brasserie. Guided by supremely knowledgeable waiter, Christian, we ate sustainably sourced organic veal, wild mushrooms, nuts and berries, and locally produced dairy. The combinations were subtle and interesting, and made use of every last bit, whether beast, fish or fruit. In the UK, this would be unusual. In Copenhagen, this is becoming the norm.

Host to the UN’s 2009 Climate Change Conference, unlike Cancun, Copenhagen is a city that practises what it preaches. The water in the inner harbour is so clean, you can take a dip in it while over a third of the city’s 1.1 million people regularly cycle to work, making Dronning Louise's Bro [Queen Louise's bridge], the busiest cycling spot in the western world. An estimated 35,000 cyclists stream across the bridge during morning rush hour, a seriously impressive figure especially when compared to London’s numbers: a paltry 20,500 cyclists in a city of eight million people. And that’s not all. The Danish capital is a world-leader in clean technology and has pioneered eco-initiatives such as financial incentives to recycle plastic bottles and generous tax reductions when you switch to electric cars such as the Tesla. And the city’s green vibe has made it into just about everything: whether you’re looking for culture, relaxation or a serious party, Copenhagen has a green option for you.

Unsurprisingly, given the city’s reputation for being a street-style blogger’s paradise, Copenhagen has developed a knack for producing highly fashionable eco options as well. Home to some of fashion’s hottest green brands, the little alleys off main shopping street, Strøget, are packed with local eco-labels. Barbara I Gongini, Noir, Ecoture by Lund and Jackpot are just some of the high style, high sustainability brands available. It’s also got some of the best vintage shops in the world, including my favourite, Time’s Up on Krystalgade. There’s also a brilliant perfumery, Pure Shop, on Grønnegade, which sells just about every organic beauty treat you can think of.  I loved the ultra cool Honoré des Près organic fragrances; my favourite, Vamp à N.Y, features tuberose, rum and bourbon vanilla. Down the road in Nørrebro – an up and coming district, liberally splattered with graffiti and plenty of kebab shops – you’ll find Blågårdsgade, a street packed with antique and second hand shops. There’s also Salling C, a small optical boutique on Nørrebrogade, which sells the sort of ultra-cool frames beloved of the local glamazons.  If you need a pit stop, check out the HarboBar café on Blågårdsgade, which does spectacularly good organic coffee and cupcakes. Nørrebro is also home to the Assistens Kirkegård, an historic cemetery and one of Copenhagen’s many green spaces.

Copenhagen is a city dominated by greenery but nowhere more so than in its many parks and open spaces. As well as Nørrebro’s Assistens Kirkegård, Copenhagen’s answer to Paris’ Père Lachaise, the one not to be missed is the Tivoli Gardens. A combination of open parkland and amusements, it’s at its most beautiful at night when it’s lit up with wind-powered LED lights. Other ways to get out and about include Copenhagen Segway tours, which apart from giving you an unparalleled opportunity to make a spectacle of yourself in front of 1.1 million Danes, also lets you see the city in speedy style. Starting at the Nyhavn waterfront, the tour takes in the Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish parliament, the City Lakes and Copenhagen’s most famous resident, The Little Mermaid.

While the Little Mermaid is lovely during the day, the best place to be at night is the meatpacking district, an arty student-favourite, which combines a sustainable approach to regeneration with brilliant bars and restaurants. Top pick is the Kødbyens Fiskebar, which serves local fish and brilliant cocktails. Its got a novel approach to décor: the dining room looks like a fishmongers with extra tables, and features a big tank of clear jellyfish. The nearby BioMio is also worth a try and serves 100 per cent organic food. For after dinner drinks, Bakken, also in the meatpacking district, is unbeatable. If you can ignore the dodgy-looking paint job, inside its got a cool crowd, great music and a football table which is brilliant for a 3am tournament; better still if it’s a tournament you can win like we did.

Whether it’s the Little Mermaid that floats your boat or the inner workings of a city eco-village (Christiania in central Copenhagen), the Danish capital has plenty to inspire green travellers. From getting around to eating out, there’s always an eco-friendly alternative and it’s nearly always ultra-cool. And with the city leading the way in all things green, Copenhagen is a brilliant weekend destination that works for the environment as well as for you.

Need to Know

Eat: Nimb, BioMio and the Kødbyens Fiskebar all do great seasonal food at fairly reasonable prices but for a real treat, René Redzepi’s Noma is unmissable. Copenhagen has plenty of little organic cafes, perfect for a lunchtime snack. Try the Grønne Køkken in Norrebrø for a speedy lunch or relax at Cap Horn in Nyhavn. One of Copenhagen’s organic pioneers, it has a large terrace overlooking the Nyhavn canal - perfect for sundowners.
Sleep: If you can afford it, Hotel Alexandra close to City Hall Square, is a Green Key award-winner and is packed with upcycled furniture including classic pieces by Arne Jacobsen, Nanna Dietzel and Hans J. Wegner. It also offers an organic option at breakfast. Slightly cheaper but no less green is the Axel Hotel Guldsmeden in Vesterbro. Everything from power to toiletries is sustainable and organic – up to and including cleaning products – and the hotel is also a member of the Danish eco-council.

Getting around: If the thought of whizzing around on a Segway sounds a bit much, the city has a great city bike scheme, which is totally free. There are also bicycle taxis and a carbon-neutral bus route. If you need to take a taxi, try Amager-Øbro, a firm that offsets every trip its taxis make, whether with a passenger or not.

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