We’re starting our series with Copenhagen, the Danish capital and one of Scandinavia’s – and indeed, Europe’s – coolest conurbations. With its extensive bike networks, commitment to renewable energy and green-friendly hotels, it’s a city with sustainability at its heart. Add to this some pretty impressive architecture, striking design credentials and a truly impressive culinary landscape, it’s no wonder it receives the title of a ‘modern-day fairy tale’.
Situated on the coastal islands of Zealand and Amager, Copenhagen is surrounded by water and at the mercy of the brisk, biting winds that rush in from the North Sea. To the east is Sweden and the city of Malmo, and to the west is the vast, flat mass of Denmark. It is not only the capital of the country, but also of Scandi cool, where New Nordic cuisine is enjoyed by candlelight, ‘hygge’ is a way of life rather than a passing fad and children are raised on Hans Christian Andersen bedtime stories. Despite the often-grey skies and winter chill, Copenhagen’s residents are a cheerful bunch, and for good reason. Denmark consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world, and the city is famously liveable. It’s one of the planet’s greenest urban areas, with fast and efficient public transport, a compact commercial centre and cycling as not just a mode of transport, but a fully integrated part of day-to-day living.
Here, the flat streets are run by cyclists, the harbour water is swimmable, the horizon speckled with furiously turning turbines. In fact, some of the highest structures in the city are the wind turbines, serving as a constant reminder of the country’s commitment to sustainability and supplying more than 40% of Denmark’s energy supply.
3 – COPENHAGEN IS THE THIRD-HAPPIEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD
20 – THERE ARE 20 TURBINES AT COPENHAGEN’S MIDDELGRUNDEN WIND FARM
2014 – IN 2014, THE CITY WAS THE EUROPEAN GREEN CAPITAL
25 – COPENHAGEN’S GREENEST HOTEL IS 25 STOREYS TALL
70 – OVER 70% OF THE CITY’S HOTEL ROOMS HAVE ENVIRONMENTAL CERTIFICATION
2025 – COPENHAGEN AIMS TO BE CARBON-NEUTRAL BY 2025
Not the colour, but rather sustainability. Copenhagen is one of the ‘greenest’ places to stay in Europe and finding a sustainable hotel room in the city is a breeze, as more than 70% of hotel rooms in the city hold an official eco-certification, and over half of the city’s hotels follow an environmental sustainability plan.
Here are a few of our favourite green hotels.
The Brøchner Hotel Group has six achingly cool hotels in the city and is the first carbon-neutral hotel group; SP34 is our favourite. The hotel is situated in the city’s Latin Quarter, just 500 metres from the famous Tivoli Gardens and next to a park where locals jog and families picnic. Interiors have been effortlessly curated and include lots of Danish designers.
With two locations, Arthur Hotels has an impressive commitment to sustainability, and donates a portion of sales profits to NGOs and the Red Cross, while ensuring the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products; just two of the group’s initiatives for green living. Hotel Kong Arthur is situated by the lakes, near the city’s fine food market at Torvehallerne.
Denmark’s greenest hotel is Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers, with 25 storeys and the largest integrated solar panel park in northern Europe – enough to power 60 Danish family homes. The hotel also offers electric car and bike rental to help you get around the city, and Danish designer furniture.
A local brand is also championing sustainability: Scandic Hotels have over 260 hotels across Scandinavia and launched what is now considered the industry’s leading sustainability programme way back in 1993. Overlooking the harbour and just moments from Nyhavn, our top pick is Scandic Front, which is small yet friendly and perfectly equipped for weekend stays.
Lastly, Guldsmeden Hotels operate under a set of self-prescribed guidelines regarding ecology and sustainability, as well as being Green Globe and Golden Ø-certified. Manon Les Suites is one of the city’s top hotels, with a central location and dazzling interiors – the indoor Junglefish swimming pool is overlooked by the entrances to each of the 87 suites and is draped in greenery.
Danes believe in buying less but investing in what you have. It’s one of the reasons why their homes are regarded as being so stylish; rather than being full of clutter, they are usually clean and serene spaces with a few considered items of furniture, interspersed with more wallet-friendly additions from everyone’s favourite Swedish retailer, IKEA.
To get a grasp of why Danish designs are so enduring, take a walk trough the Design Museum Danmark, situated near to the harbour and the Amalienborg Palace. From furniture to textiles, ceramics to industrial design, it’s an illuminating view on Scandi style and how it has influenced the wider world – plus a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. A favourite permanent exhibition is ‘The Danish Chair’, which explores the story of how Danish design became an international brand.
When you’ve finished, head to one of the famous interiors stores like Illums Bolighus (a favourite of the Danish royal family) to buy something beautiful to take back home. A classic Danish staple is the candle: simple, useful and the cornerstone of ‘hygge’, loosely translated as a cosy way of living. Much better than a fridge magnet.
Copenhagen is a famously compact city, and many choose to get around by using the efficient metro system, or on foot. But considering that Copenhagen is one of the top cities in the world for cycling, it would be a shame to miss out on joining the masses by taking to the streets on a bicycle. Most hotels offer bike rental and there are a vast number of independent bike hire companies around the city. If you’re nervous about taking to the streets, just take a look at how wide the cycle lanes are. Most are separated from the roads via a raised pavement, and they’re usually wide enough for several cyclists to ride side-by-side. London could certainly learn a few lessons on integrated cycle lanes from Copenhagen.
If you’re really not keen on the idea, the metro system is a great option for getting around the city, as it’s very simple to use and inexpensive, too. The centre of the city is even connected to the airport at Kastrup via the metro, and the journey takes just 20 minutes. If you purchase a travel ticket for the metro it is usually valid on buses, trains and even waterbuses too. The latter is not only a green way to travel, but also gives you fantastic views over the city’s many canals and harbours.
Whether you’re a fan of fine dining or just content to eat at street-side places you encounter on your travels, you’ll certainly find somewhere that takes your fancy in Copenhagen. The city is often thought of as the birthplace of New Nordic cuisine, a style of cooking which has gained international acclaim for its commitment to using organic, sustainable and locally sourced produce. The most famous of the city’s restaurants is certainly noma, which put New Nordic cuisine firmly on the map after being voted the World’s Best Restaurant five times between 2010 and 2015. After gaining two Michelin stars the restaurant closed in 2017 for refurbishment, was reopened one mile away and in February 2019, quickly regained its two stars. The new noma still employs the same ethos as the old: it has an urban farm, menus change to match the seasons and much of the food is foraged locally.
For a more conservative meal (noma is eye-wateringly expensive and booked up several months in advance), try something from the city’s traditional sandwich scene. Smørrebrød literally means ‘spread bread’, and the open-faced sandwiches are something of a Scandi institution. The base is almost always a slice of dense rye bread, but the toppings are endless. Head to one of the smart sandwich bars or go cheap and cheerful at the city’s posh food market, Torvehallerne, where they are served with local beer.