THEn Copenhagen, cyclists are fueled by rye bread – or so the saying goes. And they must be eating a lot of smorrebrod (open sandwiches), because collectively commuters cover some 1.5 million kilometers every weekday, with 40,000 cyclists making the crossing over Dronning (Queen) Louise’s Bridge alone. Nearly everyone cycles (nine out of ten Danes own a bicycle), and even members of the royal family favor the saddle. Crown Princess Mary has been pictured transporting her children to school on a cargo bike – even in the snow.
So it’s fitting that this year, early legs of the Tour de France – the Grand Départ – will take place in three Danish cities, starting in Copenhagen on July 1. The 13km time trial will begin at Orstedsparken and skirt one of the city’s three lakes, known together as Sortedams So, before continuing through the parks of Norrebro, around the castle, past the harbor and ending at Tivoli. Crucially, it’s a flat route.
And that’s part of the attraction of cycling here. That and the very wide lanes, and the fact that traveling on two wheels is a far cry from the Lycra-clad rat race of London. Everyone, of all ages, manages to look supremely stylish in the saddle too. Most bikes are the sit-up rather than crouch-down sort, and Lycra is largely reserved for the weekend.
Nine out of ten Danes own a bicycle
ALPHOTOGRAPHIC / GETTY IMAGES
It’s a breezy way to get around the city. I spend a weekend there admiring the waterways and marveling at the rows of bikes parked outside trendy bars. The non-alcoholic beers in Copenhagen are some of the best I’ve tasted – don’t miss the one made with riesling juice by Mikkeller. Although staff at one Michelin-starred restaurant ask me not to leave my (really rather handsome) khaki-green steed outside. Tut!
I learn more about the city on a tour with Alice Sondergaard from Be Copenhagen. She’s an architecture guide and introduces me to the innovatively curving Maersk Tower – part of Copenhagen University and on the Grand Départ route – with its sinuous bike ramp and views over surrounding Norrebro from the top. We pause in the meatpacking district and take the “Bicycle Snake” bridge across the harbourfront to Islands Brygge.
En route across I admire nearby homes, but not (Alice counsels firmly) staring too closely at how they have been decorated inside. The Danes don’t do curtains – they need to welcome the light in winter – so there’s no such thing as curtain-twitching and snooping is frowned upon. Still, I catch myself admiring the artfully placed plants and classic Danish chairs.
Rosenborg, one of Copenhagen’s many castles
Afterwards we zoom over a multi-lane highway and down a flower-filled street – Vaernedamsvej, known as Little Paris, which stretches between the upmarket Frederiksberg district and trendy Vesterbro (formerly the city’s red-light district). In other words, we cover a fair bit of ground with ease.
Getting out of the city is just as simple too – trains are designed to be wide enough to accommodate bikes, so there’s no muttering and shuffling when a cyclist gets on. It’s about 15 minutes to the suburb of Klampenborg on the Oresund coast for the deer park (Dyrehaven) and Capito, a café owned by sports coach and semi-professional cyclist Rikke Cedervall Laursen, who is something of a local Lycra legend.
Laursen opened Cafe Capito in February 2020 – slightly unfortunate timing – in a clean-lined 1930s building designed by Arne Jacobsen. By April she’d started offering coffee to go alongside daily “sanity-saving” aerobics classes on the beach. Now the café is busy with a stream of visitors popping in for fortifying romkuglers (rum cake balls) and very good coffee. She knows each customer by name.
Cafe Got it
MERETE NÝHR FRIIS
Laursen is particularly passionate about women’s cycling and trains a group of 400 female bikers in a project called Charlie Cycling (yes, it’s a nod to the angels). Women cyclists, she says, take fewer risks but have more stamina and a sense of humor – “we can be naughty,” she says with a wink. The social side is, for her, just as important as tackling the physical challenge.
Klampenborg, Laursen says, is iconic for bike riders in Copenhagen. Certainly it’s glorious to cycle: you can pedal all the way along the beach road to Helsingor for Hamlet’s castle and drop in on the wonderful Louisiana Museum of Modern Art for sculptures by Henry Moore and Alexander Calder right by the sea. And then there’s Arne Jacobsen’s futuristic petrol station, which also serves ice cream.
Even on a short weekend visit it’s easy to see that bikes aren’t just a way of getting around in Denmark – they’re a way of life. And, with the Tour de France soon rolling into Copenhagen, there’s never been a better time to see it all from the saddle.
Three more European cycling cities
The Turia Garden in Valencia, Spain
RONSTIK / GETTY IMAGES
Sustainability has been big news in Valencia for a while, with the pedestrianization of central plazas, a metro extension and now 156km of cycling routes. Those range from bicycle-priority streets with lanes down the middle to the Turia Garden, the 9km cycling paradise that runs through the center of the city. Power up on paella at Alqueria del Pou, then pedal from Santiago Calatrava’s futuristic City of Arts & Sciences complex to the long, sandy beach. You & Co’s two adjacent boutique hotels, all exposed bricks and exuberant print wallpaper, rent out bikes from £ 10 per day.
Details B&B doubles from £ 95 (youandcohotels.com)
Utrecht in the Netherlands
NIGEL WIGGINS / EYEEM / GETTY IMAGES
Utrecht, The Netherlands
This medieval Dutch city debuted its first cycling lane in 1885 and now has almost 250km of red “bike streets”. Not only that, but smart signs can tell riders to hurry for green lights or whether the three-storey Stationsplein, the world’s largest bicycle-parking facility with 12,500 spaces, is full. It’s easy to navigate the university city’s compact center, whether you want to freewheel along the tree-lined canals past the 14th-century Dom Tower or pedal to the old storehouses that now host waterside restaurants and bars. Black Bikes is an excellent hire shop (black-bikes.com). Stay at the Hunfeld, a trendy hotel just down the road.
Details B&B doubles from £ 156 (thehunfeld.com)
Ljubljana in Slovenia
Slovenia’s cycling achievements overseas – Tadej Pogacar clinched a second successive Tour de France in 2021, while his countryman Primoz Roglic has won three Spanish Vueltas – are matched by initiatives in its capital. Not only do 230km of cycle paths connect the many parks and leafy, café-lined riverbanks, but there are even various themed sightseeing circuits to pedal around in the car-free center (visitljubljana.com). Stay at the art nouveau Grand Hotel Union, where folding Slovenian Pony bikes are available to hire from £ 10 per day and a post-cycle sauna awaits.
Details B&B doubles from £ 118 (uhcollection.si)