Travel: Cycling in Copenhagen’s car-free streets

Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Picture: Contributed

Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Picture: Contributed

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WITH its friendly bars and restaurants, museums and car-free streets, Copenhagen is a delight. By Jo Lindsay

At the heart of the Danish psyche lies the comforting concept of hygge, a nebulous word which roughly translates as cosiness but encapsulates so much more. It is typified by warmth, bonhomie and companionship with a fair amount of candlelight thrown in.

Cyclists wait at a crossing in Copenhagen. Picture: Contributed

Cyclists wait at a crossing in Copenhagen. Picture: Contributed

The definition I like most seems like a good code to live by to me: “It is something we all want all of the time – but seldom have, a complete absence of anything annoying, irritating or emotionally overwhelming and the presence of, and pleasure from, comforting social cosiness.”

Restaurants and bars are judged on their hygge factor and having a hyggelig time is about as good as you can get in a country where the people are often said to be the happiest in the world.

Oliver and the Black Circus, a candlelit, convivial and atmospheric restaurant off a garden courtyard in Indre By, reverberates with the sound of friends enjoying each other’s company over stunning food and offers hygge in abundance.

There are many reasons to love hygge-happy Copenhagen, the setting for popular Danish political drama Borgen, not least for its year-round street cafe culture. Outside tables are warmed by heaters while rugs thrown over every chair look like they are just waiting to be wrapped around you. Winter visitors might well be surprised to find themselves enjoying lunch outside.

The city is famous for its culinary scene: Noma has been voted the world’s best restaurant several times over, a claim backed up by an enviable waiting list. We were unable to book a table there but were more than happy with our evening at Kiin Kiin, the only Thai restaurant outside Thailand to have a Michelin star.

Do not come here for a snack: Kiin Kiin demands an empty stomach and serious commitment. It offers a breathtaking four-hour sensory assault with roughly ten appetisers, six main courses and three puddings all presented with staggering artistry and theatrical flourish.

The steam, smells and taste of a heady street food appetiser instantly transported me to a Bangkok market; the theatrical effect was such that I half expected a tuk tuk to push past behind me. A main course consisted of three curries in different forms including a frozen ball of green curry – curious, peculiar, delicious – while a pudding, the Scent of Koh Samui, looked like an actual miniature beach. I think this may well be the best dinner I have ever had.

All that food calls for some fresh air and, with a population not much bigger than Edinburgh and city centre attractions similarly accessible, Copenhagen is small enough to be ideal for the pedestrian – although the Metro, trains, buses, ferries and boats are all on hand for the weary walker and bike rentals are available from numerous outlets.

Named the first “Bike City” in the world by the International Cycling Union, the popularity of pedal power makes Copenhagen a delightfully quiet city through which to wander as sheepskin-clad cyclists serenely pedal by along 400km of bicycle-only lanes.

Bicycles outnumber cars by five to one – indeed, there are thought to be more bicycles than the actual population of 600,000 – and more than a third of those living in the city commute to work by bike, although the parking is chaotic, with bikes piled up outside stations and along every spare inch of railings.

Of many attractive places in Copenhagen, Nyhavn, historically a busy trading port and now a heritage harbour, is one of my favourites. It is lined with brightly-coloured and characterful townhouses, three of which were lived in by fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen, and its many restaurants and cafés provide a great place from which to watch the world go by.

The pretty canals and cobbled streets of bohemian Christianshavn are equally attractive but calmer and more villagey. Built on reclaimed land in the early 1600s, it is well-known for the “Free City” of Christiania, an independent community with a famously open approach to selling drugs. It is a popular tourist spot but the wider area of Christianshavn is worth a wander.

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is a stunning gallery. Its remarkable collection includes several sculptures by Rodin and Degas and paintings by Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir and Monet but its glorious glass-domed winter garden is in itself a reason to visit. Beautiful and tranquil, it was founded by brewer Carl Jacobsen who named it after his Carlsberg brewery; glyptotek means ‘collection of sculpture”.

It was a fitting way to end a weekend far beyond my expectations – a great city break.

• Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) and Norwegian (www.norwegian.com) offer regular flights from Edinburgh to Copenhagen, from around £40 each way.

Jo Lindsay stayed at the Andersen Hotel in central Copenhagen, where rooms start from 1,145DKK/£108 a night. Oliver and the Black Circus, Teglgårdsstræde 8A, oliverandtheblackcircus.com, +45 7456 8888. Four course dinner 415DKK/£40pp (drinks extra).

Kiin Kiin, Guldbergsgarde 21, www.kiin.dk, +45 3535 7555. Fixed price menu 875DKK/£85pp (drinks extra).

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