I just spent five days in Copenhagen and wonder why the Danish capital doesn’t top all liveability rankings. Let me share some insights from this liveable and sustainable city – with a focus on three topics: water, transportation, and urban development – starting with water.
Getting there by train
But let me first start with the journey from Vienna to Copenhagen which – in the age of the climate crisis – is best made by train. To be honest, I can‘t think of a better way to travel to the Danish capital than this 15-hour journey on three trains and a ferry (and a rail replacement bus), with beautiful landscapes and a lot of time to read and relax! Yes, you read it correctly: I was able to cross “Boarding a ferry on a train” off my bucket list! ;)
Great waterfronts are what I love most about cities. Copenhagen’s harbour provides opportunities to sit, swim and walk or cycle that I haven’t seen in any other city – both in terms of quality and quantity of the public spaces. It is also great to see the role water plays in the design of Sluseholmen and neighbouring new districts in Copenhagen, in particular with new harbour baths and beaches or beautiful canals!
Kalvebod Bølge has the name and shape of a wave and is a diverse and lively public space on the water which extends the waterfront and provides a great view of Islands Brygge harbour bath. Since Islands Brygge Harbour Bath opened as the city’s first harbour bath in 2002, Copenhageners can swim with the city’s skyline in free view. Great that the city provides so many free opportunities to go for a swim in the city center!
Apart from the many swimming opportunities in Copenhagen’s city center, the city’s beaches such as Amager Strandpark are a great place to spend a summer day. I particularly loved the sandy beaches and the views of the waste incineration plant and windmill park! Finally, what might at first look like a cycle path in Greece is actually just the beautiful scenery you get when you cycle along the water out of Copenhagen’s city center. Water makes any activity and place even more enjoyable!
As Copenhagen is a world-class cycling city, I rented a bike and explored the city on two wheels. From separated cycle tracks to ample parking facilities, green waves or tilted trash bins – infrastructure is key in making cycling attractive! Moreover, by combining great cycling infrastructure with a good public transit network, Copenhagen shows that it excels in all three sustainable transport modes and in fostering multimodal transport options!
Speaking of great cycling infrastructure: Cirkelbroen, the Circle Bridge, was designed by renowned architect Olafur Eliasson and makes everyday life easier for cyclists and pedestrians in Copenhagen. And Copenhagen’s iconic and elegant Cycelslangen, or Cycle Snake, an elevated bike lane above the harbour basin, transports cyclists across the harbour and directly connects with Bryggebroen bike and pedestrian bridge.
Copenhagen’s Inner Harbour Bridge with its great viewing platforms and Lille Langebro are another two great bike and pedestrian bridges crossing Copenhagen’s harbour. They are great examples of the safety, comfort, beauty and accessibility provided by world-class cycling infrastructure.
Copenhagen is also a great walking city, with Strøget being one of Europe’s longest and best pedestrian shopping streets. The street was pedestrianised in 1962 and has become a catalyst for transforming streets in Copenhagen and beyond. Colours also contribute to a city’s beauty and diversity and make it attractive to walk around. Copenhagen has plenty of colourful buildings, not only in the famous Nyhavn area.
Finally, what else makes a city liveable, apart from sustainable transportation and a great waterfront? First of all, great public spaces such as Superkilen park which has 3 distinct areas (modern, classic, green) and illustrates its district’s diversity. Or this playground with a view: If you need to build a multi-storey car park in a new district, at least integrate a shop, make a green facade and put a playground on top, as in Copenhagen’s new Nordhavn district!
If there is one thing that Vienna lacks compared to other major cities, it is a food hall or a street food market. Copenhagen has both: Torvehallerne has more than 60 diverse food stands and Reffen street food market is a very special place with delicious and diverse food that can be enjoyed near the water.
Copenhagen also offers lots of modern architecture, such as the Opera House or the Playhouse or many residential, office, university and other buildings. Many of these buildings are built near the water which make them even more beautiful. Speaking of new buildings: Nordhavn is good example of a mixed-use mid-rise development in Copenhagen with a focus on sustainable transport and a nice waterfront. The former industrial port area also offers stunning new architecture such as the Portland Towers or the UN building.
Jane Jacobs once said that “new ideas must use old buildings” – so it is good to see that Copenhagen has plenty of old buildings, such as these buildings in the Nørrebro district or the buildings in the city’s former industrial areas. Finally, of all the things that make Copenhagen special, the freetown of Christiania is always a particularly exciting and diverse neighbourhood to visit! It reminds us that a different society is possible.
Andreas Lindinger is a Smart Urban Management Consultant at Denkstatt‘s Vienna office and an Urbanist passionate about livable cities, next-generation transportation, and sustainable businesses. Andreas is also the founder and head of Vienncouver and Jane’s Walk Vienna. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.