Copenhagen is routinely cited as one of the most livable cities in the world, and its superb infrastructure, which looks straight out of a utopian vision of the future, is a major component of the city’s high overall quality of life.
Public Transport: Copenhagen’s well-coordinated public transportation system will get you anywhere you can’t bike to. In fact, there are even special train carriages on the S-tog specifically designed for bikers who need to cut some time off their commute. The website Rejseplanen should be your first stop when going anywhere and will coordinate all your travel needs, with comprehensive timetables, fares, a powerful search function, and the ability to purchase tickets online. The city uses a zone system so your ticket or pass will work on any public transport vehicle as long as you are within the zones you have purchased. The smallest number of zones you can purchase at a time is 2. The city center, including all the central neighborhoods (the “bros”), are included in zone 1. To go to the airport (in Zone 4), you would have to buy a 3 “zoner” pass because you pass through three different zones (1, 3 and 4) to get there. For trains of any sort you must buy your ticket in advance, but on buses you can buy from the driver. Fares are not cheap and it’s wise to save money by buying a 24 or 72 hour pass, or better yet, a monthly pass. Students receive a substantial discount, so, even if you are just taking a gratis evening Danish class, it’s possible to convert your student status into significant savings at the ticket window. As of writing, a one-time 2-zoner ticket (good for the city center) cost 24 kroner or about $3.50 and an all-zone 24 hour pass cost 130 kroner or about $20. A monthly 2-zoner pass goes for 425 kroner ($63).
Cycling: Danes love their bikes and Copenhagen is quite possibly the most cyclist-oriented city in the world. Over 35% of commuters ride bikes and the city wants to reach a target of 50% by 2015. There are more registered bicycles within the city limits than there are people. There are dedicated raised bike lanes on virtually every road in the metro area often with their own traffic signals. Families have “cargo bikes” and you will often see infants being pushed along in specialized prams. Bike taxis are becoming more and more common, as are mounted police officers, and most of the mail in Copenhagen is delivered by cycling mailmen.
The benefits of Copenhagen’s bike culture are many: cost-effective, less traffic, low air pollution, a fit populace, all in the name of sustainability, which may as well be the national religion. But there are some drawbacks: bike theft is a massive problem and difficult to avoid, bike accidents are common and can be fatal (many people do not wear helmets), and bikers themselves can be obnoxious and aggressive especially towards pedestrians. Biking during rush hour can be hellish for an inexperienced cyclist. However, the city does all it can to improve biking facilities on an ongoing basis.
Metro: The Copenhagen Metro, finished in 2002, runs from the airport to the city center among other routes within zones 1, 3, and 4. The trains are immaculate and hardly ever crowded, coming every 2 minutes during peak hours and operating 24 hours a day. Like, the S-tog, the Metro will display its final destination on a monitor and on the train itself, and this will tell you which direction it is going. In many cases the Metro lines run parallel so it will not matter which line you get on, as long as it is traveling in the right direction. Because the metro is fully automated, you can even sit in the front and gaze through the enormous windshield as the train silently careens through the illuminated tunnels under the city. Construction is well under way on the new Cityringen (city circle line), which will approximately double the size of the current metro network, with more stations in Nørrebro and the city center, including the central train station (København H).
S-Tog: The suburban rail line, the S-Tog or S-Train, is much more extensive than the metro and services outlying towns in the metro area in addition to the city center. Trains are almost always on time, and, as in the metro, there are accurate monitors in the station that tell you when the next trains are arriving. S-trains depart every 10 minutes during the day and every 20 minutes at night. Six of the seven lines coincide in a semi-circle in the city center, so if you’re traveling within zone 2, it shouldn’t matter which line you get on as long as its going in your direction. Trains operate from roughly 5 am to 1 am every day, except the A, B, C, and F lines which run hourly all night long on Fridays and Saturdays as well. Be aware that some lines run additional express routes during rush hour (e.g. the “Bx”) and these do not stop at all stations.
Buses: Buses in Copenhagen are generally quite comfortable and cover virtually every imaginable route not currently serviced by trains. Night buses (Danish: “Natbus”) run hourly from Rådhudspladsen (City Hall Square) throughout the early morning, taking rowdy groups of drunken young people back to their homes in the suburbs on weekdays when the S-tog isn’t running all night.
Regional Trains: For journeys further afield, there are regional trains running from Nørreport, København H (Central Station), and the airport. This is for instance, the best way to get to Sweden, roughly fifteen minutes away. Tickets do not run on the zone system. These trains are comfortable and may be high-speed, and, besides connecting you to locales elsewhere in Denmark and Sweden, there is also a high-speed train service to Germany where the train itself boards a ferry to cross the Baltic Sea. Within Europe, the train can be a cost-effective and scenic alternative to air travel.
Air: Copenhagen is a major hub for all of Scandinavia and northern Europe, and as such has access to most major carriers, with direct flights on SAS to major US cities. However, if you’re looking for budget fares, Easyjet is really the only option. Many budget airlines do fly in and out of Mälmo International, which is a little over an hour away by bus, however, and it is also possible to find cheap flights to Billund in Jutland, if you are willing to pay the train fare and bear the inconvenience.
By Sea: There is a water bus that serves Copenhagen Harbor and is a great way to see the city. The most useful route is probably the one from Nyhavn to the Opera House, which will save quite a bit of time. In addition there is a direct ferry to Oslo, Norway operated by DFDS Seaways.
Taxi: If you must take a taxi, be advised they’re not cheap, especially over short distances. The meter starts at 36 kroner or $6.20 and goes up by 12 ($2.1) kroner every kilometer.
Car: Compared to American or British cities, far fewer people in Copenhagen own cars. It is not usual for families to have multiple cars. Gasoline is extremely expensive, averaging 12.42 kroner ($2.10) per liter as of writing, meaning a gallon sells for a ludicrous 47 kroner (over 8 bucks). Because of this, traffic is usually light, and parking is not as tight as you might expect.
Walking: Finally, Copenhagen is an eminently walkable city, and much of the Indre Byen (the core of the city) has been totally pedestrianized. Strøget, the major shopping street, is the bustling heart of Copenhagen and there’s not a car to be seen or heard. Plans are underway to enlarge the already impressive network of cobblestoned streets. Luckily for pedestrians, the sidewalks are graded differently than the bike lanes, so unless you are spacing out, it should be possible to avoid getting run down.