This impressive fact, according to Mike, my well-informed bicycle tour guide in the capital, Copenhagen, is despite the fact that they pay the highest taxes in Europe, and also drink and smoke more than their European counterparts.
‘‘It’s down to our attitude," says Mike, as our small cycling group stops in a tranquil, leafy square. ‘‘We have no natural exports, so we invest in knowledge and education. We know we’re relatively insignificant internationally, so we put a lot of stock into bettering ourselves and future generations."
Copenhagen is widely recognised as having an exceptionally high quality of life. It’s the greenest city in Europe, and free education up to third-level is available to all its citizens.
Medical care is guaranteed to every Danish citizen, and if the relevant treatment or medicine is not available in Denmark for four weeks, the state is obliged to send the patient for treatment elsewhere in Europe.
Style, design, food, fashion and architecture are away of life here. I can understand why Copenhagen featured in the 2010 New York Times list of top places to go - the ease with which it operates and its omnipresent eclectic style combine to make this very cool city one of my favourites to visit.
According to a 2010 study, Copenhagen is the tenth most expensive city in the world, but the cost of shopping, hotel accommodation and meals seems to be on a par with major Irish cities.
Shopaholics could take a day-trip by train to Malm² in Sweden for cheaper shopping, but I’ve never felt the need because there’s so much more here to whet the appetite.
Food is a major attraction; 12 of the city’s restaurants have Michelin stars - including Noma, the three-starred eatery which was last year named the world’s best restaurant in the San Pellegrino awards.
But you don’t have to eat at Michelin level to appreciate the city’s gastronomy, as many smaller cafés and eateries also take great pride in serving quality dishes.
The city is also heaven for art and design aficionados. Styles surviving since the 16th century are tastefully merged with ultra-modern design, and almost every street, building, room, public space and toilet emphasises the visual aesthetic.
One stunning space where you can view old and contemporary works of art is the National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst, www.smk.dk).
Current exhibitions include drawings by Bob Dylan: The Brazil Series (until April 10) and Picasso: Tales from the Labyrinth (until February 27).
Given that Copenhagen has a population of 1.7 million and more than 50 per cent cycle daily (this figure can reach 65 per cent on fine summer days), it’s no surprise that the city is well known for its biking culture.
Danes cycle an average of 1,000 kilometres annually per capita and most streets have separated bicycle lanes.
One of the best ways to explore Copenhagen, therefore, is on your bike.
A morning cycle tour - a peaceful, leisurely whirl which took in the charming medieval old town, Old City Square, Castle Island, Chistiansborg Palace, Nyhavn, the Royal Palace and the Cathedral of Copenhagen - was an ideal way to get my bearings before exploring the city in greater depth on foot.
Clearly passionate about his country and its capital, Mike made an otherwise enjoyable trip a particularly memorable one.
Because so many commuters cycle, city planners have decided to build the country’s first highway for bicycles, which will link the suburbs to the city.
These bike routes will open at the end of 2011 and will have synchronised traffic lights prioritising bikes over cars.
They’ll also be dotted with pitstops where cyclists can pump tyres, fix a chain and drink water.
Between April and September, the city provides visitors with free bicycles to borrow from 110 bike parks. Users can collect a bike with a small deposit which is refundable on return of the bike.
To see one of the city’s best-known landmarks, ditch the bike and get on a boat. Copenhagen’s best-known tribute to Hans Christian Andersen - the Danish master of children’s tales such as The Little Match Girl, The Ugly Duckling and Thumbelina - is surprisingly underwhelming.
Commissioned by Carol Jacobsen in 1909 after watching a ballet adaptation of one of Andersen’s much loved fairytales, the blink and you’ll-miss-it bronze statue of The Little Mermaid - only 1.25 metres in height is barely visible on a rock in Copenhagen harbour.
Although small in stature, she attracts huge attention.
Throngs of tourists strain to photograph the languishing mermaid and she’s also a magnet for vandals.
Since 1964, her head and arm have been cut off several times, she’s been covered in paint and, in 2006, someone strapped a dildo to the statue’s hand with ‘‘March 8’’ scrawled on it. Perhaps it was intended to symbolise International Women’s Day, which falls on that date.
A far more inspiring Andersen related highlight is the stunning Tivoli Gardens, next to Central Station. It’s easy to see why the romantic writer fell in love with this enclosed wonderland.
In 1843, Andersen attended the opening ceremony for Tivoli, which is now the second-oldest amusement park in the world.
He loved the sparkling atmosphere of the place, which inspired him to write The Nightingale. For Danes, the Tivoli Gardens are synonymous with Andersen, summer traditions and people-watching. Dominated by the exquisite Nimb ‘house’ (hotel, restaurants, bakery and wine cellar) which lights up like a fairytale palace at night, the wonderland park includes a wooden rollercoaster from 1914,theworld’s tallest carousel, lush flora, a lake and 25 places to eat.
Friends of all ages, young couples, elderly amblers, moody teenagers, families and fashionistas are drawn to this special place, which inspired Walt Disney’s theme park.
Make sure to time a visit to Copenhagen when these gardens are open.
They close periodically during the year because, as one Copenhagen local said, ‘‘if it was open all year round, the magic of it would disappear’’.
Getting there: SAS flies twice daily from Dublin to Copenhagen from €69 one-way including taxes.
This includes a free 20 kilogramme baggage allowance, free online check-in, Eurobonus points and a 25 per cent child discount. To book, visit www.flysas.ie
Where to stay: Hotel 27, Longangstraede 27, www.hotel27. dk: a four-star boutique hotel in a central location with very compact rooms. Rates range from around €180 to €210 per room per night.
Radisson Blu Royal Hotel (SAS), www.radissonblu.com/ royalhotel-copenhagen: fivestar luxury in a central location. Average rates range from around €170 to €375 per room per night
Currency: Kroner (DKK); €1 = 7.45 DKK
When to go: a selection of events to help to plan a visit are listed at www.visitcopenhagen. com. Click on ‘events’, then ‘events calendar’, for preferred areas of interests and relevant dates. The Tivoli Gardens are open in 2011 from April 15 to September 26, October 15-24 and November 12 to December 30; www.tivoligardens.com, admission DKK95-125 for adults, free admission for children under eight
Where to eat: Nimb Brasserie, Tivoli Gardens, www.nimb.dk, +4588700000: book a table on the outdoor terrace overlooking the gardens. The Royal Cafe', Amagertorv 6, www.theroyalcafe.dk, serves a delicious version of the traditional Danish smorrebrod (open sandwich) in plush Surroundings
Recommended: pick up a free 24-hour Copenhagen Card (worth €31) when you book and fly with SAS (only valid on certain dates).
This entitles you to free train, bus and Metro transport (including to/from the airport); free entry to about 60 museums and attractions (including Tivoli Amusement Park); free guidebook and maps; and discounts on restaurants, car hire, shops and sights.
Keep an eye on www.flysas.ie for updated information. Take a city bike tour with local guide Michael Sommerville. Englishspeaking tours run daily from March 25 to October 31. Visit www.bikecopenhagenwithmike. dk or phone +45-26395688
What to avoid: cycling during rush hour. Bike paths can be congested and two-wheel traffic jams are common on the main thoroughfare
a d v e r t i s e m e n t
Our online archives only go back as far as the 2nd of July 2000. See HERE for a listing of all the dates.