In many ways, Copenhagen has become symbolic of the vision for a carbon-friendly 21st century. Many mistakenly assume that COP15 stands for Copenhagen (it actually stands for Conference of Parties), but in some ways the misattribution is spot-on.

It does so happen that Copenhagen will be hosting the 15th U.N. Climate Change Conference, and the city will likely go down in the history books as the place where the first globally binding climate treaty was drafted. But the COP15 conference is only one line item in a long list of reasons that give Copenhagen claim to the title, the “greenest city in the world.”

Copenhagen is set to become the first carbon-neutral city (by 2025), and with its miles of scenic bike paths, top-notch organic restaurants, eco-hotels, and carbon-friendly airport, it is difficult to depart Copenhagen without taking on at least a few shades of green.

Sleep green

It is not easy to call yourself “green” in northern Europe, but Copenhagen possesses some of the highest-rated eco-hotels in Scandinavia.

Twelve hotels hold the “green key,” a rating which enforces everything from energy and water efficiency to eco-friendly bath products. If you don’t mind staying a bit out of the city center, the Gentofte is one of the highest-rated Green Key hotels. Its snazzy Scandinavian design contrasts with the building’s history as one of Copenhagen’s oldest and most charming hotels.

If you want to be right in the center and have the kronen to spare, check out the 4-star Kong Arthur which overlooks the Copenhagen “Seine” and is one of five hotels in the city to be certified as carbon neutral.

The Swan is one of Scandinavia’s most prestigious eco-ratings. The Swan was recently granted to three big SAS hotels, including the SAS Falconer with its grandiose modern ballroom.

The city is also filled with stylish boutique hotels that are too “green” to even bother with the rating, like the Zen-style Axel Guldsmeden, which features fair-trade furnishings, handmade soap and even organic snacks.

But if you are on a budget, I highly recommend the “reuse” approach to accommodations. The website FerieboligKBH lets you browse through furnished apartments. You can find great apartments right in the heart of the city for under $100, and the broker will provide a secure transaction.

Green outdoors

A passing glance at the Google map of Copenhagen reveals a city dominated by huge parks linked together by a network of bike paths, waterways and green belts. Even in the dead of winter (relatively mild compared to neighboring Sweden and Norway) people bike to work and walk through the parks. And in the summer, the city boasts one of the cleanest harbors in the world, attracting both bathers and kayakers.

Copenhageners have access to numerous natural retreats right in the heart of the city. The “Central Park” of Copenhagen, Ostre Anlaeg, adjoins the National Art Museum, the Natural History Museum and connects walkers to the beautiful Botanical Garden, with its monumental 19th century glass house filled with rare plant species.

Nearby is the famous Tivoli Garden, the world’s first “amusement park,” and just west in Frederiksberg the king’s old hunting grounds have been transformed into a lush pedestrian-only park which encloses the Zoological Park featuring Sir Norman Foster’s amazing Elephant House.

If you want a little more space and a nice day’s adventure, you can take the “bicycle highway,” one of the longest urban greenbelts, up to Dryehaven, the site of King Christian’s Castle, and rent a horse to prance about the sprawling 2,500-acre grounds.

Go green

If the bike paths are any metric, Copenhagen wins hands-down in terms of eco-friendly transportation. Just last month, the government authorized $200 million to expand the existing 200 miles of bike lanes in the city.

One thing to keep in mind is that these bike roads (elevated above the level of the street) are used by 50 percent of the Copenhagen population to commute to work. So you can’t dawdle. People will attempt to pass you in the invisible “fast line” whether you are paying attention or not. And if you are going too slow, you will hear about it (everyone has a bell).

The best place to rent is Baisikeli, which has great rates and friendly service.

Eat green

Copenhagen has the highest per capita level of organic food consumption in the world, and it is estimated that by 2015 Copenhagen will be 90 percent organic. A few of the best known restaurants include the uber cool Bio Mio, with its cafeteria style offering of gourmet, organic dishes.

If you want to taste the best organic hot chocolate in Denmark (and don’t mind spending $8), go to Café Chill Out. For old-world ambiance and 100 percent organic fare, get a reservation at Cap Horn, and to fully experience the artistry and sheer yumminess of the Danish staple smorrebrod (open-faces sandwiches), head to Kokken where all the ingredients are perfect, fresh and organic.

One of my favorite discoveries was the Norrebro Brewhouse, which serves up the best CO2-neutral beer alongside a terrific international menu and too-good-to-be-true local Danish cheeses.

Green fests

Copenhagen is hosting hundreds of events leading up to the largest “green event” in history, the U.N. Climate Conference. But the Danes’ pride in their city ensures a packed schedule of cultural and environmentally oriented events throughout the year.

Spring Festival kicks off the season in May, when the artsy eastern neighborhood of Copenhagen is transformed into an open air theater, featuring eight days of stage, dance and circus performances.

For music lovers, June offers Distortion, a DJ music festival held in dozens of underground clubs (and a few boats) scattered throughout the city, followed a few weeks later by Roskilde, the “Coachella” of Europe (also a great place to visit the outdoor Viking Museum).

August transforms the harbor into a cultural venue with hundreds of events followed up by the Copenhagen Cooking Festival, where you can sample delicacies from around the world. 

September features Copenhagen Design Week, which showcases the brightest stars in the Scandinavian design world, many of whom focus on sustainability and eco-design. And on my last visit in October I attended the amazing Culture Night, where (for a $25 pass) you gain unlimited access to all of the city’s museums, parks, government offices and science exhibits, included a giant balloon scaled to represent a single tonne of CO2.

Copenhagen was named the “Most Liveable City in the World” for a reason. It is designed from the inside out with both the environment and the pedestrian in mind, making it a year-round destination for the savvy eco-traveler looking for a sneak preview of the city of the future. 

MNN homepage photo: innlens/iStockPhoto