The City of Copenhagen : Through the eyes of a British native

By Sophia Grace
When I visited Copenhagen I didn’t expect there to be such a huge difference between the capital city and other major cities in the UK. However, I was surprised by the contrast, here is what I discovered.

The City of Copenhagen has plans to become carbon neutral by 2025, a 10-year difference between the capital city of London in England which aims to be carbon neutral in 2035. The efforts to reach this goal in Copenhagen are clear to see. Hardly any vehicles fill up the streets here and the majority of people get around by cycling or walking. 

The first thing I noticed when arriving in Copenhagen was the cleanliness of not only the streets but the inside of buildings such as the metro. The lack of litter on the streets surprised me as this is definitely not the case in Britain. As littering is so common in the UK we have posters and signs that remind us to use bins and not dump our rubbish on the streets. Furthermore, we have local teams of volunteers who go out and pick up litter to help keep the cities clean. It was lovely to see that in Copenhagen, the environment is respected and that citizens are aware of how harmful littering can be, (plus if you recycle plastic bottles in the supermarkets here you get some Krone back!).

Cardiff Council on Twitter

The metro in Copenhagen is incredibly clean and one evening there was even someone cleaning the floors with an industrial floor cleaner, which is not common inside the Underground in London, the UK’s equivalent to the metro. In fact, the fabric seats on the London Underground are full of dust and some of these seats have been around since 1973, and these seats are not cleaned regularly either. The seats on the metro in Copenhagen are much easier to clean as they are plastic meaning they cannot absorb the same level of dirt as the London Underground seats.

Another interesting observation that I made was the cleanliness of the water on the canals, I was shocked that even in a city I could see right through to the bottom. Bodies of water in the UK are often incredibly dirty so this clarity was lovely to see. 

Moving on from the differences in polluted areas and cleanliness there were some more differences that reflect the current world changes. In the capital region of Denmark, there have been 103K reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic struck in 2020. In the capital city of London, there have been over 706k cases reported since last March. In total, the whole of the UK has had around 4,3M cases and in Denmark, there have been 226K cases. Of course, the difference in population between these two cities and countries play a part in the number of cases but the covid regulations have differed greatly since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Major restrictions came into place in Denmark on March 11th 2020 after 514 confirmed cases, similar restrictions came into place on March 23rd of the same year in the UK after there were 6 and a half thousand confirmed cases with 578 deaths being announced later that week. A year later and the UK has entered its third lockdown recently releasing a ‘roadmap’ plan for the potential easing of restrictions. 

The contrasts between coronavirus restrictions had a huge impact on my visit, namely the fact that shops were open and accessible. Only recently have schools reopened in the UK and only essential shops like supermarkets or pharmacies and some takeaway businesses are open so it was refreshing but also strange to see clothes shops and other non-essential shops open in Copenhagen. 

Finally, the last major difference between these capital cities was the level of trust that the government has towards citizens. In Copenhagen entry into the Parliament building grounds had no restrictions, it was possible to walk around the grounds (without entry inside) freely. In London, in order to enter the grounds you have to pass security, it is not possible to walk around the outside of the houses of parliament freely. There are gated entry points onto the premises in London and you are required to show a ticket or invitation in order to enter any part of the grounds. In both Copenhagen and London, it is possible to enter the houses of parliament to watch the parliament work and this type of entry is subject to a security check-in in both cities. In the train stations and metro stations in Copenhagen, there are no barriers to the platforms, you are trusted to have bought a ticket or to have scanned your rejsekort before you get on board. In the UK however, there are barriers before the platforms in the Underground and on trains. It appears that the government in the UK does not trust it’s citizens to purchase a ticket so the barriers are in place and only move if you have scanned or entered a valid ticket.

On the premises of the Danish Parliament
Photo Nina Schaumann Hansen

My time in Copenhagen was enlightening and made me think and question the way society works in the UK and its bigger cities. I think that the citizens in Copenhagen value their city much more than citizens in UK cities, especially when it comes to keeping the city clean and respecting the environment. The UK could learn a lot from Copenhagen!

Quiet street in Zealand
Photo Sophia Grace