It’s not every day that you get to have breakfast in Copenhagen, lunch in Hamburg and dinner in Berlin. Aside from sampling the respective cuisines of each city, the reason for the tour of some of Europe’s best cycling cities was to check out which retailers would be best suited to stocking LUMO (at least, that’s the excuse I’m sticking to). Having visited each city before it also served as a nice reminder of what makes each of them so fun, and with a city cycling head firmly on it also gave me the chance to speak to some locals about their respective city’s cycling credentials, as well as experiencing them firsthand.
Copenhagen Street Food Market
Consistently ranked in the top three happiest countries in the world, it’s hard to look past Denmark’s capital if you’re looking to put a smile on your face. With a personality that blends an understated, friendly style with a progressive attitude to everything from art and literature to environmental planning and politics, Copenhagen is a city that somehow feels incredibly self-confident yet still firmly in touch with its roots.
Best for....Food and Drink
With countless microbreweries, speakeasies, pop up restaurants and Noma, voted in the top three restaurants in the world for the last six years running, Copenhagen is the place to go to eat and drink your way through a weekend. From the Street Food Market, to its fifteen Michelin-starred restaurants and the creative neighbourhood restaurants in between there’s something for every palate and wallet. I stayed in Vesterbro, an up and coming area to the west of the main train station. When I say up and coming what I really mean is that it's still pretty rough around the edges with some fairly spaced out homeless people and lots of red lights floating around so not somewhere I'd feel too comfortable walking through as a lone female. Putting the slight sketchiness to one side there are some real gems hidden away there. I ate at Neighbourhood, which despite the slightly hipsterish 'about' page on their website is a completely non-wanky organic pizza restaurant on Istedgade. On top of a really warm and friendly welcome, Neighbourhood served up a seriously tasty and rather unique Christmas Duck Pizza, with French Barbary duck leg, glazed red cabbage, mascarpone, sautéed kale, roasted hazelnuts, apple, Vesterhavs cheese and watercress. All washed down aptly with Nørrebros Julebryg beer, which is perfectly described as “What Christmas would taste like if it were a beer’. If I’m back in Vesterbro again I’d also be tempted to try out Vesterbros burger restaurant opposite Neighbourhood, which looked and smelled amazing too. On the wander back to my hotel was an accidental stumble into Mikkeller bar on Victoriagade to sample a couple of their 20 mostly house-brewed craft brews on tap. If you can’t find at least two or three beers out of their selection that you love, you deserve to have your taste buds removed.
Nørreport Station, Copenhagen
Nearly half of Copenhagen’s residents commute by bike thanks in no small part to Copenhagenize, the planning and design agency that helped revolutionise the way the city equips itself for cyclists. A huge network of cycle lanes (proper ones, not just a slap of paint on the road), massive bike park facilities at train stations and dedicated bike cariages on the trains themselves makes Copenhagen incredibly simple to get around by bike. They also lead the way on designing and riding low maintenance, easy riding cargo bikes, making transporting your shopping, kids and even pets something doable on two wheels. As they are built for comfort and not speed, these could be a nice antidote to London's aggressive city cycling style.
Best bike shops: Biomega, Cyklist Butikken 1905
Mural by JR visible from Volkspark Humboldthain, Berlin
Firmly established as London’s foremost competitor on the European tech start-up scene, Berlin rivals Tech City for both creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. With relatively low rents and a thriving independent café, food and bar scene, neighbourhoods like Kreuzburg and Kollwitzkiez feel like Shoreditch did ten years ago, minus the extravagant facial hair.
Berlin is a shutterbug’s dream. Of course, there are the historical landmarks like Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag and the eponymous Wall to keep your Instagram followers busy. In keeping with the independent-creative mood, Berlin is also home to a vibrant street art scene, with murals from world-renowned artists like Shephard Fairey and BLU alongside more intimate pieces by local talents such as Alias.
Bike Citizens design and curate a route planning app covering cities all over the world, and are based in Berlin. With easy to follow navigation and cyclist-friendly settings their app makes getting around on two wheels a much easier prospect.
Reeperbahn Festival, Hamburg
Truly a place with a split personality, on one hand Hamburg is reportedly Germany’s most affluent city, while on the other it is home to one of the country's most iconic working class areas, St Pauli. Based around the docks fringing the River Elbe, St Pauli truly embraces its adopted flag of the pirate’s skull and crossbones. Home to both the cult football team St Pauli FC (famous for eccentric fans and an inclusive, eclectic atmosphere) and the infamous red light and music district of the Reeperbahn, it brings together a collectivist, anti-authoritarian ideology with a sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll attitude.
St Pauli is where the Beatles cut their teeth and where today’s aspiring musicians continue the breakthrough spirit at the annual Reeperbahn Festival.
Old Elbe Tunnel, Hamburg
The Old Elbe Tunnel is open 24 hours a day to cyclists and pedestrians and connects St Pauli on the north bank of the River Elbe with the city centre on the south bank. At just over 400 metres long and with its art deco features and old school lifts, it is as much a cultural experience as it is a transportation link.
Best bike shops: Two Wheels Good, Nobelhobel, Suicycle
Augustiner Keller, Munich © www.nightlife-cityguide.com
Taking a serious pummelling during World War II allowed Munich's planners to remodel the city making it ideal for modern living with a spaciousness and calmness unlike most other metropolitan areas. The mix of old and new pervades much of the centre, with gothic churches sitting side-by-side with modern exclusive shopping streets like Kaufingerstrasse. If the 310 sq km vast expanse of the city or its rolling hills put cycling from A to B out of your reach, Munich’s underground system, the U-Bahn, is quick, cheap and intuitive to use even for a non-German speaker.
The most famous event on the Bavarian calendar is undoubtedly Oktoberfest, where nearly 7m litres of beer are drunk every year. But you don’t need to wait for this to come around every September (Oktoberfest actually happens over the last two weeks of September, with the finale being on the first Sunday of October). Munich is teeming with traditional beer halls and gardens, all serving the finest Bavarian Hell (Light lager), Pils (Hoppy lager), Bockbier (Strong, darker beers) and Weissbier (Wheat beer). Head for the likes of the Augustiner Keller in either deepest winter to the cosy vaulted indoor hall, or in summer where the 5,000 capacity garden really comes into its own.
Englischer Garten, Munich
With around 75km of paths, trails and roads, Munich’s Englischer Garten (English Garden) is bigger than New York’s Central Park and forms part of a vast park- and river-lined cycle path network that cuts through the very heart of the city, running from the Allianz Arena area in the far North-East of the city all the way around to the South-West corner of Munich.
Best bike shops: Ertlrenz, Bike Dress, Stilrad