Getting around in Denmark
When moving to Denmark from a big city like New York, London, Paris, or LA - you might find the Danish capital small and not as crowded as you might be used to. Our cultural detective Jane shares her transport knowledge.
Photograph: Visit Denmark - Thomas Høyrup Christensen
Text: Jane Elgård Petersen
I met an international once who was moving to Jutland and shared statistics regarding the population of a town. "Oh, that's the same number as the street I live in back home!". This served as a gentle eye-opener to understanding how small Denmark actually is.
In expats' home cities, they might be used to catching a bus or train, and if they miss it, they can usually just jump on the next one. However, in Denmark, other than the 3-4 main cities, they might have to plan their travels by public transport a little more whilst using the bus or train. To many, this can be stressful, depending on the time schedule and waiting a long time before the next bus or train arrives.
Young people are the most frequent public transport users whilst going to university or work. The statistics say 35% of travel is by bus, train or metro, and 75% is by green transport. However, only 10% of adults use the bus, train and metro daily, while 68% travel by car.
Drive your own way
International families might be used to having two cars. They are used to transporting their kids to school and sports activities using a car for security reasons. It can be too risky to allow children to travel to school alone. Here in Denmark, internationals realise quickly that it is safe to let kids travel to school independently on foot, bike or public transport. This freedom allows every family to enjoy a sense of independence, not having to clock watch and ultimately enjoy that sense of work-life balance.
Many internationals find it strange (especially Americans) that we predominantly drive manual cars in Denmark. On the other hand, many are used to driving automatic cars, so for some Non-EU internationals having to retake the test to acquire an EU/DK driving license is a great challenge. Over the years, however, we can see the number of automatic cars in Denmark is growing.
For example, if you live out of the main Danish cities in the countryside, there can be challenges to getting around daily. The Danes commonly solve this issue by having a car or maybe even two cars. However, this can be an expensive solution, and cars are some of the most highly taxed in the world. We all love to have the freedom of not being dependent on public transport if it operates well in our area. Unfortunately, the bus network tends to be unreliable in many areas of Denmark, and trains even worse.
"When guiding expats through the settling-in process, I've noticed they are often surprised by how many cyclists we have, both in the cities and countryside."
So what could be an alternative to one or two cars and public transport? The answer depends on where you live, the distance to work, school, sports activities etc. and your willingness to pay for this.
When guiding expats through the settling-in process, I've noticed they are often surprised by how many cyclists we have, both in the cities and countryside. One good reason to bike in the cities is quite apparent - it is expensive to park IF you can find a spot. Another reason is that getting around by bike is much faster, and good bicycle lanes are everywhere. Finally, also minimising pollution is why changing from a car to a bike whenever possible is best for your wallet, health and the environment. You kill two birds with one stone!
Another alternative to a bike could be an electric scooter. This solution has become very popular in many cities. It is easy, not expensive, and simple to bring in the train or bus. In some places, you can even rent one. Just pick it up, pay, and leave it where you choose. The only concern here is how safe they are. The "driver" can be very exposed and will always be the most vulnerable in traffic.
Finally, a more common solution is that people share driving and costs. This can be possible because they work at the same company or travel in the same direction. In addition, you can find groups on social media and reach out to others in a similar area or situation.