Copenhagen is a great city to visit. It is a wonderful place to hang out, go shopping, eat amazing food, and to simply soak up the Danish atmosphere. As one of the best places to travel to in the Nordics, it has also more recently been considered one of Europe's “cooler” and “trendier” destinations, scoring high on travel magazine ratings for weekend getaways. Although, as a Dane myself, I realise that I am probably quite biased!
I grew up just outside Copenhagen and lived there for most of my 20s and early 30s. Having lived in London now for the past 12 years, I feel somewhat more like a tourist returning to my old stomping ground.
Running was a great way for me to reconnect with this city. Not only are you able to get around quickly and experience the life of the city, but you also build up a great appetite in the process. This comes in handy, especially as there are so many delicious places to eat - for lunch as well as for dinner, fine dining as well as for casual dining... but, where to eat in Copenhagen could be a whole blog post in itself.
Amalienborg (home to the Danish royal family) on the Amalienborg Slotsplads roundabout.
While sharing my thoughts with you on where to run in Copenhagen, I realised that it was more a question of “where not to run” as the city offers a whole host of excellent running routes. In many ways, it reminds me of London with its many parks and smaller ‘cities’ within the capital city, just with far fewer people and cars. It is also much smaller than London, so you will, of course, be able to discover more of it in just a couple of runs.
So, where not to run? You don’t want to end up running on Strøget, Strædet or Købmagergade, which are three big shopping streets inside Copenhagen (good for shopping but not for running as they are one of the few places where you will find a lot of people). Apart from these streets, you can run pretty much anywhere else. Parks, streets, harbour areas, and forests outside Copenhagen are all welcoming for runners, so you can’t really go wrong. Perhaps that is why running is so popular amongst Danish people. Just one piece of advice: always watch out for the cyclists as they tend to rule the city streets... a bit like cars do in London.
There are lots of running races in and around Copenhagen (I have listed a few of them at the end of this article). Although some seem competitive, they are predominantly about the social experience, getting outside to do a bit of exercise, and then enjoying a nice meal with everyone afterwards. It is often not so much about what you do, but rather about doing things together. There is a strong “collective” feeling, and the main goal of most people seems to be to live life to the fullest. Although there aren’t many running clubs in Denmark, most people will go for a run every now and again and participate in a race or two once a year.
Running at Eremitage Løbet, one of Copenhagen's biggest races.
Some of my favourite runs
The best runs will likely be near to where you stay, but as Copenhagen is rather small many of the runs mentioned below can be combined in various ways depending on your starting point. Below are some of my favourite routes:
Route 1. Søerne (Sortedams Sø, Peblinge Sø, Sankt Jørgens Sø) – “The Lakes”.
6km run around them, flat and mostly gravel roads. You can start anywhere on the route and combine them as you like. It is a great run as it connects the different parts of the city.
Looking at a map of Copenhagen City you quickly notice the three lakes (strangely, they actually look like five lakes) that traverse the city and just outside the city centre. The run goes through the city and touches four areas: Vesterbro, Frederiksberg, Nørrebro, and Østerbro while being just outside the inner city (Centrum). Originally, these were wetland areas and have been used for various purposes since the Middle Ages (water mill, fortress, water supply, etc.). Today, they have no real function except for being rather picturesque. Previously, the idea was to make this part of the city look a little like Paris, and when standing in the middle of the road, Nørrebrogade or Fredensgade, you can actually grasp a sense of this.
A view from the Harbour Run - featuring Marmorkirken, the marble church.
Route 2. Harbour Run. 10km.
Again here you can run various versions of this route, but a good one is the route used at the IRONMAN Copenhagen. It goes from Langeliniekaj at one end to Christiansbrygge at the other. You can run by the water all the way. You will pass the main tourist attractions such as The Little Mermaid (whose head has been cut off several times), Kastellet (the fortress from which the city unsuccessfully protected itself from Lord Nelson’s attack), the Opera, Amalienborg (where the royal family lives), Nyhavn and The Royal Library. It's a simply beautiful run. However, if it is cold or extremely windy, I would recommend running in the parks instead.
You can also run a bit further up North and see the areas of Nordhavn, which is an old harbour now being transformed into a new part of the city. I would also highly recommend visiting the “Konditaget” (the fitness roof); it is creative space where you can workout outside, on top of a building! The timed stairway on the side of the building is also a must do.
One of the classic views of Copenhagen Harbour. Photocredit: Pixabay. User: FilipFilipovic
Route 3. Kastellet – from 2km to however long you feel like.
Kastellet is the old fortress protecting Copenhagen’s Harbour from the sea. It’s one of my absolute favourites as you can run at the top of the fortress or around it. For each lap that you run around the fortress, you can also run down it and up again, which will incorporate smaller hill repetitions into your workout, something that is otherwise very difficult to come across in Denmark as it is as flat as a pancake! The highest natural point in Denmark is Himmelbjerget (“Sky Mountain”), and it is only half the height of Box Hill in Surrey. In fact, the highest point in Denmark is the bridge pillars on Storebæltsbroen; this bridge connects the main islands, Sjælland, where Copenhagen is, to the middle island, Fyn, where Hans Christian Andersen grew up.
You can combine the harbour run with runs on Kastellet or by going across “Kyssebroen” (the Kissing bridge) to Christianshavn which is all reclaimed land. Here you can run around Christiania (known for being slightly hippie) and even run around Christians Vold, which in itself could be a run too. See the race below, “Christianshavner Milen”.
Route 4. Christianshavns Vold.
If you run over “Kyssebroen” you can easily access Christianshavn. From here you can run along the harbour on the other side, around the Opera, or run around the old fortress on Christianhavns Vold. Here you will also see Christiania, which is a hippie town.
Route 5 (and many more). The parks, Fælledparken, Østre Anlæg, Kongens Have, Frederiksberg Have and Søndermarken.
You don’t need much guidance when it comes to running in a park, but the five parks listed above are all great places to start. Fælledparken is especially known for its running. Every year there is a Sparta event that lasts a whole week in which more than 20,000 people run 5km in teams for their various companies. Don’t think that it is a Danish version of Japanese Ekiden running, it is more about “hygge” (here it is again) with your colleagues, doing something together, and it, of course, involves eating afterwards.
You can run combinations of Fælledparken, Østre Anlæl, and Kongens and also run them together as they pretty much connect with one another.
You can also run in Frederiksberg Have next to the Zoo. This reminds me of running in Regent's Park, as you can see the various animals in the Zoo next to you while you run. Here there is one big hill - a proper hill, not just a bump in the road - so it is perfect for hill running. The park can easily be combined with Østre Anlæg, although on its own, Østre Anlæg is a park unto itself.
My favourite water fountain, Gefion Springvandet.
Other running routes.
Other runs are on Amager Strand next to the airport, which is by the beach and also close to the city. There is Dyrehaven just outside Copenhagen – think Richmond Park, just without cars – where the “must do” annual Eremitage Løbet takes place. Imagine 24,000 people running together, with only the first 500 trying to run fast and the rest just enjoying it. It is hard to imagine that happening in Richmond Park.
You can go also go outside the city and run in the forest too. Just Google “mountain bike routes” and you find a whole range of phenomenal trail running routes – but you will need a car or, even better, a bicycle to get there.
A final word.
Personally, I feel like Copenhagen has come a long way since I lived there. The economic and political changes are the main contributing factors. That being said, it also comes down to the spirit of the city itself. What I find particularly clever is how the city continuously asks itself how it can improve. That’s what I believe to be the key element in its ability to continuously thrive. Take the power station in the city by Bjarke Ingels for example. They needed to find a way to put this big ugly building into beautiful and flat Copenhagen. So what did they do? They turned one side of the city into a ski slope, and then built a wakeboard park next to it….this is a perfect example of just how creative Copenhagen really is.
Races in Copenhagen (or motionsløb in Danish):
Sparta company relay run in Fælledparken (not like the Japanese version of Sparta…)
Helvede i Nord (”Hell in the North”)
Sparta City Løb