Responsible tourism in Denmark

One of the best ways to be a responsible tourist in Denmark is to visit with an open mind, ready to explore and perhaps learn something new. Some see the country in just two dimensions – Copenhagen, and the rest – but this does provincial Denmark a huge injustice. It's a subtle, complex nation where you can spend time in cities with landmark architecture or villages with cobbled streets, choosing to relax beside a sparkling harbour or kick up the sand on a wide, wonderful beach.

Find out more about Denmark’s commitment to responsible tourism.

Wildlife & environment

Could Denmark be the world's most eco-friendly nation?

Denmark is immensely proud of its green credentials – and rightly so. Copenhagen is on track to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025 and Denmark aims to be independent from fossil fuel by 2050. This is a nation of bikes and electric buses, surrounded by clean waters. Its cities are dotted with ground-breaking sustainable architecture, gleaming with solar panels and green roofs. High taxation on petrol-fuelled vehicles makes people think twice before buying and using cars. Aarhus is arguably the global hub of the wind energy market. The Danes have even halted the march of the plastic carrier bag, with the lowest use in Europe – just three bags per person per year.

So, is Denmark the perfect example of a forward-thinking, environmentally aware nation? Well, of course, there’s no such thing as perfect. Denmark’s well on the way to achieving something remarkable, but there have been challenges along the way.

Like getting to grips with waste, for example. Denmark used to have a bad record for generating rubbish and, in particular, chucking out food. According to Stop Wasting Food (Stop Spild af Mad) Danish consumers used to throw away around a quarter of the food they bought. In 2008, Stop Wasting Food launched a public awareness campaign. They also persuaded supermarkets to sell more products by weight rather than pre-packaged and to discount out-of-date items instead of binning them. In a particularly nice touch, they set about breaking down the stigma associated with asking for a doggy bag in restaurants, since Denmark’s professional kitchens waste about 140,000 tons of food per year. A Gallup poll has revealed that half of Denmark’s population have now actively reduced how much food they discard.

The Danes have also taken a while to work out the best ways to deal with rubbish and recycling. One policy that works and has stuck is the system of deposits on bottles and cans. Automatic receptacles at supermarkets offer cash for recyclable waste, and modern-day Wombles scrape together some pocket money by gathering empties from alfresco drinkers who can’t be bothered to claim the deposit themselves.

Recycling other materials and reducing general waste has proved more troublesome. Municipality-owned incinerators reduced the amount of rubbish going to landfill to a minimum and have the bonus effect of generating low-cast power and heat for communities, and waste reduction is also now being encouraged.

Danes are generally happy with the principle of incinerators being sited within urban areas, believing them to be cleanly and efficiently run. Operators court further approval by making sure their plants offer additional benefits. Some incinerators double as recycling and education centers and Copenhagen’s massive, cutting-edge, low-pollution Amager Bakker plant, due for completion in 2017, will be topped by artificial ski slopes and hiking trails – a boon for this mountain-starved nation.

However, there’s a growing realisation that relying on incineration at the expense of recycling doesn’t make sense in the long term. A government plan released in late 2013 set out new priorities, including increased use of garden and food waste to produce biogas and compost. Watch this space.
What you can do:
Since the Danes have been good enough to invest so heavily in clean, efficient ways of producing power, heat and clean water, it seems extra important not to be wasteful while you’re on their turf. When you’re eating out, it’s well worth making a point of choosing a restaurant, café or inn which uses local, organic ingredients – with plenty to choose from, this is no hardship. And don’t be shy about asking for a doggy bag. Some elements of Danish society (and tourists) litter their environment. Festival sites, for example, can look like a dump by the end of the day. Do your best not to add to the problem. Remember to take your own bags to supermarkets and shops, which have charged for plastic carrier bags since 2003. Support the Danish tourist industry’s commitment to environmental responsibility by cycling, using trains, buses and boats and staying at eco-accredited accommodation. For hotels and guesthouses, look for the Green Key (Den Grønne Nøgle) logo. Campsites approved by the Danish Camping Board are marked by a Green Flag.

People & Culture

Cultural norms

Don’t take it personally if the people you meet in Denmark appear a little reserved or inscrutable. As a society, Danes tend to be very affectionate and loyal to their own friends and family and are highly tolerant towards others. They're keen travelers who like to think of themselves as international and outward-looking; however, they set a high value on privacy, so won’t necessarily extend an enthusiastic greeting to a stranger for fear of imposing.

Most Danes like to plan ahead and are extremely punctual. They don’t tend to respond well to last-minute suggestions or lax timekeeping.

Copenhagen is home to one of Europe’s oldest gay bars and Denmark was the first country in the world to recognise registered partnerships for same-sex couples. LGBT visitors are sometimes a little disappointed that the scene in Denmark isn’t as out-there as elsewhere, but this is largely because most Danes are so open-minded about same-sex relationships and alternative lifestyles that the LGBT community has never really been ghettoised.

What you can do
Be friendly but not pushy, punctual but not uptight and you’ll fit right in.
Danes have recently been named the world's best non-native English speakers and they love to speak English, so even if they come off as reserved, just strike up a conversation and they will jump on the chance to use their English.
- VisitDenmark discusses Danish hospitality

Responsible tourism tips

When cycling, make sure you follow accepted etiquette, some of which is enshrined in law. Wearing a helmet is optional but you must use lights at night, use clear hand signals when turning or stopping, obey traffic lights, ride in single file and move right to make room for another cyclist who rings their bell to indicate they want to overtake. When there’s a bike path available, you must use it – not the road, and never the pavement. It’s illegal for cyclists to turn left in one movement – you must cross the road and wait for a green light in the direction you’re headed. Other road users are required to respect bike lanes in Denmark. Pedestrians should look carefully before crossing the road and drivers should take particular care when turning right or opening car doors. Denmark has a fairly relaxed attitude to alcohol, but don’t be tempted to dabble in illegal drugs – this isn’t Amsterdam. Even Christiania’s once-notorious Pusher Street has been cleaned up.

Responsible Travel would like to thank the Visit Denmark tourist board for their sponsorship of this guide
Written by Emma Gregg
Photo credits: [Page banner: Nelson L.] [Wildlife & environment: Loozrboy] [What can you do?: Nicolai Perjesi | VisitDenmark ] [Cultural norms: Kristian Thogersen]