The other day, I was looking at bike rentals for a friend visiting Berlin when a little tab on the website of bike rental outfit Fahrradstation jumped out at me. It said “Berlin — Kopenhagen.”
I’ve been meaning to get to Copenhagen to check out the city’s famous bike culture, but was it possible to actually go there by bike?
I bike everywhere in Berlin, and I’ve taken my cruiser on the S-Bahn to parks on the city’s edge. But I’ve never embarked a multi-day bike tour, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do it with the heavy vintage bicycle I ride here. Yet somehow biking to Copenhagen sounded like just my kind of trip, and I wanted to learn more.
So two days later, I was sitting in the Kreuzberg office of Fahrradstation’s founder, Stefan Neitzel. He’d just completed the trip himself, along with his daughters, age 9 and 12, over the course of 13 days in June and July.
He says the Berlin-Copenhagen route is a great choice for someone new to bike touring. You can avoid cars most of the time and ride along paved or gravel bikeways through fields, forests and towns. It’s also super flat.
Part of the incredible landscape you'll encounter along the way. Photo: Stefan Neitzel.
Riding the route
The route takes you through ridiculously pretty landscapes of Mecklenburg and Brandenburg in Germany, then a ferry from Rostock.
That’s followed by 300 km in Denmark, largely along seaside paths that take you past long stretches of white sand beaches — though don’t be surprised if it’s obscenely windy. (“And somehow never from the back, always from the side,” Neitzel says.) And at the end, you’ve reached Copenhagen, cyclists’ Holy Land.
My lack of a proper bike is no deal breaker, either. Fahrradstation has worked out an agreement with MTB-Tours in Copenhagen so you can rent a bike in Berlin, cruise to the Danish capital, and return it to the shop there — or vice versa. That’s a big deal: it removes the hassle and expense of getting a bike home by plane, train, or pedaling it all the way back.
And since I only own a heavy city bike, a rental means getting a bike that’s suited to long haul pedaling — likely a trekking bike, though gravel bikes and e-bikes are options, too.
A trip like this is within reach of all kinds of people, Neitzel says. Just as his family arrived in Copenhagen, they met a young American woman who had just completed the journey by herself. And along the route, they met two women from Oranienburg, each towing a trailer with a child under two, with a 10-year-old biking alongside them.
Neitzel points out that when you’re touring by bike instead of car, you’re incredibly free. You can stop at any time to take a photo, without looking for a highway exit. You can plan in advance where you want to stop each evening, or just stop and camp wherever you feel done for the day.
“You’re so close to nature, and at the same time you really do something positive for yourself, for your body,” he says. “You breathe good air, you eat a lot of good food. You just move and come back strengthened and happy. It’s a really recommendable way to travel.”
Here are some tips for making the trip — and making it fun.
Neizel and his children after reaching Denmark. Photo: Stefan Neitzel
1. Take your time.
How long the trip takes depends on both the route you choose, and how many kilometers you log per day. Neitzel recommends going about 50 km a day: “Then you have enough time to visit places, swim in a lake, and read a book. So it’s a cycling tour, but it’s not cycling only.”
2. Take the scenic route.
If you want to take shortcuts along the way, you can — but that may mean going on highways with car traffic. It’s better to take a longer route, about 600 km in all, that takes you on serene bikeways or largely deserted roads.
When you take the path that follows the seaside, Neitzel says, you get a route that is longer and more curvy. But you get to ride through the forests and along the water, with views that more than compensate for the extra distance.
3. You can buy food along the way.
There’s no need to pack food for the whole trip — the route passes through towns where you can pay a visit to restaurants and ice cream shops.
Cyclists can support rural economies by stopping to eat, which you’ll need to do often with all the calories you’re burning. “They’re always hungry! So restaurants really benefit from cyclists,” Neitzel says.
4. Kids get bored. So give them incentives.
Neitzel says kids as young as six or so are physically capable of doing a ride like this one — but they grow bored easily, especially if they’re under 10. He suggests giving them something to ride for each hour, like the incentive of an ice cream or a break to look for shells on the beach.
This works for adults, too.
5. If city traffic stresses you out, hop on transport.
Berlin and Copenhagen both have significant car traffic. If riding through it isn’t your idea of a vacation, hop on a city bus or train and take a break from pedaling. This is your trip — you make the rules. Just remember to buy a ticket for your bike.
6. E-bikes can be a good option.
More people are using e-bikes to make trips like this one, Neitzel says. And that’s a good thing, he adds, because it makes such a tour more accessible to older folks and people who otherwise wouldn’t try bike touring.
An electric boost comes in particularly handy when confronting that defining feature of Denmark: wind. But using an e-bike makes you a little less spontaneous. Since e-bikes run out of juice, you’ll need to find places to charge up in towns along the way.
7. Pick out a fitting finish line — and reward yourself.
“In our case, we were always looking for the sign to say, ‘Okay, this is Copenhagen. It starts here,’ ” Neitzel laughs. After riding through the city’s outskirts for the better part of a day, they never did see a “Velkommen til København” sign. He recommends choosing your own appropriately grand endpoint like Nyhavn, the city’s picturesque old port.
Copenhagen rooftops at the end of the journey. Photo: Stefan Neitzel
After completing their journey, Neitzel and his daughters stopped at the Danish Cycling Association and bought small medallions for their bikes. “That’s what we bought as a gold medal for ourselves, but you can also eat a cookie or have a coffee. It’s a good feeling when you’ve done the tour.”
He says the route is good for every kind of traveler. “You just have to convince yourself that it’s feasible and then you do it. And afterwards, you feel a little bit proud of yourself. And the kids will remember the tour forever as something great.”
See you in Copenhagen.
For much more information, see the Bikeway Berlin-Kopenhagen website from the regional tourism boards in Germany and Denmark.