You can come to know a city through the people you meet and the streets you run.
The statement proves true in Athens, a city with established running clubs and newly built running paths. As a freshman at UGA, I was out of my comfort zone when I moved to Athens. Exploring the city on foot was how I transitioned from feeling like a visitor to taking on the city as my own. Getting a little lost on a side street off Prince Avenue helped me to remember it better the next time.
However, running in a new city, across the world, forced me to understand it even more quickly.
Traveling to Copenhagen, Denmark earlier this summer was the first time I really experienced this. Copenhagen’s deeply historic buildings and parks hold so much complexity, yet I was unaware of it until I got there.
The popularity of running in the city was obvious to me from the start of my visit. On my taxi ride from the airport to my hotel, we traveled next to packs of runners in the Copenhagen Marathon, all being cheered on by groups of onlookers.
The route from the airport to the hotel was a stop-and-go flow, interrupted by the marathon traffic. While my taxi driver expressed his contempt for this delay, I found myself imagining running alongside the athletes, after having trained for months for the race. In reality, I’d only been running three or four miles at a time, but I could imagine the anticipation they felt to run the city streets.
After all, marathons are meant to push runners past their comfort zones.
Watching this activity from the taxi made me antsy to run myself. The first few days I spent in Copenhagen were impacted by the six-hour time difference, but I pushed through and began to explore my surroundings while running at random. I found parks, ponds and many hotdog carts during these days.
Signs from the Copenhagen Marathon were replaced later that week by signs for the Royal Run, a family friendly running event that takes place each June. Again, I watched this event as an outsider, noticing the smiling participants all in their purple race shirts. They crowded the popular city streets the entire evening.
From my observations of the Royal Run, a less intense race than the Copenhagen Marathon, I saw the Danes use running not only as a means to train, but a means to join with family.
With inspiration from the races witnessed on my trip, I knew I wanted to find a way to see Copenhagen for myself and run farther than my norm. What I found was Go Running Tours.
Go Running Tours is a company based on this experience of running as a means to explore the world. Each location has a staff of running guides to lead tours of single or multiple runners through their city, and they are flexible with scheduling. Better yet, the guides are willing to run fast or slow to match the pace of their audience.
Touring the City
At 10 a.m. on a Monday, my running guide, Michael, met me right outside my hotel to begin our run. I chose the architecture tour mainly because I knew I could survive running that far, a projected 10k. We ran just over 7 miles total and I learned about much more than buildings.
Michael relocated to Denmark from the UK for college and solidified a life in Copenhagen instead of moving back after he graduated. Thus, he understood my questions about Danish culture as someone who didn’t grow up surrounded by it.
It’s important to mention that this was no quick race. We took time at several points to stop for a picture and take in the scenery, like Amalienborg, the palace in the background to the right.
Amalienborg is where the Queen of Denmark lives in Copenhagen, and it’s a major tourist attraction. Like with British royalty, many visitors are invested in the royal way of life and love to watch the changing of the guards. However, the scale of royalty is less evident than in the UK, and the citizens feel a close sense of proximity to their Queen.
“Here, people really feel like the royal family is down to earth,” Michael said.
Michael met the Prince of Denmark a few years ago and was intrigued by the low level of security.
“I had a little black backpack on with my laptop in it. I didn’t get searched, nothing,” he said. When the Prince came in, “there weren’t really any formalities. He just came in and said hello to everybody, shook our hands. And again, it was really Danish compared to British royalty where security would be crazy.”
“They have that level of trust,” Michael said. This theme of Danish trust is one which I learned is ongoing. In Denmark, mothers leave their babies in strollers outside to nap when possible, and expecting the worst isn’t normal.
The Best of Denmark
One of our longest conversation topics was the idea of Hygge. It’s a Danish term which references a feeling of warmth and comfort. It accounts for the physical atmosphere and how an individual fits into their surroundings.
Michael explained that lighting a candle while drinking your coffee, or opening all the windows in a classroom could be ways a Dane would prioritize Hygge in their everyday life. Fascinated, I wondered what senses come into play. Michael theorized that Hygge can combine visuals, scents and textures. For example, the fresh air and breeze from an opened window is a sensual experience.
Of course, the climate is much different in Denmark than what is typical in Georgia. When we discussed daily weather and seasons, Michael said that the worst thing about Copenhagen is the long, dark winter. While in the summer Danes see up to 18.5 hours of daylight each day, they have early nights in winter when the sun sets at 4:30 p.m.
“But in the summers, it’s really beautiful and I think it’s the best city to be in,” Michael said. “It doesn’t get too hot, but it gets hot enough that you can go swimming everywhere.”
We witnessed that activity, amongst other games and picnics, consistently on our run route.
Of all of the sights we took in on the run, a few stood out. Not only were they visually appealing, but they were culturally significant for Denmark. In the following key sights, it is clear that Denmark has unique architecture worth exploring and this architecture is reflective of the values and future goals of the country.
Cykelslange (Bike Snake)
Denmark hopes to be the leading city in cycling for commuting by 2025. The country is already close to that goal, as evidenced by the bike lanes on most roads through the city of Copenhagen. At any time of day, it is common for Danes to utilize their bikes for fast transportation to work and leisure.
Taking that a step further, the “cycle snake” offers cyclists a bike-only bridge to get from one part of the city to another over a harbor. The bridge was installed in 2014 and mimics the curves of a snake with its simple structure. Shown left, the cycle snake winds between buildings and over the water.
Reflective of Danish design, the bridge shows the importance of creating architecture that values form and function.
Bjarke ingles’ harbor baths
Throughout the run we discussed the architectural legend Bjarke Ingles. While he has completed many pieces in Copenhagen, the first to put him on the map were his harbor baths.
As Michael pointed out early on in our run, swimming in the harbor is a popular summer activity in the city. On any given day, Danes take advantage of sunny hours to lay out by the harbor and talk with friends. They jump in almost anywhere, but especially in the pools built into the sides of the harbor.
Ingles’ design, shown right, mimics a ship with three levels that can be used for jumping into the water.
After witnessing this unique activity, I returned to jump from the top of the structure myself. With each large step I began to doubt my bravery but the base was sturdy, and netting lined the bottom of the pool to keep out possible debris.
Forcing myself to jump, I came away with two main takeaways: First, the fall was higher than it looked from the safety of land, and second, the water was unbearably frigid. I swam out immediately, grateful and cold.
Outside of Tourism
At the end of our running tour, Michael reminded me that running experiences like this aren’t only available in foreign countries. Go Running Tours has tours set up in several major U.S. cities with differing lengths and tour subjects.
Just this year, the company launched a few Atlanta running tours including “Beltline Atlanta,” “Scenic Atlanta,” and “Black History Atlanta.” On these tours of varying distances, runners can see the city from a different perspective.
When planning for my trip to Copenhagen, I hadn’t prioritized running as a means to sightsee. However, my natural inclination to be on the streets exploring made running the perfect option.
In witnessing the Copenhagen Marathon and Royal Run, I saw that running for some Danes is a means for family time, training and accomplishing goals. I found running to be the perfect way to learn history, find new activities and become comfortable in a foreign country.
Next up on the list is exploring in my own backyard with Go Running Tours, ATL.
Enjoy stories with an international perspective? Check out Marc’s story about women’s soccer during the 1996 Olympics. Also, stay updated with Lauren’s latest stories here.